Venezuela - Links
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Alfredo Keller y Asociados
(Investigación de mercado y opinión pública, análisis y planificación)
See the links for Venezuelan astronomy sites at Observatorio ARVAL - Astro Links - Venezuela
Armada de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela
6to Poder (Noticias minuto a minuto)
On February 4, 1992. Hugo Chávez led a failed military coup and murder attempt
against president Carlos Andrés Pérez and his family, causing the deaths of many Venezuelans.
On March 26, 1994. After 2 years in prison,
president Rafaél Caldera decided the dismissal of the cause against Hugo Chávez,
and released him with his immediate accomplices. On December 14, Hugo Chávez visited Fidel Castro in La Habana.
On December 6, 1998. Hugo Chávez was elected president with 60% of the votes
(40% Enrique Salas Römer, 46% abstention) and was inaugurated in February 2, 1999.
Chávez took the legal oath of office "on a dying constitution" that he "would not respect".
On July 30, 2000. General elections were held.
Chávez's coalition got 66% of the seats in the National Assembly, while Chávez was reelected with 60% of the votes
(38% Francisco Arias Cárdenas, 44% abstention).
The Carter Center monitored the election; their report stated that, due to lack of transparency,
perceived partiality of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE; "National Electoral Council"),
and political pressure from the Chávez government that resulted in early elections,
they were unable to validate the official CNE results.
However, they concluded that the presidential election legitimately expressed the will of the people.
On April 11, 2002.
A gigantic protest march in defense of the independence of Petróleos de Venezuela
resulted in 19 death and 150 injured by bullets. The military high command disobeyed orders from Hugo Chávez to attack the protestors,
and asked for his resignation, "which he accepted", according to General Lucas Rincón (now Ambassador to Portugal).
On April 11, 2002, Hugo Chávez was returned to the presidency by a military faction led by General Raúl Isaías Baduel.
45.5% of the Venezuelan population; 10.8 million people, now live in poverty.
On February/March 2003. Hugo Chávez, fired 18,756 managers, engineers, technicians and qualified workers from Petróleos de Venezuela which had opposed the politization of that company supporting the general strike of December 2002 and January 2003 (including 69% of the managers). Petróleos de Venezuela then forbade their employment by the contractors.
55.1% of the Venezuelan population; 14.9 million people, by the end of 2003 lived in poverty.
On May 14, 2004. the National Assembly, with just a simple majority,
illegally increased from 20 to 32,
the number of judges in the Supreme Justice Tribunal to give Hugo Chávez control over the judiciary.
On August 15, 2004. a referendum was held to try and revoque the rule of Hugo Chávez. After a massive fraud,
he declared himself the winner with 60% of the votes and the approval of the Carter Center
and the Organization of American States (OAS).
Venezuela Presidential Referendum - Statistical Analysis, May 2006:
A statistical approach to assess referendum results: The Venezuelan recall referendum 2004
Maria M. Febres Cordero and Bernardo Márquez
This article presents a statistical approach to assess the coherence of official results of referendum processes.
The statistical analysis described is divided in four phases, according to the methodology used and the corresponding results:
Venezuela Presidential Referendum - Statistical Analysis, May 2006
[See also Referendum Revocatorio: Análisis Estadístico (María Mercedes Febres Cordero, Bernardo Marquez y Alejandro Troya, in urru.org)]
Between 1998 and 2005, homicides have grown 128%,
kidnappings in 426%,
executions and gang murders in 253%, on a national level.
Since 1998 the industrial sector has decreased almost 40%
(of 11,117 industries then, only 6,756 remain in 2007).
Unemployment among the young is 18.4%, twice the national average.
Lack of confidence in the electoral system, resulting in more than 75% of
abstention on December 2005, giving Hugo Chávez 100% of the National Assembly.
And, on January 31, 2007, Hugo Chávez was granted dictatorial powers to legislate for 18 months by the Asamblea Nacional de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela.
Accordding to the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV), inflation in Venezuela between May 2006 and May 2007 was the largest in Latinamerica: 19.5%.
At 01:15 on December 3, the CNE announced that the new constitution was rejected 51% vs 49%, with 44% abstention
(with just 9,002,439 votes counted).
See Venezuelans Deny Chávez Additional Authority
(Washington Post, Juan Forero, December 3, 2007)
On April 2, 2008. More than 122 days after the referendum, 1.8 milion votes remain uncounted.
By December 1, 2008, these 1.8 milion votes remain uncounted.
The new article 337 allows the president to declare a "state of exception"
and temporarily suspend the right to due judicial process,
violating articles 10 and 11 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations).
On October 24 '07 the Asamblea Nacional added a "right to a defense" in the new article 337.
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías President of the Republic
On exercise of the attributions conferred on him by numeral 8 of article 236 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and in conformity with numeral 9 of article 1 of the Law authorizing the President of the Republic to dictate Decrees with Rank, Value and Force of Law on the matters that are delegated, ....
DICTATES the following,
DECREE WITH RANK, VALUE AND FORCE OF LAW
CHAPTER I - GENERAL DISPOSITIONS
Range of application
CHAPTER III - OF THE SUBSYSTEMS
Organs of Support
Article 16.- Organs of Support to the activities of intelligence and counterintelligence are, the natural and juridic persons, from public and private law, nationals or foreigners, just as the organs and entities of the national public administration, states, municipalities, the social networks, organizations of popular participation and organized communities, when their cooperation is solicited for the obtention of information or technical support, by the organs with special jurisdiction.
The persons that do not comply with the obligations established in this article are responsible in comformity with the Organic Law of Security of the Nation, and other acts of legal and sublegal rank applicable on the matter, because such conduct threatens the security, defense and integral development of the Nation.
Complete text of the Law of the National System of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, at Control Ciudadano. In English, translated from the Gaceta Oficial number 38,940, dated May 28, 2008.
On June 7, 2008. Hugo Chávez admitted that this law "overreaches" and will be reformed.
Please sign the petition:
From a total of some 9,022,686 votes (34.55% of abstention),
5,073,774 (56.23%) supported the government and 3,948,912 (43.77%) the opposition.
The government won 80% of the Mayors,
but the opposition elected 3 new State Governors (Zulia, Miranda and Carabobo), for a total of 5 (with Táchira and Nueva Esparta),
and the Principal Mayor of Caracas.
Primer boletín del CNE,
Divulgación Elecciones Regionales - 23 de Noviembre de 2008
The project for constitutional reform defeated in the referendum of December 2, 2007,
contained the change to "indefinite reelection".
At 9:35 PM, according to the CNE: Of a total of 12,068,967 votes,
the Yes got 54.36% and the No 45.63% of the votes, with an abstention of 32.95%. [with 94.2% of the votes counted]
A court ordered Álvarez's arrest for conspiracy, spreading false information and inciting hate, judicial officials said.
"The Venezuelan regime has relations with structures that serve narco-trafficking, like [Colombian rebel group] FARC and others which exist in the continent and the world", he said.
The accusations against Álvarez could carry a jail sentence of between two and 16 years, local media said. "I assume the responsibility for the things that I have said and that I do", he told reporters before his arrest.
[See Arrest in Venezuela raises free speech concerns (Washington Post, Andrew Cawthorne, March 24 '10)]
Oswaldo Álvarez Paz was released on bail on May '10.
The break-in resulted from the statements given by an alleged terrorist from El Salvador detained in Venezuela, Francisco Chávez Abarca, in which he implicated Peña Esclusa in an alleged plot against the State. Due process was violated; first, because Chávez Abarca did not declare in front of a tribunal, as corresponds according to law, but in the headquarters of SEBIN; and second, because the Salvadoran was immediately extradited to Cuba, without being judged in Venezuela, even though - according to the government - he was involved in a plot to destabilize the State. It is presumed he was extradited so his testimony could not be falsified in a trial or, so he could not be thoroughly investigated.
In a drawer in the desk of the youngest of Peña Esclusa's daughters, 8 years old, the agents "found" type C-4 explosives with the corresponding detonators. The agents seized the opportunity to steal cash, jewels, electronic equipment and other valuables.
The true reason why the ex-presidential candidate Peña Esclusa is in jail, is his long and persistent trajectory of denouncing mister Hugo Chávez. Peña Esclusa not only has denounced verbally and in writing the civil and human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan government; but has penaly charged mister Chávez before the Public Ministry (for Treason, due to his ties with FARC), he has charged him before the Interamerican Comission on Human Rights (Washington) for improperly intervening and promoting violence in other Latin American countries; and was about to file charges for crimes against humanity before the International Penal Court (CPI), based in Le Hague - based on the information contained in the computers of FARC's second-in-command, aka. Raúl Reyes, killed on March 1, 2008 - due to the complicity of mister Chávez with the Colombian narco-terrorists.
Peña Esclusa has been persecuted systematically by Chávez's government. Was illegally detained in 2002 - also in the headquarters of SEBIN - by direct order from mister Chávez. The States' media and functionaries have advanced a campaign of slanders against him. Chávez himself has attacked him publically in all national radio and television stations. He has been forbidden to leave the country for two years. Has been subjected to police tracking, threats against his physical integrity and constant harassment. The case on the governmental persecution against Peña Esclusa was presented by his lawyer before the International Penal Court (Le Hague).
Alejandro Peña Esclusa, 56 years of age, has no criminal record, nor weaponry knowledge. Has been an outstanding sportsman, getting international titles for his country. Has a stable, well founded, family. Is a mechanical engineer, with advanced studies in financial administration, and defense and security. Was an assessor to the National Council on Security and Defense of Venezuela (CONASEDE). Is a writer and columnist; author of six books, some of which have been translated to other languages. Was a candidate for the Presidency of Venezuela. Is a correspondent in Venezuela and Colombia for Argentine daily La Nueva Provincia. Member of the Philosophical Academy of Brazil. President of the civil asociation Fuerza Solidaria. President of the Union of Democratic Organizations of America (UnoAmérica). Has been decorated in Honduras with the Order José Cecilio del Valle. Received a special recognition from the Alabama Congress, for his extensive efforts defending democracy and freedoms in Latin America. Has been invited as speaker in almost all the capitals in America.
[From El caso Peña Esclusa en breve, Fuerza Solidaria]
A release warrant on behalf of Engineer Alejandro Peña Esclusa is already in the hands of his defense attorneys, his wife Indira de Peña told daily newspaper El Universal.
"Right now, I am having a meeting with defense attorney Alfredo Weil for him to explain me the extent of Peña Esclusa's release warrant", his wife said.
[From Peña Esclusa is released from jail, El Universal, July 20, 2011]
[See Venezuela: HRF celebra el cese de la detención arbitraria de Alejandro Peña Esclusa, Human Rights Foundation, 20 de Julio de 2011]
[See Peña Esclusa en libertad: "Vale la pena sacrificarse por Venezuela", Fuerza Solidaria, 21 Julio 2011]
[See "La reconciliación del país comienza con la liberación de los presos políticos", Fuerza Solidaria, 30 Julio 2011]
[See Prohiben a Peña Esclusa hablar a medios de comunicación, Fuerza Solidaria, 2 Agosto 2011]
Article 186 (Violated by the Consejo Nacional Electoral):
PSUV 95, MUD 62, PPT 2, por definir 6,
Noticiero Digital, Septiembre 27, 2010]
[See The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of 'Raúl Reyes' - Summary, The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), May 10, 2011] (Available in English, Spanish and Portuguese)]
Rumors over Chavez absence reach frenzy in Venezuela
(Andrew Cawthorne, REUTERS, June 28 '11)
Despite the sentence, the former Governor of Zulia will not remain behind bars, because the Court agreed to his staying on bail with prohibition from leaving the country.
Out of the trial, Álvarez Paz said that his trial is "a political case".
[See Hallan culpable a Álvarez Paz de difundir información falsa (El Universal, Alejandra M. Hernández F., 14 de Julio de 2011)]
[See Venezuela: HRF Condemns Two-Year Sentence against Oswaldo Álvarez Paz (Human Rights Foundation, July 15, 2011)]
[See Corte IDH. Caso López Mendoza Vs. Venezuela. Fondo Reparaciones y Costas. Sentencia de 1 de septiembre de 2011 Serie C No. 233 (Juez García Sayán, Juez Vio Grossi)]
"The ruling of the IACHR Court runs counter to the human rights of all Venezuelans, the laws of the Republic, justice and national sovereignty; it promotes impunity and impedes and undermines the fight against corruption", reads the statement issued by the Comptroller General, Carlos Escarrá, Office.
[See Comptroller: IACHR ruling in favor of Leopoldo López is unfair El Universal, Friday September 16, 2011]
[See HRF Welcomes IACourtHR Ruling on Case of López Mendoza, Asks Venezuela to Comply Human Rights Foundation, September 19, 2011]
Opposition presidential pre-candidate Diego Arria said that the lawsuit seeks to protect Venezuelans from crimes which are "predictable" due to Venezuela's situation. He expects a prompt ruling.
"It is a complaint to defend the rights of thousands and thousands of victims of Hugo Chávez. This complaint is neither against the Venezuelan president's office as an institution nor against Chávez as Head of State. It is intended to determine the criminal and personal liability of Hugo Chávez and some of his top aides for crimes against humanity", he said.
Arria stressed that the complaint requires a prompt ruling, in order to prevent new crimes that are foreseeable in the light of Venezuelan circumstances. "I intend to prevent situations similar to those occurred in countries such as Ivory Coast when his President (Laurent Gbagbo) refused to step down."
[See Diego Arria files complaint against President Chávez at The Hague El Universal, Monday November 21, 2011]
"During the presentation of his Report and Accounts, President Hugo Chávez ordered the closure of the consulate in Miami while his government assesses the facts in which Consul General Livia Acosta was allegedly involved."
"Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Friday announced the closure of Venezuela's Consulate in Miami, after the US government expelled Venezuelan Consul General Livia Acosta last week."
"'Foreign Minister (Nicolás Maduro) advised me to close the consulate. We have shut it down. There is no consulate in Miami', said the head of State during the presentation of his Report and Accounts at the National Assembly."
[See Chávez orders closure of Venezuelan consulate in Miami El Universal, Friday January 13, 2012]
[See US: Closure of Miami consulate is Venezuela's sovereign decision El Universal, Friday January 13, 2012]
[See Henrique Capriles wins opposition primaries in Venezuela El Universal, Monday February 13, 2012]
[See Chávez leaves for Cuba on Friday afternoon El Universal, Thursday February 23, 2012]
[See President Chávez arrives in Venezuela El Universal, Friday March 16, 2012]
[See Chávez to depart for Cuba to start radiotherapy El Universal, Saturday March 24, 2012]
[See Chávez regresa y promete segundo plan socialista al país El Universal, Jueves 29 de Marzo, 2012]
[See Chávez está en Cuba para tercer ciclo de radioterapia El Universal, Lunes 9 de Abril, 2012]
[See Chávez encadena a medios para hacer tertulia sobre 11A El Universal, Jueves 12 de Abril, 2012]
[See Chávez not to attend Summit on health reasons El Universal, Saturday April 14, 2012]
[See Former justice links Venezuelan officials to drug trafficking El Universal, Wednesday April 18, 2012]
[See Venezuelan general Wilmer Moreno killed El Universal, Friday April 20, 2012]
[See Back in Venezuela, Chávez says he completed radiation therapy El Universal, Saturday May 12, 2012]
[See World leftwing closes ranks with Venezuelan leader El Universal, Wednesday July 04, 2012]
"The acusation was thrown by the former magistrate of the Room of Criminal Cassation of the Supreme Court of Justice, Eladio Aponte Aponte, who asserted that the president ordered him to achieve the Commissioners Ivan Simonovis, Henry Vivas, Lazaro Forero and eight agents of the defunct Metropolitan Police (PM) processed by the events of April 11, 2002 were sentenced, as indeed happened."
"The undersigned, Dr. Ramón Eladio Aponte Aponte, former magistrate of the Criminal Court, Supreme Tribunal of Justice, holder of Venezuelan Identity Card number three five one one zero four, attest:"
"It is my peremptory duty to avow you, and everyone,
that I have committed the sin of having issued to the judges who prosecuted you
the order to sentence you to 30-year imprisonment at whatever cost.
I was just following direct orders from President Hugo Chávez Frías, who instructed me to do it".
[See Confession letter forwarded by Venezuelan ex-Magistrate Aponte Aponte El Universal, Friday July 14, 2012]
[See Aponte Aponte: Chávez ordenó condenar a comisarios del 11A El Universal, Viernes 14 de Julio, 2012]
From 6 am on Sunday polling centers started operations in Venezuela,
but voters were waiting in line at the doors of the voting places from early morning hours.
[See Polling places start operations across Venezuela El Universal, Sunday October 07, 2012, 07:05 AM]
The Venezuelan leader, elected in 1999, is seeking reelection to remain in office for a total of 20 years.
[See President Chávez: Hope the process to end peacefully El Universal, Sunday October 07, 2012, 01:40 PM]
"Prepare to accept the results, whatever they are."
[See Chávez calls upon all political actors to remain calm El Universal, Sunday October 07, 2012, 08:38 PM]
The results were disclosed after 90% of the ballots were counted.
President Hugo Chávez was reelected with 7,444,082 votes (54.42%),
while opposition hopeful Henrique Capriles won 6,151,544 votes (44.97%),
announced National Electoral Council (CNE) president Tibisay Lucena late on Sunday.
[See Chávez reelected as president until 2019 El Universal, Sunday October 07, 2012, 10:27 PM]
"We have started to pave the way and more than six million people are looking for future. You can count on me. I am at your service and I want to tell the other Venezuelans (government supporters) that they can count on me as well", said opposition leader Henrique Capriles after electoral authorities announced Hugo Chávez's reelection as president.
[See Capriles: I hope Chávez interprets people's expression with greatness El Universal, Sunday October 07, 2012, 11:33 PM]
Expresidential candidate Enrique Capriles Radonski undertook to continue working for a country full of harmony and with plenty of opportunities for everybody.
"There are more than six million, almost half the country helped me pave the way. I will continue working and you are not alone; there are millions of us."
[See Capriles cheers voters up El Universal, Monday October 08, 2012, 11:04 AM]
Venezuelan reelected President Hugo Chávez surpassed the eight million vote threshold.
Upon review and counting of ballots in 38,066 polling stations (96.7%),
the reelected president gained 8,044,106 valid votes totaling 55.11% of the electorate.
[See Chávez supera los 8 millones de votos El Universal, Martes 9 de octubre de 2012, 12:00 AM]
Referring to Chávez's reelection as president and both the unequal grounds of the election campaign and the voters that the Government was able to bribe, Capriles commented that "the winner was the Government. Venezuela never won."
[See Capriles: "The winner was the Government, Venezuela never won" El Universal, Wednesday October 10, 2012, 11:28 AM]
Hugo Chávez: 8,147,697 votes, 55.15%
Número de Electores escrutados: 18,679,336 (Registered voters)
For updated official results, see Divulgación Elección Presidencial 2012 (Consejo Nacional Electoral - CNE)
15,059,298 / 38,798 = 388.1463 = 388 votes per polling station (in average)
But Miguel Octavio (moctavio) on October 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm (at The Devil's Excrement - Postmorten Of The Venezuelan Election) said: "In my table, we were voting faster than one person per minute, probably two per minute."
The video "Última votação na Venezuela" at O Globo (Brazil) shows how to get a 50 seconds vote.
See ¿Hubo fraude electoral? Cuestionan limpieza de elecciones en Venezuela (Antonio María Delgado, Miami Herald, Octubre 13, 2012)
See El miedo explica la victoria de Chávez en Venezuela, dice líder opositor Aveledo (Antonio María Delgado, Miami Herald, Octubre 18, 2012)
See Evaluación de los resultados electorales presentados por el CNE (.pdf, María Mercedes Febres Cordero, Bernardo Márquez, EsData, Noviembre, 2012)
On December 16, 2012. the oficialism won in 20 states and the opposition could only keep 3 (Miranda, Lara and Amazonas), and they lost 4 states (Mérida, Zulia, Nueva Esparta and Monagas). The abstention was around 47%.
See Balance de la jornada electoral del 16 de diciembre (El Universal, 17 de Diciembre 18, 2012)
See Top court decides that President Chávez does not need to take oath again (El Universal, January 9, 2013)
See Chávez requires specific actions for respiratory failure (El Universal, January 13, 2013)
Venezolanos exiliados redactan 'Manifiesto de Miami'
(DiarioEnLaMira.Com, 13 de Enero, 2013)
See Maduro: Gov't ponders scenarios, but Chávez remains the President (El Universal, January 17, 2013)
See Venezuela devalues currency by 46.5%; VEB at 6.30 per US dollar (El Universal, February 8, 2013)
See Fidel Castro welcomes President Hugo Chávez's return to Venezuela (El Universal, February 18, 2013)
"The President would have been disconnected from the machines that kept him alive four days ago"
Guillermo Cochez was dismissed on January 17 from his post as ambassador of Panama to the Organization of American States OAS after controversial statements about the situation experienced by Venezuela.
See 'El presidente Chávez tiene muerte cerebral desde el 30 de diciembre' (NTN24.com, Febrero 27, 2013)
"Many thought that the return of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez to his country of origin would mean his public reappearance. Neverthless, 10 days after, the most famous patient in Caracas' Military Hospital remains as invisible as in Cuba, with the visits restricted to a small number of close relatives and ministers."
See President Chávez has been off the air for 80 days (El Universal, February 28, 2013)
"The Venezuelan president may have been transferred from the Military Hospital after the poor findings in the latest CAT, Spanish daily newspaper reported on Friday."
See Spanish daily: Venezuela's Chávez off to La Orchila upon recurrence (El Universal, March 1, 2013)
"Hugo Chávez Frías, the president of Venezuela, died after waging a long battle against cancer, treated in Havana since the middle of 2011."
See Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez passes away (El Universal, March 5, 2013)
"Former US president Jimmy Carters praised Chávez's efforts to "create new forms of integration" in Latin America and the Caribbean, noting that during his 14-year tenure Venezuelan poverty rates were cut in half and a more effective participation in political and economic life was facilitated to millions."
See Carter hails Chávez's commitment to improving the lives of Venezuelans (El Universal, March 6, 2013)
See Jimmy Carter Statement on Death of Hugo Chavez (The Carter Center, March 5, 2013)
See CNE convenes election for Venezuelan president next April 14 (El Universal, March 9, 2013)
"The dissenting coalition unanimously agreed to use a single ballot in the upcoming poll."
See Venezuela's dissent enrolls Capriles as presidential candidate (El Universal, March 11, 2013)
"According to Spanish daily newspaper ABC, the Cuban agents would be responsible for election monitoring, along with some 46,000 Cuban cooperators who officially reside in Venezuela, with the ultimate purpose of nailing down the Chavista revolution."
See Cuba is said to have sent 2,000 agents to lever Maduro (El Universal, March 13, 2013)
"Nicolás Maduro was elected as the new Venezuelan president with 7,505,338 votes (50.66% of the ballots cast) versus 7,270,403 votes of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who gained 49.07% of ballots, said president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena."
"Lucena disclosed the election results after 99.12 percent of the ballots were counted. Turnout was estimated at 78.71 percent."
See Maduro is the new Venezuelan president with 50,66% of votes (El Universal, April 14, 2013)
"Opposition coalition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles on Monday firmly stated that he makes no pact with "a person I deem illegitimate" and called on the National Electoral Council (CNE) to audit all the ballot boxes "so that every vote is counted again.""
See Capriles rejects results as long as all votes are not counted (El Universal, April 15, 2013)
"International guests said that in the absence of a vote recount, Nicolás Maduro's legitimacy is at stake."
See International viewers unable to attest to clean vote in Venezuela (El Universal, April 16, 2013)
"The diplomat warned that there would be "serious questions" if irregularities in the election are found."
See Washington puts recognition of Maduro as elected president on hold (El Universal, April 17, 2013)
"The Spanish Government said it hoped that "within the framework of the Constitution, all political players act responsibly and show respect for institutions"."
See Spain recognizes Maduro as president-elect of Venezuela (El Universal, April 17, 2013)
""We will select a sample (of the ballot boxes)," said Tibisay Lucena".
See Venezuela to audit 46% of the ballot boxes that were not audited (El Universal, April 18, 2013)
"At 2:05 pm Nicolás Maduro was sworn in by Speaker of National Assembly (AN) Diosdado Cabello as the President of Venezuela."
See Nicolás Maduro sworn in as Venezuelan president (El Universal, April 19, 2013)
""Audits do not lead to results; it is important to keep this in mind",
said Sandra Oblitas, director of the Nacional Electoral Council (CNE)."
See Electoral body: The presidential vote is over; the results are irreversible (El Universal, April 20, 2013)
"More than four million votes did not match when recounting ballot by ballot. The Election Day that took place last Sunday April 14 will be remembered because of excesses with assisted vote and several election audits in the absence of witnesses."
See The reasonable doubts about April 14 presidential election (El Universal, Joseph Poliszuk, April 21, 2013)
"Presidential candidate for opposition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) Henrique Capriles told Spanish newspaper El Mundo in an interview that he is convinced that the outcome of an election audit in Venezuela would lead to a new election, at least partially."
See Henrique Capriles does not rule out election re-run (El Universal, April 22, 2013)
"Minister of Penitentiary Affairs Iris Varela said the Venezuelan government is to report to domestic and foreign bodies what she described as "fascist actions" by the opposition. She said videos and testimonies would be presented as evidence. Further, she threatened to put opposition leader Henrique Capriles in jail."
See Minister Varela threatens to put Henrique Capriles behind bars (El Universal, April 23, 2013)
"The former presidential candidate for the opposition coalition MUD conditioned his participation in the audit of 46% of the ballot boxes on the delivery of the voter's rolls by the National Electoral Council. "If we are denied access to the voter's rolls, we will not participate in a tinpot audit (...) because it is a mockery of Venezuelans"."
See Capriles to contest the results of the presidential election of April 14 (El Universal, April 25, 2013)
""I have no doubt that this matter will be brought to international bodies. Any time soon, our country will hold another election. Be confident and have faith (...) lies are fragile," Henrique Capriles remarked."
See Henrique Capriles to contest election results by May 6 (El Universal, April 29, 2013)
"Gerardo Fernández said that the complaint is contained in a paper of more than 180 sheets."
See Venezuelan opposition contests election of April 14 at the high court (El Universal, May 2, 2013)
"General Antonio Rivero, recently detained, has reported on the alleged meddling of Cuban military officers in security and defense in Venezuela."
See Cubans in Venezuela (El Universal, May 11, 2013)
"Differences noted between voters and votes in Venezuela's election."
"The results released by the board of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) in several bulletins about the presidential election of April 14 exhibit "logic and numerical inconsistencies"."
See Mathematicians claim that election numbers in Venezuela do not match (El Universal, May 9, 2013)
"The Inter American Commission on Human Rights asked the Venezuelan State to commence an investigation into all the reports of death and violence."
See IACHR urges Venezuelan gov't to ensure human rights (El Universal, May 10, 2013)
"The Human Rights Commission, Common Market of the South (Mercosur), admitted on Monday an application to review democratic conditions in Venezuela, substantiated with the violent events occurred after the presidential election of April 14 and the detention of Retired General Antonio Rivero."
See Mercosur commission plans to review democratic status in Venezuela (El Universal, May 13, 2013)
"Experts from the opposition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) plan to submit this week to the National Electoral Council (CNE) data of 180,125 dead people that remain enabled to vote."
See Opposition introduces register of voters including 180,125 dead (El Universal, June 6, 2013)
"Venezuelan Chargé d'Affaires to the US Calixto Ortega announced a meeting next week with the US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson."
See Venezuelan diplomat: There is a new diplomatic relation with the US (El Universal, June 12, 2013)
"Violence and budget cutbacks are used in attempts to put an end to quality university studies", said the rector of the Central University of Venezuela.
See "There is a deliberate effort to do away with universities" (El Universal, June 29, 2013)
"Output in June amounted to 2.77 million barrels per day of oil."
See OPEC reports 1.35% slide in Venezuelan oil production (El Universal, July 11, 2013)
"The Venezuelan government criticized Washington's endorsement of the remarks made by United Nations Ambassador Nominee Samantha Power, who voiced concern about the issue of human rights in Venezuela. "Venezuela ends the process initiated in Guatemala talks", Caracas said late Friday in a communiqué."
See Venezuela ends rapprochement with the United States (El Universal, July 20, 2013)
Iván Simonovis, the ex chief of the Judicial Technical Police sentenced to 30-year imprisonment in connection with the events of April 11, 2002, was taken on Thursday to Caracas Military Hospital because of health problems.
See Simonovis taken to the Military Hospital for health problems (El Universal, July 25, 2013)
"The Constitution backs all Venezuelans up in disregarding those powers that would not exist, because they would be grounded on an utter violation. The Constitution itself forces us to enforce it", opposition leader Henrique Capriles stated on Tuesday on his live web show Venezuela Somos Todos ("Venezuela is all of us")
See Capriles: 'If passed, Venezuelans would disregard the Enabling Law' (El Universal, August 20, 2013)
See Access to information threatened by decree creating new intelligence agency (Reporters Without Borders, 11 October 2013)
Maduro criticized Luis Vicente León, director of research firm Datanálisis, for blaming price and exchange controls for the current domestic economic situation.
See Venezuelan gov't rules out lift of price and exchange controls (El Universal, October 24, 2013)
This decision paves the way to replace the dissenting congresswoman with her alternate, who, according to her, is ready to endorse the enabling law requested by President Nicolás Maduro.
See Venezuelan high court admits indictment against opposition deputy (El Universal, November 6, 2013)
Until Tuesday, the Government relied on 98 votes only to approve the law whereas opposition legislators totaled 67. However, the inconvenience was overcome two days ago after the revocation of opposition Deputy María Aranguren's parliamentary immunity.
See Enabling Law approved with 99 votes in its first reading (El Universal, November 14, 2013)
The municipal election campaign is "the most outrageous campaign Venezuela ever had in many years; I'd dare say in Venezuelan history",
said Vicente Díaz, a member of the board of the National Electoral Council (CNE).
See CNE director: 'This is the most outrageous campaign in Venezuelan history' (El Universal, December 5, 2013)
The President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, announced on Sunday the preliminary results of the municipal vote, with 97.52% of results transmission. She reported that voters turnout nationwide hit 58.92%.
"Out of 355 municipalities, there is an irreversible trend in 257," Lucena noted. She outlined that ruling party United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) got 196 out of 335 mayor's offices, while opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) got 53.
Nationwide, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) got 4,584,477 votes (44.16%); MUD, 4,252,082 votes (40.96), the Communist Party of Venezuela, 167,049 votes (1.6%) and other political parties got 1,376,056 votes (13.26%).
In Caracas, Venezuela's capital, the opposition alliance MUD candidates won the mayor's office of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, and Baruta, Chacao, El Hatillo, and Sucre. Meanwhile, the Libertador mayor's office will continue under the leadership of ruling party PSUV.
See Voters turnout in Venezuelan local election hits 58.92% (El Universal, December 8, 2013)
See VenEconomy: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? (Latin American Herald Tribune - VenEconomy, December 11, 2013)
Based on this category prepared by Kenneth Roth, the CEO of Human Rights Watch, Venezuela appears in a chapter entitled Rights Struggles of 2013, along with Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Burma, Thailand, Kenya, Russia, Ukraine and China.
See HRW lists Venezuela as 'feigned democracy' (El Universal, January 22, 2014)
The capture of the founder of opposition political Voluntad Popular (People's Will, VP) party, Leopoldo López, on the grounds of his alleged liability for the violent events occurred in Caracas on Wednesday has been ordered.
On Wednesday evening, Caracas 16th Control Judge Ralenys Tovar Guillén admitted the petition made by the Attorney General Office to detain the ex Chacao mayor and ordered the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) to apprehend him and enter his residence for the purposes of conducting a search, police sources reported.
Under warrant of arrest N 007-14, the judge ordered to capture López to sue him for a wide array of offenses, ranging from conspiracy, solicitation to commit a crime, public intimidation, fire of public premises, damages of public property, murder and terrorism.
See Bench warrant against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López (El Universal, February 13, 2014)
The opposition leader urged the Venezuelan government "to set a deadline to disarm paramilitary groups. No more empty words".
See Capriles advises Venezuelans to stay focus and avoid violence (El Universal, February 17, 2014)
Henrique Capriles said via social networks that he was joining the march from the headquarters of the Simón Bolívar Command in Bello Monte, southeast Caracas.
See Capriles joins march organized by Leopoldo López (El Universal, February 18, 2014)
The leader of opposition party Voluntad Popular Leopoldo López turned himself in to officers of the National Guard at noon on Tuesday, a few minutes after he finished his speech before hundreds of dissenters gathered in Chacaíto, northeast Caracas.
See Leopoldo López turns himself over to National Guard officers (El Universal, February 18, 2014)
Citizens Equity and Rights Foundation (Fundeci) works on a report on cases of cruelty and torture against Venezuelan detainees.
Thirty-seven young people were arrested on February 12 in Caracas during demonstrations. Most detainees were beaten and vexed by security officers.
See Venezuelan gov't to face complaints for crimes against humanity (El Universal, February 24, 2014)
See Cierre de vías 24F (Google Maps. Febrero 24, 2014)
Moscow deems it "unacceptable any foreign meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign State".
"The key is respect for the Constitution and democratically elected authorities of Venezuela headed by President Nicolás Maduro", the Russian Foreign Office said in a notice, Efe reported.
See Russia makes an appeal not to meddle in Venezuela's affairs (El Universal, February 24, 2014)
The Organization of American States (OAS) is to discuss on Thursday Panama's proposal to convene a meeting with the ambassadors of each Member State to find a solution to the crisis in Venezuela, where anti-Government demonstrations have resulted in 14 people dead in three weeks.
See OAS to hold special meeting on the Venezuelan crisis (El Universal, February 26, 2014)
Venezuelan Ambassador to the Organization of American States Roy Chaderton sent a letter to the OAS secretary General to suspend the meeting on grounds that it is up to Venezuela to convene such a meeting in the absence of the chair of the Permanent Council.
See OAS puts off meeting of the Permanent Council about Venezuela (El Universal, February 26, 2014)
Caracas' takeover will be held on Sunday.
"No carnival for anybody here; we will continue in the streets. On Sunday, we will walk up to Brión square (eastern Caracas)", exclaimed Juan Requesens, the president of the Federation of Student Councils, Central University of Venezuela (UCV). Earlier, he had said once again that students will keep up demonstrating as long as all students are released and justice is administered.
See Students will remain in the streets despite military repression (El Universal, February 28, 2014)
"We have requested the United Nations to allow us to brief on what is actually going on instead of government tales".
See Capriles: We ask the UN to let us tell the truth on Venezuela (El Universal, March 3, 2014)
"There is no formal proposal of mediation from any country".
See FM Jaua: Venezuela does not need international mediation (El Universal, March 4, 2014)
The Venezuelan president rejected any attempts at sending a special envoy from the Organization of American States (OAS).
See Nicolás Maduro severs relations with Panamá (El Universal, March 5, 2014)
The executive secretary of the opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, claimed the Venezuelan president has called on collectives to attack dissenters.
See Dissenters warn Venezuelan gov't actions "sow the seeds of civil war" (El Universal, March 7, 2014)
Two people were killed on Wednesday in Valencia, northern Venezuela, during a shooting that lasted nearly seven hours, according to information released by locals.
See Relatives of two killed in north Venezuela finger the "collectives" (El Universal, March 14, 2014)
The current reality seems to indicate that mass media is allowed to freely transmit information, as long as that information is favorable to the government. In other words, Venezuelans are able to express themselves and share their opinions as long as they are willing to pay the price that an opinion against the government can entail. Nicolás Maduro's statements about "freedom" of speech are clearly misleading.
From Busting the myth of freedom of speech in Venezuela (Caracas Chronicles, March 17, 2014)
Human Rights Watch made an appeal for the end of abuses against students demonstrating in Venezuela.
See Venezuelan demonstrations back to the UN agenda (El Universal, March 19, 2014)
"Over the past seven weeks, students on the streets, supported by citizens, have taken off the democratic mask of Maduro's regime, which has unleashed repression as never seen before under the dictatorships of Juan Vicente Gómez or Marcos Pérez Jiménez".
See "This movement is unstoppable and irreversible" (El Universal, March 24, 2014)
The government of Nicolás Maduro does not let go of its repressive hammer as it keeps banging hard here and there as it pleases.
It sieges and devastates large areas where peaceful demonstrations remain undefeated, mainly in the cities of San Cristóbal, Mérida, Barquisimeto, Valencia, Maracay and the east side of Caracas, the capital. The number of people killed by the repressive forces of the Government now reaches 40, while allegations of torture rose to 59, not to mention the countless wounded and detentions.
See VenEconomy: Hammer of Repression Is Still Banging Hard in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 4, 2014)
"On every occasion the National Guard (BNB) and the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) arrive, charging at us with tear gas, pellets and hunting cartridges, more than 200 people who stay the night in the camp take refuge in a corner, with gas masks; we put our hands up, as a peace sign, and chant the national anthem."
Such is the account of Raimond Julién, one of the leaders of the student camp in front of the United Nations local chapter headquartered in Caracas. The move is set to make authorities know about their "peaceful resistance."
See "We have resisted because they attack and kill us like dogs" (El Universal, April 7, 2014)
Soberanía, an NGO, released a report on its web site (www.soberania.org) on April 3, signed by 17 of Venezuela's most renowned economists, detailing how the official economic and social data of the country has been deteriorated. This silence not only violates the right of citizens to accurate and timely information on important matters, but also disrespects the obligation that rulers and other public officials have to regularly being accountable to the nation.
See VenEconomy: Concealment as State Policy (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 11, 2014)
"Why should renewed testing for the commissioner be accepted?"
See Decision on renewed testing of ex-chief police Simonovis labelled as "gibe" (El Universal, April 16, 2014)
The court ordered prosecuting protesters breaking the new rule.
See Venezuelan top court bans spontaneous peaceful protests (El Universal, April 25, 2014)
A dead calm is felt in Venezuela at the moment; an apparent stillness that, as sailors themselves say, causes despair and portends eventual storms.
And even sadder is the dead calm caused by the helplessness felt by the population in the face of an oppressive State, which has fiercely made use of all its repressive and judicial powers against young - and not so young - people who took the streets legitimately to express themselves against all the factors that have worsened grave issues such as personal insecurity, scarcity and the high cost of living courtesy of the Cuban Castro-communist regime.
See VenEconomy: From Dead Calm to Perfect Storm? (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 7, 2014)
Growing migration of Venezuelans to the United States (215,023 legal residents) has influenced applications for asylum on grounds of political persecution. From 1998 through 2013, a total of 10,706 Venezuelans have sought asylum in the United States.
Over the past 15 years, 2,043 petitions have been granted, versus 3,686 denied. Other 4,977 applications were withdrawn, abandoned or took another course, based on the numbers supplied by the US Department of Justice.
In the past five years (2009-2013) such applications have escalated. Asylum in the United States has been sought by 1,724 Venezuelans; 640 of which were granted, 780 denied and 1,420 took another course.
See As many as 10,706 Venezuelans have sought asylum in the US (El Universal, May 12, 2014)
Upon the consent of the 18-member panel, including 10 Democrats, the initiative will be forwarded to the plenary session of the US Senate.
See US Senate okays sanctions on Venezuelan government officials (El Universal, May 20, 2014)
Iván Simonovis, a former police chief of the Caracas Metropolitan Police who was sentenced to 30 years in prison over the April 2012 coup, on Tuesday went on a hunger strike to reject the court's delay in deciding whether he will be granted humanitarian release due to his poor health condition, a petition filed by his defense lawyers nearly two years ago.
Reading a letter from Simonovis, defense lawyer José Luis Tamayo made the announcement.
Tamayo pointed out that the former police chief was not found guilty of crimes against humanity, as many government officials have claimed.
See Imprisoned former police chief on hunger strike (El Universal, May 27, 2014)
Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodríguez produced as evidence a number of e-mails presumably from deposed opposition deputy María Corina Machado.
Rodríguez showed a number of e-mails, presumably from María Corina Machado. In such e-mails forwarded to constitutionalist Gustavo Tarre, the former deputy regrets the unresponsiveness of some politicians with regard to her dismissal from the National Assembly (AN).
He contended that plotters schemed to kill Diosdado Cabello, Aragua state governor Tareck el Aissami and Minister of the Interior Miguel Rodríguez Torres.
See Venezuelan gov't involves María Machado in new plot (El Universal, May 28, 2014)
"I reaffirm it, Mr. Maduro, neither assassination nor coup. Step down," declared on Wednesday the leader of the opposition movement Vente Venezuela, María Corina Machado, who rejected as a "clumsy scam" the allegations by top Venezuelan government officers that she is involved in an alleged coup and assassination scheme.
The deposed congresswoman said that the top government officials' accusations against her have clearly shown that "the security bodies of Venezuela are a disgrace." She stressed that "the highest political leaders of the revolution," along with the state security and intelligence agencies, intend to persecute and intimidate citizens.
See Machado to Maduro: Neither assassination nor coup. Step down (El Universal, May 28, 2014)
Deposed opposition Deputy María Corina Machado set out a three-step plan for political change.
"It is time to reap the achievements of this heroic deed", stated last Sunday opposition leader María Corina Machado from a platform in Chacaíto (east Caracas) before a modest rally. She announced, along with opposition party Voluntad Popular leaders, "the route for the national liberation".
Machado set out a three-step plan for the "reaping". The first step is to create "a wide bottom-up unity, where every social expression is heard. A unity that allows MUD's (Democratic Unified Panel) parties and leaders such as Henrique Capriles, Antonio Ledezma, and Leopoldo López to be brought together. We must incorporate the students' movement, professional associations, citizens' assemblies, trade unions, grassroots groups, communal councils, and cultural groups", among others.
The idea is them to be "united in a great national movement to reach consensus on the Venezuela we want", said Machado.
In her view, the second step is to "demand the resignation of (president) Nicolás Maduro amid a great national outcry".
The last step of the road map is to "renew a social pact, where all Venezuelans can get together and renew public powers". Machado pointed out that the mechanisms are on the Constitution: an amendment or a National Constituent Assembly.
See Venezuelan dissenters to seek early elections (El Universal, June 9, 2014)
Without a doubt, Venezuela is going through the most serious economic crisis in its entire history: Unbearable shortages that extend to food products, medicines and all kinds of basic consumer goods and key inputs to the industry and agricultural sector of the country. The country is also falling short of foreign currency, making it harder to pay for imports and the debts every time. An inflation rate that may exceed 80% or more by the end of this year. The country no longer has access to credit; not even the one that China used to provide. The options that the country has so far are misery, hunger and pests; or maybe signing up for an IMF-style adjustment program.
Meanwhile, the Government and its submissive public institutions maintain a culpable silence with regard to the accountability and key information that both the Constitution and laws oblige them to inform the population about the nation's today economic reality. A serious, unwise and negligent omission that should lead to legal responsibilities for the officials involved. But, in today's Venezuela, this culpable silence also extends to the Office of the Comptroller, the Parliament and the judiciary system, institutions called on to be the guarantors of transparency in the management of the State and the compliance with laws and accountability, for they are all clung to the "revolutionary" process.
See VenEconomy: Culpable Silence (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 11, 2014)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed on Monday at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) its deep concerns over the serious human rights situation in Venezuela, describing it as "the most alarming" the country has gone through in years.
"They (law enforcement agents) deliberately attacked journalists and other people who took photographs or recorded videos of repression against protesters, yet they allowed pro-government armed groups to attack demonstrators. Sometimes they (officers) even collaborated with them" the organization commented.
See HRW denounces at the UN human rights abuses by Venezuela (El Universal, June 23, 2014)
One hundred and five years after its foundation, El Universal gets ready to begin a new era following a change in its shareholding structure. From now on, the Spanish investment firm Epalisticia joins the daily newspaper, presided over by Engineer Jesús Abreu Anselmi.
Founded in 1909, El Universal came out to the streets in a four-page edition under a principle set by its first editor, poet Andrés Mata. Such principle has remained "as is" for over a century: freedom of expression.
See A new era has begun for El Universal (El Universal, July 5, 2014)
Insistent rumours had been making the rounds for some time about the alleged sale of El Universal, Venezuela's oldest and last standing independent newspaper. The sale, for an alleged €90 million, was confirmed this week. The new director is meant to be Jesús Abreu Anselmi. Abreu did very little to establish his credibility and calm fears about ultimate controlling party, when he pointed at Spain's Epalisticia S.L. as the group behind the purchase. Epalisticia S.L. is a €3,500 company, which started operations less than a year ago.
See [UPDATED] Spain's €3,500 Epalisticia buys El Universal for €90 million (Infodio, Alek Boyd. July 13, 2014)
A series of shocking and still incomprehensible events has taken place in Aruba since last Thursday with the arrest of the former director of Venezuela's Military Intelligence (DIM), retired Army General Hugo Carvajal.
See VenEconomy: The Absurdities of the Carvajal Case (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 28, 2014)
On Thursday, President Nicolás Maduro put at the top of the national agenda the start of a discussion regarding an increase in gas prices in Venezuela.
Indeed, this is a necessary discussion to be held in a country with the lowest gas prices in the world (Bs.0.097 per liter, or $0.0015 per liter at official exchange rate and $0.0019 per liter at SICAD II exchange rate, which is equivalent to seven cents per gallon at a time when most countries sell it at more than $1 per liter or $3.50 per gallon).
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Controversial Gas Price Hike (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 1, 2014)
This is the right time for the MUD to take up a proposal made several years ago by renowned analysts and media outlets such as José Toro Hardy, a former member of the Board of Directors of state-run oil company PDVSA; Alfonso Molina, a member of civil association Liderazgo y Visión; Leonardo Palacios, a Venezuelan lawyer and university professor; Aurelio Concheso, head of business association Fedecámaras, and local newspaper TalCual: that of setting up a "Shadow Cabinet".
It should be noted that a Shadow Cabinet is a mechanism used in democracies around the world, especially in the UK, Canada, France, Romania and Australia. It is about an institution where prominent members of the opposition are assigned the task of following the steps of the Government's main ministers, each one within their own field of work, with the purpose of establishing positions with regard to the actions performed by them.
See VenEconomy: The Venezuela's Opposition 'Shadow Cabinet' (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 11, 2014)
Venezuela has increased the pace of the decline that began during the last years of the late Hugo Chávez in the hands of his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Maduro has been unable and has not wanted to amend the diverse and profound distortions that have become entrenched in the country during 15 years of "revolution."
Counting on the complicity of the central bank, the National Executive is vainly trying to conceal the nation's figures of inflation and scarcity. It hasn't released consumer price index data for two months and has remained mum on scarcity indicators for five months.
See VenEconomía: ... And Everything Will Remain the Same in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 19, 2014)
It turns out that Venezuela has reached such a situation in the lack of foreign currency to import products and goods required by citizens to survive, despite the fact of having the world's largest oil and gas reserves with revenues of $90-$100 per barrel due to exports of crude oil.
Unfortunately, the importing process has become vital for a country with nearly no domestic production from the private sector thanks to the misappropriation of lands, private industries and properties on the part of the Government; and that at the same time, it has destroyed all the productive apparatus of the State through politicization, inefficiency, unproductiveness and corruption.
See VenEconomy: The Venezuelan Government's Got a Nerve! (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 22, 2014)
Maduro sneaked out of Venezuela to meet with the man calling the shots in Cuba for over 50 years - and not once but twice in less than a month; and everybody found out about these sudden trips when Fidel Castro himself made mention of them in his column "Reflexiones" (Reflections) published by Cuban daily Granma.
See VenEconomy: Maduro Sneaks Out of Venezuela, Meets with Fidel (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 26, 2014)
Today the presence of the Chinese in Venezuela is an inescapable and increasingly tangible reality. Both countries have signed agreements of all kinds in some 15 strategic areas: housing, industry, agriculture, technology, transportation, telecommunications and, naturally, oil, are among the most sensitive areas, especially since the end of July of this year when the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, visited the country and signed about 38 agreements, out of which 21 are "private", meaning that these were not even disclosed to the population, although the public opinion has not been well informed about the rest of them either.
See VenEconomy: The Chinese Have Arrived in Venezuela! (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 27, 2014)
It turns out that the country's goose that lays the golden eggs, or the "very sovereign" PDVSA, would be "studying" the possibility to import light Saharan Blend crude oil from Algeria, according to a report by Mariana Párraga of the Reuters news agency, after having access to a document of the state-run oil company.
See VenEconomy: Is This the Oil Sovereignty Venezuela Brags About? (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 28, 2014)
It is an affront to the dictatorial minds of those who control the Central Government and have taken hold of the rest of Venezuela's public authorities that leaders from the Democratic Unity (MUD) have been elected to be at the forefront of three governorates, and more than 70 mayoralties.
So much so that, refused to recognize the legitimacy of Henrique Capriles as governor of Miranda state, President Nicolás Maduro decided to give rise to the so-called "Miranda Corporation", a body that serves as a parallel authority to the governorate in which he appointed Elías Jaua, the PSUV ruling party candidate who lost to Capriles during the regional elections held in December of 2012.
See VenEconomy: A Continued Coup against Venezuela's Regional Powers (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 29, 2014)
It is a true fact that the Venezuelan government has been tightening the nuts of the freedom of information, expression and opinion for several years now. Three universal human rights guaranteed in the national Constitution are being undermined by this so-called "beautiful revolution".
See VenEconomy: Tightening the Nuts of Venezuelans' Freedoms (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 1, 2014)
Things seem to be taking an ugly turn for Venezuelan citizens.
Something that should not be surprising for anybody because, first of all, it had been previously warned by independent analysts and, second of all, because it is quite predictable that a situation gets out of control when is irresponsibly handled with malicious intentions.
It gives us the impression that President Nicolás Maduro has not made up his mind yet about making the right decisions that would help revive the country.
See VenEconomy: The Ravings of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 2, 2014)
In order to hide the state of destruction of the economy and the debasement of society into which it has plunged Venezuela over the past 15 years, the Venezuelan government has always opted for the path of evading the issue or that of blaming others for its own misdeeds.
This tactic, used in different areas of national concern and to solve various problems, is made particularly evident by the absence of reliable information regarding the huge number of homicides throughout the national territory and showing much lower figures than those reported by independent agencies instead. Or when, underestimating the intelligence of Venezuelan citizens, government officials deliver opinions with no justifiable basis.
See VenEconomy: The Venezuelan Government's Tactic of Evading the Issue (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 16, 2014)
Last Friday, a judge granted a humanitarian measure of "house arrest due to health reasons" in favor of police commissioner Iván Simonovis (a political prisoner of Hugo Chávez), after serving 9 years and 299 days of unjust imprisonment out of a 30-year sentence for the deaths of the April 11 of 2002 tragic events in Caracas.
See VenEconomy: The Masquerade of the Venezuelan Government (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 22, 2014)
Just five years away from reaching 20, the damage caused to Venezuela -- a country that with its natural resources could have become the most developed in the continent -- by the past 15 years of Bolivarian revolution is unimaginable. It is simply impossible to imagine how far this involution of the country is going to get if a communist state is imposed in Venezuela.
See VenEconomy: The Thin Ice of the Venezuelan Revolution (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 23, 2014)
President Nicolás Maduro left Venezuela, a country that has become a living hell for his fellow citizens plagued by rampant crime, soaring inflation, general shortages and a marked deterioration in the public healthcare system, for a little while to land in the U.S. Empire he attacks - and fears - so much.
He spoke of the climate change, describing it as "the main threat to human survival of this century", which, according to his own words, essentially resulted from "the crisis of a capitalist model of civilization". (But did not say a word about a big "mountain" of coke, a byproduct of heavy oil upgraders at the Jose refinery in Anzoátegui state.)
After his presentation in the U.S. Empire, Maduro and his court are seeking the admission of Venezuela as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, whose nomination on Wednesday was being decided by the General Assembly through secret ballot. Venezuela needs two-thirds of the votes of the 193 member nations to make it in. If successful, it would mark the fifth time that Venezuela occupies this post after the following periods: 1962-1963 / 1977-1978 / 1986-1987 and 1992-1993.
But we should ask ourselves if Maduro will come out of the U.S. Empire unharmed, because President Barack Obama pointed out that his country stands by the political prisoners of Maduro such as Leopoldo López, among many others. Obama was blunt when he said that "these citizens remind us why civil society is so essential", as he reminded the importance of civil society and the people's struggle for their rights.
See VenEconomy: Will Venezuela's Maduro Come Out of the Empire Unharmed? (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 24, 2014)
When Nicolás Maduro finally revealed what the much-trumpeted "shakeup" was all about on September 5, he performed a major cabinet reshuffle that was clouded by the departure of the "king of oil and sheik of the Venezuelan economy", Rafael Ramírez, from three of his multiple public offices (Ministry of Oil and Mining, head of PDVSA, and Vice President of Economic Affairs).
This important and strategic piece moved by Maduro was the transfer of Elías Jaua, the former chancellor, to two newly created public offices: the Vice Presidency of Socialism Development and Eco-socialism and the Ministry of Communes and Social Movements.
What many did not realize is that with these appointments Maduro was taking a new step toward the consolidation of the so-called "Communal State" as outlined in the Plan of the Homeland by the late Hugo Chávez to build the Socialism of the 21st century, in other words, the "Cubanization of Venezuela".
See VenEconomy: A Communal State Moves Forward in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 25, 2014)
After so much stumbling around for months, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) appointed Venezuelan journalist and community activist Jesús "Chuo" Torrealba as its executive secretary, a managerial position held by Ramón Guillermo Aveledo until July 30.
This appointment is being welcomed very positively by the public opinion. He has raised endless expectations, and while some critics remain somewhat skeptic due to his communist past, he has brought a breath of fresh air to Venezuela's broad democratic sector that until now had been feeling stomped on and without hope by the momentum of events.
See VenEconomy: Jesús Torrealba - The Missing Link of Venezuela's Democratic Machinery (Latin American Herald Tribune, September 29, 2014)
Venezuela today is paying for the irresponsible and insatiable wave of expropriations which, on the one hand, has taken national production to critical levels and led the country to rely on imports for its livelihood; and on the other, has discouraged investment capital while making the State go to arbitration courts so it can respond to complaints from international companies whose rights have been violated.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Pays for Expropriation Mistakes (Latin American Herald Tribune, October 20, 2014)
The exit to the harsh economic and social crisis that lies heavy on Venezuela consists, without a doubt, of resolving the political and governance crisis in a climate of peace, where consensus, the transparency of the processes, the credibility of public institutions and authorities, and the respect for the will of the people prevail. Unfortunately, these four variables are currently in the tightrope because of a political elite that sees itself lasting in power forever, never going unpunished, and always above the Constitution and laws.
