When hunger drew tens of thousands of Venezuelans to the streets last summer in protest, President Nicolas Maduro turned to the military to manage the country's diminished food supply, putting generals in charge of everything from butter to rice.
But instead of fighting hunger, the military is making money from it, an Associated Press investigation shows. That's what grocer Jose Campos found when he ran out of pantry staples this year. In the middle of the night, he would travel to an illegal market run by the military to buy corn flour — at 100 times the government-set price.
"The military would be watching over whole bags of money," Campos said. "They always had what I needed."
With much of the oil country on the verge of starvation and malnourished children dying in pediatric wards, food trafficking has become big business in Venezuela. And the military is at the heart of the graft, according to documents and interviews with more than 60 officials, company owners and workers, including five former generals.
As a result, food is not reaching those who most need it.
The U.S. government has taken notice. Prosecutors have opened investigations against senior Venezuelan officials for laundering riches from food contracts through the U.S. financial system, according to several people with direct knowledge of the probes. No charges have been brought.
"Lately, food is a better business than drugs," said retired Gen. Cliver Alcala, who helped oversee border security.
The late President Hugo Chavez created a Food Ministry in 2004. His socialist government nationalized and then neglected farms and factories, and domestic production dried up. When the price of oil collapsed in 2014, the government no longer could afford to import all the country needed.
Hungry Venezuelans began rioting, and so Maduro handed the generals complete power over food. The government now imports nearly all the country's food, and corruption drives prices sky-high, said Werner Gutierrez, agronomy professor at the University of Zulia.
"If Venezuela paid market prices, we'd be able to double our imports," Gutierrez said. "Instead, people are starving."
In large part due to concerns of graft, the three largest global food traders, all based in the U.S., have stopped selling directly to the Venezuelan government.
One South American businessman says he paid millions in kickbacks to Venezuelan officials as the hunger crisis worsened, including $8 million to people who work for the food minister, Gen. Rodolfo Marco Torres. The businessman insisted on speaking anonymously because he did not want to acknowledge participating in corruption.
He explained that vendors like him can afford to pay off officials because they build large profit margins into what they bill the state. A single $52 million contract of his to import yellow corn last year, seen by AP, included a potential overpayment of more than $20 million, compared with market prices at the time.
Marco Torres did not respond to requests for comment by phone, email and hand-delivered letter. In the past, he has said he will not be lured into fights with an unpatriotic opposition.
Some contracts go to companies that have no experience dealing in food or seem to exist only on paper. Financial documents obtained by AP show that Marco Torres did business with Panama-registered Atlas Systems International, which has all the hallmarks of a shell company. Another government food supplier, J.A. Comercio de Generos Alimenticios, lists on its website a nonexistent address in an industrial city near Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The two companies transferred more than $5.5 million in 2012 and 2013 to a Geneva account controlled by the brothers-in-law of the then-food minister, Gen. Carlos Osorio, according to bank and internal company documents seen by AP.
Osorio, recently appointed to oversee transparency in the military, did not respond to requests for comment, but in the past dismissed charges of corruption as personal attacks from the opposition.
The socialist administration says it takes graft seriously.
"The state has an obligation to root out corruption in all levels of public administration," the defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, said this fall.
And yet dirty dealing persists from the port to the markets, according to dozens of people working in Puerto Cabello, which handles the majority of imported food. Officials sometimes keep ships waiting at sea until they are paid off, according to a stevedore who spoke anonymously because he feared losing his job.
After the cargo is unloaded, customs officials take their cut, refusing to even start the process of nationalizing goods without a payment, four customs workers said, .
"It's an unbroken chain of bribery from when your ship comes in until the food is driven out in trucks," said Luis Pena, a director at the Caracas-based importer Premier Foods.
If importers try to get through the process without greasing the wheels, food sits and spoils, Pena said. Rotting food is a problem even as 90 percent of Venezuelans say they can't afford enough to eat. The demands for bribes delay shipments, and state officials sometimes neglect to distribute what they import.
Puerto Cabello crane operator Daniel Arteaga watched last winter as state workers buried hundreds of containers of spoiled chicken, meat and beans.
"All these refrigerated containers, and meanwhile people are waiting in food lines each week just to buy a single chicken," Arteaga said.
The corruption doesn't stop once cargo leaves the port, according to truck drivers. The military has set up checkpoints along highways to catch food traffickers, and truck drivers say they have to pay bribes at about half of them.
At the end of the food chain, some soldiers partake in selling food directly to citizens, according to business owners. Bakery owner Jose Ferreira cuts two checks for each purchase of sugar: one for the official price of 2 cents a pound and one for the kickback of 60 cents a pound. He keeps copies of both checks in his books, seen by the AP, in case he is ever audited.
"We have no other option," he said.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
When the Cold War ended 25 years ago, the Soviet Union vanished into the ash heap of history. That left the West’s “useful idiots” — Lenin’s term for the ideologues and toadies who could always be relied on to justify or praise whatever Moscow did — in search of other socialist thugs to fawn over. Many found a new heartthrob in Hugo Chavez, the anti-Yanqui rabble-rouser who was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 and in short order had transformed the country from a successful social democracy into a grim and corrupt autocracy.
An avowed Marxist and protégé of Fidel Castro, Chavez gradually seized control of every lever of state power in Venezuela. The constitution was rewritten to strip the legislature and judiciary of their independence, authorize censorship of the press, and allow Chavez to legislate by decree. Before long, the government acquired a stranglehold over the economy, including the huge and profitable energy sector. (Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world.)
With petrodollars pouring in, Chavez had free rein to put his statist prescriptions into effect. The so-called Bolivarian revolution over which he — and later his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro — presided, was an unfettered, real-world example of anticapitalist socialism in action. Venezuela since at least the 1970s had been Latin America’s most affluent nation. Now it was a showpiece for command-and-control economics: price and currency controls, wealth redistribution, ramped-up government spending, expropriation of land, and the nationalization of private banks, mines, and oil companies.
And the useful idiots ate it up.
In a Salon piece titled “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle,” David Sirota declared that the Venezuelan ruler, with his “full-throated advocacy of socialism,” had “racked up an economic record that . . . American president[s] could only dream of achieving.” The Guardian offered “Three cheers for Chavez.” Moviemaker Oliver Stone filmed a documentary gushing over “the positive changes that have happened economically in all of South America” because of Venezuela’s socialist government. And when Chavez died in 2013, Jimmy Carter extolled the strongman for “improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen.”
In the real world, however, socialism has transformed Venezuela into a Third World dystopia.
Venezuela this Christmas is sunk in misery, as it was last Christmas, and the Christmas before that. Venezuelans, their economy wrecked by statism, face crippling shortages of everything from food and medicine to toilet paper and electricity. Violent crime is out of control. Shoppers are forced to stand in lines for hours outside drugstores and supermarkets — lines that routinely lead to empty shelves, or that break down in fistfights, muggings, and mob looting. Just last week the government deployed 3,000 troops to restore order after frantic rioters rampaged through shops and homes in the southeastern state of Bolivar.
In the beautiful country that used to boast the highest standard of living in Latin America, patients now die in hospitals for lack of basic health care staples: soap, gloves, oxygen, drugs. In some medical wards, there isn’t even water to wash the blood from operating tables.
Socialism invariably kills and impoverishes. Gushing oil revenues amid a global energy boom could temporarily disguise the corrosion caused by a government takeover of market functions. But only temporarily. The Chavez/Maduro “Bolivarian revolution” has been economic poison, just like every other Marxist “revolution” from Lenin’s Russia to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea to the Castros’ Cuba. By shredding property rights, dictating prices, and trying to control supply and demand, socialist regimes eventually make everything worse and virtually everyone poorer. Conversely, when governments protect free markets and allow buyers and sellers to interact freely, prosperity expands.
For three years in a row, Venezuela has ranked No. 1 on the Cato Institute’s “misery index,” which ranks each of the world’s countries according to a formula that adds its unemployment, interest, and inflation rates, then subtracts its annual change in gross domestic product per capita. With Venezuelan currency virtually worthless — hyperinflation this year is estimated at higher than 700 percent — residents have to resort to humiliating workarounds. Reuters reported this month that Venezuelan women have been flocking across the border into Colombia and selling their hair to earn some money with which to buy food, medicine, or diapers.
