Friday, February 27, 2015

Inflation Capitalism

from the Miami Herald
For anyone tracking the slow-motion crackup of the economy, the rule of law and all the other vital signs of democratic life in Venezuela, here’s a riddle.

How is it that the vast majority of citizens in Latin America’s poorest rich nation, with some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, are fed up with life under the Bolivarian Republic and yet still have not turned on the Palacio Miraflores, never mind thrown in with the opposition?

Two recent surveys, by Datanalisis and Hinterlaces, show that seven to eight of every 10 Venezuelans believe that President Nicolás Maduro is doing a lousy job, and more than 85 percent say the country is in bad shape. Maduro’s personal approval rating has fallen to just 22 percent.

That ought to be dynamite fishing for Maduro’s foes as they head to legislative elections later this year. Instead, Venezuela’s opposition is fractured and floundering.

A poll in January found that although some 40 percent of Venezuelans sympathized with the opposition message, only 19 percent backed the flagship opposition bloc, the United Democratic Roundtable. “No discourse, no message and no proposals,” is how pollster Oscar Schemel, president of Hinterlaces, described the anti-Chavista predicament in a televised interview.

Official election rigging hasn’t helped. In 2010, the opposition candidates won 52 percent of the vote, but thanks to gerrymandering ended up with just 41 percent of legislative seats. Then there’s the political guillotine. The latest victim was Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, a fiery critic of the Bolivarian regime, arrested by Maduro’s intelligence police on Feb. 19, on sedition charges.

Carlos Ocariz, director of Venezuela’s mayors’ association, told reporters on Feb. 22 that 33 of 77 opposition mayors in Venezuela currently faced legal action brought by the Chavista-friendly courts. Maduro has reportedly jailed more political opponents this year than Hugo Chávez did in the previous 14 years combined.

And yet the opposition’s bigger problem may be existential. Foes of the Bolivarian regime have eloquently decried human rights violations, media censorship and the blackout in civil rights that has struck a chord with groups such as Human Rights Watch, and drawn slaps from global heavyweights, such as former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar.

The message is less resonant among Venezuelans, eight in 10 of whom believe crime and economic disarray trump politics. For all its stirring jeremiads, the opposition has failed to offer a credible alternative. That may be because deep down they share some of Chavismo’s basic illusions.

“Venezuela is not a socialist state,” New York University historian Alejandro Velasco told me. “It’s a Petrostate, which means that the conversation is not over how to make a stronger democracy but all about distribution of rents and who controls the national wealth,” he said. “That makes dictatorship and democracy two sides of the same coin.”

Last year, Maduro first floated a proposal to raise Venezuela’s pennies-per-tank gasoline prices. Instead of saying it’s about time he stopped wrecking the economy, anti-Chavistas howled about gouging workers’ wallets. “As long as we give away our oil to Cuba it’s unacceptable that Venezuelans pay more. Unacceptable,” tweeted opposition leader Maria Corina Machado.

Instead of swapping out Chavismo’s bloated and profligate social programs for more cost-effective ways to reach the neediest, Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles called for writing the “misiones” into the Constitution, as if to beat the Bolivarians at their own game.

There’s hardly an economist in the Andes who'll defend Venezuela’s grossly overvalued currency, which distorts prices and stokes the black market. But when the government recently introduced a new rate of 170 bolivares to the dollar — essentially, a 69 percent devaluation — Capriles called it a conspiracy. “The only coup today was the one the government staged against the bolivar,” Capriles tweeted.

With the Maduro regime bleeding, never has the Bolivarian brand looked so vulnerable. If legislative elections go forward this year — the government has yet to set a date — Venezuela’s opposition could conceivably overcome the government’s formidable incumbent advantages and take a majority in parliament. Yet even so, the bigger problem is not winning, but what to do once in power.