For starters, the ruling elite has marred the climate of peace in the country through the force of a virulent and stigmatizing speech, meant for those Venezuelans who disagree with its policies and governance methods; through an excessive repression and firepower (from the State and its paramilitary groups); through the abuse of the Judiciary to prosecute, subdue and violate the rights and freedoms of those opposing it.
See VenEconomy: The Venezuelan Government Has the Floor! (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 6, 2014)
Last week, the NGO Cedice Libertad, in alliance with the Liberal Network for Latin America (Relial) and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with the "International Forum: The Totalitarian Temptation", which had Mauricio Rojas, a former member of Chile's Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) that got away from Marxism forever, PhD in Economics, Assistant Professor at the University of Lund (Sweden) and former member of the Parliament of Sweden, as special guest. He was joined by Antonio Sánchez García as a commentator, a writer, essayist, professor of contemporary philosophy at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), and a convinced Chilean-Venezuelan democrat who opposes any advance of a totalitarian regime in Venezuela and Latin America.
The lectures, among other topics, had to do with the presence of "caudillismo" in Latin America with all its pledges and temptations for magical solutions to the problems of the population, and the reason why many countries fall into these temptations as they end up with terrible dictatorships all the time. Dictatorships that, on the one hand, drag many idealists into them, who in most cases become terrible oppressors of their peoples. And on the other, plunge countries into rancor and division, where the sense of community and civic friendship is lost, while resources are squandered instead of being invested in the development of the country, as has been the case of Cuba and now Venezuela.
See VenEconomy: The Totalitarian Temptation (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 7, 2014)
Now it seems that the method of torture has begun to take root in Venezuela again with the governments of Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro. Such have been the outrages with the implementation of torture, especially since the beginning of January of this year, that several international bodies are calling on the Government to return to good judgment, reason and reconciliation between the sectors at odds at political level.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Goes Through the Tunnel of Torture (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 11, 2014)
On Tuesday, during the Perspectivas (Outlook) 2015 forum hosted by the Venezuelan Confederation of Industrialists (Conindustria), a diagnosis of the serious situation taking place in the industrial sector deemed vital for the development of the productive economy and the impact it will have on the rest of the society was made.
The forum kicked off presenting the key developments of this year characterized, among other things, by the severe difficulties in the access to foreign currency for imports (a reduction of 20%), a situation that has hampered the access to raw materials and hence caused a significant decline in production volumes.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Remains Firmly on the Wrong Path (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 12, 2014)
The government of Nicolás Maduro finds itself desperate because of a continuous drop in oil prices that has lasted over a month, surely after realizing that the long oil boom period has come to an end, and that it wasted one of the best opportunities that the country has ever had for catapulting into development over the past 15 years.
See VenEconomy: Maduro's Government is Alone, Weak and Without Resources (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 13, 2014)
A year ago, Venezuela's then-Vice President for the Economic Area, Rafael Ramírez, stated that the Government would "crush" the dollar sold in the parallel market that fetched Bs.60 per dollar. According to Ramirez, the exchange rate went out of control after a "relentless attack" against the national economy since the health of the leader of the Venezuelan revolution, Hugo Chávez, deteriorated in November of 2012. He emphatically claimed that "we are going to crush it (when referring to the parallel dollar), because we are going to recoup all those dollars they are stealing from the nation through over-invoicing or diversion of the dollars allocated by the Commission for the Administration of Currency Exchange (Cadivi)."
Another unfulfilled promise! The rate continued to climb, reaching Bs.100 per dollar. For several weeks, it seemed it was stabilizing at that level. Yet, prices of the parallel dollar started to rise again from October 23, hovering around Bs.120 per dollar on November 14; and worst still, no one knows what the ceiling is going to be.
See VenEconomy: No Ceiling for the Exchange Rate in Venezuela? (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 14, 2014)
The deadline for the payment of more than $4.6 billion in Venezuelan external debt service in October sparked a controversy at the end of September of this year. Some analysts questioned whether the Government could - or should - honor these commitments due to the low levels of international reserves, and many thought that it should first pay the private providers that must keep the supply of goods into the country, which are paralyzed for this very same reason.
Now, with a recent slump in oil prices already hovering around $70 per barrel, the question whether Venezuela will or will not be able to comply with the payment of its external debt -- or if it will be able to refinance it in the near future -- is raised once more.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Controversial External Debt (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 17, 2014)
The enabling laws are special powers that have been granted not only in Venezuela since last century to legislate in times of natural disasters and war situations, but also in cases of financial and economic emergencies. But, since the late Hugo Chávez came to power, these "enabling laws" have served for the President to enact all sorts of laws without the "need" to consult them with the Parliament or the public opinion.
The case is that the four enabling laws granted to Chávez, and that single one to Maduro, have been used to build a wide "legal" network that underpins and deepens the so-called "Socialism of the 21st century".
See VenEconomy: The Sham of the Bolivarian Enabling Laws (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 18, 2014)
Once more a ruler of the "revolution" of the 21st century is cooking up a legislative fraud to keep the country against the wall of failure and economic and social degradation.
On November 13 of 2001, Hugo Chávez passed 49 decree-laws all at once as the expiration of his second enabling law granted by the Parliament neared. Their contents were contrary to an open and dynamic economy, which triggered a general strike led by the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV), Fedecámaras (a business association) and several opposition political parties on December 10 of that year.
In spite of the fact that Nicolás Maduro never broke the record set by Chávez, only hours before the expiration of an enabling law granted by the Parliament last year, he passed 28 new decree-laws related to the economic area on Tuesday that joined 13 other decree-laws passed in November of 2013 for the deepening of the so-called Plan for the Homeland (a governance program inherited from Chávez that was also signed into law thanks to Maduro and an enabling decree in December of 2013).
See VenEconomy: The Legislative Fraud in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 19, 2014)
Some say that what starts wrong, ends bad.
A delegation of powers that, for a fifth time, fully erased the political plurality guaranteed by a democratic Parliament; that eliminates a compulsory popular consultation provided for by the National Constitution for the enactment of laws; and that obscures the legal framework that regulates the life of the nation. A year ago, just as happened on four occasions during the government of the late Hugo Chávez, the ruling coalition gave a blow to the Parliament.
On Wednesday, closing the 12-month period that enabled him to legislate at his discretion, Maduro put the icing on the revolutionary cake by passing 28 decree-laws that will undermine the system of economic freedoms in Venezuela and hence push the population into greater poverty and despair.
See VenEconomy: An Irrelevant, Pernicious Economic Package for Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 20, 2014)
November of 2014 will definitely be remembered in the history of Venezuela for the grotesque advance of its dictatorial regime.
On the one hand, 28 decree-laws (only 16 have been revealed so far) were passed all at once as the special legislative powers granted by the Parliament to President Nicolás Maduro for 12 months last year reached their expiration date this week. All of these decree-laws clearly violate constitutional provisions and ignore economic and citizens' rights.
And on the other, the Government is giving clear signs that it won't have any respect either for the Constitution, or the political plurality of a democracy or the ideological diversity of participatory citizens to form a Supreme Court of Justice and a National Electoral Council, both autonomous and independent from the Executive Branch. Quite grotesque are all the dirty little tricks and manipulations of the processes for the selection of candidates that will take part of these two institutions that are key to the survival of democracy and the system of freedoms in Venezuela.
See VenEconomy: A Thorn in the Side of the Venezuelan Dictatorship (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 21, 2014)
And now the Venezuelan dictatorial regime is focusing on a new target: the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC).
The IVIC is an autonomous entity created on February 9 of 1959, which brings together the most diverse areas of science (biology, medicine, physics, mathematics and chemistry) in order to find solutions to different problems of the population in the areas of genetics and human reproduction, immunology, tropical diseases, ecology and environmental pollution, among others.
An entity that gave rise to other institutions also of high scientific importance to the country such as: IDEA, or Center for Advanced Studies for the formation in fourth educational level of Venezuelan scientists and other countries in the region; Intevep, the technological arm of the Venezuelan oil industry and developer of Orimulsion; Quimbiotec, a non-profit state company devoted to produce and commercialize blood derivatives; and the Institute of Engineering.
See VenEconomy: Destroying Venezuela's IVIC is No Rocket Science (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 24, 2014)
Among the decree-laws promulgated by President Nicolás Maduro nearly a week after the expiration of an Enabling Law that granted him special powers is the Antitrust Law, published in the Official Gazette No. 6,151 on November 25.
This promulgation puts an end to a pending task of the Parliament since May of 2006. And even though it should be pointed out that at first glance the Antitrust Law of Maduro seems to be better written than the one resting in the Parliament already, the same still leaves much to be desired and doesn't measure up to a law that protects and promotes free competition (Pro-Competition Law) in force since January of 1992. That law, enacted during the second presidential term of Carlos Andrés Pérez (1989-1993), is considered as a model law that effectively combats monopolistic and oligopolistic behaviors and practices and other means that may prevent, restrict, distort or limit the enjoyment of economic freedoms, while protects and promotes free competition. These are real objectives that a good antitrust law must pursue.
See VenEconomy: New Antitrust Law fosters Unfair Competition in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 25, 2014)
Venezuela's penitentiary system has been ravaged by the revolutionary "marabunta" for many years now.
The situation of local prisons is getting worse every day. These are run nowadays by a Ministry of Penitentiary Affairs and managed with partisan criteria under the guidelines of the so-called "Plan for the Homeland" by a Minister who has proved to have a poor knowledge on the matter.
The chaotic situation in prisons, far from being corrected, gets worse by the day. Now, as if the blood bath imposed to other prisoners by the 'pranes' [the de facto rulers of Venezuelan prisons] was not enough, it is added to this the practice of repression, especially against a new type of prisoners: students and demonstrators who have disagreed with the Government, who are being sent to highly dangerous prisons not only to serve their sentences, but for preventive detention while they stand cooked and supervised trials by the National Executive.
A week ago it was learned that Raúl Emilio Baduel (the son of Gen. Raúl Baduel, former Defense Minister and one of the prisoners of the late President Hugo Chávez) and Alexander Tirado, who are standing trial for the protests that started in February of 2014, have been cruelly tortured by troops and custodians of the Uribana prison, leaving after-effects of fractures and burns all over their bodies. The Uribana inmates declared a strike on Monday due to the precarious conditions in the prison and to denounce alleged violations to their human rights and cruel and degrading treatment.
See VenEconomy: Situation in Venezuelan Prisons Worsens (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 26, 2014)
The economic, political and social situation in Venezuela keeps getting worse. And the worst thing is that actions of the government of Nicolás Maduro and its policies don't help in any way to outline a clear path towards exiting the crisis.
On the economic front, a set of 28 decree-laws promulgated by Maduro over the last two weeks will not curb the impact of the slump in oil prices or boost the international reserves, or stop the debacle of the productive sector, or alleviate the drought of foreign currency or the mounting shortages of goods.
What these decree-laws will achieve for sure is to continue bleeding businesses through taxes, to deepen the devastation of the private productive sector, to encourage more waste of resources and corruption, and to aggravate shortages, inflation and unemployment. And in the meantime, the State gets additional tax revenue to try to make it up for the revenue loss caused by a drop in oil prices.
While building this totalitarian wall, the political persecution and repression against the "enemies" of the "Revolution" continues unabated, with a cruelty only seen before in dictatorships from the 20th century such as those of Juan Vicente Gómez and Marcos Pérez Jiménez. The numerous cases of torture and cruel treatment against detainees haven't stopped fattening up the dismal human rights record of Venezuela at several international bodies. The government of Maduro continues to accumulate political prisoners: Leopoldo López, Enzo Scarano, Daniel Ceballos, Raúl Baduel (father and son), Alexander Tirado, Inés González (a blogger with the Twitter account @inesitalaterrible), and now are likely to enter the already long list: Gustavo Tarré (a constitutional lawyer), Henrique Salas Romer (the former governor of Carabobo state), Diego Arria, María Corina Machado, among other renowned personalities from the Venezuelan opposition, over the umpteen thousand alleged coup d'état and presidential assassination plots made up over the last 15 years.
See VenEconomy: The 'Shield' of Venezuela for 2015 (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 27, 2014)
On Thursday, as hinted by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other member countries for several weeks, the OPEC decided not to cut crude oil production as urged by the government of Venezuela on different occasions in a bid to contain a sustained drop in prices over the last five months.
Everybody is aware that Venezuela's special envoy Rafael Ramírez, the current Foreign Minister and former Minister of Energy and Petroleum and head of state-run oil company PDVSA, went on a world tour that included Russia and the majority of OPEC countries trying to convince them of the importance to cut production in order to reverse the continued decline in oil prices. It was also made public all the frustrated efforts to advance the meeting held on Thursday in Vienna, among many other output cut attempts.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Has to Settle with Same Old OPEC Quota (Latin American Herald Tribune, November 28, 2014)
In the middle of the second week of November, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro hastily enacted a set of laws before the expiration of a period of 12 months of special powers granted by the Parliament in November of 2013.
Altogether, Maduro had enacted 51 decree-laws by November 18, 45 of which were passed during his last two days of empowerment, according to the official gazettes No. 40,543 (24 laws) and 40,544 (21 laws), and whose texts indicated these would be subsequently published in eight additional gazettes dated November 18 or November 19 of 2014.
To date, 25 decrees laws have been published, four of which were reprinted for flaws in the originals, including an Antitrust Law and one for the simplification of administrative procedures, due to the fact that the text did not include the repeal of the laws in force for November 18.
See VenEconomy: The Enabling Laws of Venezuela's Maduro in Small Doses (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 1, 2014)
One of the many rights taken away from Venezuelans by their rulers is that of life as the country becomes the new "sea of happiness" of Latin America.
And if the situation of insecurity is serious enough for those who live in "freedom", it becomes particularly virulent for those who have been deprived of it.
Thus the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) expressed its alarm at the situation of violence in local prisons in a recent report, calling the penitentiary system of Venezuela a "tragedy". And this is not an exaggeration, taking into account that prison riots have intensified over the last decade to accumulate casualties of 5,000 people who were under custody of the State.
See VenEconomy: How Many More Will Have to Die in Venezuelan Prisons? (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 2, 2014)
After a streak of low oil prices, and before the inescapable reality of a flat broke Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro has begun his search of money here and there so he can keep the nation's communist revolution alive.
Many of the 51 decree-laws recently enacted by him go down in that direction, with tax increases and other measures aimed at the banking and insurance sectors.
That's also the intention of the assets sale of the Republic, as was the Hovensa refinery deal with Virgin Islands-based Atlantic Basin Refining; as well as the impending threat of selling CITGO, the U.S. refining unit of PDVSA.
It was thought that the urge of the Government in making additional cash would lead it to bond issues backed by receivables from Petrocaribe and Energy Agreement countries (which owe about $20 billion to an annual interest of 1%-2%), since Venezuela may obtain around $5-6 billion through this method.
It was learned this week that the sale of bonds for $4.09 billion owed by the Dominican Republic to the Republic of Venezuela is being negotiated with U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs, with the State getting 41% of the total face value of the debt, or an accounting loss of about $2.4 billion.
It was also learned that the Venezuelan government would be in talks with Goldman Sachs to strike a similar agreement with the oil debt of Jamaica with PDVSA.
This means that Venezuela's original sin was to provide 25-year financing for 50% of the value of the oil sold with a two-year grace period and interest rates between 1% and 2% - well below current market rates. If Venezuela had been able to resist until the year 2038, only a few would have understood or realized about the huge gift made to these countries.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Original Sin (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 3, 2014)
The government of Nicolás Maduro is using one of its hands to push Venezuela down the ravine of crisis, while the other crushes all dissent through its judges of horror.
This year 2014 has been a busy one for the Public Prosecutor's Office, which has opened trials over any allegation made up by the nation's governing elite. The goals of that persecution are varied, and may involve political opposition leaders, trade unionists, businesspeople or academics, as well as journalists, students, bloggers, members of NGOs or human rights organizations, or common citizens complaining or having any criticism against the Government.
On Wednesday, the guillotine from the judiciary was placed onto the neck of former opposition lawmaker and political leader, María Corina Machado, who was summoned to the Public Prosecutor's Office to be "formally" charged for her alleged involvement in one of the thousands assassination plots denounced by Maduro in his short presidential term. This investigation was opened in March of this year and also involves Diego Arria, Henrique Salas Römer, Gustavo Tarre Briceño, Ricardo Emilio Koesling Nava, Pedro Mario Burelli Briceño and Robert Alonso Bustillo, who have been issued arrest warrants for their alleged participation in the assassination plan.
See VenEconomy: Government's Mission - Neutralize the Venezuelan Opposition (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 4, 2014)
A year ago, President Nicolás Maduro requested the Parliament with a matter of urgency special legislative powers so he could fight corruption and his bogus "economic war", which he blames for the harsh economic crisis eating away Venezuela.
Once the 12-month period was over, Maduro had failed in both of these purposes. The economic crisis continues to wreak havoc while corruption takes root across the entire government system of the Revolution.
See VenEconomy: Party On for Corruption in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 5, 2014)
Today Venezuela is going through one of its darkest hours in economic, political and social matters. The dictatorial government of Nicolás Maduro is giving desperate samples of its willingness to continue its unrestrained spending spree in order keep a sinking Revolution afloat.
The facts also bring to light that the constitutional mandate will continue to be violated so that "legality" can be subordinated to a corrupt and amoral political regime and public authorities remain "kidnapped" by the State. This in addition to an increase in repression, violation of human rights and persecution against all political dissenters.
It is no exaggeration to say that Venezuela is going through a dark period in its history that makes it imperative for the opposition coalition to show itself being cohesive, proactive, creative, and ubiquitous to deal with the situation in all corners.
There are no excuses or arguments that could justify an opposition leadership that is weak, fragmented, contradictory or absent from any of the issues vital to the nation. And there are no apologies for a leadership pursuing partisan or individual goals, when the interests of the Republic and the rights of the population are being violated as never before in the country.
See VenEconomy: The 'Four Legs' of Venezuela's MUD (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 8, 2014)
Corruption is neither a new scourge nor is it confined only to Venezuela. This practice has spread worldwide. It excludes neither rich countries nor poor ones, nor governments of capitalist, socialist or communist class.
Its harmful effects not only include the deepening of poverty and misery of the population, but also maximizes the instability of countries, "undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and opens the possibility for other threats to human security".
See VenEconomy: A Blow against Corruption in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 9, 2014)
The harsh economic and social crisis in Venezuela is dragging the communist regime down with it, to the point that its agony can be felt everywhere, in each queue to buy food, medicines, or any other basic product or service, in hospitals, morgues, prisons or government offices.
An agony reflected in opinion polls showing the collapse of the popularity of President Nicolás Maduro and his administration, with a rejection rate of 85.7% and one of acceptance that barely reaches 13%, according to a report released by local journalist Nelson Bocaranda in his RunRunes website on Wednesday. The lowest levels recorded in the history of the so-called Socialism of the 21st century.
See VenEconomy: A Totalitarian Regime on the Brink of Extinction in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 10, 2014)
It seems that the time has come for President Nicolás Maduro and his entire revolutionary court to be held accountable for their actions before justice.
It is not only in economic matters where things have become way too complicated for the revolutionaries. Now it seems that the time has come for those who thought were untouchable and above the law to be held accountable for disobeying the rules of civility, violating human rights, and subjecting their fellow Venezuelans to ill-treatment and torture. All this covered by the complicit and shameful silence of most countries and international bodies such as the OAS.
See VenEconomy: Time for Justice, Accountability in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 11, 2014)
Because of the harsh economic and social crisis eating away at Venezuela as a result of the failed policies of the "Socialism of the 21st century", as well as the brutal persecution and repression against citizens reluctant to embrace the Revolution's "Plan for the Homeland", among other factors, a pest that has grown stronger for the past 15 years in the country has been practically overlooked: drug trafficking.
Venezuela has stopped being a transit country for illegal narcotics to become a territory that guarantees freedom of action and immunity to large groups of drug traffickers.
See VenEconomy: Drug Trafficking - The Other Pest of the Venezuelan Revolution (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 12, 2014)
It's been 15 years (December 15 1999) since the "Mudslide of Vargas" tragedy took place in this Venezuelan state of the same name that comprises the country's Greater Caracas region. Back in that time, 10 other states were also affected by heavy downpours for several days, particularly those located in coastal zones such as Falcón, Miranda and (naturally) Vargas.
This mudslide has been the most severe natural disaster in the history of Venezuela since an earthquake in 1812. The fatal victims of that day - and of at least four days in a row - were counted by thousands (more than 16,000 dead or gone missing according to official records, and close to 30,000 according to some unofficial sources); as well as thousands of wounded and people affected and millions of dollars in material losses of both the State and individuals. A tragic loss that led this disastrous event to its inclusion in the Guinness World Records as the mudslide with most fatalities in history.
But that was not the only indelible tragedy left by the end of the 20th century on the minds of Venezuelans.
That day, thus ignoring the scale of this tragedy and the drama lived by thousands and thousands of Venezuelans, as well as the alerts issued by various State agencies and the state of alarm declared by Vargas' fire department a day earlier, the late President Hugo Chávez decided to press ahead with unchangeable steadiness the completion of a referendum that would lead to the approval of a new Constitution of the Republic. A Constitution that represented the first brick laid down for the establishment of the so-called "Socialism of the 21st century".
With this Constitution, approved with the 71.37% (2,982,395 voters) of the votes in a referendum that registered an abstention rate of 54.74%, Chávez began to blur the Republic of Venezuela (to that date a democratic and representative State) to shape the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which was supposed to be a State with a legal system and room for "social and participatory democracy", and that ended up becoming an amorphous scheme doomed to failure known as "Plan for the Homeland".
The new Magna Carta has been the legal text with more violations, distortions, manipulations and misinterpretations by all public authorities in Venezuela over the past fifteen years.
However, it was the promulgation of that Bolivarian Constitution in December of 1999 what marked the milestone of the worst mudslide in the history of Venezuela that has dragged with its "revolutionary mud" all the values, principles, ethics, public morals, respect for the economic, political and civil rights, and the entrepreneurial and individual freedoms of Venezuelans. A disaster that has ruined the domestic oil industry, destroyed the whole productive system of the country, dried the fields and lands of the nation, persecuted and taken innocent Venezuelans to prison, given rise to an unprecedented diaspora in Venezuela, not punished the responsible ones for thousands of murders and deepened the hunger and misery conditions of its population.
A "revolutionary mud" that has swept away an independent justice system, as much as subordinated the autonomy of public authorities (guarantors of democracy and the respect for citizens) to a political project that began in a communist country such as Cuba.
Today, as never before, the national sovereignty of Venezuela has been violated and tied to the Castro dictatorship, while its population, just like it has in Cuba for more than half a century, plunges into despair and economic and social hardships.
Just like there was an urgent need in Vargas back in 1999 to join efforts in order to rescue lives and properties buried in the mud, there is an urgent need in Venezuela 15 years later that its citizens dig out of the values of democracy, freedom and the right to be respected over their differences.
See VenEconomy: Fifteen Years of 'Mudslides' in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 15, 2014)
Being this the last editorial for 2014, the only message from VenEconomy to its readers should be wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Unfortunately, the critical situation of Venezuela doesn't make this message credible at all.
For starters, how can this be a Merry Christmas for the millions of Venezuelans in their daily suffering for obtaining food, medicines or any other basic product for their own subsistence and that of their families? Or for the thousands who have seen their businesses disappear, or their jobs going down the drain of the policies of a predator government? Or for the thousands still waiting for the State to keep its promise of providing them with decent housing?
Neither can be receptive to a Christmas greeting those who see their families fractured or divided today, because of the loss of one or several of their members to the hands of criminals who go unpunished most of the time; or because one of these members is behind bars, or is being persecuted or harassed by a system of administration of justice at the service of political interests; or because several of them have fled to a forced exile due to the harsh economic, political and social situation in Venezuela.
This holiday season finds Venezuela entangled in the meshes of persecutory control policies imposed by the late Hugo Chávez, his successor Nicolás Maduro and his court of "pharaohs".
Every company, entrepreneur, worker, trade unionist, student, journalist, or ordinary citizen that doesn't bend to the Executive' will may be subject to some of the "laws" that put aside the right of "presumption of innocence" until proven otherwise and hence be found "guilty" by orders of Maduro, any other Bolivarian hierarch or from Cuba.
The country is being affected by all kinds of economic plagues: An inflation rate over 70% by year-end, the highest in the region and one of the highest in the world. Shortages that exceed 30% ranging from food to medicines, and even any other basic product or supplies under the aegis of the nefarious "Law of Fair Prices", or that is dependent on one of the foreign exchange rate systems restricting the allocation of currency, or any other of the dozens of mandatory permits, formalities or commissions to operate in the national territory.
Extremely low levels of international reserves because the huge oil revenues reaped over the last fifteen years resulted in an unrestrained spending spree from the ruling elite inside and outside the country. An enormous fiscal deficit between 17%-19% of the GDP by the end of 2014. With the bonds of the Republic falling to 36 cents. And, as the icing on the cake, oil prices below $60 per barrel.
And what is coming for 2015 does not look any better, but quite the opposite. It's so hard to wish a Happy New Year when constrictive regulations will remain in force, domestic production will continue to plummet, the inflation rate will reach three digits, shortages will intensify, oil prices will remain at all-time lows, foreign currencies will vanish, public debt will be impossible to pay, the budget will barely cover the first quarter, and recession will come swiftly.
Worse still, with the announcement of Maduro that he will leave the political and social issues in the hands of his underlings because he will be fully dedicated to fight an "economic war" against the country, greater political repression, more social conflicts and worsening healthcare, housing, education and security problems are expected, as is usual when control is handed over to dictator apprentices.
See VenEconomy: How to Wish our Readers a Merry Christmas, Happy 2015? (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 16, 2014)
As expected, Venezuelans had a terribly depressing Christmas holiday last year.
The days of December went by with a constant struggle to get all the basic supplies for the Christmas Eve and New Year dinners; to make ends meet after the huge daily expenses; to save a little money from the Christmas bonuses in a bid to save the holiday tradition for the sake of the children and our closest relatives; and to overcome insecurity and rampant crime, which already had taken the lives of more than 25,000 Venezuelans in all 2014.
But, if December was a difficult month for most Venezuelans, January is turning out worse. Widespread shortages of all kinds of food products, medicines, and supplies returned with double the impact during this first month of the year.
See VenEconomy: A January of Uncertainty, Concern in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 12, 2015)
On May 1 1957, it was read a pastoral letter written by the then-archbishop of Caracas, Rafael Arias Blanco, in all the churches of Venezuela. In it, he described and analyzed the precarious situation the country's workforce was going through.
Such was the power of this liturgical piece that he managed to awaken the already restless conscience of many Venezuelans, especially students, thus sparking a series of protests that forced the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez to board a plane nicknamed "the sacred cow" to never return to the country.
A public statement of Venezuela's Catholic Church signed by the bishops of the country released this week once more focused the attention of the population on the rapid political, social and economic deterioration that is plunging Venezuelans into despair and depression.
See VenEconomy: And the Venezuelan Church has spoken! (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 13, 2015)
A statement by the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference with assertive stance on the political, economic and social situation of Venezuela released this week also revealed a more serious situation as is a "moral crisis, of values, attitudes, motivations and behaviors that need to be corrected."
The bishops warned that "attitudes must be overcome as much as the lust for easy riches and corruption, the political pride, the arrogance and hunger for power, selfishness, laziness, hatred and violence." And that "principles of legality, legitimacy and morality that underpin the fabric of social coexistence must be rescued."
Unfortunately, this message arrives at a time when the greatest totalitarian onslaught against public institutions in all the republican life of Venezuela has taken place, thus violating those indispensable principles of legality, legitimacy and morality vindicated by the Episcopate.
See VenEconomy: The Institutional Collapse in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 14, 2015)
One of the key issues over the past 16 years of revolutionary governments in Venezuela has been the indifference and incompetence to tackle the problem of crime and violence, which seem to be on purpose and aimed at intimidating and keeping the population prisoner of fear.
It's not just that in the past two years nearly 50,000 citizens have lost their lives in the hands of criminals, not to mention all the victims of State violence against peaceful demonstrators, but that more than 90% of the cases have never been resolved by the system of administration of justice as culprits get off scot-free taking the lives of new innocent people in the streets of the country.
This indolent policy on citizen security has ranked Venezuela in one of the top spots of countries with the highest homicide rates, including nations amid ongoing armed conflicts.
See VenEconomy: Life is Worth Nothing in Venezuela in Times of Revolution (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 16, 2015)
It seems that something good is happening on the opposition's front, at least in terms of making efforts to build Venezuela's democratic unity right from the logical disagreements of those who understand what a democracy and the respect for differences and freedoms mean.
In this respect, Henrique Capriles, the Governor of Miranda state who at first was distant from the position adopted by opposition leaders Leopoldo López, María Corina Machado and Antonio Ledezma, is looking forward to holding encounters in a bid to find powerful answers that would help counter the bad management of the severe economic and social crisis from the national government. Encounters that have been welcomed by this political trio who have put forward the so-called La Salida (the way out) initiative as a means of democratic political transition since January of last year, and whose mutual agreements will be announced in the next few hours, Capriles was quoted as saying in a radio talk show on Monday.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's MUD Lays its Cards on the Table (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 19, 2015)
The endless queues of eager Venezuelans in their search of diapers for their babies, a single roll of toilet paper, a carton of milk, corn flour, coffee, vegetable oil, among other basic products; the daily protests of citizens in angst are some of the symptoms of an ailing economy suffering an old disease that has killed other nations throughout history: communism, today hiding in Venezuela under the name of "socialism of the 21st century."
Other of the symptoms are the stockouts of companies that have been hit hard for over 15 years by the State's predatory policies of private property, which have imposed tight controls over the national production, imports and distribution of goods and commodities across the national territory. Policies deepened by Nicolás Maduro since December of 2013, when the official looting of the inventories of retailers began as he gave a nod to the so-called "Dakazo."
See VenEconomy: Wrong Diagnosis, Remedies to Tackle the Venezuelan Crisis (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 20, 2015)
Venezuela today lives a reality that just looks like the one shown in the absurdist play written in the late 40s by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.
For example, while an entire country has impatiently awaited months for the announcements promised by the government of Nicolás Maduro, which supposedly will guide Venezuela's economy out of the quagmire, Beckett characters Pozzo and his slave Lucky appear on the scene not only telling those awaiting the announcements that these will not be made "today, but tomorrow," but also giving absurd explanations on the general shortages and excessively long queues outside food and drug retailers throughout the national territory, as they announce irrational measures not aimed at resolving the heart of the supply crisis in the country.
See VenEconomy: While We Wait for Godot... (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 21, 2015)
On Wednesday, on his return from a fantasist and failed tour around the world and several days behind his constitutional duties, Nicolás Maduro addressed the Parliament to fulfill the legal requirement of the annual report and accounts.
The first thing that needs to be clarified here is that, in his nearly three-hour tirade, Maduro was unaccountable to the nation because, according to what he said with total impudence, a deputy minister did the job for him the previous week while he was traveling to Russia, China and other OPEC countries.
What he did acknowledge is that oil at $100 per barrel is not coming back and that's the reason why the country is going through an economic crisis, as he tried once more to shrug off the responsibility of a failed model of a country imposed over the past 16 years that gave rise to the so-called Socialism of the 21st century in Venezuela.
This crisis, which Maduro just doesn't seem to understand, led him to announce for the second time in less than a year that an increase in gas prices is required (highlighting that it is the cheapest in the world) and, therefore, he said a debate on the subject must be opened and that his Vice President, Jorge Arreaza, should take care of carrying it out.
From there, many realized from the speech of Maduro that the worst is yet to come for Venezuela.
See VenEconomy: God Helps those Who Help Themselves! (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 22, 2015)
The economic emergency that Venezuela is going through is so grave and its causes and solutions so obvious that brought together some 60 Venezuelan economists in agreement, including one or two supporters of the so-called "Socialism of the 21st century."
These 60 professionals have developed a 15-page document addressed to the National Executive and to all sectors of the country, explaining the reasons of the crisis as they draw up proposals to deal with the emergency. This document was published in the web site of NGO Pensar en Venezuela (www.pensarenvenezuela.org.ve) on Thursday. [22 de enero 2015]
These proposals are based on a reality that is well exposed in the document: "Venezuela requires the establishment of a market economy with strong social and economic institutions, forming part of a democracy where all national sectors will have their doors open to participate without fear in the national development." That is to say, a trilogy of democracy, legal certainty and inclusion.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Remains on the Road to Hell (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 23, 2015)
VenEconomy readers may be wondering whether the streets of Caracas and some other state capitals of Venezuela were filled by citizens during the so-called "March of the Empty Pots" called by the Democratic Unity (or MUD) party on Saturday.
Some say they were half empty. They had hoped that many more people would have attended because of: 1) The serious food and medicine shortages (a situation that forces people to humiliating queues, where consumers are branded like animals to have access to what they cannot find at regular stores and their right to purchase basic products is restricted to two days a week, depending on the last number of their ID cards.) 2) The number of murders in the hands of criminals due to a policy of impunity (25,000 victims in 2014 alone, which represents thousands more than any country at war in the Middle East.)
Others like ABC.es believe pots were full. This Spain-based newspaper stated that this civic demonstration called by the MUD was a litmus test that the opposition party successfully overcame. And it has reasons to spare to call this march a litmus test.
See VenEconomy: Half Full or Half Empty during Saturday's Demonstration (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 26, 2015)
There is nothing more powerful than the voices that are raised to demand freedom and justice for the oppressed peoples, particularly when those voices come from proven democrats of international recognition.
Three former Latin American presidents arrived in Venezuela this week to attend "The Citizen Power and Democracy Today" forum held in Caracas, organized by the leadership of the country's Democratic Unity (or MUD) opposition party.
These three gentlemen are Andrés Pastrana (Colombia), Sebastián Piñera (Chile), and Felipe Calderón (Mexico), three democrats who, undeterred by all the previous insults coming straight from the mouth of President Nicolás Maduro, came to this country to see and suffer in the flesh the rigors of the so-called "Socialism of the 21st century."
They experienced, for instance, how visitation rights of political prisoners are violated at the Ramo Verde military prison in Miranda state, when both Pastrana and Piñera ran into a military wall that, following the orders of the Office of the Vice-President and without any valid reason, denied them to visit opposition leader Leopoldo López, the mayor of the San Cristóbal municipality in Táchira state (Daniel Ceballos) and other Venezuelans in situation of imprisonment. They witnessed the long and obvious queues of desperate citizens at the doors of supermarkets trying to make it in in order to buy some food. They were struck by all the empty shelves found in grocery stores and retailers everywhere in a country that boasts the "biggest oil reserves in the world." And they attended two "very hard and heartbreaking" meetings where they heard about the experiences of journalists and victims of human rights violations.
See VenEconomy: The Power of Three Democratic Voices (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 27, 2015)
Hunger and death are spreading across Venezuela because of a political project that was supposed to represent a panacea for the poor, and rather ended up being a factory of poverty, misery and marginality.
One way to measure the situation is paying attention to the voices of agrifood specialists calling for an emergency to be decreed in the sector; or listening to government spokesmen such as Food Security Regulator Carlos Osorio, who has recognized that food reserves will only last two and a half months, an extremely serious claim when it is clear that there is no guarantee of enough production to replenish shelves everywhere in the country with food products, or the necessary foreign currency to import them.
See VenEconomy: The High Price Paid for the Errors in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 28, 2015)
"Venezuela is a toxic mishmash of corruption and misrule, and a drop in oil prices has resulted in general shortages, soaring inflation and an increase in repression. The nation that once was a role model for populist governments across Latin America, a system installed by Hugo Chávez, is today a typical case of political and economic dysfunction."
This pathetic, but honest, description of the country's reality
was given by Freedom House's annual report on the state of global freedom published on Wednesday.
A trend that, far from going down, seems to increase if we take into consideration the latest statement by Vladimir Padrino, the Defense Minister, with the resolution No. 008610 published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday establishing a new model of military control of public order that includes the "use of potentially deadly force that might as well be firearms or another life-threatening weapon," as a last resort to "avoid disturbances, support the legitimately constituted authority and reject any aggression by repelling it immediately with the necessary resources." That is to say, everyday actions by State security forces that have left over 50 people killed during the protests that started in February of last year are being legitimized and legalized.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Political, Economic Dysfunction (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 29, 2015)
Venezuela seems not only resting upon an erupting volcano, but violently hit by a hurricane at the same time, even though the country doesn't have any volcanoes or is a tornado area. The alarming and inexplicable events here happen so fast that is hard for anyone to get the chance to digest and analyze their implications.
On Wednesday, for example, the national and international public opinion was surprised with a report by Spain-based newspaper ABC talking about the defection of Leamsy Salazar Villafaña, a lieutenant commander and former head of security of the late Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, who had allegedly requested asylum in the U.S. and would be testifying as a protected witness of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
See VenEconomy: Is Resolution No. 008610 a Cover for Venezuela's Drug Cartels? (Latin American Herald Tribune, January 30, 2015)
It seems that Venezuela's rulers are obsessed with not learning from the experiences (their own and those of others) and stubbornly keep repeating error after error, something that has brought so many hardships to the people of this country.
The warning bells rang on January 21 announcing that the critical situation of the country may worsen further after Nicolás Maduro presented his annual Report and Accounts before the Parliament.
That day, not only Maduro did not report anything at all and repeated the same old broken promises of distribution of wealth for political proselytism purposes, but he also announced that he will step up "inspections" to distribution companies and confirmed that he would carry on with the control policies that have caused so much damage to the national productive system.
As expected, given the grim record of such inspections, the "new ones" seem to continue ending up in new expropriations, more trials and imprisonment against Venezuelans in addition to further deterioration in the sources of employment.
See VenEconomy: Fueling Shortages in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 2, 2015)
Where are they taking you, Venezuela? That's the question coming out of the mouths of millions of citizens, nationals and foreigners, after each unusual announcement or news by the local government on the economy, social and political aspects or investigations of international bodies that involve State officials committing a wide range of wrongful acts. What is serious about all this is that each new event is intertwined with another, indicating that the "revolution" is in full radicalization toward communism.
On the other hand, the economic situation is deteriorating further resulting in an increase of poverty. According to ECLAC data, the Poverty Index in 2013 was 6.7 percentage points higher than the previous year (from 25.4% to 32.1%). General shortages, recession and inflation are deeply felt in the quality of life of the population, not to mention the growing fear of rampant crime.
In response, the Government does not rectify any of its disastrous policies (among other things, remove price and foreign exchange controls; repeal tough laws such as the Labor Law or fully restore the Rule of Law and respect for private property.) On the contrary, it insists on using foreign exchange bands that are sources of more corruption; tighten the noose of controls; apply new criminal laws as that of Customs; return to the path of expropriations and step up the repression against the private sector by setting up civic-military groups that would "fight shortages." Among the latest victims of this so-called "Operation Sucre" are Distribuidora Herrera (a distributor of products of mass consumption), dairy producer Zuli Milk's production facilities, Farmatodo (a pharmacy retail chain) and Día a Día (a food distributor). All of them suffering from the onslaught of a biased judiciary that includes arrests, fines, humiliations and prosecution to owners, managers and workers.
See VenEconomy: Quo Vadis, Venezuela? (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 3, 2015)
One of the leitmotifs of the governments of Venezuela over the past 16 years has been that of attacking the U.S. "empire", accusing it of meddling in the internal affairs of the peoples of the Americas and, in the particular case of Venezuela, of being behind countless coups d'état against the "revolution of the 21st century".
The reality is that the U.S. has shown a certain level of indifference and apathy for the region in the last few decades. Another reality is that the regime of the Castro brothers took advantage of this indifference, through the Venezuelan petrodollars provided by Hugo Chávez, so it could penetrate several governments in this hemisphere and infect them with the plague of the socialism of the 21st century to undermine the democratic systems of countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
See VenEconomy: Bipolarity in Times of the Venezuelan Revolution (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 4, 2015)
Nicolás Maduro took over the public airwaves on Wednesday on the occasion of the 23rd anniversary of the bloody events that resulted in a coup d'état that launched Hugo Chávez in the public arena.
It's not surprising that in times like these, so opposed to the democratic logic, such a violent event that sought to overthrow a constitutionally elected government and plunged entire Venezuelan families into mourning is being praised.
But it does call our attention that Maduro, evidencing a lack of sense of relevance and ubiquity, had the broadcast in parallel with a Caribbean Series game of Venezuela against Dominican Republic. In fact, many dictators in history have kept the population happy with bread and games, and it happens that baseball has a tranquilizing effect on Venezuelans, something that Chávez always bore in mind.
This "banality" is just a symbolism of the disconnection of the Maduro government from the reality of the country. A disconnection that becomes tragically clear in a new onslaught against the private sector, blaming it for the economic meltdown that has made several food items, medicines and other essential stuff disappear from the shelves of the nation's domestic distribution network (both public and private).
See VenEconomy: Maduro's Government is disconnected from Reality (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 5, 2015)
Venezuela has come to a standstill. Venezuela is dying of inertia and uncertainty. It is perishing for the frenzy, anarchy, violence and repression of all kinds.
Producers, importers, distributors and service companies find themselves drifting and waiting for the Government to define the foreign exchange measures announced by President Nicolás Maduro nearly a month ago.
See VenEconomy: The Disease killing Venezuela Today (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 6, 2015)
The loss of democratic institutions as well as the confiscation of the autonomy of public authorities in Venezuela are the causes of injustice and political exclusion doing great harm to the Venezuelan people.
And so are the automatic solidarities and the discretionary application of laws tilting the balance in favor of a "Plan for the Homeland" that has let a Cuban-style communist regime into the country. The law of the funnel has been institutionalized in Venezuela today, with the interests of the Government located in the wide conical mouth and those of the rest of the Venezuelan society in the narrow stem.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's 'Law of the Funnel' (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 9, 2015)
There are many things that remain inalterable with the passage of time in the Venezuela of the Socialism of the 21st century. One of them is the harassment, siege and exclusion of any opposition leader elected to hold public office by popular vote, no matter whether in the Parliament, a state government, mayorship or municipal council. Such harassment (little or nothing) matters as long as it ends violating the Constitution, laws or does harm to the population.
What is relevant to the elite that has been in power for the last 16 years is to get their political opponents out of the game, to discredit them, to prevent them from doing their job and to show the efficiency and effectiveness that a model of governance opposed to the so-called "Plan for the Homeland" can have.
See VenEconomy: This Game has not changed at All for the Venezuelan Opposition (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 10, 2015)
On Tuesday, Rodolfo Marco Torres (Minister of Finance) and Nelson Merentes (president of the central bank) finally revealed what the "new" foreign exchange types are going to be "for now", after irresponsibly having kept the entire country and the battered Venezuelan productive sector on tenterhooks for quite a while.
As announced by Venezuela's economic duo, at least until the rules of the foreign exchange game are changed once more, three types shall govern:
1. A preferential rate of Bs.6.30 per dollar for priority and essential imports of food and medicines.
See VenEconomy: Another Missed Opportunity for Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 11, 2015)
If something has been evident during 16 years of "socialism of the 21st century" is that education has stopped being a priority, unless the State finds it useful to get its ideology into the heads of citizens.
Evidence of this contempt for education is there for everyone to see: schools and educational centers have collapsed; professors and teachers are poorly paid and poorly prepared; curricular changes eliminated basic subjects, distorted reality and introduced indoctrinating concepts and materials; evaluations and automatic promotions were eliminated, among others.
Perhaps this contempt for education showed by all dictatorial governments is because they know that education is the necessary weapon to stand up to any tyranny.
See VenEconomy: Contempt for Education in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 12, 2015)
This Thursday marked the first anniversary of the student demonstrations that demanded the State more security for universities and a better quality of life for Venezuelans. Yet, things are a whole lot worse today than a year ago. Not only insecurity has mounted, but the economic crisis and general shortages are wreaking havoc in the productive sector and the population, while the rule of law, legal security, the freedoms and democracy have been hit hard as never before.
What's more alarming is that the nation's ruling elite is sticking to its guns, unwilling to rectify the country model in spite of the fact that tensions are felt in every corner, while it keeps insisting that it faces an "economic war".
See VenEconomy: Searching for a Free Economy in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 13, 2015)
A report that representatives of Spain-based companies in Venezuela (Telefónica, Repsol, BBVA, Mapfre, Iberia, Air Europa and Meliá) were summoned for a meeting at the Miraflores presidential palace so they could apply pressure on their government and the Spanish media to put an end to an alleged smear campaign against the Venezuelan government, as well as the harsh criticisms against its sponsored Spanish party Podemos (we can) and the information on an investigation against Parliament head Diosdado Cabello for his alleged links with drug trafficking, has caused such a stir in the public opinion of that European nation.
According to Spanish daily ABC, the representatives of these companies also confirmed they had been warned that, if they don't do this, the Venezuelan government may retaliate against them with expropriations.
See VenEconomy: Does the Venezuela Case Ring any Bells, Spain? (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 18, 2015)
On Wednesday, a year after democratic leader Leopoldo López turned himself in to the system of administration of justice of Venezuela's communist revolution, CNN en Español, CNN's Spanish-language channel, broadcast a telephone interview conducted by journalist Fernando del Rincón on February 8 from the Ramo Verde military prison located in Los Teques, a city near Caracas.
It should be noted that by the time CNN broadcast this interview, López, just like Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the San Cristóbal municipality in San Cristóbal state, had been in solitary confinement in a 7-by-7-foot punishment cell for a week, without access to sunlight or natural air and with visits suspended for not letting a group of law enforcement officers wearing ski masks thrash his usual prison cell.
It should also be remembered that López was brought to a spurious trial a year ago without evidence supporting the allegations of him being the mastermind behind a subliminal message that allegedly resulted in acts of violence in the area surrounding the Prosecutor's Office on February 12 of last year. Events that led to protests in several states throughout the country with a death toll of 49 young people in the hands of the State's security forces and vigilantes, and hundreds of detainees (60 of them haven't been released yet and 1,900 are still subject to a reporting regime before a court).
Of all the truths told by López, besides the tough personal and family situations he has faced this year, three stand out:
The first is that, besides him, the opposition mayors, the students and the rest of the political prisoners, all Venezuelans are being held prisoners in their own country over the situation of insecurity, healthcare crisis, and shortages. And that prison known as Venezuela has been also built with controls on the economy, investments and the coercion of free enterprise, as well as with violations to the freedom of speech and opinion that keeps almost 80% of the population uninformed of the harsh reality of the country.
The second is that the prison depriving López and the rest of Venezuelans of liberty today is only temporary. As López told del Rincón during the interview, "...there is no political or social ground supporting this government and that's why (...) it increasingly seeks to restrain communications, it increasingly seeks to restrain dissident voices (...). The Government is looking to sow fear (...). Faced with that situation of widespread persecution, we need to have the courage to confront the State, understanding that there will be consequences, because there will be some for sure".
López is also right when he said that those ruling Venezuela today must understand "that their proposal failed, that they have caused the collapse of Venezuela, that the opportunity they've got from Venezuelans all these years, in particular since the arrival of Maduro in power, has proven to be a failure in all areas."
And he is convinced that the country will "move forward" while pinning his hopes on a "Venezuela soon to be built on the conviction that all rights must be for all the people".
Those are the hopes, the convictions of struggle, of freedom to think and determination to build a Venezuela where everyone will be welcome with the same rights and duties that exist in millions of citizens that the revolution of the Castro brothers, the Chávezs and the Maduros has not been able to bring down.
See VenEconomy: Not Gone with the Venezuelan Revolution (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 19, 2015)
With a growing loss of popular support, and without having being able to tackle the drought of foreign currency, a situation that has Venezuela in ruins and its population hungry; and with growing discredit at international level, the government of Nicolás Maduro and the military elite supporting it appear to have decided to move forward at whatever cost, completely removing the democratic mask without caring about the ways to get the democratic leaders openly opposing them out of the way once and for all.
This way, while Venezuela is being devastated at political, economic and social level by the country's communist Bolivarian regime sponsored by the Castro brothers of Cuba, Hugo Chávez and Maduro; while the country has started showing cracks and the population is being decimated by violent criminals, the government of Maduro has returned playing its favorite dictatorial games and gave a demonstration of its brute force with a commando-style operation in Caracas on Thursday.
Antonio Ledezma, the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas and an authority of the regional Executive Branch who was elected with the highest number of votes, was taken forcibly by members of Venezuela's political police SEBIN, who broke into his office without an arrest or search warrant, allegedly following the instructions of the Attorney General's Office, as explained by Maduro on a national TV and radio broadcast. Ledezma is being accused of alleged crimes against homeland security, supposedly evidenced in a statement that called Venezuelans for a peaceful political transition in the framework of the Constitution, jointly signed by other opposition leaders such as Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado (the latter was illegally removed from her parliamentary seat last year).
At the same time, and just like every despot acting behind the backs of the people, Maduro took over the public airwaves to make a series of confusing announcements: 1) The Prosecutor's Office had issued an arrest warrant against Ledezma, who would be applied the full force of the law for conspiring against his legitimate Government. 2) Feasible early parliamentary elections with the intention to catch the opposition unaware. 3) An unexpected and unannounced trip he made to Cuba on Tuesday to meet with the Castro brothers. 4) A series of threats he launched against Lorenzo Mendoza, the CEO of Venezuela's largest foodmaker Polar, and Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state.
This new witch-hunt conducted by the Venezuelan revolution demonstrates the weakness of a government showing cracks everywhere except for one side: the brutal repression against the democratic sector of the population, which casts doubts about who really is in command in Venezuela (perhaps the military sector)?
Julio Borges, Machado, Capriles and other leaders of the democratic opposition also face prison and prosecution threats by the State, government officials familiar with the situation have suggested. This should be added to the latest wave of arrests of military officers who were allegedly planning a coup d'état, the umpteenth attempt denounced over the past year and the brutal repression against the youth daring to protest in the streets, which claimed the lives of two people and dozens of new detainees this week. Plus the unfounded accusations against the government of the United States for interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela.
The smell of fear and despair of a government that finds itself lost due to the evident failure of its "anti-management" is what remains in the air after all this.
We just need to wait and see if the opposition sector emerges from its lethargy and responds with intelligence, proactivity, and true unity in the face of this dictatorial unmasking.
See VenEconomy: Will 'Emperor' Maduro get New Clothes after All? (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 20, 2015)
In Venezuela the events worsening the economic, political and social crisis are mixed together like they were inside a tornado of large proportions wiping out everything in its path.
Many objective analysts have agreed on this as they have expressed their concern over the critical and devastating situation Venezuela is going through. Two of them, Oscar García Mendoza, a local banker, and Luis Ugalde, a Jesuit, agree that the situation of the country is unsustainable.
García Mendoza sums it up in his article entitled Resignation when saying that "education, infrastructure, healthcare, the industry, the rule of law, justice, everything, absolutely everything in Venezuela is going down into a precipice getting destroyed".
And Ugalde said in an interview for digital magazine Prodavinci: Objectively, the way things are, "the country looks hopeless. There is no way out with this government. And neither is with the opposition, such as it is. With the economic and social data we have, the situation becomes unbearable as social unrest aggravates".
There is no more time to redress the situation because, as says Ugalde, "if you have a patience in the emergency room, you have to take care of him/her. Then you can deal with the meal plan or tell him/her if he/she can walk already. The emergency is not in 2019: it was in 2014 and now in 2015".
It is as García Mendoza pointed out, "the more time passes, the worse will be the condition of the country, the worse the education of its inhabitants, the worse their health, the worse their competitive skills, the worse its infrastructure ...".
The solution lies in what VenEconomy has been saying on the restoration of the Rule of Law and Justice; on the rectification of economic policies, the respect for private property, the removal of controls; on respecting again the civil and political liberties. In sum, the return to democracy.
See VenEconomy: Venezuelans must not Yield to Resignation (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 24, 2015)
Venezuela today cries from the heart the murder of Kluiverth Ferney Roa, an eighth grader who was shot in the head after leaving school and unexpectedly running into a demonstration in full development near the National Experimental University of Táchira (UNET) in Táchira state on Tuesday.
The 14-year-old teen was born amidst the so-called "peaceful but armed" revolution of the 21st century, an era when the late Hugo Chávez began to show the true face of his revolution.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Breaks Down in Tears (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 25, 2015)
The violent tone, a threatening attitude and repressive actions and persecution by the government of Nicolás Maduro in the last few days are not in tune with a country that requires consensus, inclusion and joint actions urgently in order to get it out of a serious economic, political and social crisis. Maduro starts making ridiculous accusations that range from an ongoing "economic war" to coup plots, all without presenting a single evidence.
One might have thought that when faced with an economy on the brink of collapse, inflation levels close to 100% and the depletion of the central bank's international reserves, the Maduro administration would come closer to the private sector that is still producing and making real efforts to bring relief to all the misery caused by the misguided policies of the governments of the late Hugo Chávez and Maduro. Dead wrong! Maduro has replied with tighter control and more aggressive intimidation against private companies, especially those cooperating in the effort to alleviate shortages of basic consumer goods. Distribuidora Herrera, Farmatodo, Día a Día and dozens of smaller companies, including two chicken processing plants, fell into the hands of the Bolivarian government during the first two months of 2015. Added to this are the intensified threats against Venezuela's largest foodmaker and brewer Polar.
And instead of seeking the participation of the democratic opposition to get the country back on track, the Government is becoming increasingly more arbitrary and repressive. Accusations of a conspiracy against his government involving three opposition leaders are heading in that direction: Antonio Ledezma, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado whose sin is to irritate the delicate skin of the Government with their criticism and public appeals.
Ledezma was arrested and sent to the Ramo Verde military prison on the outskirts of Caracas this week, without any evidence of conspiracy after having signed a manifesto known as "National Agreement for the Transition", in principle together with Machado and López, and now with the addition of more than 100,000 signatures of Venezuelans, including democratic parties such as Copei and López's Voluntad Popular (popular will).
This agreement calls to (a) restore democratic institutions and the Rule of Law, (b) develop programs to address the "social emergency" and (c) implement sensible economic programs. That is to say, no aspiration that seems, sounds or looks subversive or conspiratorial.