The government in Caracas, meanwhile, clings tightly to its socialist dogma, blaming the country’s woes on Colombia’s mafia or greedy businessmen. A fortnight ago, government agents raided a toy distributor, confiscating nearly 4 million toys on the grounds that the company was planning to sell them at inflated prices. The regime says it will make the toys available at below-market prices to the poor — thereby ensuring that in Venezuela next Christmas, toys won’t be available at any price. If nothing else, Venezuelan socialism has accomplished this much: It has transformed the Grinch from fiction into reality.
VENEZUELA, WHICH was once Latin America’s richest country, has become an unwilling test site for how much economic and social stress a modern nation can tolerate before it descends into pure anarchy. This month its 31 million people lurched a big step closer to that breaking point, thanks to another senseless decree by its autocratic populist government.
For years Venezuelans have struggled with mounting shortages of food, medicine and other consumer goods, as well as triple-digit inflation that has rendered the national currency, the bolivar, worthless. By this month the 100-bolivar bill, the largest note in circulation, was worth only 2 cents, forcing people to carry piles of them in order to make the most rudimentary purchases. Then came this coup: On Dec. 11, President Nicolás Maduro, an economically illiterate former bus driver, announced that all 6 billion 100-bolivar notes would cease to be legal tender in just 72 hours. He also closed Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil, on the theory that traders were hoarding currency in those countries.
Almost overnight, millions of Venezuelans — about 40 percent of whom do not have bank accounts in which the currency could be deposited — lost the ability to purchase even those goods still available on the market. The result was predictable: looting and riots in at least eight cities. In the eastern town of Ciudad Bolivar, with a population of some 400,000, hundreds of stores were looted and at least three people were killed in three days of mayhem.
Mr. Maduro was forced to modify his fiat, extending the currency’s validity to Jan. 2 and reopening the borders. The government says it will distribute new bills in larger denominations. Meanwhile, the president is doing his best to blame the United States for the fiasco, claiming that it had somehow been orchestrated by President Obama .
Venezuelans no longer believe such nonsense. A survey released this month by pollster Alfredo Keller showed that only 1 percent said the United States was to blame for the country’s crisis, while 76 percent blamed Mr. Maduro and the regime founded by Hugo Chávez. Three-quarters said they believed children were dying because of a lack of food and medicine, and 98 percent said they had been unable to find essential products. Only 19 percent said they still supported the regime.
That the Maduro government somehow staggers on is due to its refusal to allow a constitutionally permitted presidential recall referendum ; a divided opposition; a military deeply compromised by corruption, including drug trafficking; and the diversion of international pressure — including from the United States — into feckless and futile attempts to promote negotiations between the government and the opposition. Instead of an election-driven political transition or a people-powered revolution, Venezuela is undergoing a comprehensive breakdown of order unlike anything Latin America has seen in decades. That its hemispheric neighbors witness this implosion without using the means they have to bring meaningful pressure to bear on the government renders the failure all the more profound.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
from the Latin American Herald Tribune
CARACAS - A Delaware Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing against Citgo parent PDV Holding, Inc. on November 30 reveals that Venezuela has secretly mortgaged their Citgo refineries in the United States to Russia's Rosneft in exchange for cash.
Redd Intelligence uncovered the UCC filing and broke the news.
CITGO - A Strategic Asset?
PDV Holding Inc., owned by Venezuela state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), owns Citgo Holding Inc., which in turn, owns Citgo Petroleum Corporation, which has 3 refineries and pipelines throughout the United States.
The lien means that should Citgo or PDVSA default, Russia's state controlled oil company Rosneft could end up owning strategically important oil refineries in the United States.
Citgo owns oil and gas pipelines throughout the country as well as oil refineries in Corpus Christi, Texas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Lemont, Illinois (outside of Chicago). Citgo's refineries can refine 749,000 barrels per day and the Lake Charles refinery is the sixth-largest refining facility in the U.S.
The UCC filing is used to protect creditors. According to the copy obtained by the Latin American Herald Tribune, the UCC "Financing Statement" was filed by "secured creditor" "Rosneft Trading S.A., Place du Lac, 2, Geneva, ZZ 1204" on November 30.
Steven Bodzin, one of the leading investigative reporters on Latin America who uncovered the filing and broke the story for REDD Intelligence, reported that cash-strapped PDVSA mortgaged 49.9% of Citgo to Rosneft for a $1.5 billion loan.
CITGO MORTGAGES 50.1%
In October, in addition to a 20% bonus, PDVSA used 50.1% of Citgo Holding Inc. as collateral to induce $2.8 billion of holders of debt maturing within the year to extend into a new 4 year bond. Should PDVSA default, the holders of the new $3.4 billion PDVSA 8.5% of 2020 would be able to take 50.1% of Citgo Holding Inc.
On October 30, Venezuela's reserves went up $891 million, according to the Venezuela Central Bank, and analysts were unable to account for it. PDVSA was late paying the almost $3 billion in bond debt that it owed in November, with the last $146 million that was due on November 17 being paid 2 weeks late on November 30 and December 1.
Eulogio del Pino, PDVSA head along with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez met on November 20 with the head of Russia’s Rosneft Igor Sechin to "strengthen the cooperation agenda between the two oil companies."
“We continue consolidating strategic alliances between Pdvsa and Rosneft. Important meetings will be held in the next hours,” Del Pino posted on his Twitter account.
Del Pino also met with Rosneft Vice-President Eric Maurice Liron to track joint projects, according to Venezuela's state-run news agency AVN.
Rosneft is a minority shareholder in five joint crude oil-producing companies: Petro Miranda, Petro Victoria, Petro Perijá, Petro Monagas and Boquerón.
RUSSIA'S EXPANDING ENERGY FOOTHOLD
In 2010, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez sold PDVSA's stakes in 4 Ruhr oil refineries in Germany to Rosneft for $1.6 billion, giving Rosneft a key foothold in the European market.
Founded in 1992, Rosenft became the world's biggest oil and gas producer by volume (5.2 million barrels per day) through acquiring others. In 2004, Rosneft took over competitor Yukos after Vladimir Putin jailed Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and in 2013 Rosneft took over TNK. BP owns almost 20%.
The Russian government owns 69.5% of Rosneft, and Rosneft head Igor Sechin is a long-time ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In October, Rosneft acquired Indian refiner Essar Oil in a $13 billion deal. The transaction included India's second-largest refinery at Vadinar (400,000 bpd), as well as port terminals, power plants and pumps.
Rosneft also recently took a stake in an Egyptian gas field worth as much as $2.8 billion.
CITGO SUED FOR FRAUDULENT TRANSFER
Citgo is already being sued in Delaware in separate suits by both ConocoPhillips and Crystallex under Delaware's Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, alleging that Citgo, PDVSA and Venezuela "fraudulently transferred" $2.8 billion in wealth out of the country to avoid billions of dollars of claims by creditors.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Venezuelan authorities have arrested two toy company executives and seized almost four million toys, which they say they will distribute to the poor.
Officials accused the company of hoarding toys and hiking prices in the run-up to Christmas.
Last week, the government issued an order to retailers to reduce prices on a range of goods by 30%.
Business owners say the order is a populist political move, and pushing them towards bankruptcy.
Venezuela's consumer protection agency, Sundde, said toy distributor Kreisel had stockpiled the goods and was reselling them at a margin of up to 50,000%.
"Our children are sacred, we will not let them rob you of Christmas," it said in a tweet, along with photos and video of thousands of boxes of toys.
In total, 3,821,926 toys were seized from two warehouses, and would be sold at low prices, it said.
William Contreras, head of Sundde, said Kreisel had claimed the toys were old or discontinued. The agency also posted photos of the two executives being marched from the premises by a squad of heavily armed soldiers.
This is not the first time Venezuela has ordered price cuts on retailers, or mobilised armed units to enforce it.