Dictators Gone Wild!

from National Interest
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s recent orders to arrest Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, numerous opposition leaders and senior Venezuelan Air Force officers have pushed his country to the brink. The crisis illustrates not only the paranoia of a collapsing Venezuelan regime, but also the divergence between two blocs in Latin America—one set of countries following the failed, kleptocratic regimes left behind by “Chavismo” and another set pursuing liberal democracy, open markets and equitable development.

However, as the bloc of socialist nations—Venezuela being the most egregious example—has continued to backslide, the silence from those countries’ neighbors has been deafening. While the United States can and should continue to act as a strong advocate for democracy and the rule of law in the region, it is much more important for those Latin American nations that believe in these values to speak up and call out the abusive and authoritarian actions of their neighbors.

When Ledezma was hauled away by President Maduro’s henchmen, it was on trumped-up charges of “an American-led coup.” However, at this point, Venezuela’s desperate attempts to blame its shortcomings on the United States ring hollow. Blessed with oil, minerals and an educated population, the Maduro regime has continued to rob the Venezuelan people of their natural bounty. As a result, not only is the nation nearing bankruptcy, but those not connected to the regime are also deprived of the most basic staples.

Due to these failed policies, President Maduro’s popularity has fallen precipitously—down to around 20 percent—and the opposition stands to gain in December’s legislative elections. Rather than face the reality of the social and economic failure of Chavismo socialism, the Maduro government has turned to military and militia forces (including Cuban Las Avispas Negras special forces trained in counterintelligence and urban warfare), intelligence services and Soviet-style surveillance—all bolstered by a politicized judiciary—to suppress all opposition.

While the abduction of Mayor Ledezma is the most recent and visible example of repression, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez remains held incommunicado on charges of treason, without trial, for over one year. Currently, it is estimated that there are over 6,000 political prisoners in Venezuelan jails and detention facilities, and of the seventy-six opposition mayors in Venezuela, thirty-three are currently facing some kind of criminal charge or trial.

On the other hand, the actions of the countries of the Pacific Alliance—Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile—present a welcome contrast, having left behind the tired clichés of Cold War socialism to chart a new course for Latin American countries.

The Pacific Alliance nations are at the forefront of a group of nations that have chosen a new path, one that supports the rule of law, commercial enterprise and free trade and will hopefully create a new regional integration based on these principles. They are building a middle class and broader-based economy than has yet been seen in Latin America.

Unfortunately, criticism of the actions of the Venezuelan government by those closest to the scene has been one of unseemly silence. While Colombian president Manuel Santos has called for the Organization of American States (OAS) to investigate the Venezuelan crackdown and the incarceration of Leopoldo Lopez, other key regional partners have done little—as institutions like the OAS have faltered, there is no better censure of Venezuela’s actions than that which comes from its neighbors.

Mexico, despite its current crises, still has a role to play as a regional leader and bridge between the North and South. Panama—currently a candidate for full membership in the Pacific Alliance—plays a significant role in the region’s finance and trade, and could serve as a significant voice against authoritarianism. Additionally, given its own experience with authoritarianism and peaceful democratic reform, Chile’s voice in these matters is vital. Finally, despite their own internal challenges with corruption, the Brazilian leadership could bolster their own reformist bona fides—and further legitimize Brazil as a global leader—by speaking out against what is happening in Venezuela.

At a time when Central and South American countries are seeking further regional integration and freer trade with the rest of the world, there needs to be a greater willingness to confront nations that undermine democratic institutions, free expression and the rule of law.

If Venezuela faces further economic and political collapse, it will be its neighbors that bear the brunt of the damage. Economically, there is already significant risk to the nations reliant on Petrocaribe, as Venezuela finds itself unable to fulfill its commitments. Further deterioration in these countries also raises the specter of increased narco-terrorist activity and other security challenges.

Ultimately, it is the leaders of these nations who will shape the region’s future. While their achievements in reform and regional integration have been praiseworthy, their voice is now greatly needed in confronting authoritarian abuses in their neighborhood.