It is feared that Machado may also be arrested and indicted on charges of conspiracy. Even though his Primero Justicia (justice first) party has not signed the agreement yet, it has been reported that the PSUV ruling party has started an investigation against opposition lawmaker Julio Borges to charge him with conspiracy and that way remove him from parliamentary office.
That is to say, based on an extensive list of people involved in the alleged conspiracy, Maduro would be preventing the entire democratic leadership from running for public office. Some democracy you want for Venezuela, Maduro!
See VenEconomy: What kind of Democracy does Maduro want for Venezuela? (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 26, 2015)
Friday marked the 26th anniversary of the "Caracazo", the name given to a series of protests and riots that took place throughout Venezuela between February 27 and March 8 of 1989. These events left some 300 people dead and about 2,000 missing, apart from an incalculable economic loss for hundreds of retailers that were looted and burned down.
Back then, every media outlet (television, radio or printed) had reported and documented the looting, riots, the destruction of establishments and presented graphic information of the casualties in different areas of Caracas, Guarenas, Guatire and other cities where the violent protests spread through.
A media coverage that was possible in a time when the State owned a single TV and radio station and no printed ones, except for the Official Gazette. Those were the times of a free press, where the responsibility for information was entirely of each media outlet and the ethics of their managers, always in accordance with the national Constitution. Those were times when the media was not harassed at administrative level, closed down, acquired or forced to impose silence on itself, at least not systematically or as State policy.
Today, 26 years later, the question is the following: how many Venezuelans could find out about the incidents taking place in the country in 2015 with the same immediacy as 1989?
Readers can have an answer by only checking who the new owners of Venezuela's media are today, or by just listening to or reading the headlines on the radio or the written press of national coverage, or by only turning on their radios or TV sets and find a government broadcast covering up events of interest happening in the national territory, and that the only possible way to learn about what is going on in the country is through the social networks or their families living abroad.
For a long time, the State has been stealing TV signals (such as the case of RCTV a few years ago), closing down dozens of radio stations, and media outlets are being acquired by figureheads or friends of Venezuela's socialist process, as have been the cases of news channel Globovisión, the Cadena Capriles media group, and El Universal and Notitarde newspapers, in pursuit of a communicational hegemony.
Just like all those owned by the State, these media outlets have stopped covering news such as the recent murder of Kluiverth Ferney Roa, a 14-year-old boy in Táchira state; or the allegations against Parliament head Diosdado Cabello by Lieutenant Commander Leamsy Salazar to U.S. authorities; or the millions of dollars deposited in Swiss-based bank HSBC by state-owned bank Banco del Tesoro and the National Treasury; or those regarding the "Tomb", an underground prison in Caracas where Venezuelans are subjected to torture; or the endless queues of people trying to buy diapers, milk or medicines. Neither do they report on the huge debt owed to airlines, or the foreign companies leaving the country, or the growing rejection of the international community towards a political regime that is already being seen as non-democratic.
On Friday, after 26 years of Caracazo, another media outlet was heavily affected by the harassment of the Government (seven lawsuits in 15 years), an increased pressure on its advertisers and "several unjustified audits" by tax, social security and Ministry of Labor officials. We're talking about TalCual, a critical newspaper to the policies of the Government founded by Teodoro Petkoff, an economist, former guerrilla, founder of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) socialist party, and Planning Minister during the second term of President Rafael Caldera (1994-1999).
Unfortunately, TalCual printed its last daily edition on Friday and will come out as a weekly edition and on the web on the blog www.talcualdigital.com.
Another objective place for information that will not be available for citizens. Which one is next on the Government's list?
See VenEconomy: Media Blackout Worsens in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, February 27, 2015)
On February 10 of this year, different actors in the national productive sector felt a sigh of relief, including nearly all economic analysts and a good part of the Venezuelan population.
On that day, Venezuela's economic duo Nelson Merentes (president of the central bank) and Rodolfo Marco Torres (the Finance minister) announced a new Exchange Agreement (No. 33), which would involve two separate foreign exchange markets: one of them 100% controlled by the central bank and the other subject to the "controls" of a free market, or at least, one that is almost free.
The novelty here, naturally, was the "free" market known as the Foreign Exchange Marginal System (Simadi).
However, Simadi hasn't started after having been announced more than three weeks ago, which evidences it is no free currency system at all because the Government is the one that unilaterally fixes the ceilings, thus making the same mistakes as with Sitme.
Sitme hasn't started for two basic reasons: Neither the public sector or state-run oil company PDVSA have provided the necessary foreign currency to jump start the market by not allowing sales above Bs.180 per dollar, while private bidders haven't sold foreign currency in the system yet.
Meanwhile, the dollar of the parallel market - a truly free market - skyrocketed trading at Bs.226 per dollar on Monday.
And the criteria for the allocation of foreign currency and the three types of exchange rates remain as fuel for corruption.
The bottom line: once more the Government threw away another golden opportunity to make things right and with this, both the supply crisis and inflationary spiral are likely to get worse.
See VenEconomy: Another Missed Opportunity for Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 2, 2015)
Refused to understand that the debacle of his government and the chaos and ruin of Venezuela is owed to his obsolete political model that has failed in the entire history of mankind, Nicolás Maduro continues to insist on the nonsense that everybody is involved in a plot to unseat him.
Now he is blaming several members of the international community who, alarmed by the growing political persecution against the Venezuelan democratic leadership, the repression against the student sector and the flagrant violation of human rights in the country, have been progressively opening their eyes and urging the government of Maduro to come to senses and get back on the democratic route.
The international media already speaks of tyranny in Venezuela.
Organizations such as the prestigious Club de Madrid, comprised of some 90 former heads of state and government, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), have argued that a "necessary condition" for any democratic system is the possibility for making opposition "whether it is from politics, the media or civil society" as they demanded the release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.
The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies also rebuked the Venezuelan government after the arrest of Antonio Ledezma, the Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, by adopting a "motion of repudiation" against it for "breaking democratic principles with offenses to individual freedoms and the due legal process". Meanwhile, Uruguayan and Argentine lawmakers keep questioning the human rights violations and also would be raising the possibility of Venezuela leaving the Mercosur bloc.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the MEPs also expressed their repudiation for the arrest of Ledezma and the overall situation in Venezuela.
As was to be expected from an autocratic mind, the overblown and meaningless response from Maduro was not long in coming:
On February 20, Maduro accused "the right wing of Madrid, the far right of Bogota and Miami, of having made a Madrid-Bogota-Miami hub to conspire against our homeland".
A week ago, he lambasted the MEPs when he said that "members of the European Parliament who don't know Venezuela, people without any information of the country, who hate Latin America, come to stick their noses in the internal affairs of Venezuela". And he pointed out that "nobody must stick their noses in Venezuelan affairs!"
But the biggest attacks were launched on the U.S., Maduro's bitterest orange, accusing it of planning a coup d'état, in which several members of the Venezuelan opposition would be involved.
And as "punishment" for this alleged interference, Maduro is taking a series of steps against the "U.S. empire" that include: a requirement for American diplomats to report their activities in the country and request permission from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry so these can be fulfilled; the reduction of diplomatic staff (from 100 to 17 officials) at the U.S. embassy in Venezuela in 15 days' time; the issuance of visas for American citizens, and a report containing staff and former staff members, who will be banned from entering the country "because they are terrorists".
But the worst thing is that in his temperamental outburst he opens a Pandora's Box after calling his supporters to "step out into the streets" along with the Bolivarian Armed Forces and apprehend those who attempt to take power "through violence", while threatening to make opposition political parties illegal and hinting that he will not allow "the opposition to go to parliamentary elections if it is involved in promoting violence" with the cry of "make no mistakes, people!" It won't go to an election pretending it didn't do anything", he said.
Is he looking to repeat the tragic scenes of pain and violence from the past so he can remain in power through a state of exception?
See VenEconomy: Has the Government of Maduro Blocked Venezuela's Democratic Road? (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 3, 2015)
The two rulers of the so-called Socialism of the 21st century are well known for blaming others for their own actions, tactics or strategies all these years of "revolution" in Venezuela. This strategy is particularly being applied to the political movement that opposes its totalitarian model to rule the country.
These days, Nicolás Maduro and his ruling elite have stated that the opposition is planning a coup d'état and an assassination attempt against the president, in which an imaginary group organized in Madrid, Colombia and the U.S. would be allegedly involved.
According to the announcement of Maduro the attempted coup, which included a heavily armed "Tucán" training aircraft that would have come from abroad to kill him and other leaders of the PSUV during one of the Youth Day events on February 12, was foiled by his intelligence corps. The aftermath of this umpteenth assassination plot against the Venezuelan president without any kind of evidence in these past sixteen years, apart from a series of measures against the U.S. and its Diplomatic Corps, has been: the arrest of Antonio Ledezma, the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas, today being held in the Ramo Verde military prison; arrest threats against opposition leaders Julio Borges and María Corina Machado; violent repressive actions against students with more dead, wounded and arrested people; and the threats of Maduro to disable political parties, including the Democratic Unity, so he can prevent a "double game" allegedly played by the majority of political leaders in this country, which means to conspire against him and stand for election at the same time.
With this threat, as repeated in several of his speeches and various scenarios, Maduro is projecting and transferring his own intentions to the opposition, also making evident that the opposition will never take power "by hook or by crook".
Everything seems to indicate that the Government would be tempted to pull the plug on the parliamentary elections to be held this year, should polls continue to show that the population rejects the Maduro administration and the possibility of losing the Parliament, even with the machinations of the biased electoral authority that has helped Venezuela's communist regime gain important ground in the last fifteen years.
See VenEconomy: Will the Venezuelan Government Pull the Plug on the Parliamentary Elections this year? (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 4, 2015)
On Thursday, at 4:25 in the morning, it was heard a bugle call in all the barracks of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces. This bugle call sounded like one of the tributes that the government of Venezuela paid to Hugo Chávez, the "eternal commander" who created the so-called "socialism of the 21st century", on the second anniversary of the announcement of his death.
It would have been fairer if that tribute was paid to the nearly 300,000 people murdered in the hands of violent criminals in the past 16 years. Or to Franklin Brito, a local farmer who Chávez let die of starvation for defending his principles and rights. Or to the 195 political prisoners of Chávez (including Gen. Francisco Usón, the police commissioners Lázaro Forero, Iván Simonovis and Henry Vivas, the eight Metropolitan Police officers, the former Supreme Court justice María de Lourdes Afuini and Gen. Raúl Isaías Baduel, among many others.)
Or to the more than 20,000 workers that Chávez had fired from state-run oil company PDVSA and other thousands of Venezuelans who he carried out his apartheid policy and denied them the right to work. Or to all those children living in the streets today who he vowed to get off the public roads and take out of a situation of starvation and misery. Or to the thousands of citizens still waiting for the decent houses that he promised years ago.
Obviously, it's a pipe dream to expect that the government of Nicolás Maduro would sound the bugle for these and other thousands of Venezuelans who Chávez himself stripped from their most basic civil, economic and political rights for the sake of implementing his so-called "Plan for the Homeland". We must not forget that Maduro is his "rightful heir" who is enhancing his rule through repression and violence because of his lack of charisma, grassroots support and resources.
Now then, Chávez would have deserved a "tribute" as long as he had fulfilled at least some of the fine promises he made to fight corruption, promote social justice, the inclusion of the most disadvantaged ones and, of course, his commitment to the democratic values that led him to power through popular vote in December of 1998.
But he never did, in spite of the fact that these were promises he could have easily fulfilled. Chávez not only boasted an undeniable charisma and had the power of a snake charmer with which he would have been able to sell the necessary measures to correct the existing economic and social distortions in Venezuela. He also counted on the support of most part of the population, and with almost all the media hoping for a shift toward progress. Apart from the fact that he counted on the vast resources from oil revenues and that he contributed, in principle, good ideas for promoting social justice.
Unfortunately, Chávez chose the wrong path and rather than leading Venezuela to progress, he condemned it to misery, a historic retrogression and plunged it into a pit of rampant corruption.
His grim legacy is palpable today in the misfortunes besetting every single Venezuelan. His legacy is in the huge social debt reflected in the poverty figures that are comparable today with the worst years of the 20th century; in the deterioration of the healthcare system, in the huge housing deficit and in the already incalculable homicide figures. It is also palpable in an unjustifiable drop in oil production, in the devastation of the national production system, as well as in an inflation rate hovering around 60% and in general shortages never seen before in the history of the country. And verifiable in the unstoppable spiral of political prisoners that includes opposition leaders and mayors, and in a biased judiciary system that sentenced Raúl Baduel (the son of Gen. Baduel) and popular leader Alexander "Gato" Tirado to eight years in prison on Wednesday just for protesting against the government of Maduro.
His history will be darkened by the destruction of democratic values, ethical principles that have made the citizen coexistence feasible; by the systematic violation of human rights, economic freedom and private property.
History shall not pay tribute to Chávez with a bugle call.
See VenEconomy: The Legacy of the 'Eternal Commander' Hugo Chávez (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 5, 2015)
The foreign exchange issue is going from bad to worse in Venezuela as the country's economy keeps hanging by a thin thread. Should it break, Venezuelans would have to deal with the worst economic and social crisis in its entire history.
As expected, none of the economic officials of Nicolás Maduro heading the new Marginal Currency System (Simadi) has been able to jump start this new foreign exchange mechanism.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Economy is hanging by a Thin Thread (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 6, 2015)
Knowing that the sun is on its back, the government of Nicolás Maduro has not been able to find a way to show the world that the misfortunes of Venezuela come from the American "empire" other than by "taking drastic measures" against that country, and shrug off its responsibility for the current debacle of the nation.
First of all, it is demanding the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela to reduce its diplomatic staff members from more than 100 to 17 in a period of 15 days. This is a case of reciprocity with the number of diplomats Venezuela has in the U.S. that was understated because, including consulates, there are 74 Venezuelan diplomats in the U.S., according to spokespersons of the Department of State.
Then through a resolution published in the Official Gazette on February 28, it prohibited consulates to issue entry visas to seven conservative current and former staff members of the U.S.: former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and congressmen Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros Lehtinen.
Even more bizarre, for the intemperance of the measures, are the visa requirements for American tourists to enter Venezuela. It should be noted that the requirements for U.S. tourists are a mirror of those required for Venezuelan tourists, and from other parts of the world, traveling to that country.
See VenEconomy: The Intemperance of Venezuela's 'Anti-Imperialist' Measures (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 9, 2015)
Monday wrote another chapter in the confrontation between Venezuela and the U.S. since the late President Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999. A confrontation that has gotten worse during the last year in office of Nicolás Maduro after a series of violations committed by his government against the human rights of protesting students and political leaders from the opposition.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order on Monday punishing seven Venezuelan government officials by freezing their assets in the U.S., also banning them from entering the country. Six of them are military officers that currently hold, or once did, key positions in State security agencies during the student protests that took place throughout the country since February of last year, and that left a death toll of 43, hundreds of injured and more than 3,000 detainees, 60 of whom are still in prison. The seventh official sanctioned by the Obama administration is Katherine Nayarith Harringhton Padrón, a National Prosecutor of the Public Ministry, who, among other people, accused student leader Gómez Saleh of committing offenses referred to in the laws against Corruption, Aliens and Immigration, and the Special Computer Crime Law, as well as student leader Gaby Arellano, the Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma and former opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado of conspiracy and planning a presidential assassination with evidence that has been allegedly falsified.
This executive order is the second issued by the Obama administration since the "Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014", signed into law on December 18 of that same year, which according to a statement released by the Obama administration reflects its commitment to "advancing respect for human rights, safeguarding democratic institutions, and protecting the U.S. financial system from the illicit financial flows from public corruption in Venezuela".
One of the differences with the previous executive order is that the first did not identify the officials by name and surname, or was specific about the number of officials being sanctioned. The other is that the Obama administration is taking a more decisive step on this occasion by declaring a national emergency because of an "unusual and extraordinary" threat to homeland security and the foreign policy caused by the situation in Venezuela.
As expected, the Maduro government responded on Monday night, first by calling the Chargé d'Affaires of Venezuela in the U.S. for consultation, and then by expressing its rejection of the measure on a national TV and radio broadcast full of contradictions and reinforced threats against the North American nation.
The most important aspect on the broadcast was an announcement of Maduro on Tuesday requesting the Parliament a new Enabling Law that would grant him "anti-imperialist enabling powers". A law that is expected to become a new Pandora's Box to continue the communist onslaught against democracy, to keep undermining the rights of Venezuelans and that will make Maduro remain in power for good. A fact that is leading many analysts to consider a strategic error of the Obama administration in its relations with Venezuela for giving it excuses to keep blaming it for the hardships of the country.
However, these punitive measures from the U.S. government are specific against officials who have violated human rights of Venezuelan citizens, and will not affect the population, the State or the trade relations of both countries in any way.
See VenEconomy: Caught in a Crossfire between Venezuela, U.S (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 10, 2015)
The Venezuela of the revolutionary era looks like "dried out leather", because when someone grabs it on one of the sides, the remaining ones pop out.
A series of major scandals have set off this week alone, astonishing the public opinion as it has become customary all these years.
The first of them is in progress: at the request of Guyana, and with the permission of Cuba, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the U.S., oil company ExxonMobil started exploration drilling at the Stabroek block that shares sea areas of Guyana, the Essequibo and Venezuela. The drilling had the implicit approval of Venezuela, because the country has never made any objection in the years since Guyana announced plans for the development of Stabroek.
This territorial move of Guyana, under the complicit silence of the administrations of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, will end up stripping Venezuela of its Essequibo rights, possibly including the maritime rights derived from the Orinoco Delta. A territorial dispossession that has been allowed for the sake of the political support of Guyana and the Caribbean countries to the dictatorial project of Venezuela through multilateral agencies across the region.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Looks like 'Dried Out Leather' (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 11, 2015)
The decisions and actions announced this week by the government of Barack Obama must be carefully analyzed with a magnifying glass.
On Tuesday, acting within the framework of the "Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014" unanimously passed by the U.S. Congress Obama froze the assets and bank deposits in the U.S. of six military officers and a prosecutor involved in the violation of human rights of students and political leaders in 2014. They were banned from entering the country as well.
That same day, Obama issued an executive order decreeing a "state of national emergency" in the face of an "unusual and extraordinary threat to national security and foreign policy of the U.S." because of the acts of corruption from the Venezuelan government.
The spokespersons for the Obama administration made it clear from the beginning that the measures taken were not aimed at sanctioning the country, but at those who violate human rights as well as corrupt Venezuelan officials using financial resources of the U.S. to mobilize capital of doubtful origin from Venezuela's public purse.
The strength of these facts is corroborated with other two announcements this week: 1) That the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment determined on Wednesday that the government of Venezuela has violated international law after "not taking steps to prevent acts of ill-treatment", as well as acts of "torture" to demonstrators and detainees, such as opposition leader Leopoldo López. 2) That the European Parliament issued a resolution against the violations of human rights in Venezuela on Thursday, with 384 votes in favor, 75 against and 48 abstentions.
It is advisable to those with access to microphones and the Internet to make it clear to everyone that the U.S. sanctions are not against Venezuela or its population, but only against those who have violated the Constitution and the laws of the nation.
See VenEconomy: U.S. Sanctions are not aimed at Venezuela, its Population (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 12, 2015)
There is one less political prisoner at the headquarters of Nicolás Maduro's political police, or SEBIN: Rodolfo González, a 64-year-old man who Maduro nicknamed "the aviator" when announcing the arrest of the "mastermind behind the 'guarimbas'" on national TV and radio broadcast on April 29 of last year, while appearing before a court of justice.
This 90 plus population decline in political prisoners does not have to do either with the result or the release of González, or with an interim measure in his favor by the office of justice of Maduro.
González was released by his own death on Friday. González was set free from the oppressive policy of the government of Maduro. He had been in prison for 10 months without having started a trial against him. He was the victim of a government that confined him in a SEBIN prison cell on charges of "criminal conspiracy, possession of explosives and trafficking in firearms". It is disturbing that "there is no forensic evidence" in the case file, as confirmed by his daughter Lissette González, a sociologist, in her story "A Grandfather made a Political Prisoner", written and published in October of 2014.
That poignant story could have been written by any daughter, mother, wife, sister or granddaughter of the dozens of political prisoners in communist Venezuela. It recounts the events that have transformed the lives of her family the same way as with those of hundreds of other families in the same moment they become instruments of political vendetta against people seeking freedom and democracy for their future. (Un abuelo que es preso político, at Conjeturas para llevar, Lissette González, jueves, 9 de octubre de 2014).
Three more Venezuelans are also affected by the cause of González: Douglas Morillo, Renzo Prieto and Yeimi Varela, who must go to trial deprived of their liberty.
See VenEconomy: The Aviator - One Less Political Prisoner for Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 13, 2015)
On Sunday, the parliamentary majority of Venezuela's ruling party PSUV once again granted special powers to President Nicolás Maduro so he could legislate at will by passing the so-called "Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law for Peace", published in the Extraordinary Official Gazette No. 6,178 on Monday.
This law authorizes Maduro to do as he pleases for more than nine months, from March 16 to December of this year, when the legislative period of the current Parliament (aka National Assembly or AN) comes to an end.
The topics covered are broad and ambiguous as is the text of the law indicating that "the matters delegated to provide an enhanced warranty for the sovereignty rights and protection of the Venezuelan people and the constitutional order of the Republic" are condensed into four articles.
With this new law, the "red" lawmakers have satisfied an urgent request from the Venezuelan ruler, arguing "a need to have constitutional powers that allow me to move freely in a complex scenario that has been opened for Venezuela", referring to an executive order signed by President Barack Obama to declare Venezuela as a threat to the U.S.
This is the second enabling law granted to Maduro in one year and eleven months at the helm of power, apart from 20 months of unilateral and discretionary legislation, behind the backs of citizen participation and the assistance of political forces. This is no major surprise since this has been the norm of the Bolivarian government to install its so-called socialism of the 21st century in Venezuela through thick and thin in these past 16 years.
The dangerous precedent of enabling laws in times of the Bolivarian revolution are tangible and valid. These can be felt in each of the four enabling laws granted to the late Hugo Chávez, which allowed him to pass 215 decree-laws at his discretion during 36 months of his 13-year tenure. Or in the 57 decree-laws granted to Maduro in 2013 supposedly to tackle "corruption" and fight an imaginary "economic war" against his government.
Until now the 272 decree-laws passed by revolution officials have only served for the progress of a communist regime that has led a country with one of the world's largest reserves of oil and gas to ruin. A country model that takes pleasure in plunging the population into misery; a population that is getting used to being humiliated and subjected to restrictions to access food, medicines and other scarce basic goods, while violent criminals and the ongoing political repression decimates it.
There is nothing to guarantee that the enabling law history will not be repeated again, and that this "Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law for Peace" will serve a different purpose than "protecting the people" from an inexistent U.S. invasion threat.
This enabling law will only serve to further sharpen the existing conflicts against the private sector of the economy, increase the repression against anyone opposing the "Plan for the Homeland" and avoid the return to democracy, while they lower the curtain to hide the serious economic, social and political crisis going on in Venezuela, as well as the rampant corruption and government officials linked to money laundering activities at international level.
What is certain is that this enabling law will end up being the true "Frankenstein's monster" rather than the executive order signed by Obama, as Maduro has called it from the beginning.
See VenEconomy: Maduro's New Enabling Law is the True 'Frankenstein's Monster' (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 16, 2015)
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has carefully followed the lessons of the late Hugo Chávez in meeting his external obligations, as he paid off 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in maturities of the Eurobond 2015 on Monday. This way he made one of the many payments of external debt that Venezuela must meet during 2015.
There is no objection to such lesson from us. It is a fact of life that those who owe are obligated to pay.
Our objection is actually based on that motto that goes "what's good for the goose is good for the gander". The Government should apply that lesson of good obligor to its internal obligations as well; that is to say, for example, to the entire private sector to whom it owes some $10 billion in imports for the last two or three years, with the approval and endorsement of the nation's foreign exchange authorities.
However, this is not the case. Maduro holds a policy of vendetta with the private sector by delaying and denying the payment of its debts because, in his view, the Venezuelan business community has declared a hypothetical economic war on him to destabilize his government.
See VenEconomy: More Darkness for Venezuelans (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 17, 2015)
Teachers across Venezuela stood up for their violated rights on Wednesday as they claimed wage improvements for their private insurance policies and those of the Social Security Institute of the Magisterium, or Ipasme.
These education professionals called on a strike in all schools nationwide. They will attend their usual classrooms and comply with their regular working hours, but will not teach, and in that national strike they will be joined by the educational community, which is also comprised of students and parents and legal guardians.
Their reasons are more than valid: demand their wage rights and social security.
See VenEconomy: Teachers of Venezuela go on National Strike (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 18, 2015)
Today the Venezuelan population lives a serious ordeal when it comes to obtaining basic foodstuffs and medicines. Apart from the daily struggle to overcome the rampant shortages, mitigate the effects of the high consumer prices and adapt to mile-long queues around supply centers, now the purchases of basic products at regulated prices were limited to two days a week (depending on the last number of the consumers' ID cards) through the use of biometric fingerprint readers.
Local business associations, in a clear demonstration of their democratic spirit always in strict accordance with the laws, are insisting on building bridges of conciliation and rectification of an economic policy that has proved to be a failed one many times over.
See VenEconomy: Who's going to Bell the Venezuelan Government (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 19, 2015)
Rooting out corruption in Venezuela is one of the many (unfulfilled) promises of the late Hugo Chávez. Chávez boosted it rather than fighting it over the past 16 years, apart from hiding behind an impunity derived from the automatic solidarity from all those who call themselves loyal to the "socialist homeland".
According to figures of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, Venezuela was ranked 161 in 2014, out of 175 countries analyzed, from 77 in 1998. It was close to be considered the "most corrupt" country on a global scale.
See VenEconomy: A New App for Fighting Corruption in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 20, 2015)
These lines are a wake-up call for President Nicolás Maduro, the Public Prosecutor's Office and other branches of government; for the opposition political party Democratic Unity (MUD) and its leaders; and for nearly all the local media. It's a call for you to cut the anti-imperialist crap once and for all and focus on what really matters: the uncovering at international level of several cases of corruption in which are involved a growing list of Venezuelan government officials that have looted the public purse to swell their own bank accounts.
Maduro, the Public Prosecutor's Office, the hegemonic network of the state-run media, and even the leadership of the MUD persist on dubbing the executive order of U.S. President Barack Obama as "interventionist", while ignoring all the corruption schemes that have been uncovered after this order and a subsequent inquiry from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) against Banca Privat d'Andorra (BPA) for money laundering, in which Venezuelan officials have had leading roles.
See VenEconomy: A Wake-Up Call for Venezuela's Politicians, Media (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 23, 2015)
While the government of Nicolás Maduro continues to sideline the Venezuelan population in the alley of hopelessness, frustration and humiliation, sectors of national and international public opinion are crying out for the return of coexistence and civility in the country.
Now the cry comes from the Central University of Venezuela's Red de Apoyo Psicológico (network of emotional support) and the Venezuelan Psychologists Federation, whose members have "expressed their deep concern over the psychosocial risks associated with the current economic, political and social situation of the country, which is the result of various circumstances that impact the daily lives of citizens".
See VenEconomy: Crying Out for Wisdom in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 24, 2015)
The strategy of the government of Nicolás Maduro of appealing to nationalism and its attempt to connect Venezuelans with its cause of preventing a U.S.-led invasion in Venezuela is moving forward.
Currently the Government's huge propaganda machinery has been put at the service of a crusade to convince the population that an executive order signed recently by U.S. President Barack Obama is aimed at attacking Venezuela, at violating its sovereignty and at becoming a "latent weapon" to be activated for any reason and at any time against the country.
Maduro and his entourage are blatantly distorting the true purpose of this executive order, which is putting an end to the rampant corruption drying up Venezuela's huge public resources and standing up for the human rights of its citizens.
See VenEconomy: Does the Government of Maduro have any Boundaries? (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 25, 2015)
It can be said that the two governments of the "Socialist Homeland" resemble a carpet under which is being swept all the failure of these past 16 years of "beautiful revolution" that has plunged Venezuela into a "sea of happiness".
These two governments have swept the real figures of unemployment and uncontrollable inflation under this carpet as well after changing all the traditional measurement methodologies. They have been concealing the performance of the national economy, the figures related to the production and exports of crude oil or making invisible the several cases of corruption already exposed at international level. This carpet currently hides underneath serious problems such as severe shortages of basic foodstuffs along with various rationing mechanisms. Right underneath can also be found the real crime figures, or the reality of the human rights violations or the criminal cases of a fair amount of political prisoners, with the State taking false arguments about alleged assassination plots and coup attempts to the international community as an excuse for the number of trials and incarcerations of political leaders from the opposition and civilians.
These masking tactics, and the nearly extinction of Venezuela's independent media, have served to sweeten up thousands of Venezuelans who still don't seem to understand the gravity of the crisis in all aspects of national life. What's more, that complicit carpet plus generous handouts, is still making the international left wing sell the alleged benefits of a political regime that touts itself as being partisan and defender of the poor.
But what is already impossible to sweep under that Bolivarian carpet is the general and criminal collapse of the healthcare sector.
The dramatic failure of 16 years of anti-policies in this area is being evidenced in every healthcare center, either private or public, and its impact reaches millions of Venezuelans, patients and their families.
See VenEconomy: The Stuff Being Swept under the Carpet of Socialist Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 26, 2015)
The speech of the Venezuelan government insisting that the U.S. "empire" is attacking the country may be earning Nicolás Maduro a few points of popularity, out of the many lost due to the harsh social-economic crisis he has plunged the country into.
This in spite of the fact that Maduro, in fear of the high political costs, is refusing to apply efficient measures to remedy the spectacular crisis caused by himself. On the contrary, some of his announcements in February regarding economic matters, which appeared to go in the right direction, have been either a fiasco or unrealized, as he persists on staying on the path of populism.
So even if the Government insists on its nonsense of alleged economic wars, U.S.-led invasions and attempted coups, the only wars and invasions affecting Venezuelans will always be misery, scarcity, inflation, hunger, insecurity and repression.
See VenEconomy: What Lies Behind the U.S. Invasion Speech by the Venezuelan Government (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 27, 2015)
In a logical and normal world, an economic recession, recurrent shortages and soaring inflation would be more than enough reasons to turn things around for the Venezuelan government in the face of an upcoming electoral process.
And if this economic trio is spiced up with rampant insecurity, the collapse of the healthcare system, the ruin of the national infrastructure and a huge housing deficit, all elections should be a piece of cake for the democratic opposition.
Moreover, if the several cases of political corruption exposed plus the lack of charisma of Nicolás Maduro are added to the country's economic and social ills, the ruling coalition would have had no chance to continue building its communist-led "Plan for the Homeland".
But... things in Venezuela are neither logical nor normal in the Chávez-Maduro era.
This way, for example, it may be deduced from opinion polls that things are are not as simple as they seem. One of them, a study from polling company Alfredo Keller y Asociados, showed that despite 82% of respondents saw the country amid a serious crisis and 65% thought that Maduro was not going to be able to handle it, only 36% said that they would vote for an opposition candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections this year.
Evidently, Venezuela's democratic opposition coalition (also known as the Democratic Unity or MUD), is doing some - or many - things wrong not to capitalize on the widespread discontent of the population.
See VenEconomy: The Word Unity Must Be More than Just a Slogan for Venezuela's Opposition (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 30, 2015)
Sixteen years, sixteen long years ... and nothing good to show. ...
Venezuela has passed through the "Way of the Cross" since 1999, when Hugo Chávez was sworn in as Constitutional President of Venezuela, because rather than consolidating the positive things of the past and replace the negative ones with new progressive proposals, he changed everything for the worse.
Looking back, Chávez received a strong and growing economy. The financial crisis of the mid-1990s was already history and his predecessor, Rafael Caldera, had consolidated the constructive changes previously introduced by Carlos Andrés Pérez during his second presidential term.
Chávez also found a state-run oil company (PDVSA) that boasted being compared with the world's top oil companies and that was amidst an ambitious expansion program that would boost its production quotas of 3.5 million barrels per day to 5.6 million barrels per day in only a few years. While there was still room for improvement at PDVSA, other state companies were doing just fine. Likewise, most privately-run companies had adjusted - or were adjusting - to the idea that they were competing in a global market.
Furthermore, in 1999, the non-oil GDP per capita finally showed some growth after barely budging for more than 20 years. Back then, Venezuela was a country with public authorities that were virtually independent, just like the central bank (BCV). The country was being guided by the rules of the Constitution promulgated in 1961, while laws and contractual commitments were respected.
But Chávez changed everything in order to impose his inexplicable "socialism of the 21st century".
For starters, he changed the Constitution in 1999 so he could adapt it to his political project. But this has largely remained a dead letter when it doesn't serve the purposes of the Government. The socialist legal fabric was designed through enabling laws granted to the President.
Today there is no public authority where autonomy is respected. Not only the BCV finances the Government's deficits, but it massages the economic figures at its convenience, unsuccessfully disguising the failure of its economic and political model. PDVSA is prey of the populism of the so-called "Plan for the Homeland" as it has become a corrupt and inefficient company, whose production has dropped by more than 1 million barrels per day since 1998. And there is no state-run company today that is free from corruption and inefficiency, including the dozens of "expropriated" privately-run companies that became property of a monopolist State.
At the same time, the Government dedicated itself to imposing a policy of controls that has wreaked havoc in the productive system for the enormous distortions it has caused in the economy and for being an effective source of corruption. As a result, thousands of national private firms have disappeared, and with them more than 200,000 jobs.
The communist "marabunta" has also ravaged the education and healthcare systems. Meanwhile, the communicational hegemony injects into the majority of the population the utopian achievements of the revolution every day.
This is the "Way of the Cross" Venezuela has to pass through, and unfortunately Nicolás Maduro is not willing to change course for two main reasons: One because of the political costs that this would represent, and two because of the conviction that the Plan for the Homeland is the only model to follow.
Hence the importance and urgency to push for a change of course led by the democratic opposition, who apart from focusing on an upcoming parliamentary election has to pursue two main goals: 1) Outline and demand an adjustment program that gets the country out of the idleness, corruption, poverty and inflationary spiral it has been plunged into. 2) The urgent strengthening of leaders who have the courage and ability to explain to all Venezuelans that the change will intrinsically come from a different culture, values and democratic and coexistence principles.
In a nutshell, the road to a renewed prosperity, growth and democracy may be long and difficult, but not impossible.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's 'Way of the Cross' (Latin American Herald Tribune, March 31, 2015)
On Monday, Venezuela's entire public and private network of supermarkets began selling the products that go into the basic food basket based on the last digit of the consumers' ID cards.
This way, the country's top private food retailers including Unicasa, Makro, Central Madeirense, Plan Suárez, Excelsior Gama, Automercados Plaza's, Automercados Luz, and El Patio joined the State's food distribution network comprised by Red de Abastos Bicentenario, Mercal and PDVAL.
All the establishments will apply the same distribution routine: consumers with ID cards ending in 0 and 1 will be able to buy basic products only on Mondays; in 2 and 3 on Tuesdays; in 4 and 5 on Wednesdays; in 6 and 7 on on Thursdays; and in 8 and 9 on Fridays. Furthermore, products will be sold to citizens with ID cards from 0-4 on Saturdays and from 5-9 on Sundays.
It should be noted that despite they will theoretically be able to buy products such as flour, rice, milk, sugar, toilet paper, coffee, margarine, oil, chicken, meat, shampoo, soap and detergent, among others, in these establishments two days a week, in practice they will be able to buy these products only once a week. That is to say, if their ID cards end in 0, and they already bought toilet paper on Monday, when it's their turn again on Saturday, they will not be allowed to purchase this product again until Monday.
This rationing methodology is being "voluntarily" put it into practice by these privately-run establishments upon a "cordial" request of the National Executive, as it waits for the fingerprint scanners that will formalize an automated rationing system for purchasing food, personal hygiene/household cleaning products and medicines in the country.
When fingerprint scanners are finally installed across establishments, these will serve to centralize the control of consumption of all Venezuelans, thus restricting their frequency of purchases and limiting the quantities for each regulated product.
The food rationing and control measure was devised by the National Executive in the framework of its socialist-inspired "Plan of Guaranteed Supplies", using the fallacious argument it would allow it to combat the illegal resale of basic products at higher prices by street vendors (known locally as "bachaqueo"), a new and lucrative informal economic activity resulting from the widespread shortages situation that has firmly taken root in socialist Venezuela. In addition that this will supposedly help shorten the mile-long queues by citizens to purchase scarce basic products available in the domestic market. Queues that have heavily affected the international image of a government that sells itself as the ultimate solution against poverty and promoter of welfare state.
As has become usual in times of the establishment of the so-called "Plan for the Homeland", this measure is in line with a model of deception and control once described by American writer Saul Alinsky that establishes, within the key principles for achieving a "Social State", the control of food sales as a form of domination of the population.
That's why Nicolás Maduro - as did the late Hugo Chávez in previous years - refuses to listen to and analyze the suggestions from the private sector. If he ever does, then he would understand that the right thing to do is: 1) Increase the productive capacity of the industrial base of both the State and the private sector. 2) Use the available foreign currency to encourage domestic production, and not to favor imports and foster corruption. 3) Let go of price controls and promote a free-floating currency. 4) Decriminalize private sector activities and promote productive work instead of handouts.
If these corrective measures are not applied, the only thing the Government will be doing is remove the population from its right to food, while it condemns it to poverty, oppression and humiliation.
See VenEconomy: Tighter Controls on Sales of Basic Products in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 6, 2015)
Venezuela now faces the possibility that Guyana not only deprives it of its rights in the Essequibo area, but those of thousands of kilometers belonging to an offshore platform in the Orinoco Delta. All this because of the indifference and negligent silence of the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro when defending the rights of the neighboring nation.
The situation for the territorial integrity in the Essequibo area became riskier than ever for Venezuela in the last 16 years, due to the fact that the government of Chávez deliberately played down the importance of the agreed obligations under the Geneva Agreement of 1966. It should be recalled that in 1962, and on the basis of a new information related to an arbitration process in 1899, Venezuela rejected an arbitration award that had granted 61,583 square miles of national territory to the then-British Guiana during that year. A claim that became legalized at international level with the signing of the Geneva Agreement, which leaves in the hands of Guyana and Venezuela the search for solutions through built-in mechanisms in order to satisfy both countries.
But, the government of Chávez, and now that of Maduro, following the advice of the meddlesome government of the Castro brothers, which has its own economic interests in the area, neglected that agreement diminishing the country's sovereignty. A voluntary "mistake" to make Caribbean countries give their automatic solidarity to Chávez's political project known as "Socialism of the 21st century", and overlook the continued violations of freedoms and the democratic norm intrinsic to this project.
Because of these murky political dealings opposed to the interests of the Venezuelan State,
the Chávez government allowed various illegal actions from Guyana that violated the territorial sovereignty of the country.
One of them was the drawing by Guyana of a new borderline throughout the coast that violated Venezuela's exclusive maritime zone in the Delta, a case that has not yet been reported to the UN. Another action without a resounding rejection from the government of Venezuela was the granting of concessions for the Stabroek, Pomeron and Roraima blocks that share maritime areas of Guyana, Essequibo and Venezuela. The Bolivarian government also had a lax attitude toward the fact that oil company ExxonMobil began drilling the Stabroek area.
This laxity in claiming the rights of the State has put Venezuela in an imminent risk of also losing its maritime rights derived from the Orinoco Delta. According to applicable international standards, the lack of formal protest is considered an acquiescence. The fact of not defending the country's sovereign rights is to let the adversary win, meaning that "silence is consent".
The only thing that Venezuela has done in the defense of its rights is the publication of a series of articles in several newspapers of the region, complaining about Guyana's oil activity in the area and declaring the arbitration award of 1899 as "void", which led 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to issue a statement in support of the "territorial integrity of Guyana", as a response to the approaches of the Venezuelan Ministry regarding the oil exploration activities taking place in the Essequibo area; this despite the fact that these countries are reaping benefits from Venezuelan crude oil on very advantageous conditions.
For having remained tight-lipped on such a sensitive topic, the governments of Chávez and Maduro have committed an act of treason against the homeland, which would translate into a serious negative impact on the economic future of Venezuela.
See VenEconomy: The Silence of Venezuela's Government as an Act of Treason (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 7, 2015)
On Friday, Panama will host the Seventh Summit of the Americas where the Heads of State and Governments will address the theme "Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas". A total of 35 countries of the continent, including Cuba that returns after an absence of 53 years, will be attending this summit.
The hopes of Juan Carlos Varela, president of Panama and host of this summit, is that discussions will focus on the search for solutions to major problems affecting all countries, among which stand out: "insecurity, inequality, the progress made by the organized crime, the lack of public infrastructure and the need for education in the developed world".
However, the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela will be bringing their own agendas for this summit in order to reach dissimilar and conflicting objectives.
The U.S., for example, has been looking forward to reinforcing its democratic leadership in a region that had neglected for years, and that now has its attention back allegedly due to the marked influence that its historical adversaries, such as Russia and China, as well as the dangerous penetration of Iran and its extremist tentacles, are having on this side of the world.
President Barack Obama would be playing multiple cards during the summit. One of them is an offer to CARICOM countries to facilitate energy investments in the Caribbean region, in conjunction with the World Bank. With this move, he also aims to remove the influence of Venezuela on these countries, which have been key to curb the actions of multilateral bodies such as the OAS and the UN against the undemocratic progress of the Venezuelan government. Another card that is even more important than the previous one is the flexibility of relations with the government of Cuba. According to some analysts, Obama could take advantage of the summit to decide upon the removal of the government of the Castro brothers from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism. A long-awaited dream from Cuba, indeed.
For its part, Cuba, a country that will attend a hemispheric conference for the first time since 1962, after the OAS dismissed it from the organization at the request of Venezuela as a result of the failed attempts of Cuba to invade this country, is also bringing its own agenda to the summit. After more than five decades of having been pushed out of the concert of nations, one of the objectives of Raúl Castro will be that of emerging as the protagonist of this summit, where he will get the support from several pro-Castro government presidents. Perhaps the most memorable moment will be when Castro shakes hands with Obama, as a gesture of symbolic confirmation of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the U.S.
The third separate agenda is that of the government of Venezuela with its struggle against the U.S. imperialism. Nicolás Maduro intends to twist Obama's arm by forcing him to repeal an executive order that punishes seven Venezuelan officials accused of having violated the human rights of their fellow citizens and of acts of corruption. To that end, Maduro carries a letter supported by 8 million signatures from minors, public employees, missionaries, State contractors and foreigners (Cuban, Ecuadorians, Nicaraguans and other citizens from ALBA member countries).
A fourth agenda will be developed by several Human Rights NGOs at the Hemispheric Forum with Civil Society and Social Actors, organized in the framework of the Summit to be attended by the heads of State. There, the Venezuelan NGOs will remind the attending leaders about the importance of the OAS and the Unasur bloc "for the institutional stability in Venezuela; they will request the removal of a complaint filed by the Venezuelan State with the American Convention on HumanRights; they will encourage a dialogue process in the country that would also involve the OAS", as well as the release of all the political prisoners, respect for human rights, electoral guarantees and international observation during the upcoming elections. Furthermore, 21 former presidents of the region will disseminate a statement in defense of democracy and human rights in Venezuela.
Hopefully this measurement of strength of the U.S. vs. Venezuela during the summit will serve to reinforce the rights and freedoms of citizens.
See VenEconomy: One Summit, Several Agendas (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 8, 2015)
2015 is an election year in Venezuela. According to the National Constitution, the five-year period that lawmakers get to perform their functions expires in December of this year. The new lawmakers elected no later than December 2015 must be sworn in by January 2016, a month when the Parliament starts its regular activities.
The political composition of the Parliament (aka National Assembly or AN) is critical in these times of political hegemony. These elections are crucial so that public authorities, today kidnapped by Venezuela's ruling elite, start regaining their autonomy; so that the functions of the legislature, today seized by the National Executive, can be restored; so that the national government can be demanded some accountability; and so that the rule of law and the civil, political and economic liberties can be put back in motion in Venezuela.
These elections will be a measurement of strength, and their political actors will be seeing either good or bad results depending on the direction the winds blow.
To democrats, the political winds are blowing in their favor. From there, the Democratic Unity (MUD), and all the opposition political parties that make it up, are taking the lead in demanding the National Electoral Council (CNE) to convene and set the date of the parliamentary elections.
The economic and social crisis affecting Venezuelans, induced by the erroneous vision of a country from a Cuban communist model, should give the opposition a smashing victory over the candidates of the Government despite all the known advantages they've got plus the machinations of the CNE. The population is sick and tired of the inflationary spiral; of the shortages of food, medicines and other basic products; of burying relatives and friends who have been victims of violent criminals acting with impunity throughout the national territory; of the rampant corruption and broken promises of the Government; and, more recently, of the limitations for buying food and other basic stuff once a week based on the last digit of their ID cards.
But, according to opinion polls, the opposition has not been able to capitalize on this discontent. The winds of personalism of its leadership and petty partisan interests are not appealing to the population. The opposition political leadership seems bland and disunited. Besides, a single message on the proposals for changing course are not clearly perceived.
Nor is it seen strongly demanding electoral guarantees to generate credibility in voters by the time of the election results are generated, nor is it perceived that the democratic parties are fine-tuning the organizational machinery that is vital to counteract the pressure tricks of the Government made present during every electoral process over the past 14 years.
It is curious, for example, that during the Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama, the civil society and human rights NGOs will be the ones to raise their voices to demand that the countries of the Hemisphere request the government of Nicolás Maduro for electoral guarantees and that a plural and objective international election observation is allowed without the supervision of the ruling party PSUV that the opposition has meekly accepted so far.
For its part, the Government, even knowing that it has the winds of popular support blowing in the opposite direction, is already in the electoral race. The campaign of the ruling coalition has already kicked off with the approval of additional funds for the "missions" and other populist social programs; with advertisements in the media; with the threats from Maduro of making opposition political parties illegal and warnings that the opposition has a hidden agenda to ignore the election results. And despite the troubled waters moving under the surface, the PSUV pretends to be united under the command of the Maduro-Cabello duo. There is no reason to doubt that the ruling elite will be using every dirty little trick available so it can move on with the establishment of its so-called "Socialism of the 21st century" and the implementation of the "Plan for the Homeland" inherited from the late Hugo Chávez.
However, the country still has high hopes that the democratic political actors will succeed through constitutional means in restoring the rule of law and respect for civil, political and economic liberties in Venezuela.
See VenEconomy: The Electoral Winds Blowing in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 9, 2015)
Thursday April 9 will go down in the history of the entire American Continent with the so-called Declaration of Panama, lubricated by 25 former presidents of 12 nations of the region and Spain. (http://www.el-nacional.com/politica/Declaracion_NACFIL20150409_0001.pdf)
A statement that comes, as indicated by the document, from the concern "about the path that the severe institutional, political, economic and social disruption affecting our Venezuelan brothers without distinctions is taking".
And that it is justified because "democracy and its effective exercise, foundation of solidarity between the States, consists in the respect and guarantee of human rights, the exercise of power under the rule of law, the separation and independence of public authorities, a political pluralism, free and fair elections, freedom of speech and press, the probity and government transparency, among other standards". This is reflected in the Declaration of Santiago adopted by the OAS in 1959, and developed by the Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001.
This Declaration has gained unprecedented importance in the history of the region because it pauses on the Defense of Human Rights and then reaches to the overall situation of the deterioration of democracy and the critical economic, political, and social situation in which Venezuela has been plunged into.
Among other things, the Declaration of Panama highlights the fact that the Government of Venezuela condemned the American Convention on Human Rights, and that sustains "a policy of non-recognition or compliance with the decisions and statements issued by international and inter-American human rights bodies", which affects the international protection of rights for the benefit of the people.
By demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma and Daniel Ceballos, a reality among many others suffered by millions of Venezuelans every day is highlighted: the absence of independence of the Judiciary, the judicial persecution of dissidents, the persistent presence of acts of torture by State officials, the existence of armed paramilitary groups and an atmosphere of total impunity.
It complains about the existence of a communicational hegemony imposed by the State, and highlights the existence of control laws for information content; the increase of sanctions for crimes of contempt for authority that promote censorship and self-censorship; the criminalization and violence against journalists, columnists and Twitter users; and the closure of independent media outlets.
It lays stress on the lack of a system of separation and independence of public authorities, an essential component of democracy according to the own Inter-American Democratic Charter.
With regard to the critical economic situation, it focuses on the climate of corruption and the Government's wastefulness of the national wealth as generators of a series of issues and imbalances in Venezuela's economy that go far beyond a decline in international crude oil prices, and that can be found "in tax, monetary, financial, foreign exchange, oil and real areas, giving rise to a very deep recession and soaring inflation in the country that are undermining the purchasing power and household incomes, increasing poverty, generating unemployment and deteriorating the quality of life of the population, particularly the one with scarce resources".
The former presidents conclude the Declaration stating that "the only possibility for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela and an effective guarantee for the political, economic and social rights of Venezuelans goes through the rescue of the principle and system of separation of powers, through the appointment of their incumbents while respecting the democratic, representative and participatory guarantees established in the Constitution, in order to ensure its independence and autonomy, starting with the Electoral Power so that free and fair elections can be held with impartiality".
Was this clear enough or is there any further explanation needed so that the governments of the region echo the voices of their former presidents?
See VenEconomy: The Declaration of Panama in Solidarity with Democracy in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 10, 2015)
"There is a real storm developing due to the lack of dollars. The situation is desperate and may get a lot worse", said Russ Dallen,
head of local investment bank Caracas Capital Markets, who has spent several years keeping a close eye on the Venezuelan situation.
"In the next two or three months we are about to see a terrible shortages situation, much worse than we have seen so far --
not only because inventory levels are quite low already,
but because at this point imports of the products needed within 8-12 weeks are not being allowed into the country".
CARACAS -- Venezuelans - who have been waiting in long queues to get into supermarkets and purchase basic products - have not yet seen the worst part of the shortages issue caused by a collapse in the chavismo-sponsored populist model, but they may do so shortly in the face of the warnings of the alarming levels food stocks have fallen to in the country, according to local industry groups and experts.
"Inventories, including those of the pharmaceutical and food industries, are hitting critical levels", said Eduardo Garmendia, head of the Venezuelan Confederation of Industries (Conindustria), a business association, in a recent interview with local radio station Unión Radio.
"The entire industrial system has been affected by the difficulties in acquiring raw materials, but it is worse in essential products because these are receiving a greater direct impact; we are talking about medicines and food", said Garmendia.
In the case of food, stocks of the country's main industries will last less than a month, according to data released by the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber (Cavidea).
"There are food companies that haven't been allocated a single dollar so far this year", Pablo Baraybar, president of Cavidea, told the local press. "In some production lines, we only have stocks for 10 or 20 days".
This will surely make things exponentially harder for those Venezuelans trying to put food on their tables every day.
"There is a real storm developing due to the lack of dollars. The situation is desperate and may get a lot worse", said Russ Dallen, head of local investment bank Caracas Capital Markets, who has spent several years keeping a close eye on the behavior of the Venezuelan reality.
"In the next two or three months we are about to see a situation of terrible shortages, much worse than we have seen so far. Not only because inventory levels are quite low already, but because at this point imports of the products to be needed within 8-12 weeks are not being allowed into the country".
Most industries in the country have been operating at much lower levels than their capacity for quite some time due to extreme difficulties in finding raw materials, among other reasons.
But what might occur in just a few weeks from now is the total standstill of the country after running out of supplies, because companies are not getting the necessary dollars from the Government to pay for imports, Dallen said.
Some businesspeople believe that this is due to the doubts raised by the economic authorities of the regime of Nicolás Maduro over which of the various exchange rates should be applied to perform operations, given the vast differences between each one of them: with one official rate that is currently at Bs.6.3 per dollar, another one close to Bs.12, a third one that stands at Bs.190 and fourth, the black market rate, hovering around Bs.250.
But experts now believe that the regime simply does not have the necessary dollars to pay for the imports of products.
A sharp drop in crude oil prices - the export that brings in more than 95% of the country's dollars - coupled with huge debts incurred by the Bolivarian regime over the past 15 years, have left the Government with a need for external financing of more than $23 billion so that it can maintain the supply levels seen until last year.
That's why the Government has been making extensive publicity of the possibility that China is ready to provide up to $10 billion in loans for development projects in Venezuela, said Dallen.
"They are saying 'here come the Chinese, here come the Chinese; the Chinese are the ones who are going to get us out of this mess'", he added.
But by the time the Chinese money comes in -- should it materialize this year -- it may only be used for importing goods from the Asian country or used in specific projects previously approved, which will not necessarily provide relief for the millions of Venezuelans who in a few weeks from now might not find milk or corn flour on shelves after spending the whole day queuing up to make it into a supermarket.
To economist Alexander Guerrero, a worsening of the shortages would affect the food and product supplies of large supermarket chains and grocery stores, which are already being controlled by the regime with the implementation of limits on the sales of products based on the last digit of the ID cards of consumers.
In the end, many of the products that will be available in Venezuela will end up selling on the so-called black market, a place that despite having become the target of frequent accusations of the regime itself for being one of the main causes of the general shortages in the country, is in fact being fed by corrupt elements of the own Government.
That market has turned out very lucrative because it offers the subsidized products at prices up to 10 times higher than what consumers pay for them in stores after spending hours waiting in line.
Local popular markets will continue to offer the "six or seven products" that the Government imports for the nation's neediest sectors at subsidized prices, Guerrero said.
As a result, the working middle class is the one that is going to suffer more because, on the one hand, it will not be able to pay the high prices of products on the black market and, on the other, it doesn't have access to popular markets or doesn't want to go there since the available products are of very poor quality, Dallen explained.
See Venezuela Alarmingly Low on Food (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 12, 2015)
On Saturday wrapped up the seventh Summit of the Americas held in Panama with the attendance of 34 presidents and heads of state of 35 countries of the hemisphere. (The only one missing there was Chile's Michelle Bachelet).
The theme addressed was "Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas", whose ultimate goal was to establish a common agenda to help improve the lives of the poorest across the Americas.
Unfortunately, it was not possible that the Summit produced a final statement due to the lack of consensus that would have included in the document a request for the repeal of an executive order signed by Barack Obama against seven Venezuelan officials who violated human rights and committed acts of corruption, as demanded by the government of Venezuela and several of his allies in the region.
This way, the host of the summit and President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, will issue a final report with the arrangements agreed between the rulers. Rapporteurs of the different working roundtables at the summit will follow a similar procedure, since the opposing visions of participants prevented the unanimity in the decisions made. The selfish interests of certain politicians at the helm of some countries prevailed once more during this summit.