In late 2013, the country introduced laws allowing the government to fix prices and dictate profit margins.
The same legislation limited profits to 30% - the amount often discounted in the compulsory "adjustments" enforced by Sundde at hundreds of retailers in the past week.
The same measures have been used to fix the prices of basic products such as flour, meat and bread - but supply is limited in a country where many people go hungry.
A jar of Nutella - a luxury item - can cost half the monthly minimum wage.
The Venezuelan government is becoming increasingly unpopular as the country's economic crisis grows.
The nation is rich in oil, but international oil prices have fallen in recent years.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation - the rate at which prices go up - will hit 2,000% next year.
Venezuela is ready to issue new, higher-value notes to deal with the problem - but rising prices are still squeezing many ordinary citizens.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Friday, October 28, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Following the Venezuelan opposition’s announcement that there will be a strike held October 28, the government has threatened all companies that attempt to participate.
First Deputy Chairman of the Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Diosdado Cabello threatened all companies, saying that those that participate in the strike will be taken over by “the people.”
“Did they not call for a strike for Friday?” He said. “Now I’ll tell you something. Comrades of the armed forces, stand firm against companies that strike, companies that are being taken over by the workers and the people.”
Cabello said he spoke with President Nicolás Maduro, whose instructions are to stand firm against any company that strikes, as the armed forces “will not allow any disturbances.”
The warning was made after the opposition announced plans for a general strike Friday, October 28 as part of a demand that the government announce a date for the recall against President Maduro.
Maduro has thus far disregarded the demand, according to reports.
“I call on working class entrepreneurs to close ranks,” Maduro said, adding that he and the people have to defend “prosperity and life in Venezuela.”
Furthermore, the Federation of Chambers and Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela announced it is up to each and every company and its employees whether they want to join in on the strike.
“We respect, as it says in our constitution, the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully,” the statement said. “It is up to each company, along with its employees, to join or not to join the 12 hours general strike called by the MUD for Friday, October 28.”
The text also calls for carrying out a political “frank and sincere” dialogue to ensure Venezuela sees progress and prosperity.
“The state must understand that maintaining and sharpening the political and institutional crisis only worsens the quality of life of Venezuelans,” the statement said. “The political and economic model adopted by the government has kept the country in a deep domestic production crisis.”
Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services of Caracas Victor Maldonado gave his support of all efforts made by the opposition — as long as they are peaceful — in order to restore democracy.
“There is no choice but to confront the dictatorship,” he said. “It is part of … the challenge of restoring democracy. I’m sure the streets are deserted because people will respond.”
“Join the support for the general strike as a formula of worker participation in the struggle for the rescue of democracy and the defense of labor rights,” said Coordinator of the National Workers Union Marcela Máspero.
She stressed that the massive attendance at the march Wednesday, October 26 showed that the Venezuelan people have the will to act against a regmine that has impoverished the working class.
Friday, October 21, 2016
Whatever last vestige of democracy was left in Venezuela was wiped away Thursday when the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro suspended an effort to put a recall referendum to a vote. From the Associated Press:With the latest actions, the government has effectively halted the effort to stage a recall effort that polls suggest Maduro would have lost by a wide margin. The ruling is particularly dramatic because it comes just days before critics of the socialist administration were to start gathering the one-fifth of voters’ signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot.The recall referendum itself is legal but the socialist government has been delaying the effort for months. The officials excuse for calling it off now is that fraud was involved in an earlier step of the process involving the gathering of signatures. That earlier step required the gathering of 200,000 signatures. The opposition turned in 1.8 million just to be sure.
“This is a big deal and reveals that the government was fearful of what could happen in the three-day signature collection period. They have effectively postponed the recall referendum indefinitely. This measure makes it difficult to think of Venezuela as a democracy,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America…
The suspension of the recall came as a shock to many Venezuelans, who were gearing up for the chance to sign petitions next week seeking the embattled leader’s removal. To trigger a stay-or-go referendum, the opposition needed to collect and validate some 4 million signatures from 20 percent of the electorate in 24 states over three days next week.
Henrique Capriles, one of the leaders of the opposition, said on Twitter, “the Government pushes today to a very dangerous stage and increase of the crisis.” He also posted an image of an ominous legal document which orders that he and 7 other opposition leaders not leave the country. No reason was given for the order.
Venezuela has been suffering under triple-digit inflation which has made finding food, medicine and other basic goods a daily struggle for most Venezuelans. The country also has the second highest murder rate in the world. President Maduro is the successor to Hugo Chavez who died of cancer in 2013.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Election officials on Wednesday quashed the opposition's hope of holding a recall referendum that could wrest Venezuela's presidency from the ruling socialist party.
Officials said a national vote on removing President Nicolas Maduro could take place if the opposition gathers enough signatures over the course of three days at the end of October, but add that a referendum would be held in the first quarter of 2017.
That timing is crucial. A successful vote to oust Maduro this year would trigger a presidential election and give the opposition a shot at winning power. If Maduro were to be voted out in 2017, though, his vice president would finish the presidential term, leaving the socialists in charge.
With Venezuela's economy in crisis, with soaring inflation and widespread shortages, polls say a majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone.
Critics of Venezuela's 17-year left-wing administration have made the recall their central political issue. The opposition staged its largest street demonstration in years Sept. 1 with a rally in Caracas demanding a referendum against Maduro be held in 2016.
The spokesman for the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, said at a news conference Wednesday night that the opposition would continue to demand a recall vote this year.
"The government is scared to face the people in elections, in the street, in any civic arena," he said.
Socialist party leaders have been saying all along that any recall vote would not take place this year.
Other conditions laid out by elections officials Wednesday were also unfavorable to the opposition.
Maduro's opponents will be allowed to gather voter signatures Oct. 26-28, with 20 percent of Venezuela's registered voters needed to call a referendum. The opposition previously gathered signatures from 1 percent of the electorate, which allowed them to go to the second phase of signature collection.
But in a blow to the recall effort, officials said that for the campaign to succeed it must get signatures from 20 percent of the electorate in each of Venezuela's 23 states. Opposition leaders say they should only have to gather signatures from 20 percent of the voter roll nationwide, since some states are very remote and sparsely populated, and it's the popular vote that determines who wins the presidency.
The opposition asked the government to provide 20,000 voting machines that are used to register and verify signatures, but officials will provide only 5,400.
The campaign also wanted to use the machines all day. Instead, the government will open polling stations for just seven hours daily.
Even if the election is delayed until next year, the three-day signature gathering process could be the opposition's best chance at getting supporters into the streets for a show of strength.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has led the recall campaign and is considered to have a strong shot at winning a presidential election, responded to Wednesday's announcement by pointing to opinion polls that suggest 80 percent of Venezuelans would vote against Maduro.
"They are the 20%! We are the great majority, the 80%! We are millions and we are going to make them feel it!" he wrote on Twitter.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Sunday, September 11, 2016
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Venezuelans of all political stripes want to abandon the country in record numbers, as the socialist nation continues its downward economic and political spiral, according to a poll released Friday.
A survey by Caracas-based Datincorp found that 57 percent of all Venezuelans said they want to leave the country, up from 49 percent in May 2015. Broken down by political affiliation, the poll found that 24 percent of all government supporters and 71 percent of those who consider themselves the opposition want to emigrate.
“People don’t want to leave for political reasons. It’s not that they hate the left or socialism,” said Datincorp President Jesús Seguías. “It’s because quality of life has tanked.”
The trend is particularly worrisome in a nation that has a long history of seeing net inflows of migrants.
In its report, Datincorp called the phenomenon “the gravest problem that Venezuela is facing — worse than the [food] shortages, the high cost of living and crime.”
Seguías said the statement isn’t overblown. While the economy can be fixed with reforms and crime can be reduced by overhauling the police, getting Venezuelans to come home once they’ve left will be challenging.
Most of those who are leaving are educated professionals, he said, and their departure is hollowing out society.
“This is a drama that could have historic consequences,” he said.