On the authors: Senator Mel Martinez is a retired U.S. Senator from the State of Florida. Ambassador Francis Rooney is CEO of Rooney Holdings, Inc. and a member of the Board of Advisors to the Panama Canal Authority. Both are Trustees of the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Paranoia Overtakes Venezuelan President, See's Consiprator's Behind Every Bush

from the NY Times
Listening to embattled President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela ramble for hours about an international right-wing conspiracy to oust him, it’s clear that he would use any fabricated pretext to jail opposition leaders and crack down on dissent.

On Thursday, intelligence agents dispatched by Mr. Maduro arrested Mayor Antonio Ledezma of Caracas, the capital, one of the politicians who has been critical of the president. Mr. Ledezma has been charged with conspiracy to help plot an American-backed coup. The arrest came a year after the country’s most high-profile opposition leader, Leopoldo López, was jailed on trumped-up charges that he instigated violent demonstrations.

“You know that the right in Madrid, the ultraright in Bogotá and the ultraright in Miami have forged an axis to conspire against the homeland,” Mr. Maduro said Thursday in a televised address.

Delcy Rodríguez, the country’s foreign minister, weighed in with an absurd detail, saying on Twitter that “the international community should know that the coup plan included airstrikes to tactical objectives without distinction of civilians.”

Mr. Maduro’s fears of a coup appear to be a diversion strategy by a maniacal statesman who is unable to deal with the dismal state of his country’s economy and the rapidly deteriorating quality of life despite having the world’s largest oil reserves. The country’s inflation rate has topped 68 percent, the currency has been in a tailspin for months and the black market has become dominant as state-owned shops contend with chronic food shortages.

Mr. Ledezma, a democratically elected official who has, so far, responded with remarkable stoicism, is the latest mayor critical of the government embroiled in legal proceedings. Mr. Maduro’s government has opened cases against 33 of the 50 mayors in the country who have been critical of his leadership.

The State Department responded forcefully to denounce the move on Mr. Ledezma and refute the charge that Washington was helping plot a coup. “We regret that the Venezuelan government continues to blame the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” the State Department said in a statement. “The Venezuelan government needs to deal with the grave situation it faces.”

In a televised address, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia also expressed concern about the developments in Venezuela, a neighboring country, as he made an impassioned plea that democratic principles be respected.

While Mr. Maduro may claim that he’s taking action against a potential coup, the fact is that the opposition movement is poorly organized and has not been able to mobilize against Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, the populist leader Hugo Chávez.

Leaders critical of Mr. Maduro have ideological differences about policy and have been at odds over the best strategy to bring about political change. As the situation in the country worsens, they would be wise to unite to champion democratic principles in months leading up to legislative elections expected to take place late this year.

Articulating an attractive and viable option to Mr. Maduro’s authoritarian and erratic rule would give distressed voters a way to oust him at the ballot box. With so many of the strongest opposition leaders facing charges, this obviously will not be an easy feat. But if the international community continues to champion their cause, and insist that a fair election is held, it might be possible.

Mr. Maduro’s conspiracy theories surely won’t cease, but even among many of his supporters, his credibility is nearly gone.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Venezuela Scapegoats Caracas' Mayor for It's Systemic Economic Failings

from CNN Money
Venezuela might be the world's worst economy.
With 68% inflation, the highest across the globe, Venezuela comes in just ahead of war-torn Sudan and heavily-sanctioned Iran.

U.S. companies like Ford (F) and Pepsi (PEP)are quickly losing profits there due to inflation. U.S. airlines have drastically reduced their flights to the capital, Caracas. Some European airlines have already stopped flying there altogether.

Here are five reasons why Venezuela's economy is spiraling down.

Political instability: The Venezuelan government, led by Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez after his death, has become increasingly authoritarian.