Based on these two facts of lack of understanding between the rulers and radical sectors, it could be concluded that the summit did not produce the results expected by organizers, since a joint and consensual agenda so the poorest in the region could have an option to a better quality of life was not ultimately set.
However, this summit will go down in the history of the continent for a political fact still in full development: the return of Cuba to a hemispheric summit after 53 years of having been expelled from the OAS at the request of Venezuela, due to the unsuccessful attempts of Fidel Castro to invade the country. Cuba was in the spotlight as Raúl Castro had planned it from the start. Without apologizing a bit for its interference in the countries of the region, or reducing the dictatorship imposed to the Cuban people, this country emerged at the summit as an equal to democratically elected leaders. With a speech that lasted more than 45 minutes, his words of praise for his new best friend Obama, and his ambivalent position against the anti-imperialist discourse of Nicolás Maduro, Castro consolidates his leadership in the governments of Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, as he fights with Obama over the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.
It will also go down in history for several important facts that will become a sounding board for the defense of democracy in the Americas.
One of them is the several achievements scored by Obama. With an integrationist, equalitarian, and not meddlesome message, Obama opened spaces in the region that had been neglected by previous U.S. governments. He consolidated the decision of putting an end to the cold war with Cuba. With that move, and without an opposition to his executive order against the Venezuelan officials, Obama rises as a champion of democracy and human rights defender who will not tolerate violations of human rights in the countries of the region.
Another vitally important fact materialized outside the summit: The Declaration of Panama. An unprecedented statement in the history of democracy in the region signed by 25 former Latin American presidents, all of them with various political trends but with a true democratic conviction. This statement reveals with remarkable clarity the antidemocratic face of the Government of Nicolás Maduro. And despite its aftermath hasn't been felt yet, it marked a milestone in the defense of democracy and human rights in Venezuela and the continent.
And, perhaps, less important is the fact that Maduro was unable to deliver his million signatures collected condemning the executive order to Obama or anyone else.
Just as important is that the rulers attending the summit as well as the international community were able to hear what the human rights NGOs, the Venezuelan civil society, and those affected by the political persecution in Venezuela had to say without restrictions of any kind. And were also able to corroborate the violent and exclusionary attitude of the oppressors of Cuba and Venezuela, represented by small groups of people sponsored by these two governments.
See VenEconomy: A Sounding Board at the Summit of the Americas (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 13, 2015)
The government of Nicolás Maduro is overwhelmed by the economic crisis caused by its controls policy. Yet, it continues to tighten foreign exchange and price controls further even though the most reasonable thing to do would be to rectify the course and remove all these controls for good.
Two of the latest measures taken by the National Executive regarding controls are: cutting dollar quotas for travels abroad and the centralization of supplies for drugs to treat chronic diseases. Both measures evidence that the ruling elite controlling the economy cannot - or doesn't want to - understand that this path keeps pushing the country into an abyss of scarcity and corruption.
It can be said, as did local economist Enrique González Porras in his article "A Transitional Control for Pricing Management?", to be released in the April edition of VenEconomy, that "the remedy cannot be a dose of its own disease, or has any normative logic to legislate and act on effects, leaving the causes intact".
González Porras explains in his analysis that he finds the proposal of a "transitional control" that would maintain price controls - among others, those on foreign exchange rates - excessive, because "it is believed that freeing controls before increasing production" would end up being counterproductive.
To the economist, this would suggest a "complete denial or presumption of ineffectiveness of the price system and consumer sovereignty, replaced by bureaucratic-regulatory actions". And that "unless it can be proved with arguments and hard evidence, proposing a continuity in price controls turns out an ad hoc position".
He warns that "such position would derive, first of all, from the prejudice that all companies subject to price controls have a dominant position and incentives in order to exploit it; and, second of all, that price controls do not constitute one of the main sources of economic distortions at present".
González Porras argues that "for constituting restrictions to freedom and economic rights, price controls represent a sanction, which under the law - existence of the Rule of Law and Due Process - requires either an administrative procedure (should the regulatory structure follow the tradition of the continental European administrative law) or a trial (should it follow the tradition of the Common Law)".
He explained the existence of "inflationary causes such as the inorganic financing of the deficit or an excess of liquidity for the economic activity level and the supply of goods and services; price controls will do little or nothing about this - except stimulating the black, parallel, arbitration and smuggling markets".
In short, as González Porras points out, "price controls are not perfect instruments for protecting equity and much less for the control of inflation. There are fiscal policies as much as for transfers and subsidies for the first case and, for the second one, policies of macroeconomic stability. In fact, inflation constitutes a public evil and not the product of the exercise of a widespread market power, a thesis that lacks micro-foundations."
González Porras recalls that "social inclusion and employability and the safeguarding of the currency's purchasing power, of wages and salaries, cannot be achieved by means of price controls, but by means of dynamic incentives in favor of creating economic activity and jobs as well as improving productivity as a key social benefit to generate wealth and well-being".
And in conclusion, he makes it clear that "when there is a serious shortages issue, the price controls as bureaucratic rules of distribution of the value of assets, are absolutely and completely innocuous for social welfare, because they do not represent a loss in allocative efficiency or an increase in the satisfied demand". That is to say, they do not promote production increases making the shortages issue worse.
See VenEconomy: The Remedy for Venezuela's Economy Cannot be a 'Dose of its Own Disease' (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 14, 2015)
The Administrative Ruling No. 011 issued by the National Center for Foreign Trade (Cencoex) imposing new requirements, amounts and restrictions to Venezuelan travelers hides several aspects that go far beyond the arguments given by the Government for a more rational use of foreign currency or putting a stop to the citizens traveling abroad just to take advantage of the dollars allocated to them at preferential rates. It even goes beyond the discussion of whether it is a right or a benefit that the Government grants to citizens traveling abroad, or if it segregates the private banking system in the management of foreign currency for travelers, or the apartheid that thousands of citizens who do not have access to the public banking system are subjected to.
In addition to all these truths, this administrative ruling clearly shows that a government that has handled the biggest flows of foreign currency in the entire history of the country has left Venezuela with a severe dollar drought, largely caused by generous financial handouts to other countries and the rampant corruption from the ruling elite. And the serious thing is that this administrative ruling won't help patch the hole of Venezuela's huge deficit. Calculations suggest that while this new foreign exchange regime may save the country between $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion this year, that's peanuts since to cover the domestic requirements of foreign currency it would take between $16 billion and $23 billion.
This administrative ruling also evidences the complete failure of the foreign exchange controls imposed by Venezuela's ruling regime since 2003. Just like the collapse of price controls and the control over all economic activity that both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro gave a lot of support. A collapse concealed beneath high crude oil prices that, once they began to steadily decline, heavily affected the lives of Venezuelans with unparalleled inflation and scarcity. As Luis Vicente León, the head of polling company Datanálisis, put it in his article "10 notes regarding the changes in the dollar quotas for travelers by Cencoex", published by local digital magazine Prodavinci on April 11: "The real core of the issue here is that no one can make use of their money with freedom".
The Administrative Ruling No. 011 also makes clear that this is a government that resorts to lies and manipulation to cover up its failures and keep blaming others for them. Instead of dealing with the necessary easing of foreign exchange controls, it resorts to a de facto devaluation in a covert way. First of all, with a mistaken perception that the measure will only affect a few thousands of Venezuelans who don't belong to the Government's electoral target. A mistaken perception all the way, indeed. The foreign exchange distortions are to blame for thousands of Venezuelans (including the Government's own supporters) taking advantage of their dollar quotas when traveling abroad. In some cases, many of them obtained some easy juicy profits from this activity thanks to the complicity of friends working for the State's foreign exchange bodies. Second of all, because the State persists in obviating the massive corruption from the so-called "Bolivarian bourgeoisie" that emerged from the foreign exchange control system, which has bled Venezuela to death through illegalities such as: 1) The "hiring" of shell companies by the State via direct foreign exchange allocation and without any accountability, an operation in which about $20 billion in funds were embezzled, according to Venezuela's former planning minister Jorge Giordani. 2) And the illegal issuing of "diplomatic passports" to white-collar criminals, who laundered large sums of money through Banca Privat d'Andorra and the Swiss branch of London-based bank HSBC.
The administrative ruling also confirms that the foreign exchange controls have served, and still do, as a mechanism of political and economic control over large sectors of the population. It ruined the national productive sector, which is seeing the worst case of harassment on the part of the State in all its history. It has dramatically reduced the population's purchasing power and worsened the shortages of food, medicines and basic goods as never before.
And lastly, it confirms that the Maduro administration will not rectify the course towards the precipice.
See VenEconomy: Much More than a Simple Dollar Quota Restriction to Venezuelan Travelers (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 15, 2015)
The ruling-party bloc in the Venezuelan Parliament (or National Assembly) passed a motion of "urgency" requested by its president, Diosdado Cabello, on Tuesday to ask the National Electoral Council (CNE) not to convene elections for the 12 members comprising the Latin American Parliament (aka Parlatino). It should be noted that the Parlatino is a regional entity, whose main premise is the defense of the representative democracy, and is made up by parliamentarians of the democratically constituted States Parties.
In a unjustified and unilateral decision, Cabello said that these lawmakers will now be hand-picked "within the Parliament, according to parliamentary membership" and not by means of universal, direct and secret suffrage as contemplated in the Electoral Statute of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) of 2000, which is the way it has been done up until now.
The motivation for this arbitrary change in the mechanism of the election of Parlatino lawmakers seems to come, on the one hand, from the resounding political failure and image shown by the government of Nicolás Maduro during the Seventh Summit of the Americas last week. And on the other, from the inability of the ruling elite in accepting and respecting dissenting opinions and autonomous actions from representatives of any public authority in Venezuela. If there is any doubt about this, just pay close attention to the words of Cabello when he says that Parlatino lawmakers "can't go around doing as they please", when referring to a Venezuelan commission of Parlatino meeting with the new secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis de Almagro, in Panama to deliver him a written report on the status of the Venezuelan political prisoners "without saying a word to him or asking for his permission."
The truth is that Parlatino members would not have any autonomy in their functions if they are hand-picked; they would follow the guidelines of the Presidency of the Republic and would be vulnerable to be removed from parliamentary office if they decided to go against the policy guidelines of the Government. And even more serious is that this would undermine the proportional representation of different sectors of the population in the Parlatino, and thus the voices denouncing abuses and violations of rights across the continent will be silenced forever.
See VenEconomy: Assault on Venezuela's Latin American Parliament! (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 16, 2015)
VenEconomy held its traditional update on the Economic, Political and Social Outlook for Venezuela on Thursday, April 16.
In this update, VenEconomy covered the 2014-2019 period with two possible scenarios: The first is 1984 (a version of the novel written by George Orwell) projecting that Nicolás Maduro will cling to power, imposing his misguided "socialist" and dictatorial policies on the population, and making Venezuela stay on the road toward collapse, misery and poverty, factors characteristic of a communist society of the 21st century. The other scenario is "Chinazuela", in which the Government, after opting for an adjustment program with the support of the IMF, will recover the economy and lead the country towards the "Chinese model", combining a dynamic market economy with a totalitarian dictatorship.
As deducted by several guest analysts who attended the VenEconomy event, the 1984 scenario would be unfolding at present as evidenced by, on the one hand, the reluctance of the Maduro government in rectifying the policies contained in the so-called "Plan for the Homeland", and, on the other, in the recent public statements of the Venezuelan ruler announcing he would radicalize his "revolution" even further, followed by actions that have already ratified this unalterable decision.
All analysts in their presentations agreed that Venezuela is going through a deep economic, political and social crisis, affecting all the productive sectors without distinction, including that of oil, pillar of the national economy.
Perhaps an analysis by Rodrigo Agudo, an expert consultant in the agrifood area, had the greatest impact among the attendees for being about a sensitive area that affects the daily lives of Venezuelan citizens.
Agudo made a retrospective of the policies that have been implemented in the sector since 1999, when the late Hugo Chávez came to power, among which stood out the expropriations of productive lands, the seizure of industries and retail chains, the application of socialist criminal laws, and arbitrary inspections of retailers. A policy that has imposed the absolute power of the State on the private sector of the economy, reducing it to the very minimum, which has caused suspicion among investors, taken away the domestic and foreign capitals, and condemned the population to the scourge of inflation and scarcity.
Agudo said that the nation's productive system has been hit hard over the past 14 years, boosting imports despite the huge oil revenues derived from record prices of this non-renewable resource. Revenues that are no longer huge following a collapse in oil prices.
To Agudo "Venezuela has entered a process of loss of its productive sovereignty amid an environment of increasing scarcity". A scarcity that is already a structural problem derived from the destruction of the entire supply chain on the part of the Government (loss of foreign borrowing, loss of supply, attacks on wholesalers, attacks on retailers, etc.)
A dramatic example is in the meat industry, where price controls and the lack of investment have reduced the supply of meat in the country. A situation that repeats itself with cereals, oil, milk, sugar, and a long list of products that make up the basic food basket. This is an issue that affects both private and state-owned companies, which according to figures released by the ministries of Food and Industries in their reports and account, state-run companies such as Lácteos Los Andes, Industrias Diana, Vtelca, Orinoquia and Venezolana de Industrias Tecnológicas were unable to meet their modest goals set for 2014, not only for the difficulties in the acquisition of domestic and imported raw materials due to the lack of foreign currency, but for the inefficiency and corruption of the State.
Agudo said that the shortages problem, which today affects some 3.5 million families, is impossible to solve in the short term. According to his own calculations, it would take up to three years for some products, from four to six years for others, and up to 10 years for some products like meat. That is to say, it would take a decade to restore the supply chain, inventories and consumption there was back in 1999.
That's some superb sovereignty of hunger that Venezuela is enjoying thanks to its socialist government!
See VenEconomy: The Sovereignty of Hunger in Venezuela! (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 17, 2015)
In the last few decades, Venezuela went from being a country of immigrants to a country of emigrants.
There is no doubt that the mass exodus of Venezuelan citizens seen today is much more than a political issue. This is about a socio-economic issue with profound implications for the future of all Venezuelans.
According to Iván De La Vega, a professor of the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas and an expert in the migration field, some 1.5 million Venezuelans would have fled the country over the past 10 years because, among other reasons: 1) The insecurity levels and fears over the shocking homicide figures. 2) The political crisis and state of conflict that cause uneasiness among Venezuelans. 3) The economic factor that dashes the aspirations and hopes of young professionals and businesspeople.
According to figures by the Venezuelan Medical Federation, some 13,000 local doctors have taken off already, a fact that opens a new crisis hotspot in the national healthcare sector so battered by inflation, shortages, and disinvestment.
This migratory wave made up by thousands of Venezuelans in their best productive age, mostly young people with training and work experience, is hitting companies already affected by anti-investment policies harder than ever before. The exodus of local talent is creating a decapitalization in human resources and, therefore, weighs on the progress of the nation.
Without prejudice to the reasons that each person has to take that difficult path known as exodus, it is the adverse consequences that mass emigration may have for the future of Venezuela where, to VenEconomy, lies the importance of a message of optimism and confidence given by Lorenzo Mendoza, head of Venezuela's largest foodmaker and brewer Empresas Polar, to all of his workers on Sunday.
Mendoza said that 30 million Venezuelans cannot leave for Panama, or Colombia or any another country. That he is with "the people who cannot go anywhere". He also said that "as any Venezuelan company, they have to work, they have to produce, they have to achieve better things somehow."
Mendoza claims that he shall stay in Venezuela because it is his home country. Because it is what he loves most. Because it is his responsibility; it is what he believes in; it is what he likes better than anything.
He sent the youth a message of hope: Firstly, "this country has so much more to offer us than any other foreign country, as persons emigrating somewhere else". Secondly, "it is very important for you to analyze your own reality and your own personal context, and then make your decision".
He confirmed that within the Polar business group "there is a future, there is an approach to continue thinking forward, to continue working and to continue producing, and generating opportunities..."
"This business group has gone through different stages for 74 years; here we are and here we shall remain".
His message of optimism is for everyone. "As Venezuelans, we have to deal with our problems, we cannot be indifferent no matter the way we think, no matter the way we feel about things, no matter what we believe in, we have to deal with our problems because we Venezuelans have rights and duties. Let's fulfill our duties and demand our rights; if we do that, Venezuela is going to be a better place regardless of how we think".
He offered "an optimistic view" and concluded that there is a future in Venezuela and that the country needs all of its citizens.
See VenEconomy: There is a Future Here in Venezuela! (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 20, 2015)
On Monday, the governor of Aragua state and reportedly one of the pivots of the Venezuelan revolution, Tareck El Aissami, gave a hint on one of the many reasons why corruption levels in Venezuela have grown so much in these times of "socialism of the 21st century". A fact that becomes tangible in the corruption perceptions index released annually by Transparency International, in which Venezuela has had the top places among the most corrupt countries for more than a decade.
In a fit of (naivety or cynicism?), El Aissami said during the Regional Assembly of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) that the former governor of Aragua, Rafael Isea, had been accepted to a witness protection program in the U.S. in exchange for "garbage information" against the Government of Venezuela. This way he confirmed a rumor that had been circulating across several sources of information.
What was "original" about this announcement was not that El Aissami referred to his countryman as a traitor to the "Bolivarian Revolution", or that he linked him to alleged acts of corruption. That's most likely to happen when someone decides to leave the revolutionary lane.
The detail that catches our eye is that he was already aware of Isea's alleged acts of corruption and that he did not denounce him at the request of the late president Hugo Chávez.
According to the media, El Aissmi said: "I wanted to make a serious complaint. I remained silent for two years because Commander Chávez told me as soon as he sent me here (the Governorship of Aragua): I'm withdrawing a son of mine from here because he is a traitor; do not fail me because you're another son to me". We need to ask how to define this kind of automatic cover-up. Maybe complicity? Prevarication? Incitement to impunity? Tolerance toward the crimes committed by their fellow party members?
Is this kind of automatic solidarity, supported by a Government-State that has monopolized the country's public authorities, the perfect ingredient for the development of corruption and for making the civil service opaque? In Venezuela, the monopoly of power is being applied with particular pressure to the System of the Administration of Justice, a system used in a discretionary manner to exonerate those who support Venezuela's "socialist process" or to punish those who disagree with it; also being applied the same political pattern for the exercise of their functions are the Parliament (aka the National Assembly) and the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, bodies responsible for the monitoring and control of the public sector.
The result of this has been, as described on several occasions by Mercedes de Freitas, executive director of NGO Transparencia Venezuela: The Venezuelan State is one of the most powerful in the region, one of the most closed and less exposed to public scrutiny.
These are the reasons why so many allegations of money laundering, influence-peddling, kickback schemes, direct public contract awards from national and/or international bodies are kept under wraps by the Public Ministry, the courts of justice, the National Assembly and the Office of the Comptroller.
Thus, no public authority in Venezuela would seriously and openly make an investigation on the billions of dollars that went through the Swiss branch of London-based bank HSBC or the complaints of money laundering schemes in Banca Privada d'Andorra (BPA) and its Banco Madrid offshoot, where officials close to the Presidency of the Republic would be involved in the payment of commissions to Spanish companies for "consulting services" in the attraction of contracts. One of these contracts was for the recovery of the Line 1 of the Caracas Metro ($1.85 billion for a commission of about $88.8 million) and another for the construction of a thermoelectric plant (1.5 billion euros for a possible commission of more than 82 million euros).
This "indifference" on the part of the judiciary in the face of specific allegations of corruption is in contrast, for example, to the performance of the system of justice in Brazil, an autonomous and solid system with good investigative capacities that has exposed corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras, where officials of the government party that belongs to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and President Dilma Rousseff are involved.
There is an urgent need in Venezuela to put an end to corruption, where officials and frontmen from the Bolivarian revolution are squandering the public money that should be invested in healthcare, education, infrastructure, security and food production.
See VenEconomy: For This and Many Other Reasons (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 21, 2015)
In a government that has taken the public authorities by assault, that believes itself as owner of the lives and thoughts of citizens, that has transformed the non-transparency, impunity and lawlessness into an institution, corruption is not limited to the theft of public funds, which as we all know is the customary practice of Venezuelas ruling elite.
No, in this era of the so-called socialism of the 21st century, the lack of transparency (which facilitates corruption) in the actions of public authorities and other State bodies is the channel where Venezuela's democracy has been going away, thanks to a vicious circle created by the government's hegemonic power.
By forcing changes in the electoral law and with the acquiescence and permissiveness of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Parliament, the late Hugo Chávez - and now Nicolás Maduro - have been able to move ahead with a so-called "Plan for the Homeland" that is leading the country to utter economic and social disaster. Changes in the electoral system that granted both of them a majority of parliamentary seats without this being proportional to the votes obtained. A parliamentary majority that was then inflated through manipulations to get the opposition out of the electoral game, or to buy consciences of some people with lack of scruples.
Dirty little tricks by no means negligible, since thanks to that spurious majority (1) enabling powers to pass laws that have curtailed civil and economic rights and freedoms were granted; (2) several extraordinary funds for campaign and propaganda expenses during election times were approved; (3) absolute majorities of the ruling party were guaranteed in the National Electoral Council and the Supreme Court of Justice, as well as the fact of appointing supporters of the "socialist process" to the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Attorney General's Office and the Office of the Ombudsman.
That is to say, all the power of the State is concentrated to favor the ruling political bias.
To this it can be added an existing communicational hegemony that not only has taken over the public information network to put it at the service of the State, but has also put economic and legal limits to independent privately-run media in a gradual - but steady - way. From there is a new alert issued by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) on the deterioration of democracy and press freedom in Venezuela, due to discriminatory measures and recurring restrictions imposed by the Government against the critical and independent press. Measures currently affecting several media outlets, including El Correo del Caroní, El Impulso, El Carabobeño, El Nacional and El Regional de Zulia, all battered by a serious newsprint supply crisis caused by the rationing of foreign currency on the part of the Government as a form of political control. A political control that is also being applied to the rest of the private productive sector.
Similarly, the nontransparent political discretion also applies its control after the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic announced alleged inconsistencies in a sworn statement of net assets against María Corina Machado, Henrique Capriles Radonski and Julio Borges. A decision that seems a first step before eventual political disqualifications for these three leaders of the democratic opposition.
Another act of political corruption is that, in a desperate attempt to win the upcoming parliamentary elections, the National Institute of Statistics in conjunction with the National Electoral Council have modified the criteria for the allocation of population values in at least 19 of the 24 states. This modification at the level of municipalities, parishes and districts producs a displacement of parliamentary seats from an electoral constituency to another.
It turns out that the ruling-party bloc in the Parliament on Tuesday, disregarding the opinion of the opposition, gave the go-ahead to these changes, which in all cases benefits the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV. This because the same percentage of votes in 2010 would give the Government's party four additional lawmakers to the detriment of the parliamentary representation of the opposition.
These dishonest political actions radicalize positions and put a new shackle on the democratic alternative, whose fastest route out of this mess is through elections.
See VenEconomy: The Other Face of Corruption in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 22, 2015)
Nicolás Maduro, in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections this year and in observance of Labor Day on May 1, stepped up his attacks on the private business sector.
Perhaps he will do so in a bid to repeat the "Dakazo" experience on the country's retail stores that yielded so many electoral dividends for him in 2013, and that way regain some popular support. What there is no doubt about is that he is doing things by faithfully following the Socialist Homeland plan that the late Hugo Chávez left him as inheritance, and that has also left Venezuela in ruins.
Over the last couple of days, Maduro has been threatening and intimidating the nation's entrepreneurs with having a new enabling law enacted soon and sending all of them to prison. He announced that he is making, together with his general staff, the final adjustments to a special plan through which he will face an alleged "economic war" from the private sector of the economy, and that he will unveil the details on May 1, Labor Day.
From his show Contacto con Maduro (contact with Maduro), broadcast on national TV and radio, the President urged the labor sector to "take charge of the plan for the economic counteroffensive" that will consolidate "a great economic revolution of socialist and productive character".
Now Maduro aims to create "popular supply councils". He sees these councils as groups of people that would oversee the operations of each supermarket in order to avoid irregularities and ensure supplies of basic products.
The goal is to defeat, according to Maduro's own words, "the parasitic and thieving bourgeoisie and oligarchy, who is pulling the strings of the country's product distribution network and has broken all the rules of the game of the law, the Constitution and the economy. Who has broken all of the basic rules of coexistence, respect for the laws and rules of the economy".
Then, on Wednesday from Puerto La Cruz in Anzoátegui state, Maduro threatened entrepreneurs again by telling them that Fedecámaras (Venezuela's main business association) won't be getting any more dollars as he accused them once more for being responsible of the economic war, which he insists is taking place as we speak.
Perhaps Maduro may convince again a specific sector of the population that entrepreneurs are to blame for the general shortages and unbearable inflation issues thanks to this virulent message. Perhaps because of that saying that goes "a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth", a few thousands of Venezuelans may buy him that capitalists caused the devastating problems of production and distribution of food, medicines and other products and basic goods.
But surely Maduro will not be able to get the country out of the hole it has been plunged into for the last 16 years of a failed political and economic model if he doesn't rectify the course, no matter how many tall stories he may come up with, or how much he insults the private sectors of the economy that are producing and keeping the country afloat, or how many times he corners them, prosecutes them and put them behind bars.
Foreign suppliers will not deliver their inputs, raw materials, and other products and goods until they get paid some $10 billion owed to them for merchandise already delivered. The investment capital will not flow into the country unless the rules of the game are clarified and the rule of law in the country is restored. The production apparatus will not start up if the resources to operate are not guaranteed. It has been written in the pages of history that no country in the world with controls, a persecution of the productive sector and no clear rules of the game, has been able to lift its people out of poverty and misery.
As simple as that!
See VenEconomy: Maduro's 'Plan for the Economic Counteroffensive' to do Nothing for Venezuela's Battered Economy (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 23, 2015)
People just need to have a look at news reports coming from the Government to realize the magnitude of the economic crisis affecting Venezuelans.
On the one hand, President Nicolás Maduro announced new "economic steps" as he will no longer allocate foreign currency to entrepreneurs linked to business association Fedecámaras, which means that the shortages issue will worsen further. And on the other, the Health Minister said he is going to start rationing medications for chronic diseases through the so-called Integrated System for Access to Medicines, or Siamed. In other words, more controls for Venezuelans.
In addition, the public opinion is shocked because the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) has pawned part of the gold of the international reserves for almost $1 billion, a fact that may drain the public coffers.
The central bank said, for example, that the National Institute of Statistics (INE) had reported that unemployment stood at 5% in December of last year (a month in which employment commonly peaks). In reality, unemployment must have been twice as high because what the INE understands as being an "employed person" is someone who recorded a single hour of remunerated activity during the previous week.
Another conundrum is inflation. Although the BCV reported that the inflation rate was 68.5% in 2014, it also explained that it restructured its basic basket of products since the middle of last year to make it "more representative of current consumption patterns", without elaborating on the details of the structure of the new index. Therefore, it can be assumed that the intention was (and still is) to present inflation figures lower than the real ones. Perhaps what they are trying to hide is the Cendas-FVM index, whose figures have historically differed very little from those of the BCV: According to this index, the cost of the family shopping basket rose 99.9% from April 2014 through March 2015.
Another conundrum raised by VenEconomy is PDVSA. The state-run oil company claims it is exporting between 2.4 and 2.5 million barrels per day and that is producing 2.85 million barrels per day. This doesn't add up because: 1) Domestic consumption is approximately 650,000 barrels per day, so that leaves 2.2 million barrels per day for exports. Unless, of course, this includes 200,000-300,000 barrels per day of light crude imported for mixing to be reexported again. 2) OPEC believes that Venezuelan production is about 2.35 million barrels per day (only crude oil) from which it can be inferred that Venezuela's net exports are about 1.8 million barrels per day, a fact that helps explain the drought of dollars in the country. Why doesn't the Government invite the OPEC to the country so that it can corroborate the real figures?
VenEconomy also explains that the balance of payments is shrouded in mystery. The few figures released by the central bank are questionable. The BCV announced earlier this year that it would count certain non-monetary assets (for example, diamonds) as "reserves". Likewise, the BCV valued its vast holdings of gold at $1,258 per troy ounce in February, when gold was trading at $1,210 an ounce in London. Just like PDVSA, the BCV has disguised its total exports (by offsetting differences in the Capital Account), a procedure that allows it to present surpluses in the current account when, in reality, the country is running deficits.
VenEconomy concludes that "paralysis" is the term that best describes the economy.
Venezuela has too many problems, but these can be solved. However, the first step to take must be clearing the path of lies and distortions so that everyone, including our policymakers, becomes aware and understands where we are standing.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Goes Downhill! (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 24, 2015)
Venezuela has become a country where the general perception is that nothing works the way it should. Not the economy, or the production of goods, or public services, or security, or justice. No sector at present is providing quality of life to the country's citizens, but quite the opposite. The resounding failure of the so-called "Socialism of the 21st century" resembles all the similar political projects seen throughout the history of mankind.
Just as serious is that a nontransparent administration, a lack of accountability, the complicity of the different levels of government, the nepotism and influence peddling lie behind each failure of the Bolivarian revolution, as much as the certainty the ruling elite has of holding power until the end of time, and of getting off scot-free.
However, this "elite" is forgetting that no power lasts forever, and that there is no statute of limitations for crimes against public heritage and human rights violations.
Hence the importance of initiatives such as Misión Impunidad, or mission impunity, (http://transparencia.org.ve/impunidad/) launched by local NGO Transparencia Venezuela for documenting, monitoring and determining whether various cases of corruption have already been investigated and prosecuted. Misión Impunidad counts on the contribution of a group of prominent Venezuelan journalists, who have conducted several investigations on several corruption scandals that have been made public in recent years.
Transparencia Venezuela said in the launch press release of Misión Impunidad that it seeks to rekindle what the Magna Carta says in its article 271 that there will not be statute of limitations for judicial proceedings aimed at punishing offenses against the public heritage. It notes that while corruption is bad, one that goes unpunished is twice as bad. Among its goals is also catching the attention of the country so those committing abuses can be blamed and justice can be served.
Until now, the investigations of the journalists have revealed that, in the corruption cases analyzed, it became clear the absence of the implementation of justice.
They pointed out that "the results of the journalistic investigations conducted for Misión Impunidad are devastating. Accused of having defrauded the nation, these people hold high office in the Government today; they're part of the national directorate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV); they occupy parliamentary seats in the National Assembly and they even represent the country at international level. Meanwhile, Venezuelans find themselves suffering the daily effects of those abuses that have cost the Republic billions of dollars".
Corruption and impunity are not alien to the myriad problems suffered by Venezuelans. These hit citizens hard every day.
They hit them hard, for example, in the food area. Or as Misión Impunidad puts it, "in that mother who cannot get milk for their children". Or both make up one of the main causes "for a patient to tour pharmacies looking for a medicine with no luck; for the lack of steel bars to build houses; and for the power outages that leave Venezuelan families completely in the dark".
Worse still, it points out that "impunity is present and falls into oblivion".
VenEconomy bets on the success of Misión Impunidad by Transparencia Venezuela. It deems it vital so that it doesn't become another mission impossible for the restoration of the democratic order and progress in the country.
See VenEconomy: Venezuelan NGO launches 'Mission Impunity' (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 27, 2015)
Misión Impunidad (mission impunity), an anti-impunity program from Venezuelan NGO Transparencia Venezuela, is turning its attention to the country's battered healthcare sector. A sector where corruption has wreaked havoc and put the lives of the Venezuelan people on the razor's edge.
An investigation conducted by local journalist Lissette Cardona for Misión Impunidad revealed that - at least - 881,850 pounds of drugs expired between 2010 and 2014. That means that those drugs were never distributed to the hospitals of the country. The investigation showed that these drugs "expired while stored in the ports of La Guaira and Puerto Cabello or in containers belonging to the State Service of Pharmaceutical Processing, or SEFAR".
And explains that some 18 containers with 110,230 pounds of damaged products found, in 2014 alone, contained, among other things, batches of medicinal products today scarce in the country such as bicalutamide (150 mg), used in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer.
The investigation also showed that lawmakers of the democratic opposition belonging to the Movida Parlamentaria group revealed that, since 2012, the Ministry of Health had all the expired or damaged drugs incinerated with the help of companies such as Calderas Serv-Jet from Maracay, Aragua state, and Incineradora Hornos from La Guaira in Greater Caracas.
The investigation also pointed out that while there is no accurate data on what was spent on the importation of such expired medicines, "the parliamentary report notes that the Government paid $31 million to Cuba to import these drugs in 2011" for storage purposes and subsequent incineration; that "in 2012 the payment amounted to $46.5 million" and that "the drugs found between 2013 and 2014 cost $400 million".
The investigation carried out for Misión Impunidad showed that to date Venezuela's control and justice bodies have not yet been able to identify the culprits or provide answers related to this case. The Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic did not define direct responsibilities. The Supreme Court of Justice rejected an appeal by NGOs such as Espacio Público, Acción Solidaria, Transparencia Venezuela and Provea demanding the Ministry of Health to respond for the loss of medicines imported from Cuba. This besides rejecting a request for information on the results of the investigations.
Investigations with respect to the expiration of medications in containers of SEFAR, a body responsible for the development of 10 types of essential drugs, as well as for the distribution of materials and imported drugs through international conventions, whose storage is also responsible for, were never made, either.
A most recent case of corruption was revealed to the public this week by Marcos Figueroa, a lawmaker of the Democratic Unity party coalition, who denounced the signing of agreements for the construction of a factory of medicinal products slated for completion in 2012, but that has not been executed so far, in spite of the fact that $96 million have been shelled out already for that purpose.
Now when damage has been done in the production and supplies of medicines because of the rampant corruption, inefficiency and foreign exchange and price controls, the National Executive is applying measures that are detrimental to the freedom of patients by the time they need to buy medicines, the same way it has restricted the access to food and basic goods rather than attacking the root of the problem.
Thus, the Ministry of Health launched the so-called Integrated System for Access to Medicines (SIAMED), a system that will surely end up being another hurdle for consumers, another tentacle to monitor the activity of pharmacies and another source of corruption, which will subject the population affected by cardiovascular, endocrine, metabolic and chronic neurological diseases to a new ordeal by the time they need to buy the drugs essential for their survival.
See VenEconomy: 'Mission Impunity' Turns its Attention to Venezuela's Healthcare Sector (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 28, 2015)
Corruption is bad, and one with impunity is twice as bad as argued local NGO Transparencia Venezuela when launching its Misión Impunidad (mission impunity) anti-impunity program late this month. And it is three times as bad when it affects the power supply to millions of Venezuelan families and hinders productive activity.
That's why power management has been one of the subjects to be investigated by Misión Impunidad, a task taken up by local journalist César Batiz.
Batiz dates back his investigation to February 15 2010, when the late President Hugo Chávez signed a decree on electric power emergency while Alí Rodríguez Araque, the then-minister of the electricity sector, announced that in May of that year, and as part of the so-called "Plan for the electrical shielding of Caracas", the Picure thermoelectric plant would begin to operate with 134 MW of installed power thanks to an investment of $125 million.
Batiz recalled that this "shielding" was about "preventing that a drop in the water level of Guri Dam, as a result of very little rainfall known as El Niño, would cause electricity rationing or blackouts in Caracas, as was already the case in the rest of the country".
He also recalled that with that goal the already nationalized electricity company Electricidad de Caracas (Elecar) "scheduled the construction of Picure and six other plants, whose contract was awarded to Spain-based business group Duro Felguera for more than $2 billion; the Raisa III plant was awarded to local firm GTME; and the planning, engineering and construction of other five plants to Derwick Associates", an unexperienced company that "never had built a plant before as the one required by state-run electricity company Corpoelec". With only 14 months after its foundation, this new company was awarded 12 projects valued at a cost of more than $2.1 billion.
Complaints on well-documented acts of corruption, which ended up in some drawer of a court of justice, the Prosecutor or Comptroller General's Office that sworn allegiance to the Bolivarian government, didn't take long to be made public.
But, the tentacles of corruption also reached another Elecar contractor: Duro Felguera, a Spanish business group hired to build several infrastructures with the Chávez government.
After a money laundering scheme in Banca Privada d'Andorra and its Banco Madrid subsidiary was exposed, it was known about the millions of dollars in payments from Duro Felguera for "consultancy services" (some of them verbally) to companies and Venezuelan officials so it could obtain contracts with the National Government: one for $50 million paid to Venezuelan company Técnicas Reunidas C.A. (Terca) and another for $50 million to Nervis Villalobos, a former Vice Minister of Electric Power, through Ingespre (a consulting firm), both of them to obtain the contract for the Termocentro thermoelectric plant in 2009. However, neither the National Executive, nor the rest of its faithful public authorities, has said a word on these allegations.
It is unacceptable that so much corruption goes unpunished. And it becomes even more inadmissible, because in spite of so many financial resources spent on the so-called National Electricity System (SEN), it is in the same - or worse - conditions that it was in 2010 when Chávez declared the electric power emergency.
Just a week ago, Jesse Chacón, the Minister of Electricity, denied the possibility of a crisis in the generation, transmission and distribution system of electricity. What is more, Luis Vásquez Corro, an electrical engineer and adviser to local business association Fedecámaras, was arrested, opened a criminal case and issued precautionary measures for publicly warning about the risks of shutting down the turbines of the Guri hydroelectric system if it didn't rain at the headwaters of the Caroní River, causing massive blackouts in nearly all the national territory.
On Tuesday, Chacón announced a series of electricity rationing measures that include: a reduction in working hours in the public administration to five and a half hours and a requirement to restrict the electricity consumption to the private sector and the rest of the population.
A restrictive measure that comes at a time when the low domestic production, both of public and private companies, is at critical levels and when the help and efforts of everyone are required to get Venezuela out of the hole it has been plunged into.
See VenEconomy: Corruption, Impunity Turn Off the Lights in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 29, 2015)
This Labor Day will be laden with uncertainties and unexpected situations for Venezuela.
While nearly the entire population has to put up with massive blackouts, long queues to buy some food and medicines, or touring hospitals and morgues nationwide; another important part of the population awaits the presidential announcements of President Nicolás Maduro in fear and anguish.
On May 1, many Venezuelans, especially workers and entrepreneurs, will be curious to find out what the new plan to revive the economy from Maduro is about as announced on a national TV and radio broadcast on April 22.
Being 2015 an election year, this "plan" can mean anything that his feverish revolutionary mind can conceive; what is for certain is that none of the measures to be announced will be favorable for the development of the country or will improve the quality of life of the population.
At least this can be deducted from what he has been insinuating from that very same day. He is likely to continue tightening controls, to insist on carrying out inspections to the private sector and on the renewed threats of prison time to those he says are the authors of an "economic war" he made up to justify the failure of the so-called "Plan for the Homeland".
Without anyone having to take a wild guess, he is expected to continue with the manipulation and distortion of facts such as, for example, saying that he would not give more dollars to Fedécamaras, a business association that neither requires, nor has requested, nor has been given foreign currency. The purpose of this statement is to demonize this business association, selling the idea that the business sector is to blame for the drought of foreign currency, the shortages issue and the economic crisis.
The own words of Maduro can serve as a sample: "I have an enabling law in my hand and I'm going to use it forcefully to protect the people, to provoke the necessary economic turnaround", and then he defended his administration and pointed out that he is not "sitting back and doing nothing", because if this was so the population would not have "any food in their homes".
Also, as is now customary, Maduro will announce a new increase in the minimum wage (possibly between 40% and 50% to compensate for accumulated inflation); and he may even announce a general increase in wages. Or as some analysts fear, he may nationalize the private banking sector, order new expropriations of private companies and boost the criminalization of alleged economic "crimes" through an enabling law.
This way Maduro will keep mastering two of the most successful tasks carried out by the "revolution of the 21st century":
One of them is to devalue the private sector of the economy by applying anti-business policies that undermine their capacity of production, of creating decent and sustainable jobs and of paying salaries that would ensure their workers a decent quality of life. Which means bad news for employers, employees and the society in general.
The other is to continue breaking the economy and destroying democracy; to persist in an inefficient and corrupt management of public companies; to fail to comply with the constitutional mandate of ensuring life, health, education, food and housing to citizens; to misinform the population by denying them to know the monthly figures of the most basic indicators of the economy and to fail to fulfill the pledges as it has done over the past 16 years.
In a nutshell, we can expect more or worse of the same failure of government during this Labor Day. Yet anything goes in this Orwellian world where Venezuela is slipping right into the hands of Big Brother.
See VenEconomy: What can Venezuela Expect this Labor Day? (Latin American Herald Tribune, April 30, 2015)
The much-feared May 1 already passed, a day on which Nicolás Maduro had announced he would "turn the economy around" in order to fight an imaginary war unleashed by the private sector against his government. Maduro never turned the economy around as he said he would, although there were several "turnarounds" on that International Workers' Day:
One of them was a round trip to Cuba. An unannounced and unauthorized trip by the Parliament so Maduro could preside over the acts of the Workers' Day on the island jointly with Raúl Castro. There are people who claim that Maduro went to Cuba to go over the last details and get the nod from the Castro brothers for the announcements he was to make during the Workers' Day acts in Venezuela later on that day.
The second of them was about an increase of 30% in the workers' "vital" minimum wage and pensions payable in two installments (20% from May 1 and 10% from July 1st).
With this second increase so far this year, the minimum monthly salary went to Bs.6,746.97 ($1,071 if calculated at the fictional official rate of Bs.6.30 per dollar or $23.67 at the real black market rate of 285 bolivars per dollar) in May and to Bs.7,421.67 ($1,178 or $26.04) from July 1 from Bs.5,622.48 ($892 or $19.73).
Maduro also pointed out he was going to decree an "adjustment and increase in every part of the salary scale and table of the public administration and the National Armed Forces of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (FANB)", without elaborating on the amounts and dates.
And the third "turnaround" Maduro got came from the trade unionists of the PSUV ruling party who booed him as he made the announcements. The paltry increase simply does not meet the needs of anyone.
1. It does not meet the aspirations of trade unions calling for an increase of 100%.
The fourth "turnaround" continues to be present in the threats of Maduro to enact laws through his "super enabling powers" granted by the government-dominated Parliament for "undertaking actions amid this anti-imperialist battle to defend the people, to shore up this battle". This means that he may apply his own economic turnaround, which may include a new salary increase on the eve of the parliamentary elections this year, without anyone expecting it.
The members of the 3,815 popular councils for the supply and production who took oath on Monday and who were entrusted with taking all the distribution networks of "all the factories and establishments in the country" will play a key role in this fourth "economic turnaround". These councils, as warned by opposition lawmaker Vestalia Sampedro, are "worrisome and dangerous because they represent a significant step towards Marxism in the development activity of the business, political, economic and social life of the country".
This is a program that will serve to further coercion and repression from Venezuelans (and thugs of the Castro dictatorship) against their own Venezuelan countrymen, and will lead to the closure of businesses and entrepreneurs being sent to prison -- much like what is already happening with the so-called "cooperating patriots", who under the condition of anonymity are taking innocent citizens who are against the Government to prisons without presenting any evidence of having committed a crime.
Instead, an "economic turnaround" that would indeed generate returns for both the country and Venezuelans is that Nicolás Maduro should put into action the words of Lorenzo Mendoza, the head of Venezuela's largest foodmaker and brewer Empresas Polar, from a letter made public on April 30: "The best way to provide the population with solutions, relating to the supply situation, is through the integration of efforts between the State and private companies". Because, as Mendoza concludes, "The best thing that could happen to Venezuelans is that we all do well, and the only way to achieve this is working together for the sake of our country".
See VenEconomy: The 'Economic Turnaround' from Venezuela's Maduro that Never Became a Reality (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 4, 2015)
According to the international rules of diplomacy, the fact of not defending a country's sovereign rights is to let the adversary win, meaning that "silence is consent".
These international rules should applicable to Venezuela's electoral sphere, particularly to the leadership of the democratic opposition that makes up the Democratic Unity (or MUD) party. This suggestion is valid at a time when new parliamentary elections, considered of vital importance to face the dictatorial regime imposed in Venezuela, are to be held this year.
As is well known, the Bolivarian revolution has increased its dominance over the nation's public authorities, including the National Electoral Council (CNE), over the past 16 years. A body in which the predominance of the political bias of the ruling party not only has allowed reforms in the legislation, thus changing the form and substance of the Electoral System, but it has also allowed the elimination of electoral guarantees apart from the countless manipulations, abuses of power, misappropriations of public resources for the benefit of the ruling party so it can remain in power until 2020 and beyond.
In favor of this aspiration is the certainty that a low turnout in the elections will affect the opposition most, since a lower participation of voters may result in a lower public pressure and a greater possibility for the Government to play dirty.
With this certainty, the Government is acting accordingly with silence, omissions and carrying out tests in order to measure forces and generate suspicion, which is likely to move voters away from the ballot box.
That same certainty about how harmful abstention is for Venezuela's democratic choice has led the leadership of the MUD to maintain a very low profile on a policy to denounce all these machinations and dirty tricks of the Government. A silence that many analysts and political leaders deem a serious mistake.
Put another way, once the vote is cast, there is nothing that the CNE can do to change it. That is why both the CNE and the Government are hoping that opposition supporters stay home on Election Day. And that is why the MUD must do everything in its power to encourage participation in the election.
This is the case, for example, of former opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado who has been reporting and still maintains a critical attitude towards the electoral outrages of the Government since her days as head of local NGO Súmate. One of her latest allegations is a warning on the intentions of the CNE to eliminate the physical voting centers' registries so they can be replaced for electronic devices. This is a procedure that would be tested during the primary elections that the MUD will hold on May 17, to then impose it during the parliamentary elections later this year.
Machado described this approach as perverse and unacceptable, given that this would remove the only control witnesses currently have to prevent the number of voters from being altered. As Machado pointed out, there can be no delay in "defending the truth with the truth, in calling things by their name and in warning about the traps and frauds they are up to".
A very true remark as also is her claim that "denouncing the CNE will not demobilize the people, or will cause abstention; on the contrary, it will awaken the necessary fighting spirit so the majority is recognized".
Today, most opinion polls have shown that the electoral winds are blowing in favor of the democratic proposal. That's good news on the one hand. Bad news, on the other hand, is that the Government will do whatever it takes during the parliamentary elections to ensure the survival of its political project. That's why, as never before, it has become imperative to apply all kinds of citizen and international pressure to stop it from getting away with it.
See VenEconomy: Silence Means Consent (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 5, 2015)
The economic "turnaround" of Nicolás Maduro with his announcement of a 30% increase in the minimum salary payable in two installments, a fact that does nothing but hit the pockets of the Venezuelan population harder than ever before, was enough to bring the dire situation of Venezuelan universities to the surface.
It turns out that the bad news of an increase in the minimum salary to Bs.7,421.67 ($1,178 at a fictional official rate of Bs.6.30 per dollar and $27 if calculated at a black market rate of about Bs.275 per dollar), is not that it comes with a deficit of Bs.27,703 (78.9%) with respect to the cost of the basic food basket in March of this year, according to monthly data compiled by the Center of Social Analysis and Documentation of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (Cendas-FVM). Nor is it that the minimum wage increase between May 2014 and May 2015 was 58.7% in real terms. In other words, the minimum salary in Venezuela has decreased by 41.3%.
The very bad news here is that since most of the pay scales of the public sector have been frozen, Venezuelans are now seeing how poorly qualified and newly appointed employees will earn Bs.7,421,67 a month as of July 1, while highly qualified workers in the public sector may be earning less or slightly more than that; for example, a doctor who works six hours a day now earns Bs.6.899 a month ($1,095 or $25); a teacher with 25 years of experience earns Bs.8,425 a month ($1,337 or $31); and needless to say a university teacher, whose largest wage scale barely reaches 2.73 minimum wages now in comparison with 2001 when it was up to 13 minimum salaries, while teachers at Instructor level fall well below the new minimum salary.
This seems to have escalated tensions within the university teachers federation, whose members began a series of protest actions this week. The first of them was by the Association of University Teachers of the Central University of Venezuela (Apucv), which called for a 24-hour strike on Monday to demand salary increases; this action was followed by the University of Zulia (LUZ) with a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, also rejecting the attacks of troops from the State security forces on the Faculty of Engineering on April 30, thus violating the autonomy of universities; and, subsequently, the University of Los Andes (ULA) decided to start a "zero hour" on May 15, which means half day of work and half day of protest.
And as former opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado put it in her Twitter account, "when in a country a university teacher earns below the minimum salary, it is clear that ignorance is a State policy".
This is so true that, since the beginning of his first Government, Hugo Chávez proposed to interfere in the training and education of Venezuelans at all schooling levels for the sake of creating Venezuela's "new socialist man". That is to say, an indoctrinated being, one without independence of a critical and rebellious thinking, ready to serve the purposes of the nation's ruling elite. To that end, in addition to undermine the quality of primary and secondary education by imposing a manipulated and biased curriculum content, the State has set up parallel higher education institutions with very low academic quality and drastically cut budgetary resources of autonomous universities.
A fact that is already proving to have devastating consequences over only a few public "autonomous" universities that don't have financial resources to purchase inputs, or equipment, not to mention funding research projects, and much less for the maintenance of facilities or guaranteeing security in the classrooms, in an attempt to disrupt their autonomy so it can impose a model of a country where a single way of thinking prevails.
From there, the struggle of universities is the struggle of all Venezuelans who want democracy and freedom.
See VenEconomy: Beyond a Decent Pay in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 6, 2015)
It is more noticeable every day that Venezuelans are overwhelmed by a feeling of being rounded up by an oppressive Government-State, like a caged and wounded tiger.
In his weekly column published by daily El Universal on Wednesday entitled "The Powerless Power", Father Luis Ugalde made an interesting analysis explaining the effects and possible outcomes that this sort of power can produce, in light of past experiences. VenEconomy also published part of this important view in its daily editorial.
Father Ugalde creates a reality: that the seizure of power in Venezuela is so absolute that society feels there are only two options to escape from their captors: give up or leave the country.
And he wonders: is that power powerful or powerless? What is power?
Then he explained that "power is domination over others". "Dictatorial governments dedicate themselves to control all the authorities and mechanisms so they can impose their own rules and dominate: weapons, police forces, the economy, the media, or the daily lives and feelings of each individual". It is about "making sure that everyone is being closely watched, that their activities are monitored and that they need permission to eat, work, play, buy, go in or out, travel and think".
That's the way a vast majority of Venezuelans feels today and, as Father Ugalde recalls, this used to happen in East Germany, where people who felt watched "even by their own neighbors and relatives, lowered their voices so conversations could not be heard by third parties or reach the spheres of power".
He recalled that "the German communist regime achieved very high levels of control with the help of Stasi - an omnipresent secret police - and closed borders, impassable walls and barbed wire". Today in Venezuela, borders are being closed every night with the excuse of fighting smuggling.
Father Ugalde also recalled that that regime once thought to be "invincible and its collapse or change unthinkable", and one fine day "it collapsed like a building without foundation, like a tree with dead roots, without anyone shooting from within or outside". And claimed that "the wall easily came down, just because the regime was dead in the heart and hopes of the people".
And asked,"Why the powerful power fell apart and this society where everything was tied up, controlled and monitored opened up?" The reason is that "power is not only about dominance, or the ability to impose one's own will on others. Power is the ability to achieve something and do it right".
"Governments are for ruling, for making citizens achieve their fundamental aspirations. If they succeed, they will strengthen their popularity, otherwise they will be able to impose their will, but with lack of support and acceptance and agonizing until they finally die because of the wounds".
As a result, as says Ugalde, "a substantial vacuum is created in the hearts of the people when the hopes they had die".
"One day, both rulers and subjects find out that power is powerless to achieve what is fundamental for each family, each citizen and society as a whole. Those who are in power see their subjects without oxygen and the more they step up repression, the more they violate the will of those who bowed their heads and remained silent in the past", Ugalde pointed out.
Then he added that "in Venezuela we are moving rapidly toward a powerless power". All that is good becomes scarce while the "revolutionary" fervor diminishes for being short of breath. Of course some "mouth-to-mouth" can be done, and several wars and conspiracies from the U.S. Empire can be made up in order to resort to patriotism and thus mobilize people, but each day is more obvious that this is all a bunch of lies to manipulate people.
He said that the "unwanted regime transforms itself into usurpation and tyranny, and it is learned that the power of the ruler is no higher than that provided by the subjects when following orders; once they rise up in rebellion, it will all fall apart".
As has happened in other times and dictatorships, and as says Ugalde, "when the edge of the precipice is seen, the conservation instinct undermines power (even from the bunker of Adolf Hitler came out negotiators!) and some will look for a transition as a solution for the majority".
And he concluded: "The powerless power of a minority comes to an end".
See VenEconomy: The Powerless Power of the Venezuelan Government (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 7, 2015)
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan government gave the world another sample of its retrograde and dictatorial nature, by preventing Venezuelan journalist and politician Teodoro Petkoff from traveling to Madrid to receive the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Award 2015.
Venezuela has become a prison for Petkoff, as also has for former opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado and many other Venezuelans who have been banned from leaving the country for spurious political trials against them.
The measure against Petkoff is the result of a lawsuit filed by Diosdado Cabello, the head of both the Parliament and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), for publishing in his newspaper TalCual a story from Spain-based daily ABC denouncing the alleged ties of Cabello with drug trafficking. Apart from Petkoff, the lawsuit extends to shareholders, directors, editorial board and owners of TalCual, as well as to other media outlets such as daily El Nacional and La Patilla, a news portal.
Although the impact this may have on his image at international level is not likely to make Nicolás Maduro depart from the path of dictatorship and communicational hegemony, this fact has revealed even more about the oppressive nature of the Government and "describes well the situation of the country", Petkoff told the community of politics, culture and international economy.
The move of the Venezuelan government of having prevented the TalCual editor-in-chief from receiving his journalism award in person was harshly criticized by nearly everyone, while Petkoff grew in strength.
On the one hand, it was very meaningful that former Spain's Prime Minister and socialist politician, Felipe González, was the one to collect the award on his behalf. And on the other, that famed Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa had expressed in the award ceremony that the absence of Petkoff "has proved that the Chávez regime, and now that of Maduro, is not as they claim it to be, a progressive regime with important social reforms, but rather authoritarian, tyrannical and populist" and argued that this is "an example of serenity, democratic action and spirit of resistance in a country where the opposition is being harassed, persecuted, imprisoned, fined and prosecuted. They haven't been able to break him".