From 1990 to 2015, the number of Venezuelans living abroad more than tripled from 185,282 to 606,344, according to the United Nations’ Population Division. Venezuelan media, citing researchers, claim that as many as 1.6 million people might have left the country in the decade starting in 1999.
From 2005-2014, some 100,324 Venezuelans became legal residents in the United States — including 8,427 in that last year alone — according to the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, the PEW Research Center said there were 248,000 Venezuelans living in the United States in 2013, and that 42 percent of them live in Florida.
But Datincorp said it has seen a spike in those moving abroad starting after national protests in 2014. It also said that “based on several studies, there’s a second big exodus taking place right now.”
The survey of 1,200 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. And it was done on Aug. 22 — just days before an estimated 1 million people took to the streets of Caracas to push for a presidential recall.
Venezuela is rich in oil but poor in just about everything else. In recent years, it’s been caught in a downward spiral of triple digit inflation, food shortages and soaring crime. As President Nicolás Maduro has seen his ratings fall and his term threatened by the recall push, his administration has dug in, jailing politicians, activists and critical journalists.
What the administration hasn’t done is engage in the wholesale reforms that some say are needed to pull the country out of the morass.
Seguías said it was impossible to tell which of the multiple factors were forcing Venezuelans to flee.
“I think it’s the desperation of seeing a country that just keeps getting worse,” he said.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
CARACAS (AFP) – The Venezuelan authorities charged prominent journalist Braulio Jatar Alonso with money launder-ing Monday, although his family says he was arrested for releasing videos of a rowdy protest against President Nicolas Maduro.
Jatar, a Chilean-Venezuelan national, was one of around 30 people arrested after a protest on Friday in which an angry, pot-banging crowd surrounded the leftist president at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, blaming him for crippling food shortages.
Dozens of protesters were swept up in an ensuing crackdown, human rights groups said. All have now been released except Jatar, the director of the Venezuelan news website Reporte Confidencial.
The National Press Workers’ Union condemned his arrest as “arbitrary” and “political”.
“Deprived of his freedom for reporting the news,” Jatar’s son wrote on Twitter. “They won’t muzzle us, and they won’t muzzle Venezuela.”
Posting images of a heavily armed police contingent outside his father’s hearing in the Caribbean island resort city of Porlamar, he quipped that it resembled a court appearance of the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Jatar will remain in custody at the local headquarters of the Venezuelan intelligence service, his website said.
The journalist was arrested Saturday morning on his way to a radio station where he hosts a program, his family says.
The authorities have not explained their case against him. According to Jatar’s family, police say he was arrested with a large amount of cash in his vehicle.
The Venezuelan government has accused the media of “exaggerating” Friday’s protest, which came on the heels of massive anti-Maduro demonstrations that drew around a million people on Thursday, the biggest in decades.
Sideswiped by a plunge in global crude prices, oil-rich Venezuela has descended into an economic crisis marked by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.
Protesters are demanding the authorities let the opposition go ahead with efforts to call a referendum on removing Maduro from power.
Around 60 people were arrested for unrest at Thursday’s protests, 23 of whom remain in custody, according to a watchdog group.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
President Nicolas Maduro has set a 48-hour deadline for ministers to dismiss some public workers who requested a recall referendum against him, a Socialist Party spokesman said Monday.
Hundreds of public workers have already said they were dismissed for signing a petition for a referendum against the unpopular president, according to testimony seen by Reuters, human rights groups and local media.
"Today, by order of the party president Nicolas Maduro, five ministries ... cannot have people that are against the Revolution and the president in management positions in ministries, public institutions, local government and municipalities," said Jorge Rodriguez, the leader of the Socialist Party in Venezuela.
"They have a deadline of 48 hours," said Rodriguez.
The ministries cited by Rodriguez were food, basic industries and finance among others.
Venezuela's constitution allows a recall referendum halfway through a president's six-year term. The opposition is pushing for a referendum against Maduro, blaming him for an economic and social crisis.
Supermarket queues are in the hundreds or thousands, with lootings and food riots a daily occurrence. Shortages, triple digit inflation and a deep recession have pushed Maduro's approval ratings to near its lowest since he was elected president in 2013.
The opposition accuses the electoral council of stalling the process for a referendum so that it takes place next year. If that happens and Maduro loses, his Vice President would become president, keeping the Socialist Party in power.
In 2004, during the campaign for a referendum against former president Hugo Chavez, government lawmaker Luis Tascon published a list of more than 2.4 million Venezuelans who signed in favor of a referendum.
Many lost jobs and were marginalized from state services and the "Tascon List" became notorious.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro Spent $400,000 Celebrating Fidel Castro’s Birthday
AUGUST 17, 2016 AT 10:54 AM
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro reportedly spent more US $400,000 in less than a week while celebrating the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba.
According to National Assembly member Carlos Berrizbeitia, Maduro — who was in Cuba Monday, August 8 through Sunday, August 14 — lived lavishly while celebrating on the island.
According to calculations done by Berrizbeitia, the Venezuelan government has spent US $124 million on visiting other countries so far this year.
“The amount spent on trips this years surpasses billions of bolívares,” Berrizbeitia said. “For the trip to Cuba, for example, it was unnecessary to use the presidential plane, whose flight time cost US $25,000. Additionally, they brought musicians, journalists, family and friends to sing happy birthday to Fidel. That added up to $400,000 because there were more than 80 people there.”
Several military members also attended, and were in Cuba from August 8 through August 14 with officials and journalists spending money on travel, hotels and food — up to US $15,000 per day, for a total of $105,000.
Berrizbeitia said he feels sorry for the amount of money the Venezuelan government is spending while there are people suffering in the street, and unable to get medicine in hospitals.
He did not criticize Maduro’s trip to the Dominican Republic, however, as the President was invited by Danilo Medina on official business. But official business, Berrizbeitia said, it not the same as a vacation.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
It should be clear to all but those who remain willfully blind to reality that Venezuela is on an irreversible course to total collapse. Yet even so, the government this week passed on what may well be its last chance to avoid the inevitable social explosion.
Venezuela’s people desperately want to get rid of President Nicolás Maduro by nonviolent means and escape from the nightmare that daily life has become in what was once a proud Latin American democracy.
Food is next to impossible to find. In cities like Caracas, many families make do with one meal a day.
Doctors report children with severe cases of malnourishment far more common in other parts of the world, but not seen heretofore in Venezuela.
Medicine has become a luxury, if you can find it. In Miami, benevolent “drug mules” have organized an unofficial network of couriers to send prescription drugs and medicines to those in need back home.
Crime is so rampant that people in cities like Caracas fear venturing far from home.
Mr. Maduro is incapable of fixing any of this because he is wed to a socialist model of governing that cannot possibly work as long as its virtually sole export — oil — continues to sell at less than half of the price it yielded just two or three years ago. Corruption, cronyism and inept management add to the economic debacle.
Venezuelans know that as long as Mr. Maduro is president, their predicament will only get worse. In the more than three years under his rule, the country has gone from bad to worse to intolerable.
The people of Venezuela, including many who once supported socialist policies, have tried just about everything in the arsenal of protest politics to make the rest of the world — as well as the government — understand that they are fed up, that they demand and deserve a government that actually works.
They’ve tried public, mostly peaceful demonstrations. They’ve tried voting in a legislative assembly controlled by Mr. Maduro’s opponents. They’ve tried holding a “dialogue” with the unresponsive government. The most desperate have finally capitulated and left the country.
None of this has obliged Mr. Maduro to change course. It’s as if he is determined to take the country over the cliff.
In the latest move, the democratic opposition gathered enough signatures on a petition for a recall referendum to trigger a process leading to a vote for a new government. This is the constitutionally prescribed way of changing the government.
Mr. Maduro’s electoral council responded this week by imposing a timetable for the next step in the process — gathering even more signatures, amounting to 20 percent of the country’s voters — that ensures that the actual vote (if it is allowed to take place) would not come about until next year.
Timing matters, The needless delay means that if Mr. Maduro loses the referendum, he would be succeeded by his vice president to serve the rest of his term through 2019. A vote this year, however, because it comes earlier in the incumbent’s term, could result in a new presidential election that the opposition would probably win.