In February his government has taken over a supermarket chain, and arrested the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma. Maduro alleges that Ledezma was trying to overthrow him. Ledezma, a vocal critic of the government, joins Leopoldo López, another incarcerated opposition leader in Venezuela.

A food crisis: Venezuelans wait for hours in lines outside supermarkets to buy milk, sugar and flour. There are food shortages at grocery stores across the country because the government can't pay to import food. Sugar, flour and other basic imports, account for 70% of Venezuela's consumer goods, according to the Brookings Institution. McDonalds (MCD) in Venezuela ran out of french fries in January and offered yucca fries instead.

Maduro's government took over the supermarket chain Dia Dia two weeks ago after the president accused the chain's owner of hoarding food to hurt the economy. The owner, Jose Vicente Aguerrevere, denied the accusations.

Oil: From riches to rags: Venezuela is getting crushed by low oil prices. A barrel of oil now costs about $51 on the global market, losing about half its value from just six months ago. That's exacerbating the economy's acute problems. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, and once flourished on its treasure chest of crude.

Now Maduro appears to be hitting the panic button. He recently visited China, Russia and several OPEC nations, asking for funds to shore up his government.

Maduro said on Venezuela's state-owned television that China has offered aid. But in return, Venezuela is giving China free oil. Experts say that Venezuela isn't selling enough of its oil for profit, given these agreements. Plus, Venezuelans pay next to nothing for gas. One U.S. penny now pays for about five gallons of gas in Venezuela.

Dead money: Venezuela's currency is losing value faster than any other in the world. Most Venezuelans now exchange money on the unofficial black market. One U.S. dollar equaled about 88 bolivars a year ago. Today, one dollar is worth 190 bolivars, according to dolartoday.com, a website that tracks the black market exchange rate.

The process of simply exchanging money is very confusing. Venezuela has four exchange rates: two that the government uses to pay for its imports, the unofficial (black market) rate and a new one Maduro introduced Thursday.

The latest exchange rate allows Venezuelans to legally buy U.S. dollar for the first time in over a decade. But there's a limit: Venezuelans can only buy $2,000 dollars a month.

Default: The country owes $11 billion in debt payment this year. Some experts see Venezuela defaulting in October, when the country must pay $5 billion.

Madrid-Bogota-Miami Form Conspiracy Axis against Venezuela, Maduro Says

from the Latin American Herald Tribune
CARACAS – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has claimed that Madrid-Bogota-Miami form an axis of permanent conspiracy against his government, accusing it of spreading alleged lies about his country with the approval of the Venezuelan opposition.

Maduro made the charge Thursday during a ceremony in Caracas broadcast on the state radio and television network.

He accused the Spanish press of highlighting crimes and wrongdoings in Venezuela as front page news which, according to Maduro, are complete lies and manipulations.

“It is a campaign against Venezuela, against the revolution, like the one they did against (late president Hugo) Chavez and now they are doing it against me” and which “has the support and approval of Venezuela’s right-wing leaders,” he said.

On Saturday, Maduro made a similar accusation against the Colombian media, which he said was fuelled by the social, political and economic elite of Colombia and held Venezuelan publicist Juan Jose Rendon responsible.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Can Venezuela Arrest its' Way into Prosperity?

from Bloomberg
(Bloomberg) -- The opposition mayor of Caracas was detained by Venezuelan intelligence police as President Nicolas Maduro, struggling to control inflation and a shrinking economy, steps up allegations of plots against his government.

Mayor Antonio Ledezma was arrested Thursday afternoon, one day after government opponents marked the anniversary of the arrest of Leopoldo Lopez, another opposition leader. Officers fired in the air and hit Ledezma before taking him away without a warrant, said Congressman Richard Blanco of Ledezma’s Alianza Bravo Pueblo, who was present when police arrived. He joins Lopez and at least two other opposition mayors who have been jailed under Maduro. Their trial is ongoing.

