Oil prices sank about one percent Wednesday after a United States government data showed that the country’s crude stocks unexpectedly rose last week as exports slowed due to a chemical spill at the country’s busiest energy port.
While the global benchmark, Brent crude futures fell 51 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $67.46 per barrel, the US crude, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) dropped 83 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $59.11 per barrel.
United States crude inventories rose last week by 2.8 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 1.2 million barrels, the United States Energy Information Administration said.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, a delivery hub, rose by 541,000 barrels and exports fell 506,000 barrels per day, the EIA said.
A petrochemical tank fire and chemical spill last week along the Houston Ship Channel hampered crude shipments for several days.
The US Coast Guard on Monday reopened portions of the Houston Ship Channel with restrictions on waterways affected by the chemical leak.
Further disruptions to Venezuelan exports helped to limit losses.
The United States had in February announced sanctions intended to produce the most damage possible to the government of President Nicolás Maduro, the country’s oil sector and its state-run oil company, PDVSA.
Washington had in January recognized opposition leader, Juan Guaidó – who is the leader of the country’s National Assembly – as the rightful head of state.
Venezuela’s Congress, which has been stripped of most of its powers by the government, had also described Maduro is a “usurper”.
Washington embarked on an open campaign with Guaidó to oust Maduro.
The White House is trying to make oil revenues directly reach ordinary Venezuelans and bypass the government of Maduro, which owns most of the oil industry through PDVSA.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the sanctions would block $7 billion (£5.4 billion) in PDVSA’s assets and more than $11 billion in lost export proceeds over the next year.
Reuters reported that on top of US sanctions in January, which banned US refiners from buying Venezuelan oil, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member’s main oil export port of Jose and its four crude upgraders were unable to resume operations following a massive power blackout on Monday, the second in a month.
Oil prices have jumped more than 25 percent this year, supported by supply curbs by OPEC and other major producers, along with US sanctions on exports from Venezuela and Iran.
Trump launches re-election bid
US President Donald Trump formally launched his 2020 re-election campaign on Tuesday in front of a large crowd in Orlando, Florida.
“We are going to keep making America great again and then we will indeed keep America great,” Trump said as he attacked his opponents and the media.
“We are going to keep it better than ever before and that is why I stand before you tonight to officially launch my campaign for a second term as president of the United States,” Trump told the crowd at an arena in Orlando.
The announcement comes amid calls for impeachment, continuing congressional probes into his presidency and administration and deepening divisions over his hardline immigration policies. But Trump’s speech also comes as the economy continues to grow and the Republican president maintains deep support among his base.
Although Tuesday’s speech is being billed as the official beginning of Trump’s 2020 bid, the businessman-turned-politician filed the paperwork officially announcing his bid within hours of his inauguration on January 20, 2017. He has since held campaign-style rallies throughout the United States.
On Tuesday, Trump’s attacks against socialism and his doubling down on conservative stances on nationalism, abortion, family, the judiciary and guns were positively received by the loyalist crowd, who often erupted in “USA” and “Make America Great” chants throughout the event.
Two-and-a-half years into his tenure, Trump sees plenty of positive factors, led by a growing economy with low unemployment.
“If the economy stays strong, he is very likely to get re-elected,” said Trump confidant Newt Gingrich, a former Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives.
Trump touted the economy throughout Tuesday’s speech, saying “it’s soaring to incredible new heights”.
The US president also received a large round of applause when he brought his tax cuts, saying, “we’ve done so much … with the biggest tax cut in history.”
But according to an Associated Press fact check, Trump’s tax cuts are nowhere close to the biggest in US history.
It’s a $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years. As a share of the total economy, a tax cut of that size ranks 12th, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Former President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest, followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II.
Despite the packed crowd at the Orlando arena on Tuesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, coupled with a presidential style marked by name-calling and eye-popping tweets, has undermined some Americans’ confidence in Trump before the November 2020 election.
Vatican contemplating married men as priests
The Vatican has formally opened debate on letting married men be ordained as priests in remote parts of the Amazon where priests are so few that Catholics can go weeks or months without attending a Mass.
The call for study on the proposal was contained in the working document, released on Monday, for an October meeting of South American bishops on the Amazon.
The document, prepared by the Vatican based on input from the region, affirmed that celibacy is a gift for the Catholic Church.
But it suggested officials study “the possibility of priestly ordination for older men, preferably indigenous and respected and accepted by their communities, even if they have stable families, for the region’s most remote areas”.