By dragging its feet, the government has foreclosed the democratic option to peaceful change. That is on Mr. Maduro and his cronies. When the collapse comes, as it surely will eventually, the president and his cronies will have no one but themselves to blame.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
The Curacao Coast Guard detained 20 Venezuelans who were trying to reach the island by raft this Saturday, August 6.
According to local media, the boat was detected by radar six miles from the island, making authorities suspicious.
Authorities intercepted the boat, finding one Colombian citizen and 20 Venezuelans, all of whom were arrested.
They reportedly wanted to reach land with the intention of fleeing the economic, political and social crisis currently facing Venezuela. The country has the highest inflation in the world, and the lowest wages in the region.
This is not the first time Venezuelans have tried to illegally leave the country through illegal means. On March 29, a corpse was found on Baby Beach in San Nicolas. Later, a Venezuelan who tried to illegally enter Aruba aboard a raft was found by authorities.
On June 29, 2015, three Venezuelan students illegally entered Trinidad and Tobago using the same method.
On May 9, the government of Curacao said it was preparing to receive possible Venezuelan refugees; it also announced that if Venezuelans came in mass migration that it would not have the capacity to help them all.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
CARACAS -- A decree by the embattled Nicolas Maduro administration ordering civil servants and private sector workers alike to work in the fields for two to four months at a time is raising eyebrows in Caracas. And that is saying a lot these days.
“The will of the worker has been annulled,” wrote analyst Angel Alayon in a post Wednesday.
This is the latest in a series of measures aimed at reducing food scarcity, this time through accelerated production of foodstuffs by increased manpower. The government of Maduro, which describes itself as socialist, already has vast control of the economy, including ownership of the company that provides the country with more than 90% of all its hard currency (state oil company PDVSA), price control and currency exchange controls.
It also nationalizes foreign and private owned companies regularly: just last week Maduro took control of the local subsidiary of U.S. paper-products maker Kimberly-Clark after it stopped production. Shortages have actually become more acute since they began in 2013, with analysts saying that price controls, the root cause of scarcity, are not being addressed properly.
The move to force people to work in the fields -- as was called for during the Allende term in Chile and is still in force in Cuba to this day -- has been denounced by labor and business owners alike. The text (see below) says it’s “mandatory” to assist the government in growing crops and other agricultural activities.
Froilan Barrios, a workers’ rights activist said that “actions such as this one represent a grave danger for everything we workers have won historically and culturally over the centuries. What little is left of the productive apparatus of the country is being completely dislocated and the Venezuelan economy loses its sense.”
The President of Fedecamaras, the country’s main guild of business owners, Francisco Martines, said the government was treating the workers as chattel and that, in growing crops, 60 days was not enough to see a result. Venezuela has typically a dry season of six months and a rainy season of similar length.
Venezuela has 3 million civil servants in a total population of about 30 million people and a severe shortage in key foodstuffs, some of which were, until very recently produced locally. Venezuela it April reported a high unemployment rate of more than 7%, but the government says it’s “the lowest in 20 years," according to Planning Minister Ricardo Menendez.
Menendez also said last week that there was no hunger in Venezuela, and that more than 90% of the population was getting three meals a day, a figure the opposition says is false, pointing to the long lines at grocery stores and the "humanitarian corridors" of hundreds of thousands seeking food and medicine in Brazil and Colombia
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Two of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s nephews have confessed to attempting to traffic 800 kilograms of cocaine into New York from Venezuela, identifying the owners of the drugs as the Marxist terrorist group FARC.
According to documents, newly introduced in the trial of Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas – related to Maduro through his wife, first lady and legislator Cilia Flores – the two men admitted they had planned to make multiple cocaine deliveries from Venezuela through Honduras to the United States on behalf of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a half-century-old guerrilla terrorist group. Many of the revelations come from conversations Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas had with undercover DEA agents before their arrests flying into the United States from Haiti in November 2015. The DEA agents were posing as Mexican drug traffickers seeking to aid the transport of the merchandise in exchange for a cut of the profits.
The FARC remains active, despite its 50-year history, currently negotiating a deal with the government of Colombia for members to reintegrate into society without having to spend time in prison for their crimes. The group has long enjoyed friendly relations with socialist Venezuela, with Hugo Chávez lending them safe haven. The group is so accepted in Venezuela that, in 2014, they hosted a 50-year anniversary celebration in Caracas.
In addition to identifying the drugs as coming from the FARC, the nephews claimed that they were shipping drugs to generate funds for their aunt’s legislative campaign. Campo Flores later admits to a DEA agent, however, that they lied about the use of the money. “Campo declared that friends in the drug business had told him to be careful not to get robbed and, to protect himself, he made his declaration regarding his aunt’s campaign,” the document notes. The declaration implies that any wrongdoing against Campo Flores would incur the wrath of the Venezuelan socialist government at large.
Campo made one other political statement to undercover agents: “We are at war with the United States.”
The Flores nephews had previously told law enforcement officials that the true owners of the cocaine were Diosdado Cabello, then the nation’s second-in-command and currently the Assembly minority Leader; and Tarek El Aissami, the socialist governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state. The FARC claim is the third such ownership claim the nephews have made.
Witnesses who have defected from Venezuela’s socialist government have identified Cabello as the drug lord behind the Cartel de los Soles, one of Latin America’s biggest drug trafficking operations, believed to be run by the Venezuelan military. Cabello sued multiple media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, for publishing reports with evidence linking him to the cartel. While Maduro himself has not been linked to drug trafficking operations, he has been accused of accepting campaign donations from drug traffickers.
Both Cabello and Maduro have accused the United States of attempting to disparage their government through the arrest of the Flores nephews. Flores herself has decreed the arrest an example of “the crime of kidnapping” and demanded their release, accusing the DEA of “violating our sovereignty and committing crimes on our land.”
In addition to members of his family actively participating in the drug trade, Maduro’s tenure as president of Venezuela has seen drug activity skyrocket.“Venezuela is the most efficient route for traffickers,” a U.S. official told the Argentine news outlet Infobae shortly after the Flores nephews’ arrests.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
It’s been almost two years now since the renowned Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann caused a stir in his native Venezuela by posing an uncomfortable question.
Why does a country that’s so starved for cash keep honoring its foreign debts? In other words, how does it justify shelling out precious hard currency to wealthy bondholders in New York when it can’t pay for basic food and medicine imports desperately needed by millions of impoverished citizens? “I find the moral choice odd,” Hausmann concluded.
He was, predictably, skewered by the administration back in Caracas -- President Nicolas Maduro labeled him a “financial hitman” and an “outlaw” on national television -- but today the question feels more urgent than ever. Prices for oil, Venezuela’s lifeblood, have fallen almost by half since Hausmann first spoke out and the country’s cash squeeze has deepened dramatically. The chaos has reached unprecedented levels -- food rationing, looting, mob lynchings, collapsing medical care -- yet through it all, bond traders have received every dime they were owed, billions and billions of dollars in all.
“There are two worlds,” said Francisco Ghersi, a managing director of Knossos Asset Management in Caracas. “The world of the bondholders and the world of what’s happening in Venezuela.”
The 21st century has produced a slew of government defaults across the globe, from Argentina to Ecuador to Ukraine. In almost every instance, the country in crisis hit the default button long before the situation got as dire as it has in Venezuela. The only similar case that economists point to is Zimbabwe back in the early 2000s. But even that comparison is flawed, says American University professor Arturo Porzecanski, because Venezuela was significantly wealthier than Zimbabwe before crisis struck and so the South American country’s collapse has been of a much greater magnitude.
What makes this pay-the-debt-at-any-cost approach all the more curious is that it comes in a country run by self-proclaimed socialists who have railed for the better part of two decades against foreign capitalist powers. There are endless theories, spawned in part by Hausmann’s public pronouncement, as to why the Maduro administration has stuck so doggedly to this policy. The main ones fall into three rough categories.