Caracas has seen sporadic street protests this month as opposition-affiliated students try to commemorate last year’s rallies against Maduro, which left 43 people dead. Opposition groups said they’ll hold a news conference in Caracas at 10 a.m. local (9:30 a.m. New York) to discuss the arrest.

"It’s clear that the government is no longer tolerating anything that could generate a situation of protests like last year,” Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst, said in a phone interview.

Maduro said in a televised address after the arrest that Ledezma was “captured” on the public prosecutor’s orders for fomenting a coup.

“Enough already of vampires conspiring against the peace,” Maduro said, using his frequent moniker for the Caracas mayor. “There are no untouchables in this country.”

Oil’s Collapse

Maduro is seeking to distract voters from economic problems ahead of congressional elections expected later this year, Diego Moya-Ocampos, a London-based political analyst at consultancy IHS Inc, said in a telephone interview.

A collapse in oil prices has deepened Venezuela’s economic crisis, pushing shortages of basic products to a record. The country’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to UBS AG. Inflation, which reached 69 percent in December, is the fastest in the world.

“The government is afraid of defeat, and will only continue with more provocations like this,” Jesus Torrealba, head of the opposition alliance known as MUD, said at a news conference in Caracas after the mayor’s arrest.

Maduro in recent weeks has also resurrected accusations that the U.S. is seeking to destabilize his government. The U.S. State Department, in a statement Thursday, called the charges “baseless and false.”

“Venezuela’s economic and political problems are the result of the policies of the Venezuelan government,” the State Department said.

Military Prison

Ledezma should be immediately freed until the government shows concrete evidence of crime, Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the Washington-based organization Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement.

The 59-year-old Ledezma, who began his political career in the corn-producing heartland of central Venezuela in the early 1970s, has criticized Maduro for his handling of the economy and the detention of Lopez, who is jailed at the Ramo Verde military prison outside the capital.

The president will continue raising pressure on the opposition this year to shift the political debate away from shortages and inflation, said Moya-Ocampos at IHS.

“This is part of the government’s brutal crackdown to neutralize the opposition ahead of elections,” he said.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Venezuelan-Argentinian-Iranian Connection

from El Universal
In the wake of the death of senior Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, the media is leaking fragments of intelligence wiretaps, in which those involved mentioned a middleman in Venezuela. By Joseph Poliszuk

The Nisman case has spilled over into Venezuela. Senior Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman – who was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 18 – had named Venezuelan officials in his complaint containing allegations of a game of power seeking to shield a group of suspects in connection with the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's recent history.

In Nisman's nearly three-hundred-page indictment he brought before he died, the word Venezuela is repeated eight times, alongside the name of former ambassador Roger Capella, whom the late prosecutor mentioned in connection with a series of events and several government officials taking part in a crusade to exculpate Iranian citizens involved in the deadly bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994.

Nisman had reported shady deals between the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Teheran in exchange for political alliances and trade relations. According to Nisman's evidence, Ambassador Capella helped foment protests nine years ago against the arrests of seven former Iranian officials and a Lebanese ordered by the Argentinean judiciary.

"Capella was the one who, in November 2006, encouraged Luis D'Elía to stage protests against the Argentinean judiciary over the AMIA case, which cost D'Elía his post in the Kirchner government," said Nisman in his complaint, which he was going to formally lodge precisely the day after his dead.

"The demonstration against the Argentinean court's ruling was carried out at the Iranian embassy; it was headed by Luis D'Elía – and supported by Iran's middleman in Argentina, Jorge Alejandro "Yussuf" Khalil - and promoted by then-Venezuelan Ambassador to Buenos Aires Roger Capella," Nisman wrote.

The Venezuelan government remained silent about this, but by December 2006 it had become clear that Capella had ruffled more than a few feathers within the Argentine political establishment. Hugo Chávez himself acknowledged this. In his first press conference as president reelected for the period 2007-2013, with nearly 63% support, a victorious Chavez announced that he would replace his ambassador to Argentina after Capella's activities annoyed the government of President Néstor Kirchner.