This demonstration of authoritarianism and tyranny is also being reflected in the results of studies on freedom of expression and information. For example, Venezuela was classified as "not free" and ranked 186th out of 199 countries evaluated in the Global Report on freedom of expression conducted annually by Freedom House, an NGO based in Washington, D.C. Freedom House cited an increase in attacks and threats against journalists; the lack of media ownership; an economic siege endangering the viability of the written press and the use of laws to silence criticism. Or as also shown by the Index of Press Freedom by local NGO Reporteros sin Fronteras (reporters without borders), Venezuela fell 21 points to occupy the position 137 (out of 180 countries).
It should be remembered, as pointed out this week by the Venezuelan Union of Press Workers (SNTP), that there are currently about 20 laws, codes, rules and regulations that directly or indirectly establish control over communications in Venezuela.
This loss of freedom of expression and information is a mechanism of control of the population that must be tackled by all citizens, because the exercise of other freedoms and life in democracy depend on this particular one.
See VenEconomy: The Battered Freedom of Expression in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 8, 2015)
In the midst of the chaos afflicting the Venezuelan economy, many have started to talk about dollarization as an alternative to look for an exit to the crisis. And it seems the National Executive is performing some testing in this regard.
At least this is what one may think after seeing the parallel market being decriminalized and the U.S. dollar becoming a benchmark for the transactions in the local real estate market; after inducing airlines to sell tickets in foreign currency; or after seeing the Government coming to terms with automakers such as Ford and General Motors so they can sell their vehicles in dollars, a fact that will be extended to the auto parts industry without a doubt. Nor is ruled out the possibility that this will extend shortly to the procurement of goods in the computer, telecommunications and home appliances industries.
It should be noted that what would being applied in Venezuela is very far from being a dollarization of the economy, and close to becoming a far too confusing sort of exchange control; an exchange control hybrid with a free exchange rate to be used for most goods and services, but heavily distorted for the purchase of other goods and services.
A true dollarization of the economy would mean to adopt the U.S. dollar as legal tender, as did Ecuador. This would mean that the bolívar currency would disappear to let the greenback perform all the financial and commercial transactions of the country.
The dollarization per se is not a panacea for the current economic destruction of Venezuela.
In principle, and in the short term, dollarization may bring some advantages or benefits, such as the following cited by economists Andrew Berg and Eduardo Borensztein: "Avoiding currency and balance of payments crises. Without a domestic currency, there is no possibility of either sharp depreciations or sudden capital outflows driven by the fear of a devaluation"; but of difficult initial implementation in an economy with gigantic distortions such as those of the Venezuelan economy.
In addition it is said that it would help stabilize and lower inflation at international levels; lower interest rates and grant greater access to capitals; eliminate the risk of issuing money with no backing, which is one of the causes of high inflation rates; minimize the political influence in the country's fiscal and monetary policies; regain credibility in the monetary scheme and, in consequence, lure foreign capital; allow a greater integration of international markets, especially with the U.S., and that the trade balance reflects the productive reality of the country by not devaluing the currency and benefit exporters with this measure.
But in the end, and in the medium and long term, the benefits of dollarization are not such.
First because by dollarizing the economy, the central bank would be transferring its functions to the Federal Reserve System, and give up its main functions such as controlling inflation and stabilizing the exchange rates. Thus, the central bank will be unable to bear the brunt of potential changes in crude oil prices or fiscal deficits.
In addition, dollarization represents a loss in seigniorage income (or a gain for the issuance of paper money) for the Treasury; it prevents the central bank from helping the financial system in the event of a crisis and this is a decision that is almost irreversible.
For those who insist on the dollarization to solve the fiscal deficits issue, we suggest them take a look at what happens in Greece, where no effort was made to control spending; or Ecuador, which in the absence of a monetary policy simply increased tariffs by 40% as a measure to reduce the deficits in the balance of payments, but in spite of this move it is about to explode.
Countries with greater economic success such as the U.S., Canada and the European Union, among others, operate with free exchange rates - set by a free market. Venezuela has lived through periods with free exchange rates and fared well. But it should be noted that the free exchange rates would be only one of the many measures required to lift the Venezuelan economy out of the morass it is in. The ultimate goal should be the elimination of all controls gradually in one or two years in order to mitigate the impact.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Exchange Control as Confusing as it Gets (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 11, 2015)
About 24,000 homicides in 2014 alone, to reach nearly 50,000 in only two years, is not something that can go unnoticed by a population that bears the brunt of the scourge of violence and crime every day.
And is that the Venezuela of the Bolivarian revolution has become a no-man's land in the area of security. Countless security plans have been useless to stem crime or put a brake on homicides. More serious is that the Government, rather than protecting the lives of citizens, is implementing measures without any serious criminal basis or concerted planning between the different actors of society, taking the problem of violence to unsustainable levels of anarchy.
This is the case of so-called "peace zones", created in the framework of "Proyecto Movimiento por la Vida y la Paz" (The Movement for Life and Peace Project), coordinated by the Ministry of Interior, Justice and Peace, supposedly aimed at "pacifying armed gangs wreaking havoc in communities, primarily those located in 79 municipalities in the country with the highest crime rates, according to studies conducted by the Government".
The National Executive started to develop this project since September of 2013, when kicking off a pilot scheme that distributed these "peace zones" in about eight sectors of the Andrés Bello municipality (located in the Barlovento area of Miranda state), and that today extends to various municipalities across several states of the country, including Miranda, Aragua and Capital District.
The project was supposedly aimed at dismantling the criminal gangs operating in these areas and, through negotiation and dialogue, coming to "some kind of terms" with criminals so they could surrender their weapons and that way lowering crime rates.
But, as usual, when power wants to impose itself with total hegemony, the project went ahead without consultation and launched without the participation of the heads of the regional police forces, or the members of the Public Ministry, or specialists in the field of criminology. Now the police and security forces are not allowed to help communities in the case of attacks by criminal groups within the peace zones.
Local experts such as Marcos Tarre, a lawyer and criminologist, told the press a few weeks ago that the apparent failure of this security plan is mainly owed to the fact that "criminal gangs lack a pyramidal organization with visible leaders; some of these gangs are suddenly created and the same way they disappear, and there is also the issue of them not having a formal interlocutor to negotiate with and come to terms".
These "peace zones" got off on the wrong foot in February 2014 when, in an alleged confrontation between criminal gangs and officers from the scientific police force (CICPC) in Valles del Tuy (Miranda state), three people died, including one of the members of Proyecto Movimiento por la Vida y la Paz. After this confrontation, anarchy reigned for three days in the area, leaving the criminal gang known as "Los Orejones" (people with big ears) with absolute control of the region.
And things don't stop there. A week ago in Ocumare del Tuy (also Miranda state), a gang gunned down nine members of a family that was celebrating the assignment of an apartment in a building of the Government's Misión Vivienda housing program.
And things keep getting a whole lot worse after guerrillas of Colombia's FARC started asking citizens and businesses within the peace zones fair amounts of money to guarantee their safety.
At least this is what is being reported from the industrial zone of San Vicente (Maracay, Aragua state), where after the first zone of peace was set up there, citizen security was entrusted to civilians, while having a command post of the National Guard withdrawn from the area, thus banning police and military forces from accessing the zone. In addition, work tables comprised by residents, in conjunction with the state governor and mayor of the zone, were established, which according to reports have begun to "suggest" that companies operating there pay a monthly fee for the benefit of getting a "security service".
The bottom line is that criminals do as they please nowadays with an uncontrollable capacity for action, while impunity has become the rule for the police and security forces of the State.
See VenEconomy: Is Anarchy in Venezuela Part of the Bolivarian Revolution's Plan? (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 12, 2015)
The spectrum of what is banned in Venezuela broadens each day. What cannot be banned through laws and penalties, the system of administration of justice takes care of that, or the General Attorney's Office, or any other public authority in line with the wishes of the country's ruling elite.
Among the most violated rights of Venezuelans by the Bolivarian revolution are the freedom of expression, opinion and information. It doesn't matter whether these are explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. A flurry of laws restricting the freedom of press include, among others, the Law on Social Responsibilities on Radio, Television and Electronic Media; the Organic Law of Telecommunications; and the Communications Act as denounced by the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP).
The erosion of these freedoms is clearly reflected in every measurement at both national and international level: as a sample of this is the annual report of Freedom House, in which Venezuela obtained last year its worst rating in over a decade, mainly due to an increase in attacks and threats against journalists and the lack of transparency in media ownership. Or the Index of Press Freedom by local NGO Reporteros sin Fronteras (reporters without borders), in which Venezuela fell 21 points to occupy the position 137 (out of 180 countries).
Since 2007, when Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) was taken off the air after the Government withdrew its concession, independent TV channels have been steadily disappearing one by one, including one of great impact as 24-hour news channel Globovisión, acquired by people with strong ties to the Government. Also fell into the State's hands several radio stations and, more recently, the written press that is bearing the brunt of the severe restrictions to foreign currency and purchases of newsprint.
This latest assault on the local media is a form of censorship to information. Recently, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) reiterated its warning about what the restriction for the access to newsprint represents for democracy and the freedom of press in Venezuela. El Correo del Caroní, El Impulso, El Carabobeño, El Nacional, El Regional de Zulia, Reporte de la Economía and Tal Cual are seven of the newspapers that currently face a serious crisis of supply of newsprint. The two last are barely surviving with their online editions, with TalCual having a weekly printed edition as well.
And that is not counting the judicial persecution - for the smallest reason - against journalists, reporters, analysts, editors and media owners.
One of the most unusual and emblematic judicial processes against the press started with a lawsuit filed on April 23, 2015, by Diosdado Cabello, the head of the Parliament, against the shareholders, directors, editorial board and owners of El Nacional, TalCual and La Patilla (a news portal), for publishing a story - also published by the international press - of Spain-based newspaper ABC denouncing the alleged ties of Cabello with drug trafficking.
On Tuesday, María Eugenia Núñez, the judge handling the case, issued an order forbidding 22 executives of the three media outlets to leave the country, accusing them of continued aggravated defamation as they were subjected to a regime of presentation before a court of justice every week.
These outrages come a time when the international press finds itself denouncing acts of corruption, one after the other, from Venezuelan government officials. As is the case of dailies El Universo de Ecuador and El Nuevo Herald de Miami, which have exposed fraudulent transactions through a few shell companies that received some $90.2 million from the so-called "Sucre system" from Venezuela without exporting goods.
What is silenced, ceases to exist!
See VenEconomy: Venezuelan Press is Banned from Doing Anything! (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 13, 2015)
The path towards the election of members of the Parliament in Venezuela for the period January 2016-January 2021 begins on May 17 with the primary elections of the candidates of the opposition coalition known as Democratic Unity (or MUD).
On Sunday, the MUD will hold primary elections across 12 states (Anzoátegui, Bolívar, Carabobo, Cojedes, Capital District, Falcón, Monagas, Nueva Esparta, Portuguesa, Táchira, Trujillo and Zulia) with legislative candidates to run for the Parliament in 33 circuits out of 85 electoral constituencies that currently exist in the country. The rest of the candidates are being elected by consensus among the political forces that comprise the MUD.
These are the highlights for this parliamentary election:
1) That until today, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has not informed the date on when this election will be held, which according to the Constitution should be before the end of this year, because the new Parliament must be installed in January of 2016.
2) The CNE own infrastructure will be used for this election process, as happened during the primaries for the presidential candidates of the MUD in 2012.
3) Fingerprint readers will be used, too.
4) No candidates for the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino) and the Mercosur Parliament (Parlasur) will be elected this time through free elections, but handpicked by the Parliament itself. This is because the parliamentary bloc of Venezuela's ruling party PSUV and the CNE unilaterally decided to eliminate the elections for Parlatino and Parlasur members, despite the opposition of the democratic bloc and some of the leaders of the PSUV, such as Ana Elisa Osorio, a current member of Parlatino.
5) The candidates of the MUD have been campaigning since March 31 with hard work, very limited budgets and resources, without any access to the mass media taken over by the Government and by doing some face-to-face contact with would-be voters in the areas where primaries are to be held.
6) On their part, Nicolás Maduro, the PSUV and the Government are in campaign mode since the beginning of this year, taking full advantage of the State media to disseminate their thoughts and propaganda favoring the ruling party.
In addition, the election issue is causing controversy within a growing sector of Venezuelans who opposes a further advance of the dictatorial process presided over Maduro.
Against who persist in the electoral route as the only option for dealing with the Government are those who, despite supporting an election process, consider inappropriate the fact of holding primaries under the tutelage of the CNE, arguing that this electoral body is absolutely biased in favor of the ruling party apart from its proven lack of transparency. Also there are those who believe that the struggle for the rescue of democracy should take place using the Constitution in every possible way. And others even argue that the electoral path has ceased to have effect in a country where a dictatorship has been clearly imposed, where there is no rule of law or separation of powers, and where the rules of democratic coexistence are not respected at all.
It is for certain that facing the power of Venezuela's ruling elite gets harder with each day that passes but, as acknowledged by the international community, the parliamentary election is vital to those who aspire to live in a democracy.
As said by famed Venezuelan journalist Marta Colomina in her column entitled "The Government has the Weapons and the Opposition the Votes", published by daily El Nacional on May 3: "if chavismo wins the upcoming elections thanks to resorting to its usual dirty tricks and the abstention of those people who keep telling themselves that 'dictatorships are not defeated through votes', the hopes of restoring democracy and welfare will be impossible to achieve. For those using the social networks to say that with votes is not possible to get out of this nightmare, we ask them the following question: how many missiles, tanks and weapons of war do you count on to fight against those people and servicemen who really are armed to the teeth? The weapon of democrats is the vote, although in regimes such as that of Maduro several irregularities have been committed. Watching the Government with our arms crossed destroy what is left of the private sector, take full control of education, leave us without food and medicines and defenseless in the hands of criminals, is suicide".
The electoral fight is with a fight. So let's vote!
To learn more about the process, visit www.votaunidad.com
See VenEconomy: The Primaries of Venezuela's Democratic Unity (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 14, 2015)
A slump in oil prices since mid-2014 found the coffers of Venezuela all empty due to 16 years of revolutionary "marabunta" that swept away the country's entire oil bonanza.
And even though oil prices would be gradually recovering, the average price of a barrel so far this year is only $47, a little more than half of the $88.42 recorded last year, and very far from the $100 per barrel sought by the government of Nicolás Maduro.
Due to its high reliance on oil exports, Venezuela faces a huge deficit in its Balance of Payments. As a result, the Government, unable to grab the bull by the horns and apply serious and sustainable adjustment measures, has opted to look for money everywhere in an attempt to cover the fiscal gap estimated at $20-$40 billion.
Among other moves, for example, it collected a $1.93 billion debt (with a discount but in cash) that the Dominican Republic had with Petrocaribe.
It performed another stunt with CITGO: a newly created subsidiary of state-run oil company PDVSA (CITGO Holding Inc.) issued $1.5 billion in bonds with maturities in 2020, and a yield of 12% until maturity. CITGO Holding Co. was created as a means to obtain the financing that CITGO could not achieve by itself due to the agreements (restrictions) established during the issuance of the 2022 bonds in 2014 for $650 million.
Another move in its search for money was to pledge around 900 ounces of the central bank gold reserves for $1 billion through a swap negotiated with Citibank. According to unofficial reports, this is about a five-year loan with an interest between 6.0%-7.0%. The gold shall remain in the Bank of England as a guarantee in the event that the central bank does not pay off the debt on time. In addition, there is unofficial information that the Government is trying to make a deal with the airlines so it can return to London the gold that was brought to Venezuela by the late Hugo Chávez, with the goal of having the necessary support for new pledges.
Now, after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its April report, it was learned that the Central Bank of Venezuela withdrew $383 million (out of $2.25 billion available) that month for the Venezuelan quota in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR). This amount is the maximum Venezuela can withdraw without making an agreement on a plan of adjustments with the IMF.
According to the official website of the IMF, the SDR account of Venezuela closed at $1.9 billion in April.
The Government doesn't have many places to get money from at this time so it can obtain fresh foreign currency. This means that the drought of dollars in the public coffers will get worse.
There is no room for restricting dollar allocations to nationals, either. Today dollars are intended only for basic foodstuffs, medicines and other sort of goods deemed as priority. But, the Government has also opted to import these products directly, which keeps the doors of inefficiency and corruption open. It would be much better if it allowed private companies to make the imports.
In sum, the picture is bleaker today than ever before. The country is at the edge of a precipice, and will hardly make it to December with adequate inventories of food, medicines and basic goods.
See VenEconomy: Government of Maduro Desperately Looking for Money (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 15, 2015)
The Democratic Unity (or MUD) opposition party overcame its first electoral test of 2015 without any major traumas, on the route to this year's parliamentary elections.
On Sunday, according to Jesús (Chuo) Torrealba, the head of the MUD, a total of 543,698 Venezuelans voted in the primaries to elect 42 candidates of 33 electoral districts across 12 states who will be running for the Parliament (aka National Assembly).
Due to the little enthusiasm generated by primary elections for the Parliament in all the countries of the world, it was thought that a voter turnout of 6% would be considered an extraordinary outcome. So a voter turnout of 7.43% in the electoral constituencies these primaries were held can be considered extraordinary, if we took into consideration that the rate this year was higher than that of the primaries for the Parliament in 2010.
Without making a lot of noise, given the information blackout as a result of the Government's communicational hegemony, we can say that a significant segment of the opposition demonstrated its commitment to democracy and its insistent belief that the electoral route is still valid to put a stop to the progress of a communist regime in the country, in spite of all the injustices, abuses and clear advantages from the Government.
Among the MUD primaries highlights are:
Primero Justicia (the party in which Henrique Capriles militates) and Voluntad Popular (the party championed by Leopoldo López) were the ones to obtain the highest number of candidates (11 and 8, respectively). These results are in line with a poll conducted by Datanálisis showing a virtual tie of these two political leaders.
Acción Democrática (AD), one of the oldest parties of the country, came in third place (with 6 candidates) with better resources of organization and mobilization. The rest of the candidates were divided between other opposition parties such as Un Nuevo Tiempo (5), Cuentas Claras (3). For their part, Copei, La Causa R and Avanzada Progresista have got one candidate each.
That two "victims of political persecution" (and political prisoners as well) became candidates in their respective electoral constituencies: Daniel Ceballos (Voluntad Popular) will run for San Cristóbal (Táchira state); and Enzo Scarano, (Cuentas Claras) will do so for the north of Valencia, Naguanagua and San Diego (Carabobo state).
Student leader Gaby Arellano (Voluntad Popular) will run for Circuit 3 of Táchira state.
Economist José Guerra (Primero Justicia), a former director of the central bank and one of the most adamant critics of the Government's economic policies, obtained 95% of the votes, the highest rate in the country.
At the last minute, and without invitation or warning, suddenly appeared a "technical" representation of Unasur to "join" the election process. Perhaps this is a special commission that came to validate the electoral system and transparency of the National Electoral Council (CNE) with a view to the parliamentary elections?
Also at the last minute, the CNE confirmed something that had been announced over the past few days: the elimination of physical voter registries in order to impose illegal electronic devices. Is this another test for the parliamentary elections and a new non-transparent electoral step?
Let's wait and see what happens next!
In the meantime it is needed that:
1) The MUD reports who the candidates to be elected by consensus for the remaining 54 constituencies will be.
2) The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) elects its candidates for the Parliament on June 28 from a total of 46,515 militants, in a nomination process characterized by the "fingercracy" and internal dictatorship of that party.
3) The CNE sets the date of the elections and reports what the essential rules of the Permanent Electoral Register (REP) to govern those elections, in which 167 members shall be elected for the upcoming legislative period 2016-2021, are going to be.
4) Most importantly, that with a well-structured organization, the MUD feels ready to take the bull of a communist regime by the horns, including all its illegalities and abuses of power.
See VenEconomy: Will Venezuela's MUD Be Able to Take the Bull by the Horns? (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 18, 2015)
Venezuela made it to the front pages of Latin American newspapers with some unfortunate news by The Wall Street Journal: An elite division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Washington and federal prosecutors in New York and Miami are building drug trafficking cases against several top government officials from Venezuela, using evidence from former drug dealers, informants with close ties to government officials and deserters of the Venezuelan armed forces.
This way, a breaking news story by Spain-based newspaper ABC a few weeks ago was being confirmed. This very same story was also published by Venezuelan dailies TalCual, El Nacional and the news site La Patilla, which resulted in a criminal trial for defamation thanks to a lawsuit filed by Diosdado Cabello, the head of the Parliament, and cost 22 of their directors, employees and stockholders a prohibition on leaving the country, as well as the subjection to a presentation regime before a court of justice on a weekly basis.
According to the WSJ story, the U.S. government is also gathering information on the bankers and financiers handling the money of top Venezuelan officials.
For several years now, White House spokespersons have been complaining about the little (or no) collaboration of the Government of Venezuela with U.S. anti-drug authorities in their attempt to put a brake on drug trafficking operations in this country. Being the allegations very specific and in line with air traffic reports in the drug route between Apure state toward countries of the Caribbean and Central America. An issue that, for example, was raised in 2009 after Manuel Zelaya was ousted from the presidency of the Honduran Republic, and a heavy traffic of aircraft that had been detected by radar, broken down or shot down in that country was exposed.
In 2012, the New York Times published an interview by journalist William Neuman entitled "Cocaine's Flow Is Unchecked in Venezuela", detailing a drug trafficking operation into the U.S. being carried out from Venezuela. The article explained the alleged permissiveness of Venezuelan officials with drug trafficking, despite the Government boasted about its operations to seize drug shipments, shoot down or recover aircraft and destroy laboratories and airstrips.
This way, the U.S. government set eyes on Venezuela due to an excessive growth in drug trafficking operations from this country. It is said that in 2013 (the latest year for which data is available) some 131 tons of cocaine would have made it into the U.S. from Venezuela. That investigation of the U.S. government has involved both civilian and military officials and, as reported at the time, caused sanctions to more than 50 Venezuelans (whose identities were not revealed, although the U.S. had their visas revoked and their assets and bank accounts frozen).
As is already history, the late President Hugo Chávez, in his drive to antagonize the U.S., interrupted the joint work between Venezuela and the DEA when it expelled the anti-drug body from the country in 2005, accusing its agents of espionage. This, coupled with the ideological proximity of the Bolivarian revolution to narco-guerrillas of the FARC, a less effective border surveillance and the lack of independence of public authorities called upon to investigate, control and punish drug offenders entrenched in the Government, shifted the traffic of drugs toward the border states of Venezuela.
Today, as may be deduced from international media reports, it seems that Venezuela has unfortunately become a narco-state, a scourge that comes from the very heart of the so-called "beautiful" revolution.
See VenEconomy: Has Venezuela Become a Narco-State Yet? (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 19, 2015)
The Venezuelan economy is bottoming out.
On the one hand, international reserves fell to $17.93 billion through May 14, their lowest level since September 5 2003.
And on the other, shortages of food, medicines, auto parts, home appliances and other products have reached critical levels.
For example, with regard to food items, it is reported that 18 of the 58 products (31.0%) that make up the food basket of the Cendas-FVM index experienced scarcity problems.
In consequence, the population is forced to spend an average of two to five hours a week queuing in various establishments trying to find basic food supplies. Not to mention it has to overcome a series of hurdles in order to have access to the much-needed goods, among others:
- Its right to buy products at regulated prices is limited to two days a week, depending on the last digit of ID cards;
- It is subjected to a humiliating marking to get a number while standing in the queue;
- Or it is forced to leave a fingerprint in a scanner in order to control when and where any given product was purchased, as mandated by a plan of the National Commission to Fight Smuggling.
Apart from the fact that it barely covers the constant increases in the prices of goods and services with its income.
In the meantime, the Government keeps hurting the country's private productive sector by means of several penalties and financial strangling.
The food sector reported, for example, that the debt with international providers reached $1.022 billion in May due to the lack of access to foreign currency, a fact that will put at risk the shipments of raw materials and worsen the production levels and food supplies in the country.
Then there are the recurrent failures in the shipments of food products on the part of the so-called Integral System for the Control of Agri-food Products (SICA). As reported by the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber (Cavidea) in a statement on Monday, the "SICA system cannot be accessed once more, which has caused delays of several hours in the processing of mobilization waybills of food required by the National Superintendence of Agri-food Management (SUNAGRO)". This affects the frequency of shipments and, therefore, exacerbates shortages throughout the national territory.
And if this weren't enough, the Government continues to stubbornly attack Empresas Polar, Venezuela's largest food producer and distributor. So far this year, Polar has received more than 165 inspections from public bodies and responded more than 1,500 requests for information. "Only in the last three weeks, six different government agencies have conducted 27 visits in 13 plants, that is to say, more than 150 hours of inspections that affect our daily operations", said Manuel Felipe Larrazábal, general manager of the company.
But shortages are not only limited to the food industry: The collapse of both the exchange and national production systems has also had an impact on the depletion of inventories of all the national productive sector.
Even more crucial is the situation of the healthcare sector given a severe shortage of reagents, equipment and other basic inputs, both in the public and private sector, and a shortage of medicines due to a debt of about $4 billion in foreign currency not paid to the pharmaceutical sector.
The situation is so extreme that parents of children with cancer being treated at the Hospital J. M de Los Ríos in Caracas closed a busy avenue in San Bernardino (western Caracas) this week to complain about the lack of at least 14 antineoplastic drugs used to treat leukemia and other types of cancer.
When is the Government going to stop making excuses so it can put an end to the collapse of the country?
See VenEconomy: Venezuelan Economy is Bottoming Out (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 20, 2015)
The government of Nicolás Maduro has not given a rest to the deepening of the involution process it intends to apply in Venezuela.
This week it put another nail in the coffin where the agonizing education of Venezuelans will be buried soon. The Office of Planning of the University Sector (OPSU) announced that, in order to ensure access to public universities in accordance with the so-called "Plan for the Homeland", it had absorbed between 70% and 100% of the admission quotas of public universities. This way, 13 Bolivarian universities and public universities supposedly autonomous such as the Central University of Venezuela (UCV); the Simón Bolivar University (USB), the University of Carabobo (UC), the University of Los Andes (ULA), and the University of Zulia (LUZ), were lumped together.
This modification by OPSU to the admission quotas of autonomous universities is completely illegal, because apart from having been done without consultation and unidirectionally, it goes against the resolution No. 450 of the National Council of Universities, which establishes that places for public universities would be allocated 70% via internal exams and academic, cultural, sports and sectoral agreements of each university, while the remaining 30% would be approved by OPSU.
This was a joint resolution agreed since March 2008 between the Ministry of Higher Education and university authorities, in accordance with the Law of Universities establishing that the University Council of each university is the body that stipulates "the number of students for the first year and lays down the procedures for selecting applicants", as well as the instance with the power to make pertinent recommendations on procedures for selecting applicants.
It should be recalled that the Government of the late Hugo Chávez eliminated the Academic Aptitude Test from the National Council of Universities in 2008, and at the end of that year the National System of Admissions came into force, according to which the academic index for high schools provides only 50% of the points for admissions (versus 95% until 2014) and the remaining 50% must come from factors such as: socio-economic conditions, territorialism, participation in previous admission processes and extracurricular activities (i.e. community work that may be subject to the recognition of the Ministry of Higher Education, or that of Science and Technology).
While this change in the admission parameters may provide equal opportunities and help with the decentralization of universities, by opening higher education options closer to the place of origin of a huge number of students aspiring to higher education, it can also mean a step backwards in terms of quality of education, given the poor level of preparation for primary and secondary education, both laden with the strong ideology of Venezuela's socialist regime prevailing in the country for more than a decade.
This arbitrary step is being taken by OPSU in a time when universities have been - or still are - amid an admission process for the next academic year. With this, when it allocates between 70% and 100% of the admission quotas, OPSU creates an irresolute dilemma for universities: either leaves all the students selected through these tests hanging or assumes a classroom overcrowding without budgetary resources, teachers, infrastructure, equipment and materials to ensure quality education.
In some universities, such as the case of the USB, absurd limits were reached after all the places available for this year were occupied, a fact that would leave everyone who passed the admission tests out, since the USB does not have any economic resources to expand its installed capacity, and the National Executive only approved 26% of its budget for its academic exercise in 2015.
That is to say, for the sake of an educational vision based on quantity and supposedly equality, the Government is adding a new discrimination factor to truncate the future of thousands of young Venezuelans, besides obviating what the educational system should have: quality. This contempt for the educational quality, for meritocracy, for training and for the spirit of improvement of learners has been evidenced already after imposing a ban on teachers flunking their students from primary and secondary education levels, thus favoring the imposition of an ideology over the development of knowledge and learning.
This step taken by OPSU is a new blow to the universities that have not bowed to the ideology whims of the Government; a death knell for some institutions that for about seven years have been struggling with the budget without any possibility to cover the basic costs of staff salaries, expansion and maintenance of infrastructure, replacement of equipment, acquisition of inputs or undertake research and technological development projects.
That's some serious educational involution in a country that needs the talent of its population to rebuild it as never before!
See VenEconomy: Another Nail in the Coffin of Education in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 21, 2015)
An unprecedented jump in the U.S. dollar sold on Venezuela's parallel market jolted the social networks on Thursday afternoon.
The greenback, as reported by the web pages tracking its movement, climbed 25% to Bs.402 for cash transactions at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. A figure 63.8 times higher than the Cencoex (Venezuela's foreign exchange authority) rate of Bs.6.30 per dollar, the lowest in the market; 33.5 times higher than the Bs.12 per dollar of the SICAD I alternative method; more than Bs.200 per dollar on the free rate of the so-called Foreign Exchange Marginal System (Simadi), which closed at Bs.199.77 per dollar on Thursday, and Bs.87 per dollar higher than the opening value of this week that began on May 18.
The dollar sold on the parallel market, regardless of what the Government has to say about it and what it wants to impose through its exchange control policy, is the informal benchmark for nearly all costs and prices of the goods and products required by Venezuelans.
This lack of control of the parallel dollar as never seen before in history, which affects an entire economy of a country that depends on imports, is just a symptom of a dying economy and of a "revolutionary" political process that can no longer hide its terminal illness.
The imposition of tight exchange and price controls is keeping the national productive sector strangled and has resulted in the nearly nonexistence of business inventories.
The deterioration of the rule of law, the politicization of public policies, the disrespect for the rules of the game and the use of the judiciary for the harassment and persecution of the private sector have undermined investor confidence. Added to this is the widespread corruption denounced in international bodies barely showing a little bit of the looting of billions of dollars from the public coffers, and the latest allegations involving Venezuelan officials with international drug trafficking and terrorism, which also generate a climate of distrust among foreign investors.
A drop in oil prices found the public coffers empty due to wasteful spending and corruption, a fact that revealed the severe distortions that exist in the economy after 16 years of wrong and demonstrably failed policies of the Bolivarian revolution. Today Venezuela is being hit by an unstoppable inflationary spiral and widespread shortages due to a sharp drop in production and declining revenues. The State is heavily indebted, with scant international reserves and little room for maneuvering to continue turning the wheel.
Worst of all is that the government of Nicolás Maduro, rather than rectifying the course, keeps threatening with the implementation of new price and exchange laws. It is also insisting on continue looking for financial resources in every corner so it can revive spending and the populist handouts that have yielded so many dividends for the revolution, both at national and international level. A fine example of this is a recent withdrawal of $383 million from its quota of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) deposited in the International Monetary Fund.
The situation of mistrust, anarchy, lack of control and inaction in Venezuela is such that it looks like a patient with a terminal illness, where the slightest sneeze may cause pneumonia.
The collapse of Venezuela is also present in a strong social tension that is felt in the streets of the country:
1) In the despair and hopelessness as a result of the endless queues to buy any product at regulated prices; an odyssey that consumes valuable time of Venezuelans and affects the productivity of companies.
2) In the looting to trucks loaded with goods by ordinary people in great part of national roads.
3) In the increasingly frequent and dangerous executions performed by a population that has decided to take justice into their own hands because they are tired of seeing crime go unpunished.
4) In the clashes between police forces and prison gang leaders known as "pranes" to decide who dominates the so-called peace zones.
Venezuela is a time bomb that may go off any minute before the eyes of a defenseless and dazed population that still finds hard to believe this kind of mess is taking place.
See VenEconomy: Is Venezuela Collapsing? (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 22, 2015)
In the last few days, as the U.S. dollar skyrocketed to an all-time high of Bs.423.39 last Friday and new reports from abroad linking Venezuela's top officials with drug-trafficking kept coming in, the government of Nicolás Maduro prepared a repressive onslaught against two of the political prisoners under the protection of different international bodies: Daniel Ceballos and Leopoldo López, both leaders of the Voluntad Popular opposition party.
Social networks in Venezuela exploded last Saturday morning with reports that Ceballos, the newly-elected candidate for mayor of the Democratic Unity (or MUD) party for the San Cristóbal municipality (Táchira state), had been irregularly transfered in the middle of the night, without a court order or notifying his lawyers, to a prison in San Juan de los Morros (Guárico state).
Similarly, Lilian Tintori, wife of López, said via her Twitter account that she did not have any information on López, or knew of his whereabouts, or his health status, making Maduro responsible for what might have happened to both López and Ceballos.
A few hours later, it began to circulate a video of López announcing that both him and Ceballos had begun a hunger strike in order to vindicate the struggle of the Venezuelan people demanding the cessation of persecution and repression against those who think differently to the Bolivarian regime, as much as the release of all political prisoners. In addition to calling upon the National Electoral Council (CNE) to set a final date for the parliamentary elections this year, demanding guarantees of transparency and the presence of the OAS during the voting process.
Today Ceballos is being held in a common prison with highly dangerous prisoners, with his head shaved off, and cohabiting with prisoners charged with murder, burglary, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug-trafficking, among other crimes. This treatment for political prisoners is totally unusual, and something of great concern because of the well-known control of "pranes" (prisons gang leaders) exerted over other inmates and their links with some of the leaders of the Bolivarian regime.
It should be remembered that Ceballos, made prisoner in the aftermath of the demonstrations staged at national level in February of 2014, has already served a 12-month term in prison for allegedly disregarding a precautionary measure of the Supreme Court (TSJ), which required mayors nationwide to prevent people from setting up "guarimbas" (roadblocks with burning tires, large boulders, etc, mainly at the entrance of residential zones and on public roads). Nevertheless, he remains in prison because the TSJ decided that he should serve a separate term for rebellion and illegal association, both charges related to the events of February 2014.
For his part, López was placed in solitary confinement again, without the possibility that his lawyers and family can visit him to verify his health status.
This arbitrary and unreasonable treatment is a new violation of the human rights of political prisoners in Venezuela, something that has been already acknowledged by various international organizations including the UN, the OAS, the European Parliament, Amnesty International, various governments of the world, including a few ones close to Hugo Chávez's much-touted revolutionary process, congresses in Latin America and Spain, as well as more than 30 former presidents, who are demanding their immediate release and protection.
It is not in vain that Venezuela has obtained its worst rating ever in the annual report of the OAS' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), or that has occupied the place of honor in the group of countries with "massive, serious and systematic violations of human rights" since 2005.
Without doubt these are dark hours for Venezuela, as claimed by opposition leader Diego Arria in all his social network accounts, "The violation of human rights in Venezuela has been so serious that world governments that had been indifferent to the issue before have finally opened their eyes", assuring that the actions being taken are indicative of that "many of them are aware that when the dimension of the Venezuelan tragedy is exposed, these lawmakers and senators from many countries across Latin America will not want to say they did not raise their voices".
See VenEconomy: These Dark Hours of Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 25, 2015)
A few days ago, many wondered about the endurance capacity of Venezuelans, beset by many misfortunes.
For starters, the pressure for an economic collapse, with the central bank's international reserves at their lowest level in 13 years, and free exchange rates out of control, are keeping the country on a razor's edge, translated into hardships for the population.
To this is added the social pressures that have given rise to general shortages, blackouts, failures in water supplies, the escalation of violence, and even armed confrontations between criminal gangs and the authorities; corruption and drug-trafficking scandals involving senior officials of the Government, etc.
Even more serious is that the government of Nicolás Maduro does not seem to have any idea on how, or has the willingness to, bell the cat.
In family and friends reunions, people always end up asking themselves when the Government will finally understand that its much-touted political/economic model has failed already, and that is necessary for it to rectify? How much time will pass before inventories are completely exhausted? How much time will pass before businesspeople decide to throw the towel? How long will it take for people to stop complaining and start to be proactive?
If we paid attention to some reactions of citizens so far this year, and particularly so far in May, we can conclude that this capacity for tolerance of the population may be reaching the limit.
The anger of citizens today is so serious that is leading them to violence and confrontation between one another; and this is despite the fact that many of them are considered people of peace and good neighborliness.
This is the case, for example, of two attempted lynchings by some neighbors against two burglars caught in the act, an event that took place in Caracas at the beginning of May. Indeed, a despicable act committed by any civilized group forced by years of dealing with a criminal violence that has taken the lives of thousands of victims, without these criminals getting their just punishment from the country's judicial system.
Another excess by the population that must be strongly condemned and penalized is the increasingly frequent looting against cargo companies, which not only affects the companies providing this kind of service as a whole, but their drivers and consumers who stop getting their merchandise. At the beginning of May, a dozen robberies against cargo trucks in less than a year had been reported, with people taking anything that got in the way: cattle, poultry, tires, beer, corn flour, and a big long etcetera. The dehumanization during these lootings is evidenced in several videos and photos, where one can watch people passing over the wounded bodies of the truck drivers, preferring a scarce commodity over the humanitarian act to help a human being.
Other case where things are pushed to the limit is the violence seen in the queues outside establishments selling foodstuff or medicines. Apart from the multiple complaints of consumers being robbed by common criminals, now are added verbal and physical abuses between the same consumers queuing up, or the employees of the establishments against consumers who made it in, or vice versa.
Two weeks ago, in Zulia state, a few customers at a establishment punched a cashier until disfiguring her face for having followed the order of limiting the purchases of vegetable oil to two bottles per person. Last week, in Lara state, two housewives were arrested for expressing their displeasure at the hours lost in the queues. And on Monday, in Margarita Island, a man was murdered in a brawl with other consumers after getting mad at the victim for expressing dissatisfaction with the current economic situation.
This dangerous reality indicates that the time has come for the Government to rectify its course and apply sound policies required to shore up the economy, to restore the lost democratic governance and the peaceful coexistence among citizens. Tomorrow may be too late.
See VenEconomy: Things Do Not Bode Well for Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 26, 2015)
Eight years ago today, on May 27 of 2007, the late President Hugo Chávez had the signal of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), one of the most emblematic TV stations in Venezuela with a wider national coverage and higher ratings than other similar media, turned off.
This way, Chávez brought an end to a TV station that had been on Venezuela's public airwaves since November 15 of 1953, when it broadcast a baseball game between Cuba and Venezuela during the 14th Amateur World Series, held in the newly-founded stadium of the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, as part of its beginning of transmissions.
Chávez had sentenced this privately-run channel to death a few months earlier, when he announced in a national TV and radio broadcast on December 28 of 2006 that he would not renew RCTV's broadcasting license. The argument by Jesse Chacón, the then-Minister of Communications, was that the Government required RCTV's signal to provide a public service. A false argument given that the State had at least one channel available in the VHF band (channels 2-13) and dozens of UHF bands (channels 14 to 70). Eight years later, it is well known that the state-run channel replacing RCTV (TVES) is far from providing any kind of public service.
The truth is that the reason was more than evident: RCTV never agreed with the policies of the so-called "Socialism of the 21st century" promoted by Chávez. But this was only the beginning.
The totalitarian axe that has fallen over the media since then has been truly devastating. And it can be said, without exaggeration, that both the freedom of expression and opinion in Venezuela have a "before and after" the closing of RCTV. This in spite of the fact that Chávez had already made some well-judged moves towards intimidating the media and silence the dissenting voices such as, among others, the enactment of the Law on Social Responsibility on Radio and Television (aka Gag Law), which regulates content and hangs a sword of Damocles over all independent media.
At present, as the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) was recalling recently, there are several laws, codes, rules and regulations aimed at establishing control over communications and information directly or indirectly, and that also have become the State's weapons to impose censorship and induce self-censorship, such as the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media; the Organic Law of Telecommunications and the Communication Law for the "Popular Power".
Today the Venezuelan government is winning the battle against the freedom of expression and for the imposition of a communicational hegemony in the country. Media outlets that have passed into the hands of people with close ties to the Venezuelan revolution, as the case of news channel Globovisión and daily El Universal; print media on the brink of closure because of the lack of newsprint such as El Impulso, El Carabobeño, and La Razón; or that have been constrained as the case of TalCual that went from being a daily newspaper to having a single weekly edition and circulating on the web. Even international TV stations such as Colombia's NTN24 have been taken out of the cable TV grid by orders of Conatel, Venezuela's telecommunications regulating body.
This without taking into account the targeted actions of the Government against journalists and analysts who are either harassed through administrative measures, or fired from their jobs for not to following the uncritical editorial line of the Bolivarian "process" or any of its officials, or have been forced into exile. Among the most recent outrages are a prohibition order to leave the country with a presentation regime before a court of law on a weekly basis after Diosdado Cabello, the head of the Parliament, filed a defamation lawsuit against 22 executives, shareholders and managers of TalCual, El Universal and news site La Patilla.
As VenEconomy had stated in one of its editorials some time ago: "When Radio Caracas Televisión closes its doors on May 27, the most vital of freedoms for Venezuelans will come to an end: the freedom of expression". Today this has become an unfortunate reality.
See VenEconomy: Eight years after the Closing of RCTV in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 27, 2015)
There are times in life when making the right decision is vital for survival.
Venezuela finds itself at that crucial moment today. The economic and social collapse makes it imperative for everyone whose ultimate goal is to get the country out of the abyss it has been plunged into because of the imposition of a demonstrably failed political model to start paddling together against the current.
This is not the time for personal or partisan quarrels. This is not the time for vying for the limelight or making calculations based on political costs and benefits in the future.
The Voluntad Popular opposition party and its most important leader, Leopoldo López, today a political prisoner confined to a punishment cell and doing a hunger strike along with former mayor Daniel Ceballos, the political leader José Gregorio Briceño and the student Raúl Baduel, called upon Venezuelans to staging a peaceful demonstration for the following reasons:
1) Claim "the way we are living" immersed in "an economic and social crisis, general shortages, high inflation, impunity, lack of justice and autonomy of public authorities".
2) Demand an end to repression and censorship; a point at which international bodies, governments of different political overtones and democratic leaders from various parts of the world agree.
3) Demand the release of political prisoners, whose number exceeds 70, including students, political leaders, military personnel, police commissioners and officers, journalists and bloggers.
4) That the National Electoral Council (CNE) shoulders its duty to convene and set a date for the parliamentary elections, which by constitutional mandate must be held before the end of this year.
5) Guarantee the presence of the OAS and the European Union as not politically-biased international observers and guarantee a transparent election process.
All of those approaches are respected, appreciated and shared by the Democratic Unity (MUD), as pointed out by the secretary general of this opposition political party, Jesús (Chuo) Torrealba, in a public statement on Wednesday, who confirmed that "these are points that are a structural part of the MUD agenda, present in all of our documents and public stances".
But having said that, the statement also pointed out that the MUD will not take part in the summon by López for instrumental reasons, because "circumstances prevented that the invitation to the May 30 activity counted on the necessary participation of all the factors comprising the MUD regarding design, formulation and summon". Those failures in seeking consensus, in making the proper consultations and the urgency of the call prevented consensus in the various organizations making up this democratic alliance, which made observations of form and substance to the upcoming activity.
Regardless of the fact that these organizations were right or not when making their observations, it would seem that the MUD is committing a political mistake by not joining citizens on the same front of legitimate and constitutional struggle for the Saturday demonstration. This is a crucial day to demonstrate that unity should strengthen the electoral battle this year, where the opposition seems to have a clear opportunity to score a convincing victory, as well as a parliamentary majority that would halt the advance of the destruction of Venezuela's democratic system.
Fortunately, parties such as Copei, and MUD leaders such as Henrique Capriles, said that they are planning to attend the event this Saturday. Former presidents Andrés Pastrana (Colombia) and Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia) would also be attending, according to reports by Lilian Tintori, the wife of López. This and other Venezuelans summoned to hit the streets in different countries on that very same day, gives this demonstration a greater international significance.
So the time has come for all democrats to raise their voices and paddle together in the same direction.
See VenEconomy: Democrats of Venezuela Must Paddle Together Against the Current (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 28, 2015)
Corruption has no boundaries, and is coming a long way from Zurich to Venezuela with impunity, passing through China, Russia, Spain, Andorra, Panama, Cuba, and several other countries.
This scourge has become widespread in world economies, involving governments and companies which, as pointed out by NGO Transparencia Internacional, "not only deprives the poorest sectors from fundamental human rights, but also undermines governance and produces instability in the countries".
This week shocking news arrived from Zurich that seven leaders of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) had been arrested in a luxurious hotel of that city, at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice, in an unparalleled security move.
The operation, coordinated in conjunction with the FBI and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, is part of a legal investigation against nine heads of FIFA and five businesspeople, allegedly involved in a web of corruption, tax evasion and money laundering for 24 years. These people, who today justice has issued a "red card" and placed them straight in the dock, will face some 47 counts including bribery, blackmail, fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and to influence the direct decisions regarding the organization of football matches.
The hand of corruption was involved in everything, from deciding what channels would broadcast football matches, what countries would host the World Cup, to the person who would be heading the FIFA. The amounts involved are said to exceed $150 million. And this scandal turns out more shocking because it tarnishes the image of football management, the sport that brings the entire planet to a halt every four years when it's time for a new World Cup.
The trial would take place in a U.S. court, and conducted by Judge Loretta Lynch, after the seven detainees are extradited. In addition, Lynch claimed that all of them will have a fair trial.
The operation carried out was very singular, in which the U.S. Department of Justice played a key role in a covert investigation that lasted 12 years and an element of surprise that succeeded in catching everyone red-handed just when any of them expected it, just when they were enjoying all the pleasures and luxuries of their top managerial positions. By catching them all at the same time, the risk of escape was greatly reduced while the extradition request was narrowed to a single country, which eliminates paperwork and goings-on with different governments.
It is inevitable that minds of analysts are linking this corruption scheme that ended in Zurich with today's Venezuela. A link that doesn't come down to the fact that a Venezuelan citizen was one of the detainees, but the intrinsic characteristic of the nation's current ruling elite: corruption; a total lack of transparency in all areas; the arrogance of those governing the country who think of themselves as untouchable before the national and international justice system, and that believe they can all go unpunished for an eternity. This is all happening at a time when a money-laundering scheme at Banca Privada d'Andorra is still fresh and in full development, in which Venezuelan officials are being charged with similar counts to the heads of FIFA, as well as other investigations conducted by the U.S. government for narco and money-laundering activities and linkages with international terrorism.
Will these officials get away scot-free?
See VenEconomy: From Zurich to Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, May 29, 2015)
Last week, the voice of opposition leader Leopoldo López was heard once more from his cell at the Ramo Verde military prison in Greater Caracas asking citizens who truly believe in democracy to raise their voices in order to demand the restoration of their violated rights at a massive demonstration that took place last Saturday.
López, through a pre-recorded video statement, demanded the government of Nicolás Maduro the cease of repression and censorship, as much as the release of all political prisoners. In addition, he demanded the National Electoral Council (CNE) the announcement of a final date for the parliamentary elections to be held this year, in which both the OAS and the European Union should be present as observers. At the same time, López announced that he and Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the San Cristóbal municipality in Táchira state currently being held at a prison in San Juan de los Morros in Guárico state, had begun a hunger strike until these goals were achieved.
A call that was not supported by three (Acción Democrática, Primero Justicia and Un Nuevo Tiempo) of around twenty member parties that make up the Democratic Unity Roundtable (or MUD) for procedural reasons. Therefore, its secretary general, Jesús (Chúo) Torrealba, informed the public opinion that the MUD was not joining last Saturday's rally. A decision rejected by sectors that believe that in the face of the serious economic, political and social situation the country is going through, the unity of the opposition must be proved with deeds, not only in the electoral field but with everyone leading the movement opposing the progress made by the dictatorial regime in Venezuela.
But, despite the absence of the MUD and with all that climate of repression and fear that is preventing dissidents from expressing themselves, thousands of citizens stepped out into the streets across several cities of the country and the world, where thousands of Venezuelans have sought protection from Venezuela's communist regime, last Saturday.
Last Saturday was a great day for democracy. A civil day that counted on the participation of former presidents Andrés Pastrana (Colombia) and Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia) besides that of Venezuelan well-known party leaders. It should be noted that these two continental leaders called on the International Red Cross to accompany both López and Ceballos while conducting the hunger strike, so that their lives are guaranteed.
These mass rallies prove that the fighting spirit of tens of thousands of Venezuelans has not been subjugated, despite all these years of brutal repression from a government that has murdered dozens of students while attending protest marches; that has opened criminal cases with false allegations against demonstrators; that keeps political leaders, students and other Venezuelans in prison for participating in the demonstrations or for helping those who have; and that has imposed censorship (or encouraged self-censorship) on the media.
There is no muzzle to silence the voices of those who love freedom and democracy. It is touching and makes us proud to see the wives and mothers of those political prisoners risking their lives to defend and enforce the rights of their husbands and children, and voicing their demands beyond borders. Lilian Tintori, Patricia Ceballos, Mitzy Capriles and Antonieta Ledezma, together with María Corina Machado, another warrior woman of the Venezuelan opposition, have proved that the courage of women is like no other. A courage that calls for unity, as pointed out by Patricia Ceballos, the wife of Daniel Ceballos: "Today we have to work together, without hate, without rancor; we have to rebuild this democracy that does not exist today, because only in a dictatorship we live what we suffer at present".
See VenEconomy: Democrats Raise their Voices in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 1, 2015)
One of the many tasks that the government of the late Hugo Chávez, and now that of Nicolás Maduro, has undertaken all these years is to have condemned the international bodies ensuring the human rights and freedoms of citizens endorsed by the State of Venezuela.
In January 2012, for example, he denounced the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention, a body that both countries and companies turn to for the resolution of disputes related to foreign investment, thus creating a vacuum in the mechanisms or means through which investors are able to settle possible discrepancies in their contracts with the Venezuelan State. Similarly, in September 2013, the Venezuelan State opted out of the inter-American human rights system after a complaint by Chávez to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights took effect.
However, in today's globalized world, it is nearly impossible that states can escape international scrutiny, especially in everything that relates to human rights, drug-trafficking, money laundering or terrorism.
Evidence of this is the one-year deadline set by the UN so that Venezuela's current ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, proves the autonomy of his office with respect to the National Executive and its political process, and explains why he remained silent before the decision of Venezuela to withdraw from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; the repeated threats of Maduro against union leaders; the trials of civilians before military courts and the arbitrary arrests of opposition leaders.
The Venezuelan government could neither escape the scrutiny of an evaluation regularly carried out by the UN, with the participation of a committee of independent experts to assess compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to which States have made a commitment.
Venezuela was to be evaluated by three UN bodies, and on three occasions, on Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) was the first test to overcome by the Venezuelan State, because it had to respond to the allegations made by Venezuela's National Workers Union (UNETE) regarding the persecution of workers and trade unionists, the arrests and open trials against them and a persistent reluctance of the Government to discuss and endorse collective agreements of the public sector. Other allegations the Government was to face are those related to sex discrimination and the non-release of information with regard to social indicators.
Then it would deal with ICESCR experts and respond to the multiple allegations of Venezuelan NGOs regarding the serious problem of food and medicine shortages affecting the Venezuelan population, soaring inflation that may reach three digits by the end of the year, and an upsurge of poverty, which has left thousands of Venezuelans without anything to eat or denied them access to decent housing. Allegations that have been documented by non-profit organizations such as Provea, Espacio Público, Venezuela Diversa, Asamblea de Educación, among others.
And the last test to pass was a debate with the Committee on Civil and Political Rights on the lack of independence of the Judiciary, the criminalization of protests, the situation of national prisons and the brutal repression by police and military forces during the peaceful demonstrations that took place in 2014.
Now we need to monitor compliance with the recommendations to the State made by this specific body, because all of them are binding.
Editor's Note: Detailed description of the tests, the reports submitted by the State and Civil Society, as much as information on the program, course and test results can be found on www.examenonuvenezuela.com.
See VenEconomy: The Government of Venezuela Cannot Escape International Scrutiny! (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 2, 2015)
There are stories that should have never happened and, therefore, should never be repeated, especially those about arrogant governments that violate basic human rights.
One of them is that of Franklin Brito, a Venezuelan biologist and farmer who died on August 30 of 2010 when conducting his sixth hunger strike in six years, an extreme measure he took after seeing his civil rights violated by the government of Hugo Chávez.
Brito was just demanding the Government to provide a clarification on the acts of corruption surrounding the case of his farm, wrested from him after an illegal move by the National Land Institute in 2004, and that the compensation offered by the National Executive for his land, after several hunger strikes, was made in a legal way. A demand that was not heeded, besides falling in the indifference and negligence of a ruling elite unable to rectify errors and keep promises.
You can read a summary compilation by VenEconomy on this regrettable story by clicking on the following link: http://www.veneconomia.com/site/files/articulos/artEsp6163_4576.htm
Other stories that should have never happened are those being currently written with the cases of opposition leader Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the San Cristóbal municipality in Táchira state. Both arbitrarily detained after the massive protests staged in Venezuela since February of last year that left some 41 citizens dead, hundreds of wounded and nearly twenty allegations of torture against demonstrators by the security forces of the State. Apart from 3,351 detainees, about 70 Venezuelan citizens remain in prison cells today and more than two thousands of demonstrators are subjected to trials and precautionary measures.
López was accused without evidence of "public incitement, damage to property, arson and criminal association". On the other hand, Ceballos was accused of committing crimes of rebellion and illegal association for not having complied with an order of the Supreme Court of preventing the set-up of "guarimbas" (roadblocks with sticks, stones and other debris across public roads and residential zones) in his municipality.
At this time, both López and Ceballos are conducting a hunger strike demanding the government of Nicolás Maduro the cease of repression and censorship, as much as the release of all political prisoners. In addition, they are demanding the National Electoral Council (CNE) the announcement of a final date for the parliamentary elections to be held this year, in which both the OAS and the European Union should be present as observers.