The first of them is an argument that’s been floated publicly by high-ranking government officials themselves. It states that Venezuela can wait it out till oil prices rebound. Why rock the boat, the thinking goes, if salvation is potentially just weeks away? (Prices have been rallying of late, climbing to near $50 a barrel.)
The next argument is something of a conspiracy theory born in part out of the opaque nature of the country’s finances. It posits that close associates of the administration are major holders of the country’s bonds and that the government fears it’d lose their much-needed support if the payments stopped coming in. Efforts to obtain comment from government press officials on this and other aspects of the story were unsuccessful.
The third theory, and it’s one that ties back into the first idea, states that even though Venezuela lost access to international capital markets a long time ago, a default could still deepen the government’s cash squeeze by triggering legal action from creditors that would undermine the country’s ability to export. If fewer petro-dollars flow into the country, the savings from the default could be washed away, making the situation on the ground even worse.
It’s frankly hard to imagine what a further deterioration would look like. After shrinking an estimated 7.5 percent in 2015, the economy is forecast to post an even bigger contraction this year. Food shortages are now so acute, and lines outside stores so long, that spontaneous protests are popping up everywhere. In one episode in the 500-year-old coastal city of Cumana, hundreds were arrested and a middle-aged man was shot to death, one of three fatalities at food-related demonstrations in June alone. There have been so many vigilante justice-style lynchings -- more than 70 in the first four months of this year -- that the supreme court has banned Venezuelans from sharing video recordings of the gruesome events on social media.
To Hausmann and to legal experts who have studied the country’s oil operations, the risk of angry creditors blocking exports after a default is actually small. The way that PDVSA, as the state oil company is known, structured sales contracts makes it difficult for them to be interrupted by a legal challenge, according to Francesca Odell, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb in New York. What Hausmann and others see instead from a default is the opportunity to free up a big chunk of cash that could be re-directed toward imports.
The government is due to make $1.5 billion in foreign debt payments in the second half of this year. Include PDVSA’s tab and the figure swells to $5.8 billion. It’s a staggering sum of money in a nation that has bled its hard currency reserves down to just $12 billion. And while few, if any, bondholders would embrace a default, they certainly wouldn’t be caught off-guard by it. For the better part of the past 18 months, the government’s benchmark bonds have been trading under 50 cents on the dollar, a price that in essence signals to a debtor: “We’re prepared for a restructuring, go ahead and do it if you must.”
“It’s fairly shocking that they have decided to service the debt over all else,” said Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington. “But I do think the commitment is fairly strong.”
Venezuela’s bonds due in 2027 fell 0.37 cents to 48.48 cents on the dollar as of 2:24 p.m. today in New York.
Maduro, the man handpicked by the late Hugo Chavez to succeed him, has spoken frequently about his determination to keep paying the debt. In a speech back in May, he proudly explained how the country had doled out $36 billion to creditors -- “a huge amount of money” -- over the previous 20 months. The payments were made, he went on to say, “with dignity, without accepting preconditions from anyone, maintaining the country’s independence despite the pain.” These are references to multilateral lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, institutions that are despised by the Latin American left.
As long as Maduro continues to pay, there will be investors willing to own the debt. Venezuela’s bonds are among the highest-paying investments in emerging markets, offering today an average yield of 26 percent. That’s in dollars -- in a world where many developed-nation bonds are yielding close to zero (or even less). And since Chavez swept into office 17 years ago, the country’s bonds have handed investors a total return of 517 percent.
“It is one of the most miserable, mismanaged, hopeless countries on the planet,” said Jan Dehn, head of research at Ashmore Group Plc, which manages $50 billion of emerging-market assets. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t make money.”
Hausmann, meanwhile, is more incensed than ever.
In a recent interview, he called the government’s insistence on paying the debt, coupled with a church’s claim that it rejected offers of international aid, “a crime against humanity.” There’s a history here, it should be noted, between the professor and the Chavistas. Some two decades ago, he served in the business-friendly government that Chavez tried to overthrow in a coup attempt that effectively launched his political career. Perhaps that explains some of the enmity between the two sides. Regardless, this is what Hausmann wants to ask the folks on the other side: How can they sleep at night? “It’s beyond belief.”
Friday, July 8, 2016
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — When Venezuela's opposition lawmakers took over the congress in January, they vowed it was the beginning of the end for President Nicolas Maduro.
But Maduro has since managed to almost completely sideline the legislature with the help of the Supreme Court, and now the ruling socialist party is talking about shutting congress down altogether.
"What has congress done these past six months? Wreak destruction. Prepare to say goodbye to history, because your time is coming," Maduro said in a televised address last week.
Dealing with a legislature filled with political opponents has been an irritation for the socialist Maduro, whose approval numbers languish in the low 20 percent range. Congress President Henry Ramos, meanwhile, enjoys 60 percent approval, making him the most popular politician in Venezuela.
Opinion polls say a majority of Venezuelans want Maduro out of office this year. The head of the Organization of American States accuses the country of acting autocratically and has moved to suspend it from the regional body. President Barack Obama joined several other world leaders last week in criticizing Maduro for stalling a voter recall referendum that could throw him out of power.
Maduro seems willing to take the risks of domestic anger and international condemnation that would be associated with closing congress, an idea that many Venezuelans have already called an attempted "self-coup."
Javier Corrales, who teaches Latin American politics at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said Maduro and other Venezuelan leaders might think they can afford the international backlash.
"Others might label them as anti-democratic," he said. "They simply respond by saying that they are at war against oligarchs who are blocking the people from governing, and that's the end of that."
Such a move would surely inflame Venezuelans already on edge after weeks of daily food riots that have led to deaths and hundreds of arrests.
The millions of Venezuelans who want the socialists out of power are growing frustrated. With the congress blocked from legislating and Maduro saying he will not allow a recall referendum to proceed this year, the opposition feels increasingly shut out of the political arena.
"This means that the main catalyst for regime change this year remains a social explosion," Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst at the Washington-based Eurasia Group, said, referring to the Maduro recall effort.
The Maduro administration controls Venezuela's courts, electoral officials, much of the national press and the police. But the congress still enjoys great public support, even though it's functionally weak.
"Congress has become not just a space for ideas to be aired, but also it has become a very popular political institution," Corrales said.
Opponents of Maduro's government took control of the legislature for the first time in 17 years in January after winning a landslide victory. They tore down the oversized portraits of late President Hugo Chavez hanging in the neoclassical capitol and distributed videos of them being carted away. For Venezuelans, that jubilant moment has come to feel like the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad — a victory celebration that turned out to be premature.
Since then, the Supreme Court has issued at least 16 decisions chipping away at lawmakers' power. The court blocked the opposition's central pieces of legislation, including a bill that would have freed imprisoned opposition activists, and even more neutral-seeming bills, such as a proposal that would have given the elderly more access to food stamps.
Now, other leaders in the bloc of parties that supports Maduro say they are talking with the court about how to abolish the legislature.
"Congress is acting against the constitution, and should be dissolved; the mechanisms exist," said Didalco Bolivar, who heads a party in the socialist coalition.
As Venezuela saw a new round of supermarket looting Monday and hospitals around the country complained that patients were going hungry, congress started the week with one item on its agenda — a symbolic resolution celebrating the nation's Independence day.
On Tuesday, Maduro managed to make even that into a polarizing issue. He declined to attend the congressional independence day celebration. Instead, he held his own festivities. Lawmakers were not invited.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's government is considering asking the high court to dissolve the legislature controlled by President Nicolas Maduro's opponents who are seeking to remove him from office, a spokesman said Tuesday.
It was the latest maneuver in a political conflict that has raised tensions in the volatile South American country as it struggles with an economic crisis.
Maduro's side "has started discussions to request a consultation with the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court" with a view to achieving "the abolition of this National Assembly," ruling coalition spokesman Didalco Bolivar told a news conference.
The opposition blames Maduro for a deep economic crisis that has caused widespread food shortages and deadly looting.
It has launched efforts to remove him since taking control of the assembly in January. Maduro has challenged them through the Supreme Court, which his rivals say he controls.