Chávez went on to confirm that President Kirchner had called him to express concerns about the activities Capella was engaging in within the Southern Cone. "Ambassador Capella will not return to Buenos Aires," said Chávez, in line with the Argentine media who, citing sources from the Casa Rosada (the presidential palace) in Buenos Aires, had taken as granted that Capella would be removed from the post.

The silence

The straw that broke the camel's back was the demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires. Kirchner complained to Chavez about Capella's activities and, domestically, requested D'Elía to resign from his government post as land and housing under-secretary. The name of D'Elía is repeated over 250 times in a series of facts and phone taps included in Nisman's allegations against the government of Cristina Kirchner.

We are now nine years down the line and Capella remains silent on the matter. And last week was no exception. He took our call though, yet he warned us that he would not address the issue. "The conversation ends here," he said hanging up.

Capella, who is currently not holding public office, has returned to the same private medical office in the city of Valencia, where he used to treat patients with varicose or dilated veins before serving as minister of health and social development and later as ambassador to Argentina.

Capella's commitment to Chavismo has not wavered over the years, as one can read in his columns published in pro-government websites like Misionverdad.com and Aporrea.org. "On two occasions I have been removed from political appointments, and no one has ever read a line written by me, regardless of the opinion I may have about those decisions," he wrote on June 30 last year, in a reference to the open letter criticizing Nicolas Maduro's government published by former Finance and Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, who was removed in mid-2014 by Maduro.

Diplomacy Bolivarian style

Roger Capella began his political career as a young Communist and continued in the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, the Causa R party, and finally in Patria Para Todos (a splinter from the Causa R party) led by Pablo Medina, who remembers Capella as one in the group that did not support Chávez's first candidacy in 1998. "I was struck to note that, despite his harsh stance against Chávez, he was appointed a minister and made an ambassador in the Chávez's government," Medina says.

In 2003, Capella was designated as Health Minister, and he was criticized when in March 20, 2003 he uttered in public that health workers and doctors who had signed the recall referendum would be fired because to sign the petition was "an act of terrorism."

Two years later, he arrived in Argentina as a diplomat. Ambassador Capella soon set about giving lectures throughout colleges and universities in Argentina and holding meetings with social movements. "One of those meetings took place in the city of Tandil (eastern Argentina) on September 13," explained Argentine daily newspaper La Nación on November 16, 2006. "Facing an audience of cooperative leaders, Ambassador Capella summarized his style as an ambassador in one sentence: ‘The Venezuelan diplomacy is transforming itself from being a traditional diplomacy into an active militancy.'"

Nine years later, diplomacy Bolivarian style still haunts the Argentine political establishment. "It goes way beyond political interference," says opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies Criminal Law Committee. On Sunday, January 18, just hours before Nisman was scheduled to testify before this very Committee, he was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment.

"This is, as Prosecutor Nisman said, a criminal conspiracy to cover up Iran's involvement and to dissociate the eight Iranian officials accused of the AMIA terrorist attack," Bullrich said. "D'Elía set up a parallel diplomacy aimed at putting forward a different hypothesis from the one the Argentinean judiciary had arrived at," she added.

In the same vein, Venezuelan opposition lawmaker William Dávila said he would request an investigation in the Committee on Foreign Policy, Sovereignty and Integration of the National Assembly into allegations tying Venezuela and former Ambassador Capella to the Nisman case.

"This is not a case of political naïveté. It is part of a strategy that is being repeated in the rest of the embassies," Dávila says. "When a government forges alliances with anti establishment movements it may end eventually supporting terrorist causes."

"A political circus"

Contrary to those who demand accountability for Capella's actions as an ambassador to Argentina back in 2006, official spokespersons for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) contend that the case has been greatly exaggerated. "It's a political circus," says lawmaker Saúl Ortega, the vice president of the Foreign Policy Committee of Venezuela's National Assembly. "It is clear that these speculations have been put forward by Zionism in Argentina. I am sure that there is no interference, because I know Ambassador Capella and in no way he would get involved in the internal affairs of another country."