These two young Venezuelan politicians and democratic leaders, who also happen to be family men in their productive years, should have never gone to prison. And even less they should have resorted to such an extreme measure as is conducting a hunger strike to claim statutory rights in the Constitution of the Republic and guaranteed by international law.
The health of these Venezuelans is threatened, and the State must guarantee their lives even when they are being held prisoners for political reasons.
Many voices of international bodies, parliamentarians, former presidents of the region, and even presidents of governments, have raised for more than a year demanding their freedom, and that of all the political prisoners of the Government.
Those voices have been taken up a notch this week now that the lives of López and Ceballos are at stake. Last Friday, former presidents Andrés Pastrana (Colombia) and Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia) urged the International Red Cross to visit López and Ceballos in their respective detention facilities pointing out that: "They are on a hunger strike, this is not a game".
Former president Ricardo Lagos already said it in April of this year: "In the field of human rights, there is no meddling in other countries' politics. And that is what we are doing. Their struggle is for liberty and the restoration of democracy".
See VenEconomy: A Story that Should Not Be Repeated in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 3, 2015)
For 16 years, the members of the "revolutionary" elite entrenched in power in Venezuela, believing that all their crimes will go unpunished, have imposed a political model that has brought the country closer to an economic abyss, social anarchy and a dictatorship. Meanwhile, using the economic power of an era of high oil prices, they bought allegiances around the world, from governments, international bodies and political, artistic, and intellectual personalities.
But, the members of that elite seem not to know this: nothing lasts forever. As Abraham Lincoln put it once, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time". And it seems that, just as the era of high oil prices came to an end, so did the blindness and silence of the international community in the face of the destruction of Venezuela in the hands of a communist regime.
The government of Nicolás Maduro gets criticism where it least expects it. Parliamentarians from different countries, heads of government, former presidents of the region, artists, intellectuals and even international bodies, such as the European Parliament and the UN, are watching closely the excesses of the dictatorship led by Maduro and denouncing all the illegalities committed by his government officials and the countless violations against universal rights in Venezuela.
These last few weeks have seen a lot of action particularly regarding complaints from overseas.
On the one hand, 27 former presidents and former heads of state, who previously signed the Declaration of Panama denouncing the dictatorial progress during the Seventh Summit of the Americas in April of this year, issued a new statement reiterating these allegations, and demanding compliance with, among other things:
1) Setting a final date for the parliamentary elections.
And on the other, some 30 members of the Congress of Colombia are formally requesting the activation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Venezuela to the Organization of American States.
Furthermore, there is a message from Gen. John F. Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command, who in front of the auditorium at an international conference against drugs held in Cartagena, Colombia, questioned the fact that the government of Maduro does not collaborate with the fight against drugs, and that, conversely, it has been found that "a large part of the cocaine moving towards international markets comes out of Venezuela".
But, the proof that the speech loaded with insults blaming opponents for everything and resorting to the self-determination of peoples and national sovereignty don't work anymore, was given at the UN in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday, in the framework of the meeting for a periodic review carried out by this body to assess compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Venezuela had no valid arguments to refute the well-argued allegations from bodies such as the National Workers' Union (Unete). Provea, Espacio Público, Asamblea de Educación and Transparencia Venezuela, among other NGOs, talked about the collapse of the Government in the areas of corruption, human rights, the lack of independence of the Judiciary, the criminalization of protest, the situation in prisons and of brutal repression, the access to information, the no release of data on social and economic indicators, sexual discrimination, the rise of poverty, the housing issue, soaring inflation, general shortages and a sharp decline in domestic production.
Impartial observers from Venezuela and the world can no longer believe arguments of an ongoing economic war, assassination attempts against the President and coups d'état.
Now, what is being understood here is that the so-called "asymmetrical war" with which the late Hugo Chávez used to threaten the opposition so many times, is a war from a ruling elite to subjugate a defenseless population.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Ruling Elite Cannot Fool All the People All the Time (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 4, 2015)
When barbarity takes control of justice and has dominion over all public authorities, any kind of unimaginable nonsense can happen anytime, anywhere.
Barbarity governs Venezuela today, and this is no common place or exaggeration.
Among other barbarisms from various kinds, today stands out one that came out in the press happening in regional and municipal governments elected by popular vote.
It turns out that a witch-hunt against elected mayors opposing the National Government is taking place at this moment. Legal proceedings have been opened against 33 (42.8%) of 77 opposition mayors after the elections of December 2013 for different reasons.
There are precedents of Daniel Ceballos, the mayor of the San Cristóbal municipality in Táchira state, who was sent to prison for not enforcing an order of the Supreme Court (TSJ) that required not to allow guarimbas (the set-up of roadblocks with sticks, stones and other debris across public roads and residential zones) when protests broke out in February 2014. Enzo Scarano, mayor of the San Diego municipality (Valencia, Carabobo state), had similar criminal charges but was released from prison a few months ago.
Both the health and life of Ceballos are at risk after conducting a hunger strike for a week, which he started to demand the cessation of repression and censorship, the freedom of political prisoners and free parliamentary elections with the observation of independent international bodies. There are measures of protection on Ceballos, as much as on Leopoldo López, requested by the OAS, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the European Parliament.
Another precedent is the case of Antonio Ledezma, the former metropolitan mayor of Caracas and most voted mayor of the country, today under house arrest for health reasons as he stands trial for alleged offenses of conspiracy and association with criminal intent, provided for and punished under the Criminal Code and the Organic Law against Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism.
More recently, the vengeful axe of the State cut off the head of the mayor of the José Antonio Páez municipality in Apure state, Lumay Barreto, who was removed from office after a ruling of the TSJ's Constitutional Chamber determined she had irresponsibly left her office for a period of six days. It should be noted that article 87 of the Law of the Public Municipal Power establishes that mayors and governors can leave up to 14 days without requesting permission. And it should be remembered that the late Hugo Chávez was out of the national territory with extreme health conditions for three months, without the Parliament or the TSJ declaring his absolute absence as required by law.
But, perhaps the most evident case that there are no limits when it comes to committing abuses against governments of the opposition, is that of the mayoralty of the Mario Briceño Iragorry municipality (Maracay, Aragua state), where serious acts of violence occurred after a group of workers loyal to the ruling party broke in the mayor's office. Not only they caused physical destruction to the facilities, but left a balance of three journalists from the mayoralty's press team wounded, with one of them, Alejandro Ledo, a graphic journalist, in serious condition after they dropped him off the second floor of the building.
That kind of violence, wherever it comes from, can't have any justification from any citizen, even less from those holding office in regional governments or public authorities.
Logic and common sense should prevail in these cases, and not automatic solidarities. Condemning, investigating and punishing the guilty should be the right move. The opposite is complicity before a crime where the lives of Venezuelans have been put at risk.
See VenEconomy: When Barbarity Governs Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 5, 2015)
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) gave recognition to the Government of Venezuela for having achieved two of the main objectives of the Millennium before 2015: the eradication of hunger and poverty. A recognition received by Jorge Arreaza, Vice-President of the Republic, after Nicolás Maduro unexpectedly suspended his trip to Italy and his meeting with the Pope due to health reasons.
It is ironic that this recognition comes, just when a few weeks ago three of the most renowned Venezuelan universities (Central University of Venezuela, Simón Bolivar and Andrés Bello) released the results of the survey "Living Conditions of Venezuelans 2014", which warns about the deterioration of food conditions in households in all social strata, showing that the daily menu contains very low levels of protein, with absence of fruits and vegetables and a very high intake of carbohydrates. In addition, 11.3% of respondents said that they ate only once or twice a day, a percentage that rises to 39% in the poorest strata.
Even more contradictory is the fact that while the FAO gave recognition to the Government of Venezuela (during a UN summit in Rome, Italy), in the context of the presentation of the Venezuelan State's third periodic report of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Experts Committee was not satisfied with the arguments given by representatives of the Maduro government on the vulnerable situation of Venezuelans and their rights to adequate food and protection from hunger.
It seems that the FAO did not take into consideration the general shortages, a drop in domestic food production and a drop in imports recorded over the last few years in Venezuela.
A situation that, as stated by NGOs Venezuelan Observatory of Health, the Bengoa Foundation and the Agri-Food Research Center in their so-called "Alternative Report", has resulted in "a situation of high vulnerability with regard to the protection against hunger, since the existing programs are not able to reach the most needed sectors of society".
Perhaps the FAO has been misinformed because of the severe restrictions on access to information and availability of data, also denounced by the NGOs in their report, which doesn't "let anyone know about the impact that the economic measures have on shortages and these on the current nutritional conditions of the population".
Hence the importance that the UN Committee, as requested by the Venezuelan NGOs, urges the Government of Venezuela to:
The bottom line is that it seems that the FAO paid attention to the reality of the National Institute of Statistics and the Venezuelan government, rather than the one lived by Venezuelans every day.
See VenEconomy: The Reality of Venezuela that FAO Overlooked (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 8, 2015)
A couple of days ago, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) reported the dramatic deaths of 252,073 citizens who had died in a violent way between 1999 and May 2015, the golden age of communism in Venezuela. A terrifying figure that brings the homicide rate up to 82 per 100,000 inhabitants, while current global rates stand at 22 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, placing Venezuela as the second most violent country in the world.
This is despite the fact that the Government has laid out 21 security plans during 16 years in power without any positive results. The extent of the failure of the governments of both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro on citizen security is such that the rotation of cabinet ministers (15 in 16 years) has been done almost on a yearly basis, which does not allow the continuity of programs, accurate measurements and much less the correction of errors based on results.
Local daily El Universal published on May 31 an excellent interview from a talk show broadcast by privately-run TV channel Televen
with criminal lawyer Fermín Mármol García, explaining the underlying reasons for the excessively high crime rates in Venezuela.
Among other relevant facts:
Among his recommendations for tackling the problem are:
But these reasonable considerations of Mármol García seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Or at least that is what is perceived after hearing Maduro blame the oligarchy, paramilitary groups, the far-right, among others, for the rampant levels of violence, crime and insecurity in Venezuela three days ago. According to Maduro, they are supplying criminals with weapons, dollars, and drugs to cause damage to the Government.
In other words, another made up war to hide the failures of the Government.
See VenEconomy: Another Made Up War to Hide The Failures of Venezuela's Government (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 9, 2015)
Indeed, a series of unbelievable things were revealed during the visit of Felipe González, the former Prime Minister of Spain and a respected leader of world socialism, to Venezuela.
It turns out that the determination of González of becoming part of a group of ex-presidents who decided to support and defend Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma, three opposition leaders who became political prisoners of the government of Nicolás Maduro, is proving that the dictatorial nature of the Venezuelan president is far worse than that of Augusto Pinochet, the staunch dictator who ruled Chile in the '70s.
The case is that Pinochet made a clever political decision in 1977: in August of that year, he allowed González (by then a young lawyer who had emerged as the main opposition leader in the nascent democracy that arose in Spain after the death of Francisco Franco) to visit Santiago de Chile and freely interview Erich Schnake and Carlos Lazo, two political prisoners sentenced to prison for sedition and treason, whose criminal cases were taken up by González.
The political skills of Maduro seem very distant from those of Pinochet.
His stubbornness to continue deepening the so-called "Plan for the Homeland" in the best style of Cuba's Castro regime has led him to take an obtuse path: by denying González his right to represent, accompany or advise López, Ceballos and Ledezma during their respective trials, Maduro exposes the dictatorial process taking place in Venezuela that he is attempting to hide even further.
Another tactical error in order to maintain that stance is a series of outrages committed against González:
That there was an aggressive tone towards González from most representatives of Venezuela's public authorities. This action clearly corroborates the lack of independence and political allegiance of these authorities.
That the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) had denied González time after time the possibility to become part of the defense team of Ceballos, López and Ledezma, due to his foreign status. It even denied him the possibility of becoming an unpaid adviser to the defendants.
That during his stay in Venezuela since June 7, he was not allowed to attend the public hearings of López, Ceballos and Ledezma. Or allowed him to visit López and Ceballos, who conducted a hunger strike for three weeks and are being held incommunicado in the prisons of Ramo Verde (Greater Caracas) and San Juan de los Morros (Guárico state), respectively.
He was only able to meet with the families of López and Ceballos in the two days he was in the country. In addition, he was able to visit Ledezma at his home where he has been under house arrest since April and Teodoro Petkoff, who he gave the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Award that received on his behalf in Spain, since the editor-in-chief of the former daily newspaper TalCual was not allowed to leave the country to attend the prize ceremony early in May.
The rudest gesture toward González was an attempt to sabotage his visit with street protests and via Twitter accounts of government officials, but the call did not get any popular support and ended up being a resounding failure.
But what has raised a series of questions is the untimely departure of González on Tuesday in an aircraft belonging to the Colombian Air Force, with the express authorization of President Juan Manuel Santos. Particularly when the Government is taking advantage of that fact to lambast González, saying sarcastically that he "came for money and left the country empty-handed".
For those who already know the modus operandi of the Government of blaming others for everything that goes wrong in the country, it can be assumed that it boasts today what it really lacks, especially when Santos stood in solidarity with González and categorically claimed that "former president González has been an unconditional friend of Colombia and its peace process".
See VenEconomy: Spain's González Goes Hand-In-Hand with Democracy in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 10, 2015)
While Venezuela is showing cracks in political rights, social indicators and the overall economy, the government of Nicolás Maduro persists in using what is left of the country's scanty international reserves.
According to the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), international reserves had plummeted to $16.86 billion (including $3.0 million for the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund or FEM) by June 9, thus dropping $209 million in four days and $5.21 billion (23.6%) so far this year. This way, reserves had the same level recorded on May 2 of 2000 ($16.86 billion). This decline was recorded in spite of $1.38 billion in revenues for the pledging of around 900 ounces of gold for $1.0 billion conducted in May, and the withdrawal of $383 million from the quota of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) deposited in the International Monetary Fund by the Government in mid-May.
Now it seems that the Government has developed a strong taste for this kind of move, because these withdrawals do not involve a program of adjustments, or require prior approval from the international body. This is so because barely two weeks after the first withdrawal from its SDR holdings, it was learned off the record that the Government would have made another withdrawal, this time for $1.5 million, according to reports of local daily El Nacional on Thursday.
It should be noted that while a SDR is an international reserve asset within the accounting of the Venezuelan International Reserves, it only serves as a complement to these. Its value is based on a basket of four key international currencies. This refers to SDRs as potential assets against the currencies of free use by IMF member countries. The SDR holders can obtain currency in exchange for their SDRs through two operations: 1) the conclusion of agreements of voluntary swap between member countries and, 2) the designation by IMF member countries with a sound external position to purchase SDRs from member countries with a shaky economic situation (the case of Venezuela, where its flawed monetary and fiscal policies have led the Government to redeem its SDR holdings with other member countries so it can obtain foreign currency to maintain the levels of domestic consumption and not for investments that have a rate of return on capital).
Venezuela had $3.2 billion in SDRs (calculated at a rate of $1.45 per SDR) at the close of 2014. During the first three months of the year, Venezuela maintained its special SDR holdings at 2.26 billion (equivalent to $3.12 billion at the end of March, at a rate of $1.38 per SDR). In April, the Government made its first withdrawal of 277 million SDR for $328 million (at a rate of $1.41 per SDR). SDR holdings are expected to drop by $1.5 billion in June, with some $1.3 billion calculated at a rate of $1.38 per SDR still available. Of all the countries in the region, Venezuela has been the only one to swap or sell its SDR in order to obtain foreign currency. Neither Argentina nor Brazil, which foresee a gloomy economic picture, have reduced their SDR holdings (see table in the original article of VenEconomía: Mala práctica, peor señal or the Latin American Herald Tribune, June 11, 2015).
This is, so to speak, a bad practice from a government that insists on squandering the savings of the Venezuelan State, rather than applying indispensable corrective measures to its disastrous policies of a stillborn "Plan for the Homeland".
And worse still is the sign that is sending out to everyone, including potential investors, partners, creditors and even the staunch supporters of this government: the "socialism of the 21st century" has led the most important oil-rich nation of the region to bankruptcy, despite this having thrived during the golden era of black gold.
See VenEconomy: Bad Practice of Venezuela's Government Sends Out Worse Sign (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 11, 2015)
This first half of June has been devastating for the image of the regime of Nicolás Maduro.
Reports everywhere have shown it has not fared well in any area of performance.
On the one hand, the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2015, an initiative of the American Bar Association that dates back to 2006, showed that Venezuela was the worst-ranked country among 102 nations evaluated. This poor result highlights the deterioration of the rule of law and justice in the country.
This index evaluates how the population of a country experiences the rule of law in everyday situations, through surveys conducted in some 100,000 households. These surveys are analyzed by 2,400 specialists, based on 44 indicators grouped into eight categories: absence of corruption, restrictions on government power, openness of the government, respect for fundamental rights, compliance with regulations, order and security, civil justice, and criminal justice.
And on the other, local NGO Transparencia Venezuela released early this month its report on corruption found in "social missions", the key wealth distribution programs created during the government of the late Hugo Chávez, and now expanded by Maduro, that have yielded so many electoral dividends for the PSUV ruling party.
This report evaluated "the impact of corruption on the enjoyment of social rights for understanding the deficiencies of policies and programs to which the State has assigned numerous resources in the last decade".
The study revealed that this scourge has infringed upon human rights in individual cases and has negatively impacted the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights due to the lack of transparent rules, systems and procedures and of responsible institutions to prevent, restrict and punish abuses, the diversion of resources, over-invoicing and influence peddling. The failure of the missions is reflected in the increase of poverty, which according to the Living Conditions Index (ENCOVI) 2014 went from 46% in 1998 to 48% last year.
Another report that condemns the administration of Maduro is one released by local NGO Provea for the year 2014, which shows figures, statistics and testimonies of the massive violations of human rights in Venezuela. Among other violations, Provea reported the criminalization of human rights defenders, the reversal of the progress made in poverty reduction in Venezuela, the shortages of medicines, the privatization of healthcare services through direct action, the construction of a police state, and an increase in insecurity.
In addition, there is a lack of direct dialogue with the State, which is forcing Provea to turn to international bodies so the State provides answers to questions about the human rights situation in the country.
Meanwhile in economic matters, HSBC Bank raised its forecasts of economic contraction for Venezuela to 7.5% in 2015, 0.9 percentage points higher than the forecasts at the beginning of this year. According to the HSBC report, inflation will close at 175% (31 percentage points higher than expected).
But it seems that Maduro and his people couldn't care less about all this bad news. The speech of violence and confrontation continues unperturbed, as demonstrated by Maduro a few days ago, when, from Ciudad Belén (a slum in Miranda state), he said in a threatening tone that "if the Bolivarian revolution ever fails and imperialism takes control of the country, may Venezuelans be prepared for times of massacre and death".
See VenEconomy: Maduro's Regime Starts off June on a Bad Note (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 12, 2015)
The barbarity that has prevailed in Venezuela for the past 16 years has led its population to use extreme nonviolent methods of struggle, among them, hunger strikes.
At present, opposition leader Leopoldo López, and students Raúl Baduel, Jr. and José Gregorio Briceño (the three of them political prisoners of Nicolás Maduro), plus over twenty other students, have been conducting a hunger strike for more than a week demanding: the release of all political prisoners; the end of persecution against those opposing the Government; that the National Electoral Council (CNE) sets a final date for the parliamentary elections this year; and that these are held in a transparent manner with the presence of observers from the OAS and the European Union.
World leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi, have resorted to this form of peaceful struggle in the past. In 1918, Gandhi resisted the British domination through this method. Between January 12 and January 18 of 1948, he fasted for the third time to promote unity among Hindus and Muslims. The hunger strike influenced political and communal leaders to outline a plan to restore normalcy in a riot-torn India that accompanied the imminent end of the British rule. Or Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, who in 1945 conducted a hunger strike to protest against the detention facilities where the British kept the survivors of the Holocaust.
In the Venezuela of the Bolivarian revolution, students, workers from the public/private sector, physicians and political leaders have undertook this form of nonviolent struggle in many occasions, albeit only a few times objectives were met in the face of a deaf government to citizen demands and that only believes in repression and persecution as a method of dialogue. A tragic example of this is the case of Franklin Brito, a local agricultural producer and biologist who after six hunger strikes finally died of starvation in the Military Hospital of Caracas, where he was detained by the Government without it giving him back his lands.
VenEconomy respects the decision made by López, Baduel, Briceño and all the students who took this path to demand the restoration of the many rights of Venezuelans infringed by the regime of Maduro. This is a sacrifice like no other for the sake of principles and values of democracy and freedom, as is characteristic of beings with great moral fortitude and determination.
However, VenEconomy also considers that this form of struggle would be valid if the opponent they are facing had a bit of respect for human life, something that is not the case of Venezuela's ruling elite, as it has been amply demonstrated in several occasions. A ruling elite that underestimates its opponents, who are objectified and reduced to subhuman levels as Adolf Hitler did with the Jews, and as the Castro brothers do with Cubans who dare oppose them.
Going on an indefinite hunger strike against the regime of Maduro is a lose-lose solution. The Government will not make any concessions to the strikers, as it never did with Brito. And those who are on strike will hopelessly see their health situation deteriorate as they risk their lives.
VenEconomy calls for the end of the strike since the lives of López, Baduel, Briceño, as much as those of every single one of the students, are valuable for their families and the country. The democratic struggle needs them and this can - and must - take place in some other constitutional scenario.
See VenEconomy: Venezuelans Must Not Take Nonviolent Methods of Struggle to Extremes (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 15, 2015)
More questions arise over the relations between the U.S. and Venezuela since March 9 of this year.
That day President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order declaring a national emergency because of an "unusual and extraordinary" threat to homeland security and the foreign policy that caused the U.S. the situation of Venezuela, plus sanctions to seven Venezuelan officials with the blocking of their U.S. assets and a prohibition on entering that country.
Since then, it is true that the government of Nicolás Maduro intensified its hate speech against the U.S., showed an automatic solidarity with its officials linked to human rights violations and did not open any investigation in Venezuela on those involved. But it is also true that, according to news from the northern giant, the U.S. justice is determined to do whatever it takes to punish those involved in narco-terrorism, the violation of human rights and corruption, and to that end they have witnesses under protection programs to provide conclusive evidence of the denouncements. News that has incurred the wrath of emblematic Bolivarian officials such as, among others, the head of the Parliament, Diosdado Cabello, who filed a lawsuit against Spanish newspaper ABC and U.S.-based The Wall Street Journal as well as against managers, partners and executives of the Venezuelan dailies TalCual and El Universal and the news site La Patilla for publishing a story of Cabello allegedly being a high-ranking drug lord.
At the same time, and perhaps because of the weakness of the national economy and the strong evidence against the government officials, there has been rapprochement between Maduro and the Obama administration. In the framework of this rapprochement, Thomas Shannon, the Counselor of the U.S. Department of State, visited Venezuela in two opportunities in less than a month. No official explanations were given to the country during the Shannon-Maduro meetings behind closed doors, something that has led to a series of rumors that include the negotiation process to bring Cabello to the U.S. justice system.
However, news last weekend graphically documenting a high-level meeting between Cabello, Delcy Rodríguez (the foreign minister of Venezuela) and Shannon in Haiti, with the support of the president of that country, caused controversy in the public opinion while speculation on the subject quickly took over the social networks. Among the many questions raised: Why did not Maduro attend that meeting? Otitis, which also prevented his meeting with Pope Francis and receive recognition from the UN's FAO in person, was the excuse.
Another question left hanging in the air is whether Cabello was looking to demonstrate his power to the U.S. and make it clear that any rapprochement with Venezuela should be made with his consent. Even make it clear that if Maduro leaves power, because of the obvious failure of his government, he would become the alternative to sit in the President's Chair.
Others suggest that Cabello was negotiating the elimination of Obama's Executive Order, which seems to have his name on it as a central element to serve justice.
But the picture becomes even more confusing when El Cooperante, a news site supporting the Bolivarian revolution, reported on Tuesday that "the presence of the second most powerful man in Venezuela was not in the plans of the American diplomat", and that Shannon was in shock and awe.
Everything seems to indicate that no one will clarify (at least for now) this movement of pieces, in a game where the most affected opponents are the Venezuelan citizens. These citizens, in the midst of the worst economic and social crisis in decades, find themselves once more with no information about what the Government is doing behind their backs.
See VenEconomy: Questions Arise Over U.S.-Venezuela Relations (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 16, 2015)
Fully meeting its foreign financial obligations would be the right move for a government that is rarely seen making wise economic decisions.
Defaulting on debt would not bring anything positive or good for either the country or the population in particular. On the contrary, it would lead to inevitable consequences due to a series of lawsuits and embargoes; due to the difficulties in getting exporters willing to work side by side with Venezuela and the closure of businesses because of the lack of credit that are sequels conspiring to cost Venezuelans dearly; a cost that would not be justified by a supposed relief of the suspension of international payments.
In September of 2014, economists Ricardo Hausmann and Miguel Ángel Santos published an article entitled "Should Venezuela Default?" In that analysis, both Hausmann and Santos wondered whether Venezuela should pay its foreign debt. A question to which they provided an answer: "If you can make good on your commitments, then that is what you should do. That is what most parents teach their children. But the moral calculus becomes a bit more intricate when you cannot make good on all of your commitments and have to decide which to honor and which to avoid".
In their article, Hausmann and Santos listed the number of defaults of the Venezuelan government with creditors and internal suppliers, which have increased in recent months. They claimed that the Government not only was in the ethical obligation to satisfy its foreign creditors, but also its domestic ones, and even believed that the latter should be given priority, because they take care of ensuring the good performance of the country and the quality of life of citizens.
The country's international reserves have been steadily declining in recent months, falling at a rate of $85 million per working day in the last six weeks. A spectacular decline that clearly indicates that each day will be more and more difficult to continue servicing the debt, especially if we took into account some $5 billion to be paid by November of this year.
From there, the question is raised whether the Government may continue servicing the debt without having to sacrifice many other vital needs for the well-being of Venezuelans. It would seem that the country is at a crossroads.
But, VenEconomy is of the view that the dilemma of the Government is not defaulting on its debt or let the nation die of starvation. And believes that the best option is the restructuring of the debt.
From there, the most reasonable thing to do by the Government, rather than persisting on making that payment, should be calling its creditors so it can renegotiate the debt with them, and thus extend the maturities by two or three years. This would certainly give it some freedom to manage the economic crisis the country is going through at present.
In their article, Hausmann and Santos suggested that "If the authorities adopted common-sense policies and sought support from the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral lenders, as most troubled countries tend to do, they would rightly be told to renegotiate the country's debts". That way, "the burden of adjustment would be shared with other creditors"; "the economy would gain time to recover" and "bondholders would be wise to exchange their current bonds for longer-dated instruments that would benefit from the upturn".
Nine months after the publication of their article, the remarks of Hausmann and Santos are still as valid as the very first day.
A renegotiation would be, in the view of VenEconomy, a honorable solution for the Government that would give some respite to Venezuelans. Yet difficult for policymakers, because any renegotiation process would involve the disclosure of full and reliable information on the performance of the economy.
See VenEconomy: Should Venezuela Renegotiate or Default on its Foreign Debt? (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 17, 2015)
Once upon a time there was a country that boasted one of the world's largest reserves of crude oil. A country that had all the human and technological potential to consolidate its industrial development, boost its productivity and promote its competitiveness to guarantee its citizens quality of life and progress.
But, two rulers came to power delivering illusory populist promises and squandered all that capital for 16 years, destroying everything in their path, leaving the productive system in ruins and the country plunged into a deep crisis with the public coffers empty, which is preventing the Government from paying a huge debt with the domestic private sector.
One of the most heavily affected sectors is that of international airlines, which is owed $3.7 billion in tickets sold between 2012 and 2014, at exchange rates set by the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV). The airlines have worked tirelessly to find a solution in reaching payment agreements with the Government, and thus guarantee the service to the population at any time. In March of 2014, the goal was apparently to be reached through several payment methods, including fuel supply, bonds of the Republic, cash, or credits. It was even suggested that the debt would be recognized at a SICAD I rate (an average of Bs.10 per dollar). But, the Government never did anything to remedy the situation.
Now the situation seems to be going from bad to worse.
According to unofficial sources, the Autonomous Institute of the Maiquetía International Airport (IAAM) is forcing companies to pay for the airport services in American dollars, but refuses to deduct these amounts from what it owes to the airlines. IAAM authorities argue that they are autonomous and don't have the power to perform that kind of compensation. An excuse that is hard to believe!
Another arbitrariness of the IAAM is that faced with the refusal of some airlines to pay for these services in foreign currency, they were denied access to the "jetways", forcing them to park the aircraft away from the terminal and bring passengers to the terminal on buses. Other airlines have decided to suspend their flights to Maiquetía.
It was also learned that the Government would be attempting another bond issue so it can pay off its debt with the airlines, a possibility these don't rule out under some previously agreed conditions, among them to find out about the discount they will be getting (it is already known that airlines had increased their fares in an effort to protect their assets). It is said it would be acceptable for them if 50% of the debt was paid, or 100% with an interest of 1-2%; and also with the right to charge airfares in either dollars or bolivares, depending on the needs of each airline.
Meanwhile, those airlines that still have Venezuela as a destination are doing difficult balancing acts to see if they can survive and not leave the country. For their part, Venezuelans have ended up practically confined within the borders of their own country without being able to buy airline tickets at affordable prices, finding themselves looking for alternative options such as boats or "green paths" to travel abroad.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Broken Wings (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 18, 2015)
The claims of Venezuela to the Essequibo region of Guyana were settled 116 years ago with the decision of a high-level arbitration panel that (a) confirmed the exclusive rights of Venezuela to navigate the Orinoco River, and (b) assigned most of the land area in question to Great Britain.
More than 60 years later, in 1962, Rómulo Betancourt, then President of Venezuela, contested that Arbitral Award of 1899.
And, in 1966, when Guyana achieved its independence, the conflict went from the small Venezuela against the giant British Empire to the powerful Venezuela against the impoverished former British colony.
That year, Venezuela and Guyana agreed to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict, and this way the UN was appointed as a facilitator of the negotiations in 1970.
Since then, different Venezuelan governments have sought to resolve the dispute, without any success.
Since his arrival on power, the late Hugo Chávez abandoned the effort to resolve the dispute partly by pressures from Fidel Castro (an ally of Guyana who had been using the country as a refueling station for his planes during the war in Angola) and, partly, because he didn't want to offend members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), whose support was crucial in international forums such as the OAS and the UN.
Chávez neither defined the maritime boundaries of Venezuela with Guyana, thus facilitating Guyana the awarding of oil exploration contracts in blocks in the own Guyana region, in disputed areas and in areas that clearly belonged to Venezuela.
Now, with Nicolás Maduro at the helm of power, a new chapter of this legendary dispute has begun, when an exploration platform of ExxonMobil struck oil in one of those blocks: Stabroek.
The first reaction of the Maduro government was accusing ExxonMobil for violating its territory, and not Guyana as the one who awarded the concession.
Months later, on May 27, the Government took a turn in its complacency with Guyana and went to the other extreme: it decreed a "defense zone" that includes most part of the waters in the disputed area, without any access to the Atlantic. With this, it unnecessarily worsened the border dispute.
Guyana did not take long in issuing a well-reasoned statement from the legal point of view that was rejected by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry for its "exaggerated wording and false claims", and accused the new government of Guyana of displaying a dangerous policy of "provocation against the Bolivarian Venezuela of peace", supported by the "imperial power of a U.S.-based company such as ExxonMobil".
The new dispute: the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry requested an early meeting of foreign ministers to address the issue. Guyana resorted to the UN Secretary-General to legally solve this territorial dispute.
With its clumsy and illegal decree, the Venezuelan government served Guyana on a silver platter an excuse to make the UN and international tribunals take action on this matter.
It is inferred from all this that the Maduro administration is seeking to provoke a major crisis that would help it regain popular support - today highly reduced - with a view to the parliamentary elections this year.
For now, the strategy is limited to accuse ExxonMobil for having violated the Venezuelan waters, as evidenced by statements of the Foreign Ministry and claims of Ángel Rodríguez, the head of the Latin American Parliament - Venezuela Chapter, and lawmaker for the ruling party PSUV, who argues that the operations of ExxonMobil in Essequibo waters "seek to impose a war agenda in South America, as part of the strategy of the most radical sectors of the U.S. to take control of the huge deposits of crude oil across the continent".
The allegations could soon be against the new government of Guyana and (why not?) a naval and military mobilization toward the eastern border of the country.
If so, it would be confirmed that the Government's intention is to provoke a crisis and that Venezuelans, including those of the opposition, will close ranks behind their "leader" (Maduro) in the "patriotic defense" of the Venezuelan border.
Perhaps Maduro will lose the support of CARICOM, but would win an election.
See VenEconomy: Will Venezuela's Maduro Provoke Major Crisis in a Bid to Regain Popular Support? (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 19, 2015)
A leitmotif of the Bolivarian government in the past 16 years has been to invoke the sovereignty of the peoples and the non-interference in internal affairs, so it can evade observation of the international system with regard to any topic, including drug-trafficking, terrorism, the electoral system and human rights.
In spite of this, Venezuela today is perceived by nearly all international institutions as:
The violation of human rights in Venezuela has reached such a point that international human right bodies, democratic governments, former presidents from the region and parliaments from different countries have turned their eyes to Venezuela in recent months. Eyes that fully disapprove what Nicolás Maduro and his people are doing, even though their intransigence has only exposed to the world with strong evidence the dictatorial nature of the Venezuelan government.
This was the case, for example, of former presidents Andrés Pastrana (Colombia), Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia) and Felipe González (Spain), who traveled to Venezuela in an attempt to pay a visit to Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos and other political prisoners without success due to the arbitrary and illegal refusal of the Government. These three former presidents, along with two other dozens of them, have no doubt that the Maduro government has fallen in excesses and violations against human rights, and they are telling the world.
Last weekend, eight Brazilian senators (from the foreign affairs committee of the Brazilian Congress) traveled to Venezuela in order to visit the prison facilities and check the situation of the political prisoners, with the consent and support of their own government and supposedly authorized by the Venezuelan government.
But the visit was sabotaged by the Government using the same "modus operandi" as with all the peaceful demonstrations of the Venezuelan opposition: the deployment of civil attack groups. This way, these organized group of violent supporters of the Venezuelan regime prevented the Brazilian senators from making it to Caracas from the Maiquetía airport, as they blocked the roads and caused damage to the vehicle they were riding in. After several hours of confrontations, the Brazilian parliamentarians were forced to return to their country and requested President Dilma Rousseff to express her rejection for this aggression against them.
But, as it has become sadly customary with the rulers of Venezuela's "allied" countries, Rousseff showed her solidarity with her Venezuelan comrade and described the visit of the Brazilian delegation as "shameful" for being "an interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela". In addition, the government of Maduro denied having sabotaged the visit of the senators and accused "national and international right-wing groups" for attempting a "media stunt created out of lies".
But, since the Sun cannot be covered with a finger, neither can the undemocratic and dictatorial nature of Venezuela's government.
See VenEconomy: What is Venezuela's Government So Afraid Of? (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 22, 2015)
After long months of multiple pressures from the Venezuelan opposition, former presidents and parliamentarians from across Latin America, and several international bodies, Tibisay Lucena, head of the National Electoral Council (CNE), finally spoke and announced the date, rules and schedule of the parliamentary elections on Monday.
What she announced is summarized as follows:
This announcement by Lucena meets one of the four requests made by Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos and the students, today political prisoners of the government of Nicolás Maduro, at the beginning of their hunger strike. López and the students made a wise decision by putting an end to their respective hunger strikes on Tuesday. Pending requests are that the elections are carried out under the impartial observation (not a simple accompaniment) of the OAS and the European Parliament; the release of the remaining political prisoners; and the cessation of persecution and censorship against political dissidents.
Unfortunately, that respite given to Venezuela's democratic sector by Lucena lasted less than a heartbeat, because Maduro also spoke that same Monday afternoon...
The ruler, faced with an election process deemed vital to start the rescue of democracy, with the "socialism of the 21st century" showing its lowest levels of popularity in 17 years, with a sustained decline in oil revenues and the most serious economic and social crisis, gave an aggressive and threatening speech filled with violence and everything that goes against a democratic coexistence. Maduro expressed with high-flown words and resorting to the strategy of domination through fear that if the opposition won the elections, they would eliminate the social programs and benefits. Then he said that "our people are not going to give up; our people are going to fight in the streets, no matter the circumstances we have to deal with. So I say, so I assume. I would be the first one to hit the streets with the people to defend their social rights".
This is a speech that may be categorized as incendiary and demonstrative that the Government refuses to resolve the ongoing political, economic and social crisis via constitutional and democratic means. Or is it a speech that hides a fear of being overwhelmingly defeated by a population that will withdraw its electoral support for finding the State responsible for the collapse of the country?
The question is what the democratic population will do now to pursue a change of route. Or what steps will the democratic leadership take to ensure that the decision of the majority of the population will be respected all the way.
The work to be done is not easy, but not impossible either. Move together and in the same direction is the ultimate goal to achieve so that in January of 2016 everyone starts working hard for the recovery of the country, with a new Parliament that is plural and representative of all sectors of the Venezuelan society. Let's get on with it!
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's CNE Lucena Has Spoken... and So Has Maduro (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 23, 2015)
The decline in purchasing power of the Venezuelan population is such that the methodology used by the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) for measuring the items that make up the various types of basic basket of products has become worthless already, without detailing the changes or its effects, attempting to prove that inflation levels are under control, or simply to stop reporting the performance of economic indicators in order to hide the real deterioration of the national economy.
Today, people see how their incomes slip out of their hands as they become insufficient to cover their minimum nutritional, healthcare, transportation, clothing, housing or any other need to guarantee their quality of life.
Just to have an idea on how much inflation has spiked, given that the BCV has not released the figures on consumer prices since December of 2014, it is enough to have a look at the monthly variations in the costs of the basic basket of goods released by the Center of Social Analysis and Documentation of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (Cendas-FVM).
This may not be an accurate measurement of current inflation, but it is more than enough: the increases in the costs of the Cendas-FVM basket were fairly similar to those reported by the BCV in the period between 1994 and 2013. It is assumed that the increases this year are also quite similar to those not reported by the BCV, which means that inflation is well above 100% as it remains the highest in the world.
Cendas-FVM data showed that the cost of its basket increased 41.9% in the first five months of 2015, surpassing the accumulated variation of the CPI for the Caracas Metropolitan Area by 18.9 percentage points during the same period in 2014. If that pace is maintained in the remaining months of 2015, the basket price would increase by more than 130% this year. The Cendas-FVM basic basket of goods was located at Bs.42,846.91 in May, or 12.9% higher than April and Bs.23,392.11 (120.2%) higher than a year ago. Six of the seven items that make up this basket increased in May: Housing Rental (1.5%); Personal Hygiene and Household Cleaning Items (3.8%); Food Basket (9.2% ); Education (27.7%), Healthcare (1.4%); and Clothing and Footwear (46.5%). This price spike made a 20% increase in the minimum wage in force since May 1 of this year vanish, because even with this salary increase Venezuelans needed 6.4 minimum wages to purchase the basket.
No matter how much the Government tries to dodge its responsibility for this economic collapse, the facts are there for everyone to see that this situation is the direct consequence of the misguided policies outlined by the so-called "socialism of the 21st century".
It should be remembered that inflation rises when the amount of money available for purchases increases while the number of goods and services on offer remains the same; that is to say, more bolivares for the same products. One of the reasons why there is no supply of goods and services is the destruction of the national productive apparatus by a confiscatory, statist and controlling policy.
Added to this is that the BCV has been creating money out of nowhere for several years to finance the nation's fiscal deficits... and, more recently, the cash deficits of state-run oil company PDVSA.
Just to give an idea:
Monetary liquidity (M2) increased 25% during the first half of 2015, and 76% in the last twelve months. At present, M2 is nearly 11 times higher than five years ago.
While the GDP rose by a scant 5.8% between 2010 and 2014.
That is to say that while the mass of money increased tenfold, the availability of goods and services just went up 6%.
The impact of this imbalance was not perceived by the population because of a ports policy that led the Government to meet the domestic demand with imports, financed with the high prices of oil.
But, with the arrival of the lean season, imports are no longer an escape valve, and Venezuelans are now paying for the damage caused by the late Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro and their people.
See VenEconomy: Inflation Soars in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 25, 2015)
Eulogio del Pino, who replaced Rafael Ramírez as head of PDVSA, seems to be making a great effort to manage the operations of the state-run oil company.
He traveled to an OPEC meeting in Vienna, to Russia and India, seeking to strengthen the battered relations of PDVSA with the different international companies and countries, as he announced several agreements that seem to be pointing in the right direction:
The first one of them is an agreement with PBF Energy Inc. to sell the 189,000 barrel-per-day Chalmette refinery (Louisiana) for $322 million. This refinery is a 50:50 joint venture between ExxonMobil and PDVSA, and is particularly fit for processing upgraded crude from Petromonagas (formerly Cerro Negro). The deal apparently would make sense from the perspective of PDVSA that in spite of the fact it may lose a "captive customer" for 95,000 barrels per day of Petromonagas crude oil, everything indicates that it will be able to maintain the customer, since it was especially reformed so it could process the upgraded crude of Cerro Negro in an efficient way. To this is added the fact that the sale puts an end to PDVSA's uncomfortable partnership with ExxonMobil. (Needless to say, it would have been better to prevent the illegal and expensive expropriation of the ExxonMobil stake in Cerro Negro).
The second is an announcement by PDVSA on the imports of Urals 30-32 degrees API crude oil from Russia's top oil producer Rosneft for mixing it with the extra-heavy and hard-to-sell crude of the Orinoco Belt to produce "Merey" 16-17 degrees API that is sold easily on the market. The unknown seems the size of the operation and the price, data that the Government does not provide with transparency.
The third is an announcement that Suelopetrol will give Petrocabimas, a joint venture that is majority-owned by PDVSA, $625 million to finance investments aimed at doubling production and bring it to 60,000 barrels per day in a period of five years. Suelopetrol is a private Venezuelan oil company that has expanded its activities to exploration and extraction since its foundation in 1984. It also holds a 1.0% stake in the extra-heavy crude Petroindependencia project from the Orinoco Belt along with Chevron, Mitsubishi and Inpex Corp.
The fourth is a request made by PDVSA to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on February 8 of this year to annul an ICSID arbitration court ruling in October of 2014, according to which grants a compensation to ExxonMobil of $1.6 billion for the expropriation of its stake in the Cerro Negro upgrader and other operations in the country. If the purpose of that request is to buy some time, then PDVSA is reaching its goal. The appeal was accepted. A new arbitration panel was appointed on May 8 and, the way things look so far, it will take at least a year before it decides on the subject. In the meantime, ExxonMobil has no other option but to put its claim for payment on hold before a New York court.
However, something seems to be hiding under this sun, and is the reason for some of these operations.
For example, the sale of the Chalmette refinery would be owed to a goal that remains unclear: The Government is resorting to extreme measures, selling every asset available so that it can collect "fresh money" to weather the cash crisis before the time comes to elect new members for the Parliament on December 6, and not to invest in the revival of the productive apparatus and thus take Venezuela out of the abyss it has been plunged into. Maybe this sale is also hiding a move in advance to get rid of this asset before ExxonMobil tries to collect the money of its compensation?
And even though the Chalmatte refinery may be considered a modest asset compared to PDVSA's refining unit Citgo, is another small piece taken away from the Venezuelan State, whose gold has already been stolen, whose external debt has been sold at a discount, whose international reserves have run dry, and whose national territory has been given away to other countries.
As usual, the petty political interests come before the interests of the nation.
See VenEconomy: Good, Bad News from Venezuela's Oil Industry (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 26, 2015)
The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held primaries on Sunday to select half of its candidates in 87 districts of 22 states plus the Capital District. This way, militants of the PSUV went to the ballots as they attended an election process that lasted for more than 15 hours, and had 5,613 polling stations spread over 3,987 voting centers.
According to information from Diosdado Cabello, Vice-President of the PSUV and President of the Parliament, 3,162,400 people went to the ballots; that is to say, 16.4% of the 19,260,775 registered voters in the Permanent Electoral Register - a slightly lower rate than the 17.1% achieved by the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition party during their primaries in 2010.
The political actors, both from the Government and the opposition, can read into these results and jump to their own conclusions.
The PSUV should take note of the poor turnout (slightly above 30%, according to Cabello, and around 5% according to independent analysts).
These results were in spite of the illegal use of public resources and blatant propaganda, at the expense of the nearly empty public coffers and the misuse of the State's media network, which is unfortunately the only conduit of information available for the majority of the people living in popular sectors and the interior of the country with no access to alternative media or the Internet.
In spite of the mounting pressures on public employees and the control exercised over the beneficiaries of the social programs dubbed as "missions", as well as the demagogic distribution of a portion of public revenues.
In spite of the abuses and violations of the Constitution and electoral laws, as demonstrated when President Nicolás Maduro, before the closing of the polling stations, threatened to know who had voted and who did not, as well as with the extension of the closing time of polling stations on three occasions, so these could remain open until 10:00 p.m. and this way have reluctant voters picked up at their homes by supporters of the regime.
It should be noted that these meager results also evidenced a growing rift in the PSUV. For starters, the 1,162 candidates who participated were mostly imposed by the Miraflores presidential palace, and not necessarily representatives of natural leadership in their respective regions. In addition, on this occasion, the ruling party suffered a major split with Marea Socialista, a local left-wing political organization, breaking away from it.
The MUD should keep a watchful eye on the guidelines set out by the Government with the consent of the National Electoral Council (CNE) during these primaries, which always become "the norm" despite their flagrant illegality.
Extending the closing time of polling stations to make things work for the ruling party.
The elimination of the physical voting centers' registries makes it impossible to perform an audit of the voting results.
Another factor to be looked closely is the illegal coercion of broad sectors of the electorate, with which the PSUV intends to tilt the balance in its favor.
In addition to the frequent abuse of putting the entire governmental apparatus at the service of a political bias with total impunity.
These elections served as trial and error to fine-tune the details for the parliamentary elections to be held on December 6 of this year.
Until then there will be all kinds of machinations, with the intention to hinder the participation of the opposition. One fine example is a change of rule announced by the CNE, according to which both parties shall have 40% and 60% of their candidates of each gender in order to ensure "gender equality". The MUD has only 13 female candidates so far, which means the consensus achieved must be revised in order to fill the quotas.
Lastly, it should be noted that the Government's strategy is one of discouraging people from going out and cast their votes in December. Causing a low voter participation is the key that explains the behavior of the Government.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's MUD Must Keep a Watchful Eye on PSUV Primary Elections (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 29, 2015)
The entire productive apparatus of Venezuela has been destroyed. The few private companies still standing have come to a standstill as a result of the lack of raw materials and availability of foreign exchange.
How can't it be destroyed if during these past 16 years the Government has persistently implemented a policy of confiscations, thievery, harassment and persecution against the private sector, a tight control over the economy, penal laws that criminalize entrepreneurship, while the National Executive proves totally incompetent, negligent and corrupt when it comes to the management of state-run companies?
The serious part is that the Government, rather than rectifying the situation that immersed the country in a deep crisis, is looking to cause more damage than it already has.
Thus, it is now stepping up its harassment against one of the survivors: Empresas Polar, Venezuela's most emblematic private company that produces food staples such as the Harina Pan maize flour for making the traditional "arepa" (an indispensable food item in the diet of the population), mayonnaise, margarine, tuna fish and vegetable oil, among others. In addition to traditional beverages such as the Maltín Polar non-alcoholic malt beverage and Polar beers.
The harassment against Polar has come through many ways, among others, the restriction of foreign exchange (a mechanism used against all the private sector in order to suffocate it).
With no foreign currency, several of the production lines have been forced to halt their operations, including Atún Margarita (tuna), Lipton Tea, while that of mayonnaise had to be shut down "until further notice", told the sauces and spreads management of the company's Alimentos Polar food division to some 200 workers of that production line a few weeks ago. The reason was that inventories of soybean oil have run out and that Cencoex (the nation's foreign exchange authority) has not approved the necessary dollars for imports.
A few weeks ago, José Anzola, the operations manager of Alimentos Polar, said in a press release that since October of last year "the prices of precooked flour have not been covering our production costs, so we have requested the State to sell us the corn at its import value rather than the corn produced nationally, which is three times more expensive" being the National Government the only importer of this food item. Yet Yván Gil, the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, had the audacity to accuse the company of distorting the local cereals market for not growing its own corn.
Another plant brought to a standstill was that of Polar's canned food division in Mariguitar, Sucre state, since state-run oil company PDVSA refuses to sell the fuel it needs to keep the equipment and machinery there up and running. With this closure, the production of 1,500 tons of canned tuna and 750 jobs were put at risk. PDVSA argued that its refusal to sell the fuel is due to the fact that one of the permits of the food plant required by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining is not up to date.
Now Polar may paralyze the production plant of caps and lids due to the lack of raw materials. Polar had been receiving the tinplate for production from Sidor until five years ago, but the state-owned steel corporation stopped doing so and now has to import it from countries such as Brazil and the Netherlands doing without the dollar allocations from the Government.
In addition, the Law on Fair Costs and Prices is forcing companies to sell their products below production costs.
To this economic siege is added the harassment of union groups from the State that have been penetrating the company to give it the same treatment as other industries from the private sector in the past. One of these groups is Sintraterricentro that represents 1% of the workers of Empresas Polar, which is making demands impossible to meet with the aim of strangling the company and make things easier for the Government to get its hands on it.
Let's just hope the water never reaches the river. Not only because it would represent job losses for thousands of Venezuelan families, but because without the contribution of Empresas Polar to the supply of food in the country, hunger levels would simply be unbearable.
See VenEconomy: Will Venezuela Survive without Empresas Polar? (Latin American Herald Tribune, June 30, 2015)
The Bolivarian revolution, just like the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale, has no clothes now.
At the beginning of June, the government of Nicolás Maduro was exposed before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in an assessment made to Venezuela over its compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
On that occasion, envoys of the Venezuelan government were unable to provide coherent answers to complaints on the persecution of workers and trade unionists, on the arrest and open trials against them nor the persistent reluctance of the State to discuss and endorse collective agreements of the public sector. Nor could they come up with credible arguments to support the food and medicines shortage crisis affecting the population of Venezuela, soaring inflation and a spike in poverty. Much less refute allegations on the lack of independence of the Judiciary, the criminalization of protest, the dire situation of prisons or the brutal repression by police and military forces during peaceful demonstrations in 2014.
In short, it was demonstrated before those bodies the backwardness of the nation in labor, social and economic rights and civil liberties.
On Monday and Tuesday, Venezuela was placed back in the international dock so that the UN Human Rights Committee could carry out a rigorous assessment on the state of human and political rights there, as much as how the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is being implemented. Venezuela is making a reappearance before that body after an absence of 15 years.
Unfortunately, despite the hearing was public, most Venezuelans did not have access to this information of national interest, since the event was not televised in Venezuela as it was virtually ignored by the local print media. As it is widely known, news reports contradicting the State's idyllic vision of a country are not worth broadcasting or spreading. However, the Government was not able to impose a total media blackout, because citizens with access to the Internet could follow it live on www.treatybodywebcast.org.
Through that link they were able to see the pathetic performance of the Venezuelan delegation headed by Luisa Ortega Díaz, the attorney general, and that included the President of the Supreme Court of Justice (Gladys Gutiérrez); one of the directors of the National Electoral Council (Sandra Oblitas); the High Commissioner for Peace and Life (Isis Ochoa) and the president of the nation's telecommunications regulating body Conatel (William Castillo).
This delegation did not answer the questions from 18 independent experts of the evaluation committee. As expected, the Venezuelan officials stuck to their usual lines that in Venezuela the right to protest is being fully exercised; that there is respect for the life of citizens; that there is freedom of expression and no censorship of any kind. Apart from justifying the illegalities and violations of constitutional guarantees with the tired claim of coups d'état, assassination attempts against Maduro and attacks against national sovereignty.
The members of the committee listened with astonishment and amazement to the lies and unusual allegations told by the Venezuelan officials, who were not able to deny the reports and documented evidence submitted by various national and international NGOs, whose hard work helped expose the precarious situation of human, political, economic and civil rights of the country's citizens.
The refutations from members of the committee destroyed both the accusations and arrogance of Ortega Díaz when referring to the case of María Lourdes Afiuni, a former justice of the Supreme Court, who was reminded that everybody had the same rights to express their opinion in that body, while driving Castillo into a corner with evidence of the persecution against several local media outlets and the penalties imposed to 22 executives of two daily newspapers (TalCual and El Nacional) and a news website (La Patilla).
In a nutshell, there is not much that the government of Maduro can do or say to justify, deny or hide the obvious failure of the so-called "socialism of the 21st century", the flagrant violations of human rights and the loss of freedoms suffered by Venezuelans.
See VenEconomy: The Bolivarian Revolution Has No Clothes (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 1, 2015)
In VenEconomy's June issue, Armando Gagliardi, a local economist, explains the differentiating factor between rich and poor societies.
Gagliardi points out that one of the most useful indicators to get to know the well-being of a country is to get acquainted with the most feasible way and nature of the processes to enrich itself.
He says that, as the so-called Bolivarian revolution deepens its political model, the Government of Venezuela is doing everything it can to make the legitimate forms of wealth creation unfeasible, while facilitating those that are illegitimate and destructive.
Gagliardi claims that the country seems to be gradually falling into the hands of prison gang leaders, drug traffickers, the illegal resellers of staple goods known as "bachaqueros" and corrupt military officers, whereas businesspeople, academics and the general public are being increasingly marginalized.
To Gagliardi there are five specific policies (aka the five horsemen of Venezuela's socialism) causing a pernicious effect on the generators of wealth and making its destroyers richer. These five horsemen are:
A foreign exchange market that, by bolstering the black market at the same time, produces a transfer of wealth from the Government (whose revenue is no longer in bolivares) and consumers (who must pay for the products they purchase at black market prices) to corruption mafias with preferential access to dollars that are deeply entrenched in the government structure.
A market of goods whose prices are controlled in the middle of an inflationary environment. In this case, the transfer of wealth takes place from the producers of goods (who do not obtain fair profits for the goods they produce) and consumers (who must pay for overpriced goods) to the "bachaqueros", a new economic class that is quite heterogeneous and in constant growth.