Bolivar said the government in its latest action would charge the opposition lawmakers with abuse of power, treason and breach of the constitution.
The political standoff between the president and the assembly has heightened tensions in the oil-producing nation.
- Coup, fraud -
Maduro's opponents in the centrist MUD coalition are pushing for a referendum this year on whether to cut short his term.
The government on Monday launched a counter-maneuver, announcing fresh legal challenges against a petition filed by the opposition calling for a referendum.
The opposition is rushing to complete the recall process by January 10, the cutoff date to trigger new elections.
After that date, a successful recall vote would simply pass power to Maduro's hand-picked vice president.
The national electoral board has said it will announce by July 26 whether enough signatures on the petition have been authenticated for the referendum drive to proceed.
If that happens, Maduro's opponents will have to collect four million more signatures to call a full referendum.
"We now call for this process to advance unobstructed, with respect for the constitutional principle of swiftness," MUD general secretary Jesus Torrealba told a news conference on Tuesday.
Maduro on Sunday called the collection of opposition signatures a "giant electoral fraud."
The opposition leader of congress, Henry Ramos, said that if Maduro blocked the referendum, that would amount to a "coup d'etat."
Bolivar said the government in its new legal action would also demand "that legislative elections be called so that the people can say whether they want this obstructionist and constitution-violating assembly to be in charge, or the contrary."
He said the governing coalition would make an announcement on its planned lawsuit next week.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Venezuela's opposition cleared its first hurdle Tuesday in its uphill race to call a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro, whom it blames for driving the country to the brink of collapse.
But the leftist leader flexed his muscle when riot police fired tear gas to block opposition protesters from marching on the electoral authority's headquarters, underlining the tension tearing at the country as it staggers through a painful crisis.
Maduro dismissed the effort to oust him, branding it "invalid."
After weeks of pressuring the National Electoral Board (CNE) to allow the referendum process to go ahead, the opposition announced the board had accepted as valid 1.3 million signatures on a petition calling for a recall vote.
The decision moves the lengthy recall process on to the next step, in which at least 200,000 signatories must confirm their identity with fingerprint scans.
Under the constitution, the opposition would then have to gather four million more signatures -- 20 percent of the electorate -- to trigger a recall vote.
Maduro's opponents are racing to call a referendum before January 10 -- four years into his six-year term -- when a successful recall vote would trigger new elections rather than transfer power to the vice president.
The opposition warns the once-booming oil giant risks exploding into unrest if authorities do not allow a referendum on Maduro's rule, which has seen an economic downturn marked by severe shortages of food, electricity, medicine and other basic goods.
Seeking to pressure the electoral authorities, whom it accuses of dragging their feet, the opposition tried to march on the CNE's headquarters, but heavily armored riot police broke up the protest.
It is the third time in recent days police have forcefully stopped attempts to march on the CNE.
Protesters had angry words for the police, shouting "Traitors!" and "You're hungry too!"
About 1,000 demonstrators took part in the march, lining up behind a giant Venezuelan flag and chanting "This government will fall!" before police scattered them.
"We're here in the street to get Maduro out. We want change in this country. We're hungry," said protester Richard Salas, an administrative worker who carried a sign with a long list of products that have disappeared from supermarket shelves.
- 'No referendum this year' -
Maduro and his allies accuse the opposition of rampant fraud in its signature drive.
"More than 30 percent of the signatures delivered were illegal" so the recall effort is "invalid," the president said on his weekly program broadcast on state television.
A possible vote to remove him from office "has not been nor will be brought to any negotiating table," Maduro said.
Vice president Aristobulo Isturiz said bluntly on Monday: "There won't be a referendum this year."
Opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said the electoral authority would announce the procedures for the next stage in the recall process on Wednesday.
The initial petition, submitted on May 2, had some 1.8 million signatures.
Torrealba said a "badly done" verification process had disqualified 600,000 of them.
But "we have six times the (200,000) signatures we need to activate the recall referendum process," he said.
Home to the world's largest oil reserves, Venezuela has gone into an economic tailspin as global crude prices have plunged over the past two years.
The opposition, which Maduro brands elitist, has struggled to apply pressure by rallying mass demonstrations.
But spontaneous protests, riots and looting have broken out in neighborhoods once considered bastions for Maduro and late president Hugo Chavez, who launched Venezuela on the path of socialist "revolution" in 1999.
A woman died Monday after being hit by a stray bullet when police opened fire on looters trying to ransack a warehouse in the western city of San Cristobal, her family said.
Maduro accuses the business elite of artificially creating shortages to destabilize his government.
International mediators led by Spain's former prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero are trying to bring the government and opposition together for talks, but both sides have shown reluctance.
"We're not going to sign up for hypocritical negotiations. If people don't believe in Maduro, they're not going to believe in talks," said protest leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential race to Maduro.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Behold the fruits of chavismo: children going hungry.
Nicolás Maduro never looks too sure of what he’s saying. For a man who’s been accused of enforcing authoritarian rule over Venezuela, there’s no resolve in his speeches. It’s odd. Just before he starts a statement you notice a small pause and a mumble, a hesitation, as if he was debating with the voices in his head. It doesn’t matter whether he’s speaking from a colonial press conference room in the Government Palace of Miraflores or, as he did last weekend during a nationwide military exercise, surrounded by men in uniform, holding their rifles high above their heads, chanting oaths of loyalty to the revolution.
How could Maduro not second guess his speeches, when every second that passes chavismo misses an opportunity to fix the economic mess that has brought Venezuela to a deadly standstill? Bears the question: why wouldn’t he just go ahead and fix the mess?
Hugo Chávez has been dead for more than three years, and the results of his irresponsible fiscal policies and criminally despotic rule have finally come to light in the form of pain and misery.
Images of Hospitals that look like catacombs, and prisons that have become maximum security business centers for criminals where no law applies, have become a reference when speaking about the country. But the wound goes much deeper than that.
We’re not just talking about shortages of basic staples such as toilet paper and soap, or daily electricity cuts, the five-day weekends for public employees, or about any of those stories that have turned Venezuela into a punchline with a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council. No. The economic collapse at the hands of chavista economic policies has brought something deadlier, and so much simpler: hunger.
Children who eat once or twice a day, who don’t go to school because they don’t have the energy. Families of four sharing a portion for one person. These stories have become as common as social media posts from people hunting for medicine to tend the ailments of their loved ones. This is the new kind of misery porn that has been drawing attention to Venezuela. A country that squandered close to a Trillion Dollars of oil revenue under chavista rule. Try to wrap your head around that sum for a sec. And now try to refocus on the country that today drowns in a humanitarian crisis. It’s as if the rate of the fall is proportional to the income received and wasted.
And yet, the Maduro administration remains paralyzed. If Chávez was guilty for the decisions that steered Venezuela onto this collision course, then Maduro’s sin is inaction, watching as the country crashes into the iceberg without lifting a finger, except forcefully preventing anyone else taking the helm.
Only the president seems to lack a sense of urgency. This is why, after a landslide victory against chavismo in the December parliamentary elections, the opposition is backing a referendum to recall the President. The Government, backed by a hand-picked Supreme Tribunal and the Armed Forces, has gone to great lengths to block and delay the referendum process and to nullify parliament. Maduro has gone as far as declaring a State of Emergency over the whole of the country, saying the recall is part of a plot between the Venezuelan parliament and foreign empires to oust President Maduro.
Again, you want to ask: Why? Why doesn’t the Government make the basic changes that the country’s economy is desperate for right now? Why doesn’t it look for a solution instead of wasting precious time making up enemies and raping windmills?
Well, the answer to the question is: because they can’t. And the reason is part incompetence, part thuggery, and a big part, the dead man himself, Chávez.
Replacing a strong man is never easy. Whatever Hugo Chávez left after he died, it’s as if he intended for no one else to be able to run it. Imagine a feudal state, composed of several shogunates with their corrupt interests intertwined. Or look at it this way. It’s like a Mexican standoff, no one can move without exposing their vulnerabilities and being taken down by other chavista leaders.
