Beyond the Bricks: Week of 1/21

Venezuela-U.S. Relations Reach Breaking Point

On Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, official diplomatic ties were cut between Venezuela and the United States, reported BBC News. The movement was initiated by Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro in response to the United States’ recognition of his political opponent, legislature leader Juan Guaidó, as interim president of Venezuela. Several other nations have since joined the U.S. in officially recognizing Guaidó’s authority.

Maduro called for the closure of his country’s embassy and consulates in the United States, and has asked that U.S. diplomats leave Venezuela within 72 hours. According to The Associated Press, however, the American administration is instead following Guaidó’s request for foreign diplomats to remain in the country.

Guaidó claims that the last presidential election was invalid and that the Venezuelan constitution grants him the right to assume the position of acting president over a transitional government until free elections are held. His declaration was made during a protest against Maduro held in Caracas, one of several public demonstrations protesting or supporting Maduro on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The Observatory of Social Conflict, a Venezuelan non-governmental organization, is cited by BBC News stating that at least 26 people died in demonstrations this week alone.

Maduro first took office in 2013 and was re-elected in May of 2018 amidst claims of vote-rigging in an election that was boycotted by the main opposition party. He was sworn in for his new term earlier this month, despite election concerns and controversies over his handling of both human rights issues and the country’s economy. Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis has led three million people to emigrate since 2014, according to United Nations figures provided by BBC News.  

As a result of the recent developments in Venezuela, on Jan. 24, 2019 the Trump administration announced their intention to interrupt Maduro’s funding while increasing funds for Guaidó. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also asked for a UN Security Council meeting on Jan. 26, 2019 to discuss the situation.

Supreme Court Allows Restrictions on Transgender Military Service

A United States Supreme Court decision was reached on Jan. 22, 2019. It will allow the Trump administration’s restriction against transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military to go forward as lower court challenges continue, reported The Associated Press.

Under the Obama administration, currently-serving troops were able to undergo transition after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The new policy, if implemented, would not affect the more than 900 service members who have already received this diagnosis. However, the policy would bar all other transgender troops from transitioning, a number estimated at around 9,000 people.

It would also prevent civilians who have undergone the transition process from enlisting in any of the armed forces in the future. The policy was originally announced in 2017, with a presidential tweet quoted by BBC News claiming “tremendous medical costs and disruption” as the reasoning behind the decision. While the Supreme Court lifted injunctions against the ban temporarily, the legality of the policy is still being contended in lower courts.

Longest-Running U.S. Government Shutdown Ends

The United States government ended its longest shutdown in history on Jan. 25, 2019, standing at 34 full days.

Two bills proposed to end the partial shutdown were rejected by the U.S. Senate on Jan. 24, 2019 leaving 800,000 federal workers without a payday on Jan. 25. The votes were followed by bipartisan discussions, with both Democratic and Republican leaders considering a new plan that would reopen federal agencies for three weeks while a more permanent compromise would be agreed upon. 

On Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, Trump signed a bill to temporarily re-open the government, as discussed by the Democratic and Republican leaders. The stated intent of the bill was to alleviate the financial burden on government workers who would have otherwise further gone without pay. At the end of the three week period provided, the government will re-enter a shutdown unless a budget has been approved at that point.

The shutdown was quickly approaching the date originally intended for the annual State of the Union address, canceled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. BBC News gave Pelosi’s statement that the address would not be permitted to go forward until the shutdown was over. While President Donald Trump initially voiced his intention to deliver a speech before Congress regardless, he agreed to postpone the event. As the shutdown has since ended, the State of the Union address is set to go on as scheduled, planned for Feb. 5, 2019, according to CNN

According to a poll by The Associated Press, ”Sixty percent of Americans say Trump bears a great deal of responsibility for the shutdown.” BBC News lists flight safety concerns, food shortages and immigration delays among the effects of the shutdown.