The third horseman is the fiscal deficit, which is a direct result of the previous two horsemen. The fiscal deficit in Venezuela was located around 20% of the GDP in 2014. The Government, by having to sell imported goods directly through public distribution networks such as Mercal, PDVAL and Bicentenario at subsidized prices, is wasting many of the few dollars that make it into the country and throwing its fiscal accounts out of balance. With current foreign exchange controls making the State give away many of the dollars not spent directly at a rate as low as Bs.6.30 per unit, the country has fewer dollars to meet upcoming debt commitments, a fact that puts it on the brink of a possible default.
But there are two other "horsemen" as - or even more - harmful than the three previous ones.
A labor market that is seriously affecting the productive sector, given that the so-called "Law of Socialist Labor", which makes labor costlier and severely limits the possibilities of employers to get rid of employees not complying with their duties, is one of the mechanisms used by the Government to get many companies out of the game.
The fifth horseman is a real estate market stifled by rental and urban land laws from the socialist regime that excessively protect tenants and forsake landlords. As a result, the market for rental homes has disappeared, just like most of the privately-run construction sector.
These five horsemen of Venezuela's socialism are systematically transferring the wealth from businesspeople, consumers, workers and those who want to make a decent living, to drug dealers, brokers, speculators and freeloaders.
This kind of distortions is what make poor nations remain permanently poor. Poverty is the support of these political regimes, as acknowledged by several officials of the Bolivarian revolution.
Gagliardi pointed out that the Venezuelan economy may not go back to normalcy until those distortions are resolved. Resolving them is the key challenge for the people who will eventually lead a political transition!
See VenEconomy: The Five Horsemen of Venezuela's Socialism (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 2, 2015)
Michael Rowan, a longtime collaborator of VenEconomy, wrote an analysis for the monthly issue of June on the controversial meetings held by U.S. and Venezuela senior officials in a bid to normalize relations and restore ambassadors in both countries. Rowan believes that it would have been interesting to hear what they said behind closed doors, though perhaps "all the flies on the wall would have been shocked to death for what they heard".
Rowan, as many political analysts, wonders whether the negotiator of Barack Obama, Tom Shannon, will normalize relations between the U.S. and Venezuela through negotiations with the president of the Parliament, Diosdado Cabello.
He claims that "if the accounts published in recent years matter, and they may not after all, concerns of both the U.S. and Venezuela are then on the table".
He explains that there are the interests of the U.S. on the one hand, which orbit around the issues of national security, terrorism, drug-trafficking and associations with terrorists, as well as around the values of the U.S., which include the political prisoners, human rights violations and the absence of transparent elections in Venezuela.
And on the other, there are the existing fears of Venezuela, that is to say, if rulers ensure their perpetuation in power, if national sovereignty is maintained, if its designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism is prevented and if the criminal sanctions imposed against more than a dozen government officials are lifted.
Rowan argues that talking about the "economic war" is unlikely, because both parties know that this is a public relations stunt for domestic consumption. Putting the economic war on the table would mean that the U.S. has succumbed to the magical realism, before starting the talks. In his view, the U.S. is negotiating to protect its interests based on "realpolitik" and values that are about hope.
Rowan says that realpolitik comes in first place. The U.S. has military bases or military staff in more than half of the 192 countries of the planet. It participates in the business of all the others. Therefore, the standard operating procedure for the U.S. is to continue with its interests - security - and commitment to its values, as an obligation towards human rights or democracy.
Rowan says that when the U.S. believes that its security is threatened, it takes action, and frequently finds itself alone, acting unilaterally. And thinks Venezuela would have something to worry about. Another explanation would be that Venezuela is doing the same as did Fidel Castro, who took advantage of the same fear of being harassed by the U.S. so he could economically and socially repress the Cuban population for half a century. Now both the late Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro have done the same thing for 17 years. And it's working.
So, what is the truth? Is it possible an American-led intervention in Venezuela or not?
Another highlight in Rowan's article is the possibility for the U.S. to designate Venezuela as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. He explains that this would ultimately destroy Venezuela within a week, because international banks would refuse to engage in transactions with a country designated as State Sponsor of Terrorism, due to fears of huge fines from the U.S Department of the Treasury.
The designation of Venezuela as a State Sponsor of Terrorism would seriously limit or prevent all transactions in dollars (oil, imports, everything) and would seize funds from the Government of Venezuela in American territory (which extends to Europe and Asia, according to the interpretation of the banks), thus giving rise to a frozen and dollar-ependent Venezuelan economy.
What is even worse for Venezuela's regime is that to get rid of this designation, it is necessary that a possible new government doesn't have any relationship with the government designated as such. This eliminates the possibility of appointing an unconditional person as President to continue doing things as before. The party would be over for the regime with the designation as State Sponsor of Terrorism, so that's the reason it should avoid it at all costs.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela Should Avoid Designation as State Sponsor of Terrorism (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 3, 2015)
Prevention, care and damage repair are definitely not the strengths of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution, as has become evident in these 16 years.
The incompetence and negligence regarding this has been widely demonstrated since the first days of the late Hugo Chávez back in December of 1999, after severe mudslides devastated Vargas state, and caused terrible damage in other states such as Miranda and Falcón. The mudslide was considered as one of the worst natural disasters that have ever occurred in Venezuela, resulting in thousands of casualties and hundreds of missing persons, countless injured and tens of thousands of people affected, as well as the enormous material losses from the destruction of property and infrastructure belonging to both the State and individuals.
On that occasion, Chávez proved negligent for not recognizing the size of the natural disaster in a timely manner, as he refused to suspend a referendum on the Constitution and declare a state of emergency in the affected states and thus give proper aid to safeguard the lives and properties of the population -- giving his Bolivarian project top priority over the lives of the people.
Now, setting aside the impact on human and material losses caused by the landslide of 1999, the improvised response of President Nicolás Maduro in the face of the overflowing of the Arauca and Sarare rivers (Apure state) and the cracks found in several dams last week, only proves that the revolutionary Government is still inexperienced in preventing and addressing emergencies caused by natural phenomena after 16 years, just like happened in 1999, as its political process remains its top priority.
The floods in the last few days have left more than 40,000 Venezuelans affected; more than 1,000 families have lost their possessions, properties and homes, particularly in the city of Guasdualito. After a week of heavy floods, Ramón Carrizalez, the governor of Apure state, decreed a state of emergency and reported that the Government would provide support to those affected through seven security quadrants, as he would distribute food, drinking water and other supplies. However, the cries for help from the population and the complaints about failures in the assistance process to the people affected by the floods remain widespread.
The criticism begins with the seven-day delay in decreeing the emergency, despite houses, pharmacies, banks, public squares and streets being under water. Also, there was no electricity, natural gas, gasoline or drinking water, while the population was struggling without the necessary resources to survive.
In addition, it was reported that the aid from the State was not provided in an efficient way. There are significant failures in the distribution of non-perishable food, medical supplies, water, sleeping mats, among others. As warns Lumay Barreto, the former mayor of Guasdualito, there is no clarity about the humanitarian aid operations, because municipal and military authorities seem not to know what they are doing, for they "intend to distribute stuff to an affected population in 170 slums through seven quadrants", when these quadrants are only "for security purposes, not for taking action regarding this particular emergency situation". There are also allegations that military officers were charging sums of money for the supplies.
It was reported that the insecurity issue has not been addressed effectively, which raises fears of the population over further losses to their property. There has been no support from the State to bury the deceased, either.
Now that threats of more floods are over, people in the affected areas are facing the risk of an outbreak of diseases such as chikungunya, malaria, leptospirosis, and diarrhea -- a situation that becomes more critical by the minute because the only hospital in Guasdalito is flooded, with no medical supplies and damaged equipment.
The Vargas mudslide experience that Chávez let happen in 1999 is being repeated once more by Maduro today. Those who don't learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Maduro Repeats Same Old Vargas Mistakes in Apure State (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 6, 2015)
Nicolás Maduro, just like Hugo Chávez, has not tried hard to rule Venezuela fairly well. Quite the opposite. The worst thing, for being emulating his predecessor, is that he does not pay heed to any reasonable suggestion from anyone, as he refuses to take the measures needed to help the population cope with recession, general shortages and soaring inflation. And worse still, is that his actions and those of his officials have worsened the economic and social situation that was already quite serious before.
The wrong response of the National Executive to a shortages issue reaching unbearable levels has been, in the first place, rationing and controlling the amount of goods arriving in major food distribution chains through mobilization guides and the so-called "Fair" Prices Law, which is currently under review. A review that is no guarantee that things will get any better because, according to some reports still developing, the changes will bring more distortions to the national economy.
Another bad move was trying to control the purchases of food and staple goods from citizens through fingerprint readers, as much as limiting these purchases to two days a week depending on the last number of their ID cards. As explained by Rodrigo Agudo, an expert in the agri-food area, in light of the destruction of the entire production chain (from the agricultural production, the agro-industrial sector, the import sector, the distribution sector to the wholesale/retail sector), citizens have turned their homes into some sort of "warehouses" in which they stash away assorted products due to the uncertainty they might ultimately not be getting the supplies they need to survive. Now, the Government is announcing as a measure of grace that it would eliminate the fingerprint readers in establishments. But that won't translate into an improvement since apparently the Government's software is sufficiently advanced as to recognize the number of purchases made throughout the week - or month - thanks to the consumers' ID card numbers.
What is foreseen is that, after queuing up outside establishments for long hours, consumers will continue to wander from place to place as they get a resounding "NO" every time they ask for the products they need.
For instance, canned tuna cannot be found anywhere. The tuna industry has declared an emergency due to the lack of supplies, raw materials and spare parts for machinery.
The same goes to milk. Pasteurizers are in crisis because of a spike in prices and the lack of milk packages. The companies of the sector have accumulated a debt of $300 million in imports that local authorities have not yet repaid.
Chicken is also hard to find. The deficit of chicken production is 50,000 tons per month according to reports by the Poultry Federation of Venezuela.
There is no meat, and when it is found is between Bs.600 and Bs.900 per kilo, despite the fact that prices were set at Bs.250 per kilo for prime cuts, according to an administrative ruling issued by the Superintendency of Fair Prices (SUNDDE); lower-quality cuts are Bs.220 per kilo and for meat with bone is Bs.160 per kilo.
There are no personal hygiene products such as diapers, soap, detergent, among others, despite the fact that the Government controls their distribution. Nor is there bottled water due to the lack of containers and lids.
Regarding medicines, the situation is not the same as that of the food sector.
There are no drugs for blood pressure control, or Parkinson's disease, or fever reducers, or contraceptives. The shortage of medicines was located at 70%, while the debt of the State with international suppliers is $3.5 billion. And the Government is imposing a new control channel for the distribution of products when the real problem lies in supplies.
So there is nothing to indicate there will be changes for the better, on the contrary, the situation will get much worse. This is because, on the one hand, foreign exchange will become more scarce, and on the other, the operations of many of the few companies still standing are grinding to a halt due to the shortage of raw materials and foreign exchange. According to the Venezuelan Confederation of Industrialists (Conindustria), about 67% of industrial companies have reported a drop in production during the first quarter of this year, and there is a risk that many of them will stop their production lines as a result of the failure in the supply of raw materials and inputs, both domestic and imported.
Worst of all is that, instead of taking action to cope with the crisis, Maduro labeled Fedecámaras (Venezuela's most important business association) as enemy of the homeland. And other government officials, such as Francisco Ameliach, the governor of Carabobo state, decided to continue with his allegations against businesspeople of the private sector for being responsible of an ongoing "economic war", calling them speculators, monopolists and smugglers; all this to "justify" the strange reluctance of this government to address the problems affecting the nation.
Meanwhile, the hunger of Venezuelans nestles in scarcity.
See VenEconomy: Shortages Issue Worsens in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 7, 2015)
A few days ago, Víctor Maldonado, head of the Caracas Chamber of Commerce, published an accurate analysis on the violence going on in Venezuela, whose assertions synthesize the everyday reality lived by Venezuelan citizens.
He begins with an unquestionable assertion: Venezuela is a violent country. He explains that Venezuela ranks No. 1 in all lists on the topic at global level with 2.85 deaths per hour; he also says that Venezuelans are living under a self-inflicted curfew that begins at sunset and lasts through dawn.
Maldonado is also right when saying that the country is suffering the effects of a complex system of illicit activities, increasingly organized and in constant conflict, fighting one another for the control of the national territory and the monopoly of the resulting profits from those activities.
He accurately explains that the first reason to criminal violence is found in the merciless exploitation of the Government's speech of resentment, focused on the argument of hatred. A speech that always blames other Venezuelans thinking differently for the bad things happening in the country: "If the poor are hungry is because the rich are taking their food. If there is inflation is because the 'stateless' bourgeoisie wants to put an end to their prosperity". And "the massive blackouts are due to the lack of awareness of some Venezuelans who spend energy at the expense of the hardships of others".
Sadly, he claims that is not possible to reconnect the Venezuelan people. "The regime has specialized in making some sectors fight against each other and educate us with resentment". "Dialogue is a chimera that quickly dissolves in the practice of retaliation". He points out that as a result this resentment justifies the physical disappearance of other Venezuelans.
He hits the nail on the head when explaining that the corollary of this division between "good and bad guys", between revolutionaries and "stateless" citizens, is impunity. And he portrays reality: "They all feel supported in the goal of their own vindication. Those who suffer deprivation feel they have been authorized to steal. Those who feel mistreated feel they are entitled to commit crimes. Those who do not have anything are authorized to invade properties and become their new owners". And says that the Bolivarian revolution is unaware of the two fundamental rights of living and owning, as it reduces us to the traditional "run for your life" once more.
But that is not all, he points out: The people's empowerment has been made through the 'colectivos' (a type of community organization that supports the Bolivarian revolution), with many of them armed and guarantors of their own laws".
He claims that "the revolution must be defended at all costs and all militants have to feel called together to carry out that mission. The colectivos are the guardians of the revolution, but their price is having territorial immunity. The so-called "peace zones" have been transformed into quite the contrary: violent spaces where the brute force is imposed over any consideration of guarantees and rights."
And makes a snapshot of the day by day life in Venezuela by explaining that "impunity is played within the following logic: "For those who are with the process, everything is allowed. The rest must face the consequences."
Just as serious is the following reality: "The police system does not work, is poorly managed and accompanied by a judicial and prison system that do nothing but make things worse. It has not been made to protect citizens and reintegrate offenders into society, but to put society in a worse situation while it improves wrongdoing at the same time. There is more fire power and capacity to kill on the other side. There is nothing on this side, because the message from the Government is ambiguous, doubtful, fragile and wicked."
To complete the picture, he raises another grim reality: "Drug-trafficking has taken root in the country."
Maldonado is also right when he argues that the State seeks to exacerbate the fear.
And he reaches the following conclusions: 1) That Venezuelans want their violence to end.
Is the Government up to the task?
See VenEconomy: About the Wave of Violence in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 8, 2015)
As in every cock-and-bull story told by the Bolivarian revolution, as to employer-employee relations, the Venezuelan government is imposing laws to strangle companies from the private sector, while blatantly neglects state-run companies and the entire public sector.
This is the case, for example, of a labor immobility decree that came into effect in Venezuela almost 11 years ago (since September 30 of 2004) to stay indefinitely. A measure that makes it impossible for any company to terminate the services of a worker, no matter how justified his/her layoff may be, and that pays a salary to someone who doesn't produce anything or doesn't make appropriate counterpart contributions throughout the labor relationship. An exception to this rule are journalists, writers, analysts, columnists, cartoonists and comedians that the Government finds uncomfortable; these workers are being fired from their jobs arbitrarily due to pressures from some government official or the Miraflores presidential palace itself. While in the public sector, to be removed from the payroll, it only takes not supporting the socialist process, or not obeying the call to attend a political event, or even expressing criticism of the Bolivarian revolution through the employees' private social networks.
Another case where the width of the funnel favors the Government is the implementation of an enabling decree of the Organic Labor Law (aka LOTTT) with regard to a regulation on outsourcing, which came into effect on May 7 of this year (after a vacatio legis of three years from the publication of the decree-law).
It should be noted that the LOTTT and its regulations were passed without consultation and the involvement of any of the two actors of the labor sector (workers and employers).
Its wording is ambiguous and discretionary. It doesn't make clear who the outsourced workers are, a fact that has raised concerns in the business sector, because companies hiring them can be subject to multiple sanctions and penalties provided by law. And, with regard to the outsourced employees of the public sector, this sector brings together most of the outsourced workers from cooperatives, social production companies and the countless of businesses owned by this monopolistic government: neither the National Institute of Statistics (INE) nor the Ministry of Labor report this data.
Now, Froilán Barrios, a professor of the Catholic University Andrés Bello (UCAB) and general secretary of the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV), complained about "further outrages" committed by government agencies and state-run companies against this particular LOTTT regulation in an article published by daily El Nacional on Wednesday.
Barrios said that both the Ministry of Defense and CORPOELEC agreed with the state power corporation's Operating Management of Distribution and Commercialization arm and the Bolivarian Militia for the implementation of a plan to prune the trees near power distribution lines, in compliance with the action plan of the Government's "Gran Misión Eléctrica" electricity program. This agreement that seeks to "provide electrical service for the good life of Venezuelans throughout the national territory" would use militiamen imposing questionable labor conditions, among which, those who are part of the Service and Maintenance Units of the tree pruning plan "have served for two years and received their payments with delay. What's more, they have been up to two or three months without seeing any money".
Barrios explained that "in reality, these are workers outsourced by CORPOELEC" and, according to their military bosses, "they are not entitled to anything, including social benefits or social security; they take advantage of the lack of definition of these workers to impose them conditions of slave labor, not even seen before in the 'maquilas' of Central America".
He pointed out that "it is abhorrent that a government that calls itself 'workerist' keeps and makes use of the staff under the military figure, denying them their labor and trade union rights. Similarly, it is regrettable that the Ministry of Defense through the Bolivarian Militia uses practices of staff merchants as in Communist China".
The serious thing, said Barrios, is that "these practices have been extended to state-owned companies such as SIDOR, PDVSA, Hidrobolívar, and Inviobras".
The irony is that while thousands of Venezuelan workers are treated as slaves, the Government is using its Bolivarian trade unions to stifle Empresas Polar, one of the local companies that provides greater employment and social benefits to all of its workers.
See VenEconomy: The Law of the Funnel in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 9, 2015)
An editorial by VenEconomy Weekly published on Wednesday brought an analysis on the situation in Greece and the results of the referendum, where more than 60% of the voters rejected the proposals of the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank (aka European Troika) and the lessons from this to be learned by Venezuela.
For starters, the article makes clear that it is not yet known for sure whether this rejection will lead Greece to drop the euro currency or withdraw from the European Union.
The problems of Greece are those of a country that decided to dollarize (or more like "eurize") its currency, which made it lose the ability to devalue when it couldn't balance its international accounts.
Fifteen years ago, Greece joined the European Monetary Union by adopting the euro as its currency instead of the drachma. As is usual when a dollarization process takes place, foreign investment increased and the economy grew during the first years. And, as often happens in governments that call themselves "socialist", the period experienced an explosive growth in earnings (for example, pensions) and deficits in the public sector, which were financed with more indebtedness. Over time, investment flows declined, the growth of the economy slowed and suddenly, the country realized that it couldn't continue to honor its foreign debt as a result of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. At that time, the European Troika provided emergency funding that allowed Greece to continue servicing its debt, in exchange for a series of austerity measures taken by the Greek government.
One of the problems was that, when the government cut spending, the economy lost momentum. The economy shrank by a shocking 25% during 2010-2014; unemployment rose to 25% (50% among the youngest segments of the population). But the deficits were reduced and the debt of Greece stopped growing. Subsequent Greek governments received little credit for their efforts and were constantly criticized for their inability to achieve more severe goals. Although total debt didn't change, the relation between debt and the GDP increased 33% to 170% (same debt, but a smaller economy), a figure that triggered alarms of financial centers around the world.
At the micro level, Greek citizens saw their incomes falling up to 20% during those five years. In a drachma-based economy, the currency would have been devalued; wages would have risen in terms of drachmas (while falling in real terms), while the cheapest drachma helped the economy begin to grow again. In Greece's dollarized economy, salaries were also reduced in both nominal and real terms, but there simply was no economic stimulus in the long run.
The heart of this analysis comes with the following question: what can Venezuela learn from this lesson?
Venezuela, just like Greece, enjoyed and squandered large amounts of money as a result of a remarkable oil bonanza and got heavily into debt by doing so. Venezuela, unlike Greece, does not have a Troika to give it a helping hand. Instead, it has the Chinese and the Russians who might provide some financial support (and they are doing so), which may represent an enormous cost for the nation in the long term. Venezuela, unlike Greece, has avoided the trap of dollarization (at least until now). The most important thing is that Venezuela, just like Greece, lacks measures to stimulate the economy, generate growth and create jobs. And this is precisely what renowned economists and businessmen have been calling for.
Are they asking too much?
See VenEconomy: Greek Lessons for Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 10, 2015)
Venezuela has definitely become the den of a big bad wolf wearing blinders that prevent it from seeing the economic and social disaster it has plunged the country into.
Coming right out of its big mouth are serious issues such as general shortages, soaring inflation, an extreme distortion in exchange rates that range from the privileged Bs.6.30 per dollar to the unrealistic and unpayable Bs.600 per dollar eating away the international reserves, including the savings in Special Drawing Rights (SDR), out of which there are only $1.28 billion left.
Meanwhile, Venezuelans are in a state of shock, all scared due to the uncertainty of not knowing how much longer they will be able to continue to cope with the shortages of food, medicines and a wide array of goods essential for their survival. They don't know anymore how much will cost a product they could barely afford yesterday with their salaries (most of them make minimum salary), no matter whether their employers may eventually double or triple them. There is no salary capable to withstand the constant increase in prices, including the controlled goods and products they buy from the illegal resellers known as "bachaqueros".
Those with higher incomes invest in foreign currency, the stock market or non-perishable goods in an attempt to protect the value of the currency.
The productive sector, including importers and retailers (and excluding those supporting Venezuela's political process), is highly indebted because the Government refuses to allocate the necessary dollars, as agreed upon when their merchandise orders placed abroad were authorized. Not to mention what the replacement value for raw materials or finished products will be for the next orders.
As Boris Ackerman puts it in his article "Monopoly Money" published in VenEconomy's June monthly edition, today Venezuelans are receiving in exchange for their work and effort nothing but "Monopoly money" that represents a tiny fraction of what previous generations of workers or employees used to earn. In reality, only a few people in Venezuela earn the equivalent of the minimum wage during those years of the wrongly named "Fourth Republic".
An analysis that raises the question why the bolívar has ceased to be quality money to become Monopoly money in practice? It lists the characteristics that an asset must have to become money, as it analyzes whether or not the bolívar has those same typologies.
These characteristics can be summarized as follows:
1) Being appreciated by many people willing to facilitate their work in exchange for that money and keep the money as a savings mechanism. And he claims that the bolívar has now stopped being appreciated as a savings mechanism.
2) Having the condition of scarce, so that people are willing to deliver the fruits of their labors. He says that unfortunately the quantity of bolivars in circulation is growing very rapidly, so much so that it has multiplied tenfold in the past five years.
3) Durability. Money can't be something that doesn't last long; money can't be something that constantly loses its value. And he explains that the bolívar loses value for growing in quantity thanks to the Central Bank of Venezuela. In other words, it stops being durable.
4) The ability to be transported or transferred. He argues that, while in theory, the bolívar can be transported, due to foreign exchange controls, it lacks value outside of the Venezuelan territory, and that is what makes it even worse quality.
In summary, the bolívar lacks the necessary conditions to be considered money. It is not appreciated. It is not scarce. It is not durable or transportable.
That situation is owed in its entirety to factors of populist policies from the State that go from excessive public spending derived from a fiscal deficit that is at the same time covered with monetary issue, the attack on private property that has destroyed confidence and, in consequence, the valuation of assets within the national territory and a foreign exchange control that prevents the convertibility of the bolívar.
In short, the country is a mess. And, as is perceived in the reluctance to take any remedial action, that's the ultimate goal of the so-called "Plan of the Socialist Homeland". It seems that the situation nowadays is the one Chávez was after all along when he introduced in Venezuela a model of a country in the image and likeness of Cuba's "sea of happiness".
See VenEconomy: The 'Blinders' of Communism in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 13, 2015)
On Monday, Gustavo González López, Venezuela's Minister of Interior, Justice and Peace, reported a joint operation with the participation of some 200 members of various police and military authorities in Cota 905 (a slum in the south west of Caracas) and the Gran Misión Vivienda Betania IV housing complex in Valles del Tuy, Miranda state. The Ministry report said that 14 criminals died at the hands of authorities. There were also 134 detainees (32 of them foreigners), while pointing out there are "direct links with Colombian paramilitary groups here in downtown Caracas". Some 20 stolen vehicles, 12 handguns, 2 rifles and 2 hand grenades were seized as well.
González López said that the move is part of the so-called "Operation of Liberation of the People" being carried out by his office, which has already taken place in the south of Aragua state and Ciudad Tiuna, a military zone of the Fuerte Tiuna military fort in Caracas, where the Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela housing program built numerous housing complexes for the poor.
When citizens learned the news which was spread by the media and social networks, they didn't know whether to welcome or censor the excess use of force applied in those areas as much of the casualties reported were of alleged criminals.
They might be welcoming the move because they feel that the Government is finally doing something about the terrible crime wave scourging Venezuelans. As everybody knows, rampant crime has dramatically affected the lives of Venezuelans. The criminal violence and impunity have spread fear among the population, no matter the social class, political bias, race, sex or age. People today simply don't know whether they will enter the list of the more than 200,000 homicide victims in the last 16 years in Venezuela.
Censorship has also spread, because these spasmodic military and police operations can eventually hide unholy reasons, or become ways to settle a score and violate human rights, even making innocent people pay for the sins of others.
Censorship or criticism, because these bloody operations would be unnecessary today if the 15 Ministers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Justice and Peace has had over the past 16 years, the 21 security plans put into practice, or any of the various disarmament operations and public safety policies had prevented the growth of the criminal population that now exceeds 130,000 individuals, including those held in prisons and the ones currently wandering free across the country.
These kind of operations in which the military and police force is excessively applied in areas where innocent children, women and elderly people live would be unnecessary if the Bolivarian administration of justice would have guaranteed that crime and murder cases are solved rather than focusing on chasing around students, politicians or citizens expressing their discontent with the regime. According to Fermín Mármol García, a local criminal lawyer, impunity is the law since only six in 100 crimes committed in Venezuela are solved.
And obviously these operations that generate fear and anxiety among the neighbors of fenced areas would be unnecessary if Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro had not persisted in a poorly named "civic-military alliance" to defend the revolutionary process. This alliance has only been useful to arm loyal clients to the teeth with weapons of war produced, imported and distributed by the Government.
The question is how has it been allowed that guns, AK rifles, and hand grenades guarded by the State end up in the hands of civilians. How has the State allowed 18,000 criminal gangs to operate freely in the country, out of which 12,000 are dedicated to violent crimes and the rest to the offense of extortion. Or how it came up with the idea of establishing the so-called "peace zones", which have rather become areas of violence and death.
Is the boomerang coming back to the thrower's hand?
See VenEconomy: A Boomerang Effect on Crime in Venezuela? (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 14, 2015)
The latest developments of the so-called "Operation of Liberation of the People" highlight the foray of criminal groups in many of the housing units built by the Bolivarian government in the framework of the Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela housing program for the poor.
This situation is a "chronicle of disaster foretold" from the same moment that the construction of these huge housing complexes of Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela made out of concrete, cement and iron began in urban land, arbitrarily seized by the National Executive, because it began to demonstrate the shortcomings of this program offered by the late Hugo Chávez during his electoral campaign. Shortcomings that not only have violated the right of private property; seismic, risk control and civil engineering standards; pre-established urban zoning policies for parks and recreational areas; the provision of public services, including water, electricity, solid waste collection and road access; without taking into account an oversaturation of the population concentration, social reinsertion programs and/or citizen coexistence.
To the complaints about corruption and lack of transparency in the construction of the buildings; to the structural failures and political use for the allocation of housing units, it is added that all the serious problems seen in the Venezuelan slums, where the law of the strongest prevails, have been transferred to urban areas.
As early as November 6 of 2013, an interview conducted by journalists Natalia Matamoros and Thabata Molina for daily El Universal to Roberto Briceño León, a sociologist and director of the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, explained in light of the acts of violence with resulting casualties in several of the conglomerates that what was happening "in these buildings of Misión Vivienda is the usual thing that happens everywhere in the country. Anomie settled down in these structures as a result of disorder, the non-compliance with the law, the use of force as a mechanism for conflict resolution, and the reason is that these people are bringing those kind of practices from the slums and shelters they used to live".
Briceño León pointed out back then that "the main failure in the constitution of these urban developments, in addition to the lack of planning, is the absence of monitoring to help new residents integrate and become functional communities". He added that "these people are in a limbo, because they are not owners of their apartments; they don't have social integration, because that sense of belonging is formed over the years; they live with a bunch of strange people who they don't feel any kind of respect and then comes the need to impose themselves".
And he also warned two years ago that bodies of political control (such as the so-called communal councils) that were able to impose control, had already "distorted their functions and 'collected tolls' from the neighbors".
But it seems that in spite of all the evidence and the proven failure of this mistaken "housing policy", the Government is releasing again its electoral program offering new homes in the framework of Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela, according to a statement a few weeks ago of Ricardo Molina, the Minister of Housing and Habitat, who announced new land reviews and earthworks in order to start building new homes.
Many urban areas are feeling already the rigors of the pressure from loyalist mayors, who are paying a visit to the neighbors with the support of representatives of the "communal councils" to let them know they have approved the housing projects without any consultation, which will result in overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, deterioration of the quality of life, insecurity and violence. If the Government doesn't learn from the mistakes of the past, everybody loses here!
See VenEconomy: What Is It that the Government of Venezuela Does Not Want to Understand? (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 15, 2015)
Two days ago, in a column published by daily El Nacional entitled "The Government will do what it takes to remain in power", local psychologist Ángel Oropeza said that, in light of the clear disadvantage and an obvious minority position the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has in this year's electoral race, the Government had pinned its hopes in a strategy to demobilize a majority from the opposition so it doesn't go out and cast its vote in a parliamentary election to be held on December 6. He explained that one of its allies to achieve that goal is a thought pattern that the modern Cognitive Psychology calls "negative anticipation", which "leads the one who suffers it to constantly assume that something is going to go wrong, to never have doubts about that prediction, and to act on that assumption", even if he/she doesn't have data to support those conclusions.
Oropeza said that "in the political sphere, when negative anticipation is generalized to many people, it not only discourages popular organization, but also helps consolidate an attitudinal-psychological floor of collective acceptance and resignation on which authoritarian governments build their model of domination".
Thus, he pointed out that "if a lot of people are convinced that there is nothing to do about their political environment, that what will happen is bad but also inevitable, that surrendering is the only solution because there is no way to change or even face the oppressors, then the model of domination begins to take root and be perceived as irreversible. Not in vain one of the things that authoritarian-like governments seek first is to convince the population of its very precarious political effectiveness, i.e., of its very limited capacity to influence over political facts and much less to change them".
VenEconomy agrees with the approach of Oropeza that the electoral strategy of the Government is precisely to promote the "negative anticipation".
To fulfill that objective, the Government has already done the following things: it delayed the announcement of the date of the parliamentary election; it threatened to eliminate the physical voting books without which it would be impossible to carry out a proper audit of the election results; and suddenly changed the rules of the game with respect to gender parity without previous consultation after the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition party had announced their candidates. It should be clarified that the same National Electoral Council (CNE) had repealed this measure for being inappropriate during the parliamentary elections in 2010.
Now the Government is resorting once more to the same old banning from politics technique, with which it got other opposition leaders out of the game in the past such as Enrique Mendoza, who was looking for another term as Governor of Miranda state, and Leopoldo López, who was running off again for mayor of Caracas' Chacao municipality.
For the December 6 parliamentary election it was foreseen that the Government would forbid several candidates of the opposition to run for office, some of them political prisoners, exiles or with administrative or legal cases against them.
Already affected by this arbitrariness are Daniel Ceballos and María Corina Machado, two top candidates of the MUD for the parliamentary election.
Former mayor Ceballos was banned from politics for a year by the Office of the Comptroller General for not having submitted a statement of assets and liabilities after being illegally removed from his office and arrested in the military prison of Ramo Verde in Greater Caracas. But, according to Jesús "Chuo" Torrealba, executive secretary of the MUD, Ceballos will continue to be a candidate for the opposition party, since as explained by Freddy Guevara, assistant political coordinator for the Voluntad Popular opposition party, the resolution of the Office of the Comptroller General "only prevents him from handling public funds", even if the Official Gazette makes it clear that the ban is "for holding any public office....".
While Machado, a hard critic of the socialist government, was banned from politics for 12 months. According to a statement by the own Machado, the argument from the Comptroller's Office was not having declared, when she was illegally stripped from her parliamentary seat, "some food vouchers in my affidavit", which argues she never received. In order to repudiate the sanction, Machado expressed her determination to remain a candidate for the Parliament, a position endorsed by the MUD as confirmed by Torrealba.
Machado went much further and told the Comptroller that he has "no power to ban me from politics". She also had a strong message for President Nicolás Maduro: "Maduro, I've already got the blessing from the country and its citizens".
It seems that there is courage this time around as winds of change may be blowing in favor of the opposition.
See VenEconomy: Giving It All for the Future of Venezuela! (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 16, 2015)
Evan Ellis, professor of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College (SSI) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, recently [July 10, 2015] published a report entitled The Approaching Implosion of Venezuela and Strategic Implications for the United States. It should be made clear that Ellis is giving a personal view on the matter and not on behalf of the U.S Army or the government.
Just like many other analysts, Ellis considers that Venezuela is on the brink of collapse, which would have serious repercussions for Venezuela's neighboring countries and the region. He claims that "the current regime in Venezuela is locked in an economic and political death spiral from which multiple reinforcing dynamics make it difficult to escape calamity".
This statement has not escaped the thoughts and fears of thousands of Venezuelans. VenEconomy has raised this as a possible scenario, both in its monthly analyzes as in its Economic, Political and Social Perspectives study for over a decade now.
But, the approaches of Ellis bring along two additional points that must be analyzed.
The first of them relates to the impact that a collapse of Venezuela would have on other countries of the region, including the U.S. and Cuba. Among other things, he suggests that the violence in Venezuela will force its neighbors (Colombia, Guyana and Brazil), and nearby Caribbean states, to undertake the expensive and unprofitable task to increase border controls to handle the effects of refugees, terrorist violence and crime. At the same time, he points out that both the U.S. and Europe will have to dedicate more efforts to tackle drug-trafficking from Venezuela and to support the security forces of the Caribbean and Central America when crime becomes uncontrollable in the region.
The second approach of Ellis is based on the possible strategic repercussions for the U.S. Ellis considers that it is not in the U.S. strategic interest to intervene in Venezuela. This is bad news for those Venezuelans with high expectations that the northern giant would do their job.
Ellis claims that U.S. intervention in Venezuela would cause a greater damage to the U.S. relations with the region and its global strategic position, rather than the benefits it would provide for stability and the Rule of Law in the region. What's more, he argues that a hypothetical intervention from the U.S. would likely drive other nations of the hemisphere into a deeper embrace of extra-regional powers such as China and Russia, and would move the region one step further from democratic self-governance.
Among other negative consequences for the U.S., Ellis points out it may further need to help Colombia with:
At the same time, the U.S. may also need to strengthen security cooperation with the newly elected democratic government of Guyana, which may heat things up at the border with that country as Venezuela would use this for propaganda purposes.
Among the suggestions of Ellis to U.S. authorities are:
Ellis considers that for the U.S. the crisis of Venezuela is also an opportunity to strengthen its role in maintaining the democracy, stability, and development of the hemisphere.
See VenEconomy: Winds from the North (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 17, 2015)
The Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) has disrupted the routine of releasing monthly economic data of the nation, as required by law, and turned it into a matter of total secrecy. Since 2013 the BCV began to release the economic figures with certain delay, ending that year with an obvious omission of its Annual Report. Delays have become more usual ever since, and now in 2015 there is a total absence of information about the performance of the economy, to such an extent that official figures are some of the greatest enigmas in Venezuela today.
This silence on the part of the BCV has led analysts to find alternative sources in order to find out the current situation of the local economy. One of these sources is the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (Cendas-FVM), which for over 20 years has been releasing the cost of the basic basket of goods for a household comprised of five individuals on average incomes. While this source doesn't count on the statistical coverage the BCV official figures used to have, economic experts tend to resort to Cendas-FVM for its data generally matched that of the BCV until 2013, a year when marked differences between the two of them started to become evident.
During that year, it began to show that both the BCV and the National Institute of Statistics (INE) were manipulating the results of statistical measurements. Then it was reported that inflation figures were being massaged through methodological changes in the measurement of prices, introducing new criteria for the items that make up the basket of goods and services.
It should be noted that while these changes might be acceptable by taking into account the new patterns of consumption in society, the disinformation of the BCV after releasing the statistical changes has led to distrust and conflicting numbers with the actual behavior of prices.
But, what is the Government trying to hide by silencing the BCV?
One of the answers can be found in the figures released by Cendas-FVM this week, according to which the cost of the basic basket of goods reached an all-time high of 26.5% in June alone, that is to say, 1.5 minimum wages in a single month.
The Cendas-FVM basic basket had a cost of Bs.54.204,69 [$8,604 if calculated at the fictional official exchange rate of Bs.6.30 per dollar] in June, an increase of Bs.11.357,78 (26.5%) from the previous month.
While the cost of the basic basket rose 163.6% in the past 12 months, the equivalent of five minimum wages.
Another interesting information revealed by Cendas-FVM is the massive distortion between products with controlled prices and market prices, whose difference stands as high as 605.0%.
In conclusion, what the Government seeks to hide is that Venezuela has opened the door to hyperinflation. If proper measures are not applied as soon as possible, Venezuelans would be on the highway to hell, as described by VenEconomy in its "Economic, Political and Social Perspectives 2015-2020" study.
Just to mention some of the required measures: the unification of the exchange rates; an economic liberalization and respect for the private property. But, above all, it is essential to change the model of a country imposing communism, as well as to restore the rule of law and democratic institutions.
See VenEconomy: What Lies Behind Secrecy in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 20, 2015)
Fedécamaras issued a statement containing "10 proposals to revive the economy of the country" from the capital of Lara state, Barquisimeto, where Venezuela's largest business association held its annual assembly less than a week ago.
Ten reasonable and logical proposals for anyone who understands that without the contribution of the private sector, working in conjunction with the Government, it will be impossible to guide the progress and development of any country along the correct path.
There was nothing out of the ordinary in any of those ten proposals (at least not for any country with existing democratic institutions) and nearly all of them should be the objectives of a Government whose aim is the well-being of the population. In short, the proposals of Fedecámaras go as follows: an increase in production; change of the economic model; invest 20% of the GDP for an annual growth of between 7% and 8% in order to double the size of the economy in 10 years; clear and shared macroeconomic policies seeking the economic balance; an alliance between the public and private sector; build confidence through stable and clear rules that are applied with justice and responsibility; the recovery of public services; the creation of decent employment to protect workers without sacrificing the productivity of companies and their ability to create new jobs; establish the independence of the oil industry and improve citizen security.
But..., the statement had vital conceptual omissions in the Venezuela making great strides toward a dictatorship. Omissions not overlooked by Diego Arria, a Venezuelan defender of democracy and the system of freedoms around the world, who harshly criticized the proposals of Fedecámaras.
Speaking as a businessperson, Arria warned Fedecámaras that its proposals don't make mention of the absence of the rule of law in Venezuela, "without which there can be no economic model that makes sense". He also claimed that these proposals neither mention the seizure of private property; the suffocation of the media; the persecution of dissidents, the lack of separation of public powers; nor the existence of executioners who persecute and politically disqualify those opposing the Government. He criticized the proposals of Fedecámaras for "not having mentioned a single word" on the more than four thousand farms or the hundreds of industries that have been expropriated so far.
The words of Arria were blunt, indeed. Many may think with some justification they were harsh or undeserved, because the members of Fedecámaras, Conindustria, Consecomercio, and Fedeagro, as well as the rest of all the local business associations and from the private sector, are citizens and businesses that have been hit hard by the Bolivarian regime in the last 16 years. Their universe is today a handful of Venezuelans who have been barely capable of withstanding the harassment, persecution, and expropriation of assets and properties, and are also struggling hard to keep their jobs.
However, the stubbornness of Venezuela's communist government is such that, less than two days before this controversy between Fedecámaras and Arria was made public, it made the National Agri-Food Superintendence order member companies of the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber to ship between 30% and 100% of their production to PDVAL, Mercal, Bicentenario and other establishments belonging to the public food distribution network on the verge of bankruptcy because of their own inefficiencies and corruption.
It should be recalled that the Government already controls the entire national productive system: it is up to the Executive to decide what, where and when to produce; who, what, and when will a product be imported; who distributes food and what part of the country will the products and goods be shipped to and in what quantity; what company gets the foreign currency to operate and produce and which one of them will be forced to fall into debt and go bankrupt. Meanwhile, 80% of the food found in the public distribution network is produced by companies of the private sector. That is to say, the State is the lord and master of Venezuela.
If it persists on this measure, the Government would be confiscating the nation's private production, a new form of plundering the private sector and a new demonstration of the absence of the rule of law and violations to the economic freedoms imposed in Venezuela.
In light of this measure, the words of Arria gain relevance: "Playing democracy with a regime that is an enemy of democracy, of the characteristics of the Republic, of free enterprise, of the productive vision of society, does not uphold spaces of political power or capital".
See VenEconomy: Will the Government of Venezuela Ever Agree with the Words of Diego Arria? (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 21, 2015)
As VenEconomy Weekly's editorial circulating on Wednesday wraps up, "The average Venezuelan is a democrat. It's their nature!"
A nature that is obviously out of tune with the desire of a dictatorial regime imposed from Cuba and the Miraflores presidential palace, guarded by Venezuela's armed forces and the paramilitary groups armed by the own Government, also manipulated by the public authorities seized by the regime to work in their favor when things get rough.
A fine example of this is a joint action carried out by the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic for targeted disqualifications against candidates of the opposition with greater possibilities for a seat in the Parliament.
It seems that both of them are working in favor of the current administration, whose rates of acceptance among the population have dropped significantly due to the harsh economic and social crisis as a result of 16 years of misguided communist policies.
First of all, by creating a climate of mistrust, also supported by facts such as a delay in setting the final date for the upcoming elections; the modification of polling stations to obtain a couple of seats in the Parliament; the creation of polling stations within centers of social programs known as "missions"; a last-minute modification of regulations to require gender parity in the selection of candidates; or not making it clear whether physical voting notebooks, which would allow subsequent audits in the process, will be used or not.
For its part, the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, using the logic that "if you can't beat them, disqualify them", has been making public all the political disqualifications it had shelved for months over the past two weeks.
A fact that shouldn't have taken either the affected leaders or the Democratic Unity (MUD) party by surprise, because that sword of Damocles was already hanging over the heads of several of their candidates for the Parliament, including political prisoners, leaders with open trials and exiles, and with any criminal and administrative measures.
Four of the opposition's strongest candidates to win parliamentary seats in December have been affected with disqualifications so far: Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the San Cristóbal municipality in San Cristóbal state and currently a political prisoner; María Corina Machado, a former lawmaker; Enzo Scarano, the former mayor of the San Diego municipality in Carabobo state; Pablo Pérez, the former governor of Zulia state, and over 40 leaders of the opposition that remain under threat.
A few days ago, Luis Manuel Aguana, an opposition analyst, published in his personal blog an article entitled "The Two Sides of Voting" [Las dos caras del voto], in which he raised the following question: voting to make a dictatorship stronger or voting to rescue democracy? That is the question "as Hamlet would have put it if he had become a voter in this Venezuelan electoral drama".
That question takes on major importance at a time when millions of Venezuelans find themselves counting the days for the December 6 elections hoping to say "enough!" to a model of a country that is not in line with their idiosyncrasy or their desire for freedom, progress and development.
VenEconomy is convinced that the right side of voting is the rescue of democracy, the only avenue citizens have to express their views and defeat any dictatorial regime. But it's also convinced that this time is crucial for the opposition leaders to plow. It's time for them to stop making calculations of political, partisan and personal nature. It's time for organization, for oiling the parties' machinery, for activating the battalions of volunteers to become polling station members and serve as witnesses during the parliamentary elections. It's time for electoral technical advisory teams to reinforce their strategies in order to detect, denounce, alert citizens and curb the illegalities and abuses committed by the Government.
It's time for plowing to make changes happen in this land of liberators and freedom. That's the true nature of Venezuelans.
See VenEconomy: It's Time for Plowing in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 22, 2015)
True to its dictatorial nature, the government of Venezuela once again struck a bewildering blow to local privately-run companies this week, this time through the National Superintendence of Food Management (Sunagro), by ordering companies affiliated to the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber (Cavidea) to ship between 30% and 100% of their production to state-owned food retailers such as PDVAL, Mercal and Abastos Bicentenario.
It's not enough for the Government that these inefficient public distribution networks replenish their stocks with 80% of the production coming from a private sector it blames for everything, corners and strangles with its policies of the so-called "Plan for the Homeland". Now, this sector that produces milk, sugar, wheat flour, precooked corn flour, pasta, rice and cooking oil has to divert its already precarious production to the state network, leaving unsatisfied more than 113,000 sale points belonging to the private network and, therefore, millions of citizens who will now be joining the endless queues around PDVAL, Mercal and Abastos Bicentenario establishments nationwide.
A VenEconomy editorial this week, by raising this new illegality and attack against the economic freedoms, says that it is not clear what Sunagro may be expecting from this measure that will harshly affect both private establishments and consumers.
It indicates that Sunagro might be thinking that by ensuring higher volumes in public food retailers, the Government will enhance its public image and have greater acceptance by the electorate, to the detriment of the private sector. VenEconomy assures that, if so, Sunagro is about to be in for a surprise, because apart from longer queues, this move would generate new problems for the private sector, including a new way for the State to incur debt, since state-owned companies are famous for failing to comply with their payment commitments.
In a nutshell, another measure whose sole function is making the system less efficient.
Policymakers have not been paying attention to the numerous and persistent constructive criticism from analysts and economists to introduce changes in the exchange rate policies, price controls and the Labor Law, as well as in the labor, fiscal and legal areas.
Why is the Government ignoring these recommendations from experts, despite the fact that the failure of the model of a country outlined by the "Plan for the Homeland" has become evident already?
The answer lies in its nature. In a famous animal fable, a scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river, promising he won't harm her because if he does, both would sink. This way, he convinces the frog and she accepts to carry the scorpion on her back. But midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog. When asked why he had stung her, the scorpion replied, "Because it's my nature".
Like the scorpion in the fable, the nature of the Bolivarians is that of a failed and obsolete communism, despite the fact of being aware they're sinking the country into misery. Marxism is their very nature for their commitment to put an end to the system of liberties, to leave a stain on democracy and the rights of citizens. Their creed is that the Government owns all the means of production.
A creed they have been developing slowly and persistently. Unlike the Castro brothers, they have maintained the form - but not the content - of a democracy: They have used the term "Bolivarianism" as a substitute for the word "communism" in order to avoid a reaction against the process during its early stages.
The "Achilles heel" of the strategy is the fact that it requires the legitimization of the regime through frequent elections.
But, despite its several political machinations, the Government cannot be sure if it is going to win them all. For this reason, it is crucial that all Venezuelans go vote on December 6 and that the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition party and its members get their witnesses and other electoral staff ready to guarantee that the people's will is respected.
Because the average Venezuelan is a democrat. That's their true nature!
See VenEconomy: Venezuelans are Democrats by Nature! (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 23, 2015)
The sun cannot be covered with one finger, and neither can the breakdown of democracy and the violation of human rights in Venezuela.
Last week, the watchful eye of the international community gave two warnings on this disrespect for the basic rights of citizens by the government of Nicolás Maduro.
First of all, a group of experts of the United Nations and the Inter-American Human Rights System
expressed their deep regret that a TV show aired by state-run television network Venezolana de Televisión (VTV)
and hosted by Diosdado Cabello, the head of the Parliament, attempted to defame and intimidate the defenders of human rights.
They specifically complained about three recent "unjustifiable televised retaliation incidents":
Now, a group of Spanish senators traveled to Caracas over the weekend to pay a visit to the political prisoners and "help get things on track, in the sense that the elections to be held in December are as free as possible..." and help open a space for dialogue. Unfortunately, that was a visit not made possible due to the arbitrary will of the Government - and the televised insults of Maduro - with the exception of a meeting with Antonio Ledezma, the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas and a political prisoner held under house arrest.
These parliamentarians, in light of the crisis they witnessed on their trip to Venezuela, signed the so-called "Statement of Caracas", also signed by senators from different political parties in Spain (from left, center-right to right), as much as by parliamentarians from Uruguay and Peru. In addition, they confirmed there is an existing threat.
From there, they decided to:
1) Call on all parliamentarians to join other "parliamentarians all over the world for democracy in Venezuela"
so that they serve as interlocutors to promote understanding between all the actors of the Venezuelan political life.
But, since a stubborn blindness and obstinacy are two intrinsic characteristics of this government, its highest representative (Maduro) had another outburst of anger after learning that the OAS would receive Henrique Capriles, one of the leaders of the democratic unity, at its headquarters in Washington on Monday. And emulating his predecessor Hugo Chávez, in a similar adverse circumstance, Maduro assured that the OAS" is a worthless piece of garbage, dominated by an imperial bureaucracy that is plunging it into misery every time more". He said, perhaps seeing his government's own reflection in a mirror, that the OAS "is useless".
See VenEconomy: Spanish Senators - Democracy Breakdown, Violation of Human Rights in Venezuela are Two Undeniable Facts (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 27, 2015)
If something the Bolivarian government of Venezuela had been "careful" about in these past 16 years was to keep Caracas out of a series of problems that cities and towns of the interior have been suffering for years. This is the case of the electric power crisis, which is only felt in the capital when the crisis itself deepens, yet in the regions has become widespread with daily schedules for power interruption. The same went for the supplies of food and medicines, which ended up affecting Caracas only when shortages were already unbearable in the interior of the country.
In spite of this, the failure of the model of a country being imposed in Venezuela has reached such magnitude and has become so widespread throughout the events in the lives of citizens that Caracas has not been able to avert its nasty effects, also becoming the reflection of the rest of the states where the resounding failure of the revolution has already wreaked havoc.
Caracas had nothing to celebrate, and much to regret, on the occasion of the 448th anniversary of its foundation.
For example, the hospitals in the capital - previously models to follow in Latin America - are in ruins, undersupplied, with no maintenance, and running low on materials and medications.
Vehicle traffic is a chaos that makes the lives of citizens miserable every day. An excess of people owning motorcycles as a means of transport has led lawlessness to take over every street and/or avenue, where transit laws are worth less than the paper they were printed. Aggressiveness and violence can arise at any second and for any reason. In addition to the fact that motorcycles are commonly used by many criminals as a "tool for work".
Insecurity in the capital is rampant. So far this year, Caracas has accounted for 2,642 homicides, an increase of 178 with respect to 2014. Robberies and kidnappings have become so normal that security experts have delimited the areas, "working schedules" and modus operandi of at least six criminal gangs operating in the capital.
The scope of insecurity is such that it has sparked the interest of the Government during these pre-electoral months. It gave its nod for the 20th security plan in 16 years pompously called "Operation Liberation and Protection of the People" several weeks ago, which will supposedly help the entire country get rid of crime and paramilitary activities.
The thing is that this plan has had a major focus on Caracas, starting a few weeks ago with some of the housing facilities of the Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela (GMVV) social program built around the Fort Tiuna military complex; then it raged against a west Caracas slum known as Cota 905, leaving 14 people dead and more than 140 detainees; and on Monday in GMVV buildings of Montalbán and Juan Pablo II, two residential areas also located in the west of the capital.
A joint military and police operation that, according to President Nicolás Maduro, has resulted in several arrests, evicted squatters, and dismantled criminal organizations that were operating in these apartments.
Paradoxically, the plan Maduro is looking forward to selling today as an achievement of his "public safety policy", has revealed yet another major failure of the Bolivarian revolution: that of GMVV, the flagship social program of the late Hugo Chávez when he ran for another term in office back in 2012. A social program that, as previously warned in several issues of VenEconomy, was doomed to failure mainly because of a lack of planning, the absence of urban studies and social work for the integration of different social groups in favor of peaceful coexistence.
As evidenced by each one of these security plans, those GMVV buildings seen in nearly all the capital, not only are monuments to improvisation that have deteriorated the urban harmony of Caracas, but dens of crime and violence. This is due to, among other things, the lack of transparency in the allocation of the apartments and the use of that allocation for the complacency of armed vigilante groups from governmental buildings, who use these housing units as a shield of defense and protection as stated by several officials of the Bolivarian revolution.
Do we need more evidence of a failure that had already been foretold?
See VenEconomy: Caracas - The Face of the Failure of the Bolivarian Revolution (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 28, 2015)
Political and economic analysts from Venezuela and the world are being more persistent in recording the inconceivable situation the country is going through. However, the arguments of many of these analysts are quite difficult to digest by ordinary citizens.
That's the reason why VenEconomy did not hesitate in making public an open letter written by Mauricio Macri, the head of Government of the City of Buenos Aires, to Nicolás Maduro, which describes the reality of the country with absolute simplicity, clarity and forcefulness. It should be noted that very few media outlets from Argentina, Venezuela and the region have echoed the words of Macri.
The letter goes as follows:
"Mr. Maduro, I only see Venezuelan citizens where you see the enemy.
Mr. Maduro, it is obvious that you and I see different things in different ways. For example, where you see enemies that you want to kill, I see upset Venezuelans demanding changes to your government. Where you see a conspiracy, I see how the 22-year-old Génesis Carmona is being taken on a motorcycle to a hospital, agonizing after being shot right in the face. And I don't see you. I didn't see you in the funeral ceremonies of those innocent people.
Where you see fascist people protesting, I see ordinary people, I see common persons, I see human beings at odds with you. They're doing their best; they are people; they are also the true people of Venezuela; or perhaps the true people of Venezuela to you are only the ones who applaud your actions, while others who don't are the enemy? I also see what you seem not to be seeing. I see terrifying motorcycles belonging to paramilitary groups shooting at unarmed civilians at night, even shooting at their houses and apartments, as seen in videos on YouTube.