And at the center of this disaster we have the military caste. After Chávez took power in 1998, many officers close to him left the ranks to take positions within the Government. He encouraged the Armed Forces to become politically active and militant in his defense, and with this he opened the doors to imposing military hierarchy over different parts of the civilian government.
The brass has paraded through the public administration, often leaving with inexplainable fortunes. Others, who remain in their posts, have been accused of involvement with organized crime and drug trafficking. And then, there’s a large portion of active military folk usually referred to as the “institutional Armed Forces.” It’s in the hands of this last group that the hopes of many Venezuelans rely.
Some believe that this institutional wing of the military have the last say on whether the recall referendum is fast tracked or if it will be delayed until next year. Keep in mind that if it’s held in 2016, the Constitution mandates for a Presidential Election, if it’s delayed, the Chavista VP would remain as President until the end of Maduro’s term (in 2019).
Let’s be clear, Venezuela needs much more than just a change of president. It needs a complete overhaul of its political institutions. But this sort of mythological mantle in which the military are wrapped is nothing new to Venezuelans. For many years, much more than those of chavista regime, people have turned to them when the going gets tough. Considering that they’re the ones to blame for a big part of this disaster, believing that they will provide the country with a solution smacks of Stockholm Syndrome.
The crisis feels like it’s reached a point of no return, and it will get worse real fast. Just a couple of days ago, the Minister of Finance said that the country should be confident that inflation this year will not go over 900%. That’s a heart stopping figure there, for a government that does what it can to hide official economic numbers.
While inflation eats away at the country, and looting becomes an almost daily event, Nicolás Maduro tries to cozy up to the Armed Forces. The saddest expression of this was the sight of his large, clumsy figure, huddled together with tiny soldiers at the end of this year’s military exercises called to practice against the looming American invasion. Maduro mumbled a half chewed oath of loyalty to the revolution and its Supreme Commander.
The minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino López, remained by his side, repeating the chants vowing the union of the armed forces with civilians to defend the fatherland. The military exercises included pro-government civilian militias empowered to enforce some provisions of the state of exception decree. “Unión cívico-militar,” they call it.
With the military’s top brass still at his side, Maduro then gave an address on national television where he assured that the military were loyal to his government despite the attempts by the Empire to pull them apart. He was trying to dissipate strong rumors that the Armed Forces were pressuring him to negotiate with the opposition to move forward and find a resolution to the crisis.
What Maduro, and most prominent chavista politicians don’t seem to understand, while they hold their war games and as they produce half smirks as they say Venezuela is under attack by an opposition led international conspiracy, is that no matter how domesticated Venezuelans might be, there has been no time in recent history where they have been under this kind of strain.
Every single scenario for a peaceful resolution to the crisis transits through chavismo giving up power. And giving up power means exposing themselves. It means accountability.
Time is running out, and it seems that the government is not bothered by this.
The opposition is working against the clock, racing to meet recall deadlines before it’s too late. They’re trying to find a democratic resolution to the problem not just out of conviction, but because they realize the alternative is an existential threat to them.
A civil upheaval is a real possibility. And when the shooting starts, the people with the guns win.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Over the last several years we have documented with clockwork regularity Venezuela’s collapse into failed state status, which was cemented several weeks ago when news hit that “Venezuela had officially run out of money to print new money.” At that point the best one could do was merely to step back and watch as local society and civilization turned on itself, unleashing what would ultimately turn into Venezuela’s own, sad apocalypse.
Last night we showed what Caracas, looks like this week:
As we wrote then these are simply hungry Venezuelans protesting that their children are dying from lack of food and medicine and that they do not have enough water or electricity. As AgainstCronyCapitalism added, this is a country with more oil than Saudi Arabia, and the government has stolen all the money and now they bottleneck peaceful protesters and threaten them with bombs (or haul them to prison and torture them).
As pure desperation has set in, crime has becomes inevitable. A man accused of mugging people in the streets of Caracas was surrounded by a mob of onlookers, beaten and set on fire, who published a pixeled-out but still graphic video of the man burning as mob justice is now the supreme arbiter of who lives and who dies:
“Roberto Fuentes Bernal, 42, was reportedly caught trying to mug passersby in the Venezuelan capital, and before police arrived at the scene, the crowd took the law into their own hands.” The video can be seen here.
Now, in the latest shocking development, Venezuela saw a new wave of looting this week that resulted in at least two deaths, countless wounded, and millions of dollars in losses and damages.
According to Panampost, on Wednesday morning, a crowd sacked the Maracay Wholesale Market in the central region of Venezuela. According to the testimonies of merchants, the endless food lines that Venezuelans have been enduring to do groceries could not be organized that day.
As time went by, desperate Venezuelans grew anxious over not being able to buy food. Then they started jumping over the gates and stormed the supermarket.
“They took milk, pasta, flour, oil, and milk powder. There were 5,000 people” one witness told Venezuela outlet El Estímulo.
People from across the entire state came to the supermarket because there were rumors that some products not found anywhere else would be sold there.
As a result of the massive crowd, the authorities were unable to preserve the peace. “There were 250 people for each National Guard officer… lots of people and few soldiers. At least one officer was beat up because he tried to stop the crowd,” another source told El Estímulo.
Other food dispensaries run by the government were also looted by the people.
Far from the promised socialist paradise, as the massive group of people moved, an entrance gate collapsed under the weight of the crowd, leaving several wounded.
Over the last two weeks, several provinces have hosted scenes of looting in pharmacies, shopping malls, supermarkets, and food delivery trucks. In several markets, shouts of “we are hungry!” echoed. On April 27, the Venezuelan Chamber of Food (Cavidea) reported that the country’s food producers only had 15 days left of inventory.
PanamPost adds that lootings are becoming an increasingly common occurrence in Venezuela, as the country’s food shortage resulted in yet another reported incident of violence in a supermarket — this time in the Luvebras Automarket located in the La Florida Province of Caracas.
Videos posted to social media showed desperate people falling over each other trying to get bags of rice. One user claimed the looting occurred because it is difficult to get cereal, and so people “broke down the doors and damaged infrastructure.”
In the central province of Carabobo, residents ransacked a corn warehouse located in the coastal city of Puerto Cabello. They reportedly broke down the gate because workers were giving away small portions.
“There’s no rice, no pasta, no flour,” resident Glerimar Yohan told La Costa, “only hunger.”
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Social Collapse Is Inevitable
With the economy dead, the only thing remaining is to watch as society implodes. To that end, Oscar Meza, Director of the Documentation Center for Social Analysis (Cendas-FVM),said that measurements of scarcity and inflation in May are going to be the worst to date. “We are officially declaring May as the month that [widespread] hunger began in Venezuela,” he told Web Noticias Venezuela. … “As for March, there was an increase in yearly prices due to inflation — a 582.9 percent increase for food, while the level of scarcity of basic products remains at 41.37 percent.”
Meza said the trigger for the crisis is the shortage of bread and other foods derived from wheat.
“Prices are so high that you can’t buy anything, so people don’t buy bread, they don’t buy flour. You get porridge, you see the price of chicken go up and families struggle … lunch is around 1,500 bolivars… People used to take food from home to work, but now you can’t anymore because you don’t have food at home.”
The is why, Español Ramón Muchacho, Mayor of Chacao in Caracas, said the streets of the capital of Venezuela are filled with people killing animals for food. “Muchacho reported that in Venezuela, it is a “painful reality” that people “hunt cats, dogs and pigeons” to ease their hunger.”
Subsquently, Muchacho warned that Caribbean islands and Colombia may suffer an influx of refugees from Venezuela if food shortages continue in the country.
“As hunger deepens, we could see more Venezuelans fleeing by land or sea to an island,” Muchacho said.
And that is how all socialist utopias always end.
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Meanwhile, as civil war appears inevitable, as we reported last night there are factions vying to oust Maduro, but signs that he may hang on and force his population to endure more of this socialist nightmare. One can only hope that these shocking scenes remain relegated to the streets of offshore socialist paradises, although Americans should always prepare for the worst in case they eventually manage to make their way into the country.