According to Ortega, the Argentine Government has shown a serious commitment to this case, just as ultimately it is in its best interest that the truth be known. "The truth of the matter is that the prosecutor never formalized his complaint," he says. "If he failed to do it in 10 years..."

But as there are more questions than answers to this story, Patricia Bullrich, a Congresswoman from Argentina's opposition PRO (Republican Proposal) Party fears that the Argentine government has its hands in the case.

While Bullrich emphasizes that the Venezuelan government had nothing to do with the car-bomb explosion in the headquarters of the Israeli Argentinian Mutual Association (AMIA) on July 18, 1994, which left 85 people dead, she does not rule out that former President Hugo Chavez played a part in brokering the controversial memorandum of understanding that Argentina and Iran signed in January 2013, which provided the basis for Nisman's accusations.

Not surprisingly, individuals in the Venezuelan territory allegedly involved in the case have recently resurfaced in the Argentine media spotlight again. In the wake of the death of senior Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, new wiretapped conversations have been leaked to the media; in one of them two of the implicated individuals refer to a middleman in Venezuela.

"Too bad you didn't come. I was with this person, the Iranian I have to introduce you to. The one in Venezuela, the one who does all there," said the secretary general of the At-Tauhid mosque in Argentina, Jorge Alejandro "Yussuf 'Khalil, in a telephone conversation with Luis D'Elía, who at that moment was undersecretary of land and habitat and the leader of the so-called piqueteros (picket organizations).

"We believe that the memorandum with Iran is the result of a geopolitical and ideological agreement," says Bullrich. "Iran gained access to Latin America aided by Chávez; the goal had always been to create a power pole. The fact is that for Argentina to participate in this power pole, the AMIA case had to be solved, as it was inconsistent with an ideological agreement with Iran. The memorandum implied an alignment with the Venezuela-Iran axis and this is why the Kirchner government had to radically change the hypothesis the Argentinean judiciary had arrived at regarding Iran's role."

The Bolivarian diplomacy causes outrage in Paraguay, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina

This is not the first time that the Bolivarian diplomacy's interfering with the internal affairs of other countries in the region has caused outrage. Kenneth Ramírez, president of the private Venezuelan Council of International Relations, recalls that then-Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was declared "persona non grata" in Paraguay three years ago, after being accused of meeting with Paraguayan generals.

Ramírez also mentions the case of the expulsion order of the Venezuelan embassy staff in Honduras in 2009; also allegations of interventionism in Bolivia on the part of then Venezuela's ambassador, Julio Montes in 2006; and the concerns in Peru about social assistance programs, such as the so-called "ALBA houses" acting as a Trojan horse.

Regarding the Nisman case, Ramirez is rather cautious. While it is true that a former Venezuelan ambassador to Buenos Aires is mentioned in Nisman's complaint, the cause of the prosecutor's death has not been ascertained yet. "What we have is an indirect connection at some point in time, through Capella, and the rest is circumstantial, there is no further evidence of Venezuela's involvement in this whole affair," he says. "However, we must point out that all this again affects our image internationally, and does cast doubt on the sensitivity of the Venezuelan socialist governments regarding Jewish communities".

The problem, according to Ramirez, is that Venezuela ceased to have a State foreign policy in classical terms, and has gone on to outline an international strategy to defend interests and ideological preferences of the governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Venezuela's Lines Are the Merchant's Fault...

from the BBC
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the owners of an unnamed chain of shops have been arrested for artificially creating long queues.

Mr Maduro said the owners had reduced the number of employees working on cash tills in order to create queues and "annoy the Venezuelan people".

He has accused Venezuela's business elite of boycotting his government.

The opposition blames the socialist policies of the past 16 years for the worsening economic crisis.