The idea of ordaining so-called “viri probati” – married men of proven virtue – has been around for decades to cope with a priest shortage and decline in vocations overall.
But it has drawn fresh attention under Pope Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, thanks to his familiarity with the challenges facing the Amazon church.
The October 6-27 meeting on the sacramental and environmental needs of the Amazon will draw bishops from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
Brazil’s bishops have long pushed for the Church to consider ordaining viri probati to minister in remote parts of the Amazon where by some estimates there is one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.
The celibacy question has been a mainstay in Catholic debate given it is a discipline, not a doctrine, and therefore can change.
The Church has had the tradition since the 11th century, imposed in part to spare the Church the financial burdens of providing for large families and to ensure that any assets of the priest would pass to the Church, not his heirs.
Proponents of a relaxation of the rule say more men would consider a vocation to the priesthood if they could marry, a surefire fix to the decline in priests globally.
Opponents say relaxing the rule for the Amazon will certainly fuel calls for it to be relaxed elsewhere.
Already, married men can be ordained in the Eastern rite Catholic Church and married men who convert from Protestant churches can be Catholic priests.
In addition to ordaining married men, the document called for the synod to identify “the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women”.
It said women, who already play important roles in indigenous communities, must be guaranteed leadership roles.
But it stopped short of recommending debate on whether women could be ordained as deacons.
One of the organisers, Monsignor Fabio Fabene, said the female diaconate was essentially off the table since Francis has recently determined that the issue needs further discussion.
Overall, the synod bishops are expected to debate a host of measures to better minister to indigenous and migrant communities in the Amazon amid deforestation and exploitative industries and competition for souls from Pentecostal churches, which are more present in the region with indigenous, local leaders.
The Vatican’s working document acknowledged this competition, saying the Catholic Church must transition from being a church that merely visits vast regions to one that has a full-time presence with ministries, liturgies, sacraments and social services.
It called for a Church that has a more indigenous face, with local songs, dance, costumes and the Bible translated into various languages.
Nigerian ambassador to UN elected as its 74th general assembly president
Members of the United Nations General Assembly have chosen the Nigerian ambassador to the world body as its next president.
They elected Tijjani Muhammad-Bande by acclamation Tuesday to preside over the 74th U.N. session for one year, starting in September.
He’s the second Nigerian president of the 193-member General Assembly. Joseph Nanven Garba was president during the 1989-1990 session.
Muhammad-Bande succeeds Maria Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador.
He told General Assembly members that when they convene in September, priorities will include climate change, universal health coverage, gender equality and the eradication of poverty and hunger.
The 61-year-old diplomat was born in Zagga, in northwest Nigeria, and has a master’s degree in political science from Boston University and a Ph.D. in the same field from the University of Toronto.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has applauded the emergence of Prof. Tijjani Muhammad – Bande, as the President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly.
The ministry’s Acting Spokesperson, Mr Friday Akpan, in a statement in Abuja said the election is a positive development and demonstrates the confidence in Nigeria’s ability to pilot the affairs of the revered global institution.
Muhammad-Bande, the sole candidate for the position, was elected through acclamation at the 87th plenary meeting of the Assembly in New York.
”Prof. Muhammad-Bande is the second Nigerian to occupy the position.
”Maj.- Gen. Joseph Garba (Rtd) was the President of the 44th session of the United Nations General Assembly between 1989 and 1990,” he said.
Trump turns his radar on Mexico
President Donald Trump said he would impose a 5% tariff on Mexican goods until that country stops immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally – brandishing a weapon used against a widening group of countries and perhaps jeopardizing a new North American trade agreement.
The tariff would take effect June 10, “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our country, STOP,” Trump said in a Twitter post-Thursday night.
He warned the levy “would gradually increase until the illegal immigration problem is remedied at which time the tariff will be removed.”
The tariffs could rise as high as 25% on Oct. 1, Trump said in a statement released by the White House.
The move, which has major implications for American automakers and other companies with production south of the border and the U.S. economy as a whole, represents Trump’s latest expansion of his trade wars.
It comes just days after he removed steel tariffs on Mexico that had caused retaliation against U.S. farm products.
Jesus Seade, Mexico’s undersecretary of foreign relations for North America, told reporters in Mexico City on Thursday at a previously scheduled event that the country won’t retaliate before discussing the matter with the U.S.
But the tariff threat, he added, “if turned into reality, would be extremely serious.”