"Yesterday we detected that a famous chain of stores was conspiring, irritating the people," said Mr Maduro.

"We came, we normalized sales, we summoned the owners, we arrested them and they're prisoners for having provoked the people," he said.

A week ago, thousands of Venezuelans attended an opposition march in Caracas, banging empty pots to highlight what they say is the shortage of many staple foods.

Demonstrators also voiced discontent at high inflation, crime and long queues.

Many analysts say currency controls that restrict the availability of dollars for imports play a key role in creating a scarcity of many items.

But President Maduro is adamant that many businessmen are colluding with the political opposition to oust his government.

He accused four supermarket chains of hoarding goods and smuggling items out of the country.

"Those who use their stores to hurt the people will pay with time in prison," Mr Maduro told a group of his supporters.

Last month he called on the National Assembly to open an inquiry into what he described as "an economic war" waged against his socialist government.

Venezuela - a major oil producer - has been heavily affected by the fall in oil prices on international markets. The economy officially entered recession in December.

Figures released by the central bank showed that GDP declined by 2.3% in the third quarter of 2014, after contracting by 4.8% and 4.9% in the first and the second quarters respectively.

Inflation in Venezuela reached 63.6% in the 12 months to November, one of the highest rates in the world.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Truth Peeks Out from Behind the Propaganda...

from the New York Times
CARACAS, Venezuela — Not long ago, Jim Wyss, a South America correspondent for The Miami Herald, was detained by Venezuelan authorities for 48 hours and questioned by military intelligence. This week, he briefly became a poster boy for Venezuelan national pride.

Mr. Wyss, who is based in Bogotá, Colombia, was surprised on Thursday to find his picture being used in an online promotional campaign conducted by TeleSur, a 24-hour news network operated by the Venezuelan government.

As part of the campaign, the network has been posting images and short videos on Twitter and YouTube, with the hashtag #AmamosaVenezuela, or #WeLoveVenezuela.

One image showed a picture of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s longtime leftist president who died in 2013, with the words “We love Venezuela for being the cradle of liberators.”

Another showed a few images of Venezuelan landmarks, including Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, with the words “We love Venezuela for its beautiful scenery.”

But another image showed a picture of a light-haired, foreign-looking man ferociously hugging a woman with the slogan “We love Venezuela for receiving foreigners like one of their own.”

The only problem is that the man in the picture is Mr. Wyss.

And the photograph was taken in November 2013, as he arrived at the Miami airport after his detention by Venezuelan authorities.

At the time Mr. Wyss had been reporting in the western state of Táchira, when he was detained by military intelligence officials. He was questioned for hours while interrogators examined his computer files and photographs and combed through the hundreds of contacts on his cellphone.

He was held overnight and then flown to the capital, Caracas, where he was put in an immigration detention cell for a second night before finally being released.

Venezuelan authorities told him that he could resume his reporting, but shortly afterward he flew to Miami, where he was photographed giving a bear hug to a colleague. The picture appeared on the website of The Miami Herald and was somehow picked up by TeleSur and used in its promotional campaign this week.

Mr. Wyss wrote a lighthearted blog post on Friday about his unexpected appearance along with Mr. Chávez and Angel Falls in the TeleSur promo.

The image with the photograph of Mr. Wyss has since been removed from TeleSur’s Twitter feed. But on Friday it could still be found on Topsy, a website that logs and tracks Twitter posts. The website shows that the image was posted on the station’s Twitter feed on Thursday.

“I thought it was hilarious,” Mr. Wyss said by telephone from Bogotá. “I didn’t know if it was a big screw-up in TeleSur or if somebody had a really wicked sense of humor. It’s kind of bizarre.”

Mr. Wyss said he had returned to Venezuela since the incident in 2013 and had been able to operate as a journalist without trouble.

An employee at the office of TeleSur said that the station’s president, Patricia Villegas, would not comment.