Where you see in social networks only slander and lies (and trust me, I also see them and I condemn them myself), I find the true indignation of Venezuelans who have there a unique space to complain about everything, and this is because Venezuela has nearly run out of media outlets because you had them closed down, suffocated them, persecuted them and even kicked them out of the country. Lucky them there is Twitter and Facebook so that they can let us know about the situation in Venezuela!
The other day, the government of Argentina ratified its 'total and absolute support' to your government. The Argentine government should not be mistaken for the Argentine people, the same way your government is not being mistaken by us for the Venezuelan people. Not all of us totally and absolutely support your abuses. I, for one, prefer to demand you the immediate release of Leopoldo López and of all the Venezuelan political prisoners. I choose to ask you to take control of the paramilitary forces that spread fear and death with bullets. I prefer to ask you to ensure freedom and have an honest dialogue with all those who think differently.
Those protesting are not your enemies or conspirators, they are Venezuelan citizens".
See VenEconomy: A Few Words from Argentina's Macri to Venezuela's Maduro (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 29, 2015)
The so-called "prophets of disaster" are proving they were right all this time. Both the economy and the country itself are headed toward disaster.
According to unofficial data, the economy contracted 6% during the first quarter and 7% during the second quarter, while inflation may reach 80% during this first half of 2015 and 132% in the 12 months that ended in June. The international reserves of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) have reached their lowest level in 13 years, while state-run oil company PDVSA is not generating enough dollars to cover the basic needs of the economy. The scarcity level has hit 60% according to the latest unofficial reports.
The most serious thing about everything is that any of this is going to change in the near future, quite the contrary.
That evidence comes from realities reported by productive sectors and companies in particular. Here are a few cases that are heavily affecting the daily diet of Venezuelans.
In early July, the Flour Workers' Federation (Fetraharina) reported that inventories of bread wheat were going to last until the end of the month, and with it was foreseen a decline in the already curtailed production of bread, pasta and crackers/cookies. The situation was so critical that several companies had already brought their operations to a halt due to the lack of durum wheat to make pasta, "one of the lowest-cost products that make up the basic food basket". It is still unknown whether the Venezuelan government has moved a finger to solve the crisis of this sector as July comes to a close.
Rice manufacturers are on tenterhooks as well. By July 16, the Venezuelan Rice Millers Association reported that inventories of paddy rice available for threshing, or the inventory that the industry is depending on, were going to last seven days. Thirteen days have passed already, and since there is no information that the supplies issue was finally resolved, it should be assumed that those inventories are all that is left of rice in the country.
Also affected was the production of soy oil, an essential product for the manufacturing of mayonnaise and the dairy sector. Regarding the latter, the National Federation of Cattle Ranchers (Fedenaga) insists on the fact that the nation has an installed capacity to ramp up its milk production by 40% in the short term. In order to achieve this goal, it is only necessary to implement a comprehensive plan for the extraction of the oil and the production of protein, which is the fundamental basis of the balanced food for animal consumption. But the Government is still turning a deaf ear to that kind of reasoning.
The meat industry is another with its back against the wall. Regulated prices below real costs, a national production that only meets one-third of the local demand, the lack of foreign currency for the required imports, and the siege from governmental bodies to demand the compliance with legal regulations that are out of step with reality, are only a few of the many issues that have made the supplies of meat and chicken nearly disappear from butcher shops, including the State's own food retailers such as Mercal and PDVAL.
But to Nicolás Maduro it seems that any of this is happening, as he persists on launching Empresas Polar, the nation's largest foodmaker/brewer and a great role model to follow for its extraordinary managerial performance, a privately-run company that serves as a mirror to see how deficient, unproductive and corrupt the performance of the Government may turn out, a deadly blow.
Late on Wednesday night, government officials went to the industrial zone of La Yaguara in west Caracas to notify the expropriation of warehouses belonging to companies such as PepsiCo, Alimentos Polar, Cargill, Nestlé and Zara, among others, allegedly for the construction of new buildings of the Government's social program known as Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela (GMVV). Buildings where the own Government has conducted searches through the so-called "Operation Liberation and Protection of the People" security plan for the high levels of criminality and violence seen there.
The most direct effects of this economic catastrophe come to the population in the form of an income that doesn't cover their most basic needs due to the excessive increase in prices of all goods and services; as much as the appalling reality of not finding the foodstuff, products and assets indispensable for their survival.
See VenEconomy: The Goal of Venezuela's Maduro is Not Only Getting Polar Out of the Way (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 30, 2015)
The crisis will keep deepening in Venezuela affecting the tables of the country's citizens by depriving them from essential foodstuff such as bread, precooked corn flour for making the traditional arepas, pasta, meat and/or chicken. The economic crisis and destruction of the productive sector for 16 straight years is being fully felt with other items as essential for leading a moderately acceptable life.
Sixteen long years have passed in Venezuela with a government making discretionary interpretations of the Constitution; decreeing laws without consultation tailor-made to suit the so-called "Plan for the Homeland" outlined by the late Hugo Chávez; breaking contracts; imposing policies that discourage investment and generate mistrust among domestic and foreign investors; and violating the rule of law and economic freedoms. Almost two decades have passed with a judicial system that constantly bends the law to fulfill the desires of the Government, both at individual and collective level. The Government enacts laws that are clearly unconstitutional with the blessing of the Parliament (aka National Assembly) and the Supreme Court.
It's the same decades that have passed with the imposition of a "dialogue with the deaf", in which the Government never listens to the arguments and reasoning of the productive private sector. It's the same 16 years with the Government having a blindfold on its eyes not to see the inefficiency, unproductiveness, incompetence and corruption of the ever-increasing number of private companies that have passed into its hands via expropriation, confiscation or administrative maneuvers.
Today the effects of these misconceptions are seen and felt in every corner of the country. Destruction, confiscated lands and factories that have been either shut down or operating at half capacity.
One of them is SIDOR, a once thriving privately-run steel corporation of the Guayana region in Bolívar state, which passed into the hands of the State to become corrupt, inefficient, and unable to produce the tin needed to make bottle caps or packaging for canned foods.
A similar situation is seen at El Tablazo (Pequiven) petrochemical complex. This state-owned complex is the main provider of the necessary resins for the production of plastic in Venezuela. Now executives from the plastics industry are reporting to be running operations at 30% of installed capacity due to the lack of supplies, while forecasting zero growth this year.
Another of the new companies expropriated by the Government is Rualca, a manufacturer of alloy wheels, which finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy by operating at 5% of its capacity. Currently more than half of the machinery is out of service due to the lack of spare parts, both imported (cannot be brought into the country in the absence of foreign currency) and national (most supplies for their manufacturing are imported as well).
Another sector that has been hit hard by the crisis is that of the assembly of vehicles, which has reported low inventories of raw materials and supplies, including top names like Chrysler, which drew up a production schedule until September, and General Motors, which will be sending its workers on vacation starting August 14. This situation is the result of year and a half of no foreign currency allocation on the part of the Government so that these companies can acquire raw material to keep production running. If fears that companies of the automotive sector will finally close their doors in January of 2016 come true, it may translate into the loss of 10,000 direct and 100,000 indirect jobs.
Not to mention that the Venezuelan Chamber of Beer Breweries has warned that raw materials will last until August and that the local arm of U.S.-based company Johnson & Johnson, which had already been experiencing major supply problems and has cut its payroll, reported that only has enough raw materials to manufacture sanitary pads until September. In addition that the rampant shortages of medicines and medical supplies will continue putting the lives of thousands of Venezuelans at stake.
But what still matters here is to save the Bolivarian revolution, right?
See VenEconomy: Venezuela is Running Low on Everything (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 31, 2015)
Many voices have been warning that the serious shortages situation and high prices of food and medicines are pushing the patience of Venezuelans to the next level.
The long queues and quest for essential products throughout several distribution centers, which has intensified this 2015, have driven the population into a state of perpetual angst, fear, uncertainty, anger and impotence.
These voices are warning about the possibility of a new "Caracazo", or social upheaval that may be simply uncontrollable.
While the Government, driven by the desire of imposing the so-called "Plan for the Homeland" outlined by the late Hugo Chávez, seems to be in a catatonic state that prevents it from taking the reins of the critical situation and correct the course that is leading the country into the abyss, together with blaming the private productive sector for the ills caused by the "socialism of the 21st century".
Now it seems that the "big bad wolf" they have been announcing may be coming after all.
According to Marco Antonio Ponce, head of the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict [Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social], some 56 acts of looting and 502 demonstrations were recorded during the first half of the year due to the lack of food, medicines and hygiene products.
These figures illustrate what some privately-run media outlets that have survived the communicational hegemony imposed by the State, as much as the social networks, have been reporting lately:
The recent case of an overturned food truck that was looted by a crowd passing by, who didn't care about the driver being helplessly stuck in the vehicle's cockpit, was particularly horrible.
Also particularly horrible and violent were the acts of looting that took place in San Félix (Bolivar state) last Friday that left one dead and several wounded. Several grocery stores and a warehouse allegedly supplying "bachaqueros" (or illegal resellers) with merchandise were emptied there.
In the face of these social outbursts (isolated for now), the Government continues with its unbelievable intemperance of blaming the U.S. "empire", the opposition and the national business class for these acts of violence.
It also came up with another ridiculous and useless idea dubbed "Plan of Deep Replacement of Imports", claiming among other things that "this is about creating a planning model and immediately achieve early victories, thus demonstrating how we can already replace a set of imported things by perfectly manufacturing them right here in the country".
When will these people stop being so stubborn and recognize once and for all that the national productive sector was dismantled by them piece by piece through expropriations, theft of public property, incompetence from a monopolizing and centralist nation-state, strict laws for national and foreign investment, an excessive control over the economy, the dismantlement of the Rule of Law and democratic institutions and widespread corruption?
See VenEconomy: Is the Big Bad Wolf Finally Coming to Venezuela? (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 3, 2015)
The electoral subject is back on the table as December 6 nears, a date belatedly set by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on purpose for an election in which Venezuela's two only political rivals will square off for a majority of seats in the Parliament.
The Government and its public powers find themselves fine-tuning every little detail so they can tilt the balance in their favor when the time comes, knowing that popular support has never been weaker. Sixteen years of outdated policies that have proved a failure are felt in every corner of the country, while its populist speech doesn't convince the staunchest supporters of chavismo anymore.
From there that its General Comptroller's Office has brought back the subject of political disqualifications to get candidates of the opposition who had secured enough votes for a seat in the Parliament out of the game, such as the case of Daniel Ceballos, Enzo Scarano and María Corina Machado, despite of an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling in 2011 that disqualifications imposed by the Comptroller's Office go against the American Convention on Human Rights and violate the rights to participate in an election, because these are not imposed by a judge through a trial.
On Monday, when the registration period of candidates running for the Parliament kicked off, it was learned that the CNE's so-called Automated Nomination System (or SAP) is preventing citizens disqualified at political level by the Comptroller's Office from running for the Parliament, as is the case of Machado who was not able to register as candidate. Machado will be replaced by Isabel Pereira, a sociologist, who despite not having a high media profile is deemed a hard-working woman in communities with limited resources nationwide, and is also well known in slums of eastern Caracas, which is precisely the district she aims to represent.
During the first day, some 687 candidates were registered. However, these citizens are crossing their fingers they will not be eventually taken out of the game, since they now have to submit the required documents to formalize their candidacies before regional boards. The Government may work something out during that stage in order to force the reduction of opposition candidates.
Another stage of the electoral schedule that is about to come to an end, silently and without greater dissemination on the part of the CNE, is that of the complaints on the Electoral Register for the December 6 voting process. Until August 8, voters will be able to file complaints before the CNE on errors and omissions that may affect their right to vote. From there the calling on them to make sure that their personal data, such as first and last names, ID number, current address, among others, are spelled out correctly in the Register, as well as to make sure that their deceased family members are off the list of voters.
Another meddlesome move being carried out by the Comptroller's Office and the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) is that of issuing interim measures that affect the internal affairs of parties such as Copei, Bandera Roja and Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo (MEP) and their nomination of candidates for the December 6 elections.
If someone had doubts where things were going, these were cleared up by President Nicolás Maduro himself at a UN meeting, when publicly claiming that he would not allow international observation during the Venezuelan elections. "We'll never accept it", he said, proving once more that in Venezuela there is no such thing as the Electoral Power, but the Executive Power.
An outrage that made Aloysio Nunes, the head of the External Affairs Commission of the Brazilian Senate, say that "Venezuela is heading towards a huge electoral fraud, and Dilma Rousseff should express her views on the matter immediately". According to Nunes, Maduro reneged on his commitment to the Brazilian government in terms of the Unasur group of allowing international observation on the part of impartial international bodies. Furthermore, the mediation of Luis Almagro Lemes, head of the OAS, has been requested at the initiative of the members of local NGO Forum of Venezuelans for the appointment of an "Electoral Observation Mission" to provide support and advice during the electoral process, for which signatures of Venezuelans and citizens from member countries willing to support this initiative are being collected.
The good news is that the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition party finally announced in a public act last Thursday some new agreements that include a single electoral card, the unification of its national campaign commando and a common strategy to "achieve victory".
So be it!
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Electoral 'Remix' (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 4, 2015)
A chronic disease known as Socialism of the 21st century destroyed everything in its path in these past 16 years, including Venezuela's oil industry.
A PDVSA dedicated to extract vast amounts of oil at the lowest cost possible, with nearly no accidents reported, trying at the same time to maximize profits for the Venezuelan State, is a thing of the past. And lost in time is the fact that PDVSA was considered the top oil company in Latin America and one of the world's most important as well.
At present, the state-run oil company is a gigantic bureaucratic monster that only gives top priority to populist projects selling the Bolivarian revolution as a good thing, setting aside production and the commercialization of hydrocarbons. It has become an odd hybrid between an oil producer/refiner, a social projects agency and an implementer of monetary policy. The operating capacity of the socialist PDVSA has been called into question and, worse still, it is not foreseeable that the substantial deterioration may be reverted in the short- and mid-term.
Most announced projects, if not all of them, have been either aimed at attracting voters during electoral times or ended up in failure. From the so-called "Oil Harvest Plan" that would supposedly increase production, refining and commercialization capacity, to other projects such as "The Battle of Santa Inés Refinery" in Barinas state, or a refinery in Cabruta, Guárico state, or the "Mariscal Sucre" gas generation project in Sucre state, any of them lived up to their promise.
Just as failed are projects such as PDVSA Naval, which was supposed to have built - and being operating - shipyards for both the construction and ship maintenance sector, or PDVSA Desarrollos Urbanos for urban development.
The lack of investment and maintenance is the main reason that the national oil industry is not even a pale shadow of what it used to be long ago. A fine example is the Paraguaná Refinery Complex, in which malfunctions, accidents and interruptions in operations are nothing but normal.
The Orinoco Oil Belt, or the cornerstone of the Bolivarian revolution's oil policy, is yet another great fallacy. This territory that the Government boasts as having "the biggest oil reserves in the world" still awaits huge capital investments required for its exploitation. Meanwhile the country must resort to a less profitable process for mixing the extra-heavy crude oil with light crude oils for synthesizing tradable oil, for which is being made necessary to import oil for the first time in the history of Venezuela.
In previous years, high oil prices allowed to make up for and to some extent conceal the growing operating issues, the huge number of activity branches and increased social spending of the state-owned corporation. But, as the saying goes, "you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out".
The oil mess in Venezuela is such that a Bloomberg News report this week describes the dire condition of Lake Maracaibo in Zulia state, also known as the country's "pretty boy", which served as a source of income for Venezuelans.
The report said that the 13,200 square-mile surface area has the appearance of a graveyard for everything "from abandoned pipeline and tires to dreams of Venezuelan prosperity, stands as an emblem of a richly endowed resource nation descending into disarray". It claims that the lake has degenerated into a stew of contaminants that include sulphide, fluoride, kjeldahl nitrogen, detergents, residential chlorine and fecal coliform.
Like many other zones in the country, Lake Maracaibo doesn't escape the control of heavily-armed pirates that attack and raid ships crossing the lake - even those of PDVSA workers - with total impunity.
Destruction, ruin and rampant crime under the sun and moon of Maracaibo.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution Ends up Destroying Lake Maracaibo (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 5, 2015)
Venezuela's healthcare sector has everything to lose in this socialist empire that is destroying the entire country and has the population in a state of anguish and despair.
Last week, the Insurance Activity Superintendency (Sudeaseg) said in a statement that all state and municipal bodies and entities belonging to the National Public Administration with valid health insurance policies issued by private insurance companies "must take steps and fill out the required paperwork so that these can be replaced by insurance companies and healthcare services from the public sector before December 31 2015". As of that date, it is specified that the public sector should "refrain from taking out insurance policies with private insurance companies".
The order is to migrate all public employees to the State's Insurance System and public healthcare services.
With this measure comes into full force the so-called Insurance Activity Act passed on July 29 2010, through which the eighth transitional provision gave a five-year period so that bodies and entities of the State were able to "promote, plan, program and implement the migration processes of officials, employees and workers under their control, to public insurers and the National Public Healthcare System".
First of all, VenEconomy believes that the best guarantee that the insurance system of a country is efficient and fair is that the same responds to forces of supply and demand of the market. In principle it rejects the fact that the State is the one seeking to monopolize the healthcare sector, because the role of the State is to monitor and ensure that the hospital network, outpatient clinics and healthcare centers are operating in good conditions and that these offer top-quality services to the entire population.
That said, it should be noted that in any country where organization, planning and good governance prevail, and whose ultimate goal is the well-being of its population, if the State decided to handle the insurance sector, its duty would have been to work during that period of five years for (1) promoting and reinforcing a fair amount of public insurance companies to compete against each other for the provision of top-quality services for customers and (2) making the hospital network and healthcare centers of the State guarantee the health and lives of all users.
Unfortunately, those ruling Venezuela today don't believe in planning, or are organized people, or think of efficiency or their ultimate goal is the well-being of citizens. This is evidenced by every bad public service provided today in the Venezuela of the "beautiful revolution".
At present, the State only owns three insurance companies to meet the needs of more than 4 million public employees and their families. It is expected that the public healthcare system will collapse in no time. Not to mention the public hospital network and outpatient clinics, because it is enough to visit just one of them to have an idea of the size of the existing disaster.
Just as serious is that the Government is currently developing a strategy to make the private healthcare sector collapse using Machiavellian tactics. Some of them include: the denial or delay of foreign currency allocations so that companies can meet obligations with suppliers abroad; the accumulation of a debt of more than Bs.6 billion ($952 million if calculated at the fictional official rate of Bs.6.30 per dollar) for medical services provided to public sector entities; or the establishment of standards for medical services and laboratories with outdated costs. This, together with other strict laws against private activity, has led to the closure of many clinics in the country.
This unhealthy strategy has led many to think that behind this new legislation lies the ultimate goal of the Government of taking over the entire healthcare sector.
In the end, those who pay for the consequences of this wrong path taken by the Government are the citizens themselves.
See VenEconomy: Bad Omen for Venezuela's Healthcare Sector? (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 6, 2015)
The government of Venezuela has already resorted to all sorts of traps, tricks and machinations in order to remain in power.
The hegemony it has imposed on the country's public authorities has allowed it to have the last word in everything from when, where and how Venezuelans will exercise their right to elect their candidates to hold public office. It also decides who votes, as much as gives itself the right to choose the institutions, both national and international, that it will allow to accompany (not to observe, which is a more complete and binding process) an electoral process and decides which parts of the electoral process will be accompanied.
On top of that, for the upcoming parliamentary election to be held on December 6 of this year, it is determined to decide not only what candidates will be allowed to run for the National Assembly, but what political organization will be left out of the game, and even appears to be looking for loopholes in order to infiltrate "Trojan horses" into the democratic unity.
A ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) on July 30 would be aimed at achieving those goals, at imposing an interim measure to (1) remove the current Board of Directors of the Copei opposition party; (2) designate an ad hoc Board of Directors, demanding that this must be presided over by Pedro Urrieta Figueredo, who happened to be the whistleblower that originated the interim measure issued by the TSJ and (3) provide that the nomination of candidates for the December 6 election should be consulted with state boards first.
First of all, the ruling is legally flawed as claimed by Román J. Duque Corredor, a former TSJ judge, who says this is of electoral character and, therefore, the Constitutional Chamber cannot be responsible for its issuance. But, perhaps the most revealing fact is that the ruling stated there were alleged irregularities in the nominations for candidates of Copei in seven states (Anzoátegui, Aragua, Delta Amacuro, Yaracuy, Nueva Esparta, Táchira and Zulia). So assuming that there had been merit to accept the ruling, the Court would have been entitled to issue an order to redo the nominations in those seven states alone, not the entire country.
The ruling has so many irregularities that analysts are convinced that the true intention here was to infiltrate the platform of the Democratic Unity (MUD) party with candidates the Government found "acceptable" (so to speak) to nominate. In other words: "Trojan horses". It's evident that the ruling brings along the danger of opening a breach in the MUD, should party and personal interests come before those of millions of Venezuelans expecting that the December election will mark the beginning of the rescue of democracy.
In the meantime, and understanding the malicious intentions that the Government hides behind this ruling, the MUD unanimously agreed on leaving the 17 candidates of Copei out of the nomination process and remove the party from the opposition platform. A decision that at first sight seems unfair and violating the rights of one of the parties considered a pioneer of democracy in Venezuela.
However, it starts being plausible after analyzing all the reasons put forward by the MUD for making this decision, which is no other than avoiding an eventual "intrusion" from the regime in the electoral option of the Democratic Unity.
Jesús "Chúo" Torrealba, the executive secretary of the MUD, pointed out that when the Copei ad hoc Board of Directors expressed in writing its willingness to support all the nominations made by the previous board, in the small print of the contract said that this Board of Directors was reserved to perform all the modifications that it deemed appropriate. This condition was evidently a risk for the MUD to take, which may be subject to leaks from "fifth columns", especially taking into account that the board was imposed by a public authority of the State, or "imposed by an arm of the regime".
On Thursday, the TSJ tried to repeat the same dirty move by intervening the board of directors of Movimiento de Integridad Nacional (MIN), another opposition party affiliated with the MUD.
Torrealba ratified that the MUD will be forming a cordon sanitaire not against Copei or MIN, but the trap laid by the Government itself.
This ruling corroborates the claims of José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas, that "the Government is using the judiciary as a facade, but the reality is that the Venezuelan judges and prosecutors have become compliant soldiers of the socialist regime".
See VenEconomy: The 'Trojan Horses' of the Bolivarian Empire (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 7, 2015)
Oil could have been a blessing to Venezuela, but it has not. Especially in the past 14 years, a long period of time when crude oil prices were climbing steadily and the late Hugo Chávez was at the helm of the country.
Those huge resources coming from oil revenues were one of the reasons that allowed Chávez to remain in power.
At the same time, the allocation of oil to countries of the region through generous credit facilities made everyone, including the countries of the region that benefited from the measure and the international community, turn their attention from the process of dismantlement of democracy in Venezuela. Oil allocations made without control, in an abusive way, without any audit process and also with the blessing of the public authorities bowed to the wishes of the Bolivarian process.
Apart from the countless barrels of oil given away to Cuba making it up for the political patronage from Fidel Castro to Chávez, one of the most emblematic allocations in this era of Bolivarian revolution was materialized through Petrocaribe. An alliance in the energy industry, particularly in the oil sector, created by an initiative of Chávez in 2005, through which Caribbean countries were able to buy Venezuelan oil payable in 25 years and at an interest rate between 1-2%, and that also facilitated the construction of refineries, tank farms, oil pipelines and hydroelectric plants in countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The aim of this "policy" was to "buy allegiances" and influence across the region and help Venezuela being elected as a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council. And perhaps it was good for something else back then, too, but is good for nothing in today's reality, especially when Venezuelans find themselves suffering the nasty effects of the shortages of foreign currency due to, among other reasons, a sustained decline in oil prices in a country without international reserves and with an oil industry that doesn't have the capacity of producing efficiently.
Now, international consulting firm TPCG Group claims that the mechanism of Petrocaribe "seems worn out", as reported by local daily El Nacional on Monday. It says that despite the fact that the debt burden has been reduced, there is "nothing much to rescue in terms of cash". It reckons that about $2.3 billion in exports were to be paid via credit, an amount that will not exceed $1.5 billion in 2015.
One aspect of this change of scenario is that Venezuela is starting to evidence that its influence across the region is waning the same way its cash crisis becomes worse and the international reserves dry out.
One example of this is that in light of a new dispute with neighboring Guyana over the Essequibo region, CARICOM member countries have turned their backs on Venezuela to give their support to Guyana - in a very diplomatic manner. This action leaves Venezuela at risk of suffering a diplomatic setback, unless Fidel Castro decides to return the favor that Chávez once did of adopting a common position toward the Essequibo for years.
In short, so much oil given away and pushing the country into debt for a temporary membership in the United Nations Security Council... and many fewer miles of territory in the east side of the country.
See VenEconomy: The Goose No Longer Lays "Oil Eggs" in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 10, 2015)
When Nicolás Maduro and Jesse Chacón, his Minister of Electric Power, announced at the beginning of 2013 their plan to solve the electricity rationing and blackout issues affecting the population in a timeframe of 100 days, VenEconomy had warned in some of its past editorials that the goal was impossible to achieve and that this was doomed to failure, because they were both making the same mistakes as the predecessor of Maduro, Hugo Chávez.
Two years after this announcement, the reality broadly demonstrated that VenEconomy, and other experts on the topic that made similar forecasts, were right.
It was more than impossible to remedy the delays in the works of some 19 power generation projects back then, especially if the agenda of the Government did not establish as an objective to have a professional management in the electric sector, which would have given priority to technical and technological criteria over the political ones in order to solve the issues in a sustainable manner and with transparency. A management that would have followed a reliable planning process; without allowing the diversion of resources away from its objectives. A management to hire companies to comply with agreements; to pay contractors in time; to bring outdated electric rates for more than a decade into line; to modernize obsolete machinery and to charge public companies for millions in delinquent bills. In a nutshell, to appoint professional managers.
Today nothing has changed, and Maduro is making even worse mistakes.
While blackouts and the electricity rationing continue across the national territory; while disinvestment prevails and political criteria is being applied to the management of the sector, Maduro is making a few changes in the governing bodies of the electric sector.
First of all, he replaced Chacón as head of the National Electricity Corporation (CORPOELEC) with Gen. Luis Motta Domínguez, in accordance with Decree No. 1,914 of the Presidency of the Republic. Which means another strategic move, since Motta Domínguez is a man with little or no experience in the electric sector. But, he left Chacón as Minister of Electric Power, which suggests that the socialist management line will remain unspoiled.
Then he announced that he is to make "strategic electric power decisions" like the establishment of a "Greater Electrical State", which will result increasing the number of bureaucratic entities in the country. This so-called "Greater Electrical State" is an entity that will decide on, learn about and oversee "the status of the electricity situation in times of national crisis or emergency, as much as report the Head of State about the cases of emergency or existing crisis within the electric sector". Perhaps Maduro doesn't remember that three years have passed since he said he was making decisions aimed at fixing the problem, or hasn't realized that the "beautiful" revolution has been incapable of solving the situation of the nation's power grid over the past 17 years.
It's time that he and his team recognize that the pseudo-socialism being imposed in Venezuela has also failed in the management of the electric sector.
See VenEconomy: Maduro Keeps Making Same Mistakes as Chávez Regarding Venezuela's Electric Sector (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 11, 2015)
It was learned on Tuesday afternoon that the Trial Court No. 15 granted Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the San Cristóbal municipality in Táchira state, a measure of house arrest for health reasons until his trial is done.
As will be recalled, Ceballos was arrested and imprisoned in the military prison of Ramo Verde after the street demonstrations in February 2014. He is being unjustly accused, and without any evidence, of alleged crimes of rebellion and criminal association. Various human rights organizations have raised their voices of protest and issued protective measures in favor of Ceballos, as have with other political prisoners such as Antonio Ledezma, Leopoldo López, Enzo Scarano, among others.
A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday July 25, another political prisoner of the Government, Leocenis García, a journalist and head of editorial group 6to Poder, was also sent home. In the case of García, the transfer was made in quite arbitrary conditions late at night, without a court order and without medical attention, despite his delicate health condition after conducting a hunger strike for 85 days.
It's certainly a relief for Ceballos, García and their beloved ones they can return home and be under the care and warmth of their families.
However, the fact that these citizens were supposed to enjoy full freedom all this time, or ultimately alternative measures to deprivation of liberty, cannot be overlooked. Just like more than a dozen other Venezuelans held under house arrest and nearly a hundred still in prison after being unfairly and arbitrarily prosecuted for political reasons, for expressing in some way their disagreement with the process of communist revolution taking hold in Venezuela. The State had nearly 80 of them held in prison facilities along with highly dangerous people convicted of crimes such as homicide, rape, kidnapping and/or armed robbery, which clearly violates international standards on the treatment of political prisoners.
With these house arrest measures, there is a risk of forgetting the entire issue with regard to the violation of human rights of these Venezuelans, who despite the fact of being with their respective families already, they are not free at all, a right that is guaranteed by both the Constitution of the Republic and universal conventions. There are also the cases of police commissioners Henry Vivas, Lázaro Forero and Iván Simonovis, sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment without any evidence and held under house arrest for health reasons. Sadly, their cases are no longer news not even for the few remaining independent media in the country. Something similar is happening with Ledezma, the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas who was placed under house arrest just a few days before six months of his detention, without a court holding a preliminary hearing.
It turns out that this peace of mind ignores the fact that these Venezuelans and their families continue to be victims of a regime that has embarked on the task of imposing a single way of thinking, an ideology of a socialist homeland that the only thing that has achieved so far is building a large prison in which the population is dying of starvation, rampant crime and sadness.
See VenEconomy: Another Political Prisoner of Venezuela's Regime Held under House Arrest (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 12, 2015)
Each day, with every statement of any official of the Bolivarian revolution or action of any governing body or public authority, it is confirmed that Venezuela has been led to an unsustainable level of degeneration with regard to its justice system and democratic institutions.
Tuesday was the "turn at bat" of the Political and Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ).
As Anabella Abadi and Bárbara Lira, two Venezuelan economists, ask the TSJ in a public letter: Must the BCV abide by its obligation to release macroeconomic statistics only when it is explicitly requested?
It turns out that, as recalled by these two economists in their letter, if the Venezuelan State was adhered to the Constitution of the Republic and to legal regulations, the right thing to do for it would be to periodically release the macroeconomic data.
It is worth recalling the three mandates demanding accountability from the BCV and the provision of a responsible, transparent and regular information: (1) Article No. 319 of the Constitution reads as follows: "The Central Bank of Venezuela will be governed by the principle of public responsibility, for which purpose it will be accountable for the actions, goals and outcomes of its policies ..."; (2) Article 31 of the Law on the BCV reads as follows: "The management of the Central Bank of Venezuela will be guided by the principle of transparency. In this regard, and without prejudice to its institutional responsibilities, it must keep informed the National Executive and other State bodies, public and private economic agents, domestic and foreign, and the population on the implementation of its policies, decisions and agreements of its board of directors, reports, publications, research and statistics that will provide the best information on the evolution of the Venezuelan economy in a timely and reliable manner"; and (3) the regulations of the National Consumer Price Index (CPI) that establish that the data of the index "shall be released on a monthly basis within the first ten (10) days of each month".
A public statement by Transparencia Venezuela issued after the ruling said that "the Political and Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, headed by Emiro García Rosas, did not welcome the fact of the absence of economic data on the part of the BCV, thus refusing to penalize the bank for its failure to comply with its duty".
It also added that "unlike the Supreme Court of Justice, which doesn't seem to be aware of the absence of vital economic information, has made it into the Top10 of opacity in the month of July". The inflation rate was ranked first in this Top10 with 63.5% of the votes of more than 200 respondents of an online survey that allows doing this kind of measurement.
It should be noted that the BCV has not presented its annual report to the Parliament since 2012 and is also behind with the information on the CPI since 2014; with the Balance of Payments since the third quarter of 2014; with the GDP and the scarcity index since February 2014 and the core inflation since January 2013, despite the fact that the latter provides a clearer idea of the inflationary context since it excludes those seasonal factors or specific distortions, as much as all the variables that are deemed vital to have a diagnosis of the economy.
Transparencia Venezuela says that "having access to information is a right that implies the possibility to search, receive, disseminate and have all the available information of public institutions. Its limitation has an impact in the lives of citizens in thousands of ways, all negative, among others, it prevents from carrying out assessment and citizen control over the work of their rulers".
In short, this is another carte blanche given to the BCV by the TSJ so it can continue failing to comply with a constitutional mandate and the own Law that regulates its actions.
See VenEconomy: BCV Now Gets Blessing from Supreme Court to Hide Venezuela's Economic Data (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 13, 2015)
When famed Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel sang the song "Volver" (To Return), he claimed with feeling that "to feel... that life is a puff of wind, that twenty years is nothing".
In the Venezuela of the communist revolution, this song contains a truth and a lie.
A truth because today the lives of Venezuelans, as never before, represent a puff of wind that those in power could not care less about. Firstly, because citizens have been left in the hands of criminals who destroy their lives in any possible way, including breaking into their homes - no matter whether people are inside - with total impunity. Secondly, because the irresponsible rulers of this country care little about the well-being of the population, as demonstrated by the systematic destruction of the productive sector (both public and private) across the national territory, extinguishing inventories of food, medicines, hygiene and cleaning products and/or spare parts of any kind.
On one of the sides of this destruction of the national production system, the first negative impact is received by the business sector, which has invested capital and effort for years in order to generate wealth for the country and create productive and sustainable jobs.
Every day there are reports on an industrial plant closing its doors due to the lack of raw materials or supplies, whose access has been restricted due to the lack of necessary foreign currency to pay for them or for the payment of debts legitimately incurred, a situation that has closed credit lines for local companies abroad.
Among the affected industries are: some plants of Empresas Polar, Alimentos Heinz, Colgate Palmolive, the tuna industry, wheat flour plants, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Rialca, different types of retailers and even small businesses of the tourism sector, which are impacted by the reduction of activities of international cruise liners in Venezuelan ports, as well as international airlines that have canceled or reduced their presence in Venezuela due to the gigantic debt they are owed by the State.
On the other side of the destruction of the productive system are other victims: the workers and their families. These people, at best, are sent home with the payment of their basic salaries, while companies bring their operations to a halt for some time. Even though it represents a cost to companies that are not producing anything, this translates into a loss of some labor benefits related to premiums from different concepts of the employer-worker relationship. If the worst comes to the worst, the definitive shutdown of plants will result in the loss of sources of labor and huge unemployment.
As an example in the tuna sector, it is estimated that the closure of more than 12 companies has resulted in 350 people now going on a work stoppage.
Or the automotive sector, where are at risk some 11,000 direct jobs in three automakers and more than 100,000 indirect jobs in related industries. Or as the case of Margarita Island, where the crisis of the free port business sector is putting 80,000 jobs, direct and indirect, at stake due to the lack of foreign currency to import merchandise.
Not only are the workers of the private sector bearing the brunt of the crisis of Venezuela's productive sector. A small sample of its harmful effects on workers of the public sector was given by Jesús Martínez, the Minister of Labor, who argued a few days ago that the Venezuelan State cannot begin talks about collective bargaining in many companies, because these can't even cover the costs of their current contracts. "If we are not able to pay for current contracts, how are we supposed to begin talks on new ones?"
When there's a confession, you need no proof.
See VenEconomy: The Other Side of the Coin in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 14, 2015)
The governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro have specialized in creating illusions of prosperity, justice and progress. A cruel practice indeed, because Venezuelans sooner rather than later end up being mugged by reality, as they are forced to face problems they thought were overcome and that now are worse than ever.
One of the most brutal of these practices are the programs offering Venezuelans some sort of university degrees from medicine, law to industrial and oil areas that don't comply with minimum academic standards.
Until now the most emblematic case of them all was that of the "integral communitarian doctors", because their exercise of the medical profession poses a risk to the lives of the population due to their poor training and basic skills.
The complaints on this issue have come from medical associations, professors at schools of medicine, doctors and even the own patients. Many of these integral communitarian doctors have already realized about the structural deficiencies of their professional training. They and their families are seized by emotions such as frustration and disappointment, because they were betting on this program of integral communitarian medicine as a way for their professional training and social promotion.
Apart from the medicine and law training, there is a new career conceived by the Bolivarian revolution: courses in the oil refining area.
Gustavo Coronel published in his blog (Las Armas de Coronel - Diplomados en Refinación: populismo y demagogia cruel), on August 7 an analysis, which will also be published with permission of the author in the August issue of VenEconomy Monthly, on what this kind of diploma means.
The observations of Coronel come after a news report on graduates from a "course in refining engineering" from the so-called Bolivarian University of Workers "Jesús Rivero".
Coronel says that this university was created as "a response to the crisis of capitalism" and grants technical, bachelor's and/or engineering degrees at the so-called National Training Programs.
He points out that this university does not come from an educational approach, but political. Its ultimate goal is to ensure that the working class can "play a leading role" in companies the State calls strategic. Its purpose is clear: to carry out part of the necessary structural changes on a planetary scale.
This university is a tool for the working class to take control of the industry, as has been happening with the disastrous results seen at Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) and other state-owned companies.
Coronel explains that "students are so because they simply want to and professors are so because they feel up to the task. Professors at this university are just regular workers who feel themselves qualified to teach others. Students with technical degrees can be easily promoted to engineers with the nod of the Office of the University Sector Planning (OPSU). There are no university professors per se as each person evaluates themselves and determines their own grades".
In the name of a supposed "democratization of education", the Venezuelan regime has created a university with a few regular workers teaching other workers keen on learning, so they can obtain a bachelor's or engineering degree, since the ultimate goal - expressed as state policy - is to ensure that these workers take managerial and technical control of the companies.
All this is contrasted with the programs of the "democratic and professional PDVSA" that granted scholarships to workers and children of workers for careers of four, five and 10-year terms in the best universities of Venezuela and the world. From there that the "democratic and professional PDVSA" was fully staffed by professionals that were as highly qualified as any others around the world.
He asks the following question: what do Venezuelan educators have to say about this method? Can the "refiners" graduated from this "university" put into operation our refineries that are already in ruins?
Coronel concludes that this "university" represents a further aspect of the great lie of the regime. The great lie is that the training of individuals must go down to the levels of each person, not that each individual must go up to the levels demanded by the training.
This is an act of great irresponsibility.
See VenEconomy: More Populism, Demagoguery in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 17, 2015)
It's only 80 days away from the parliamentary elections on December 6, and all political actors in Venezuela are fine-tuning the details for a vital election day that will help set the direction of the country.
On the one hand, there are parties that remain committed to democracy all the way, as is the case of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). The MUD, although suffering the full burden of illegal acts and arbitrariness by Venezuela's ruling elite over the past 15 years, is drawing the constitutional path it will take from here until December 6, with the belief it has an advantage of 20% in popular support over the ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
This way, the MUD published on its website its unified strategy ahead of the parliamentary elections on Monday, while announcing that its campaign known as "Venezuela United" will be headed by the party's executive secretary, Jesús "Chuo" Torrealba, who will be joined by leaders of other opposition parties such as Henry Ramos Allup (Acción Democrática), Julio Borges (Primero Justicia), Enrique Márquez (Un Nuevo Tiempo) and Freddy Guevara (Voluntad Popular). It also reported that it created two other special campaigns "to defend the vote": One in each constituency and one in each voting center across the country. The strategy team is comprised by Henrique Capriles, María Corina Machado, Andrés Velásquez, and a personal representative of Antonio Ledezma, the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas, as well as Liborio Guarulla and Henri Falcon, governors of Amazonas and Lara states, respectively. Ramos Allup will be responsible for the relations with the National Electoral Council (CNE), while Luis Pedro España (a professor at the Andrés Bello Catholic University) will lead a research team for the MUD's campaign.
On the other hand, the CNE is still trying to maintain an institutional appearance by toeing the line on the electoral timetable. But, not everything in the garden is rosy.
No matter how hard the Government tries to keep up the democratic appearances, in the end it always proves otherwise, without accepting changes in power or the right to elect in absolute freedom, in a transparent manner, without any tricks or machinations.
For example, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome by the opposition in all elections of this revolutionary era has been the lack of transparency from the Permanent Electoral Register (REP) that gives the right to vote in every voting process. The scope for discretion of a majority of CNE directors from the ruling party is well known.
On this occasion, the REP is showing an unusual number of voters that reach up to 1.2 million people (6.1% of the total number of voters), who were relocated in states, municipalities, parishes, or even polling stations within their own parishes. Because the parliamentary elections are to be held by electoral districts, it should be remembered that these have an impact on the representativeness of the political forces.
Added to this is the fact that about 1,012 new polling stations have been created, of which 673 are located in communes, unfinished buildings of the Misión Vivienda housing program and areas under the control of paramilitary groups known as "colectivos" or members of the PSUV's Units of Battle Hugo Chávez (UBCh), which originated as a group to defend the Bolivarian Revolution. They represent 7.4% of the voters.
Another fact that has set off the alarms is the mutilation of the REP as part of the effort of the CNE to tilt the balance in favor of the PSUV, which has as a consequence that six states representing 52% of the REP will elect 64 lawmakers, while 18 states (48% of the REP) will elect 100 lawmakers.
To make matters worse, Tibisay Lucena, the head of the CNE, assured that the Venezuelan democracy does not need to be monitored, from there that the parliamentary elections "will not have international observation", but "top-level international accompanying representatives". That is to say, friends of the Bolivarian revolution whose opinions are not binding.
In short, it is clearly seen how a decisive institutional imbalance of forces is created as the parliamentary elections near.
There is a lot of hard work ahead of "Venezuela United".
See VenEconomy: Venezuelan Political Parties Fine-Tune Details in their Own Way (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 18, 2015)
Venezuela is going through an economic catastrophe never seen in its entire history. Venezuelans are in the midst of a whirlwind of crises ranging from food, public health and public safety that have heavily affected their quality of life as never before. This a direct result of the blind obstinacy of a few people to establish a communist system in the country, at the expense of destroying its productive system, collapsing the economy, abandoning the healthcare system and health policies to their fate, corrupting the justice system, abolishing the rule of law and consigning democratic institutions to the dustbin!
The country needs an urgent change of direction by constitutional means in the economic, social and political spheres!
Today, as never before in the past 15 years, that change of direction would be in less than four months from now, when the balance of political representation in the Parliament (aka National Assembly) is changed through an electoral process.
Perhaps many Venezuelans of voting age have not yet realized the vast potential of changing vital aspects in the economic, political and social fields if the democratic option wins by a landslide in the parliamentary election to be held on December 6 of this year.
To begin with, the Parliament's main function of legislating would be restored. Thus eradicating the pernicious Bolivarian habit of delegating its legislative duties to the Executive Branch, by anointing it with enabling powers with which has built up a network of arbitrary and punitive socialist laws keeping businesspeople and the general population in check.
Its control functions over the Government and the National Public Administration will be returned to the Legislative Branch once its autonomy and independence of action are restored, within the terms enforced by the Constitution and the law.
The National Budget Act would also be discussed and analyzed again in order to ensure its transparency and that is in line with a plan for credible and sustainable development. As well as to discuss and analyze all draft laws concerning the tax regime and public credit. Control would be taken over the approval of additional credits, which would be rationally granted if strictly necessary with economic and political criteria, and not with electoral ambitions.
Just to give an idea of the slippage in public spending allowed by a parliamentary majority of the ruling coalition: So far in 2015, public spending rose to Bs.1.334,14 billion, or 79.87% higher than originally stated in the 2015 Budget Act, mainly due to 123 additional credits approved by the National Assembly between January and August 17 of 2015. This represents an increase in approved credits of Bs.316.7 billion (112.4%) compared to the same period in 2014.
A balanced Parliament can take control of the economic and social development plan of the Nation, which has to be submitted by the National Executive during the third quarter of the first year of each constitutional period.
In addition to having the authority to veto the Executive Vice President and ministers with three-fifths of the Parliament members, in the event they fail to comply with their functions or is proved they committed acts of corruption, which would imply their dismissal. As well as serving the interests and autonomy of the states.
In addition to these important functions that can be rescued with the help of an independent Parliament, are the explanations given by various analysts being circulated by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition party to make people aware why the National Assembly must be changed.
This can boost investment and replenish shelves in stores everywhere since, as claimed by Rodrigo Agudo, coordinator of technical support in the agri-food area for the MUD, "a new correlation of forces in the National Assembly would be the first message in the search for restoring confidence and that we are rescuing democracy, the division of powers, in a country where the legislature will not be as it is today: a mere appendage to the will and whims of a government".
See VenEconomy: Winning the Parliament in December is a Must for Venezuelan Opposition (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 19, 2015)
One of the scenarios projected by VenEconomy in its Economic and Political Outlook for the period 2015-2020 is called "Road to Hell". A road that shows a Venezuela struck by anomie, consumed by poverty, dismantled by a political and social breakdown and that tragically ends up transforming the nation into a living hell.
VenEconomy wishes to be wrong about these projections and that the country will rather take the path to return to normality, the other scenario proposed in the study, one that even though is neither easy nor short, it would save Venezuelans from chaos and destruction.
Unfortunately, the reluctance of the Government to take corrective action, a harsh economic crisis deepening with every day that passes, the impudence of the ruling elite in driving a coach and horses through the state of justice and rule of law with every developing event and the anomie with regard to citizen security, are indications that the road to hell is what the future holds for Venezuelans.
A dark and winding road that any citizen is likely to go through when they least expect it.
This is about the rampant violence and growing insecurity taking over the country at present. Until 2014, the more than 200,000 homicides committed in the country since 1998 were alarming indicators showing that the decomposition of the system of administration of justice and the failure of policies on citizen security had come to an unbearable level. The 25 security plans implemented by the State in those 14 years were useless, as much as the 15 ministers of Interior, Justice and Peace. Each year thousands of victims have been added to the death toll of dangerous criminals, with 2014 ending with more than 24,000 homicides, representing more than a thousand deaths than the previous year, and making Venezuela one of the top countries with more violence and insecurity around the world.
Now it turns out that the violent events so far in 2015 are much worse in terms of dehumanization and perversity than those seen in the past. Since the beginning of this year, the body parts of dismembered people that had been previously murdered began to appear in Caracas and other cities of the interior. The last such case was recorded during the first week of August, when the body of a dismembered woman identified as Liana Hergueta was found inside a vehicle in an area of Caracas.
This fact alone should be a call to reflection and an appeal to the consciences of those ruling the country. They should start seriously thinking about why four simultaneous security plans are not working at all, while violence rages on and gives no peace to citizens, who are already spending their days between hunger and insecurity.
However, the Government, rather than acting wisely, has not come up with anything better than politicizing this particular crime, trying to win back popular support, by involving some leaders of the Venezuelan opposition (among them, Oscar Iván Zuluaga, Henrique Capriles, María Corina Machado, Enrique Mendoza, Miguel Henrique Otero, Gaby Arellano and Richard Blanco); and external agents such as former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Republican Congressman Marco Rubio and Phil Laidlaw, the chargé d'affaires of the U.S. government in Venezuela. Its accusations are based on alleged statements by the suspected murderer of Ms. Hergueta, who would be claiming to have received funding and paramilitary training from all these people.
Accusing everyone for fictitious facts or inexplicable crimes has already become a hackneyed argument, used by the Government when it wants to divert the attention of the public opinion and the population so they don't see all the actions of the Bolivarian revolution taking the country down to hell.
Venezuelans will have an extraordinary opportunity to put the country back on the road of respect for the rule of law, justice, freedom and peace with their vote at the next parliamentary election to be held on December 6 of this year.
See VenEconomy: Venezuela on the Road to Hell (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 20, 2015)
The history of mankind is littered with examples of barbarity from people who believe are above the law when in power.
Hitler, Stalin, Qaddafi, Al Bashir, Kim Jong-Il and the Castro brothers are only six of these "gods of mud" that come to mind. Today it is well known the millions of lives lost because of them, without a trace of remorse or mercy.
In Venezuela, Juan Vicente Gómez, Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Hugo Chávez believed they were above the law as well.
Chávez, for example, saw himself as a divine messenger, the savior of the homeland of Simón Bolivar, deciding whose basic civil and political rights he was going to curtail and who was allowed to get away with murder, as he took the reins of the economy, politics and social factors in Venezuela.
A malignant tumor took him to the grave, but before that he passed the culmination of his work onto his "heir", Nicolás Maduro, which is the destruction of a country that never saw its citizens hate each other, or the indescribable sadism of a violent criminality that is barely starting to show its face, not even in the country's worst dictatorships of the past.
With absolute astonishment, the world is beginning to realize the level of cynicism, perversion and amorality from the Venezuelan government to crush those opposing it and cling to power.
The heinous crime of Liana Hergueta, a 53-year-old Venezuelan woman, whose dismembered body was found inside a vehicle in Caracas, has served to expose the moral depravity of those who govern the country today.
And it was Maduro who made it all possible when, through the media network that supports the communicational hegemony of the Bolivarian government, presented a video as evidence in which the self-confessed murderer of Hergueta, José Pérez Venta (who supposedly enrolled in the ruling party PSUV and was used to infiltrate the opposition) served as a "witness" to accuse more than a dozen political leaders of the opposition for "promoting criminal violence", as well as pointing to a few U.S. senators and former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe as responsible for financing the protests staged in the country in 2014.
Is it wise and ethical for a ruler to respond to statements of a self-confessed criminal, who has also been confirmed to be a "cooperating patriot" (those snitches formed under a decree-law enacted under the Special Powers Act against Organized Crime, and that anonymously have sent many Venezuelans to prison under false charges), who extorted and conned unsuspecting people with the purchase/sale of foreign currency?
This kind of amoral behavior is not original from the government of Maduro. It was previously seen with that of Chávez and not one, but several unfortunate bloody events.
One of the most emblematic was the case of police commissioners Iván Simonovis, Henry Vivas, Lázaro Forero and a few Metropolitan Police officers, who were sentenced after a long trial, and without any evidence, for the bloody events that took place between April 11 and April 12 of 2002 in Caracas. It should be remembered that Eladio Aponte Aponte, a former judge of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, confessed under oath in a U.S. court that he had forged the case files of the commissioners by order of the Presidency so they could be indicted.
There is also the murder case of Danilo Anderson, the star prosecutor of the Bolivarian revolution. The crime remains unsolved nearly 11 years later. A particular case demonstrated the levels of perversity of the Attorney General's Office, which presented a false witness (Giovanni Vázquez de Armas, a Colombian citizen with a criminal record for fraud of identity) who publicly acknowledged that he was paid for statements incriminating individuals linked to the opposition, as is the case of journalist Patricia Poleo and businessman Nelson Mezerhane.
There is an urgent need to put an end to this moral breakdown of justice and the Government, otherwise the country will plunge into even greater misery.
Today, more than ever, morals and enlightenment are Venezuela's top priorities.
See VenEconomy: When Amorality Gets Hold of Power in Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 21, 2015)
Soaring Inflation! Widespread shortages! Rampant crime! Oil prices slump! International reserves on the brink of extinction! These should be the headlines in the national press today.
Or might as well be: popular rejection of Nicolás Maduro rises to 80%!
But, Maduro has shifted his focus from these vital issues affecting the entire population to the Colombia-Venezuela border, by closing it after a very confusing armed confrontation episode, which left three soldiers and a civilian wounded. According to some reports, the shooting was an isolated incident; according to others, the soldiers tried to intercept a truck loaded with basic goods being smuggled into Colombia. Others speak of conflicts between narco-military groups.
Well then, this is an episode that should have been investigated by Venezuelan authorities within Venezuela, because - at least at first - there was no indication of the involvement of Colombians in the armed confrontation. Or, assuming that "bachaqueros" (illegal resellers of goods) of Colombian origin had been responsible for the incident, should have been resolved through diplomatic and investigation channels between the two governments.
But it was not like that. Maduro took advantage of the situation to declare a state of emergency in five municipalities of Táchira state with the suspension of six constitutional guarantees (free transit, the inviolability of the home, the inviolability of personal communications, right to assembly, right to peaceful demonstration and right to exercise economic activities with freedom), as much as the closure of the border with Colombia until further notice, or "until everything comes back to normal in Venezuela", as pointed out by Maduro himself.
It should be remembered that the Colombia-Venezuela border is the most extensive Venezuela has at territorial (1,379 miles) and the population level. It is also the busiest border accessed by nationals of both nations and where important trade takes place. A very extensive border that has become a hot spot for the relaxation of controls by command posts, widespread corruption, smuggling activities, drug trafficking, white slave trade, a crossing point for members of the FARC and the ELN, and illegal deals of all kinds. All these issues, extensively documented with hard evidence and videos broadcast by the national (when there was still a bit of freedom of information left in the country) and international media, have never been addressed by neither the late Hugo Chávez nor Maduro.
It should also be remembered that this is the second time in less than two months that Maduro is looking to generate a conflict with a neighboring country. In the first one, when he had the border reopened with a very bad strategy and worst tactic, the territorial dispute with Guyana over the Essequibo region did not receive the support of those countries that got subsidized oil at cheap prices for so many years.
It seems that the goal now is similar to that of the dispute with Guyana, that is to say, to distract the Venezuelan population from internal problems taking great political toll, and try to capitalize on the nationalist sentiment for their candidates running for the Parliament. Not in vain the Government is reveling in the fact that the products that were scarce just few days ago have started reappearing since the border closure.
It is also argued that this is a test that might be applied throughout the country on the eve of the parliamentary elections, if the number of voters are still not reconciled in favor of the candidates of the ruling party, so elections can be suspended until further notice by the National Electoral Council (CNE), or the Supreme Court.
But also according to unofficial reports this is about a measurement of forces between the Army and National Guard cartels for the control of drug trafficking in the border.
Whatever the reason and goals, the darkest side of this Colombia-Venezuela border issue is the serious violation of human rights this state of emergency is promoting. On this occasion the victims are the Colombian nationals in Venezuela, who are being deported without reason or notice, dragging them out of their homes, disintegrating families and destroying their property. By the way, this is a xenophobic practice being carried out since last year, with a low profile but in a systematic manner taking Colombians, both legal and illegal, back into their country of origin in buses.
Who wins what in this latest border bravado of Maduro? Certainly not the Venezuelans.
See VenEconomy: The Dark Side of the Colombia-Venezuela Border (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 24, 2015)
Venezuela, a country that boasts having the world's largest oil reserves in the world, is now in ruins, literally speaking, despite having enjoyed a winning streak due to a sustained boom in crude oil prices for more than a decade.
A "winning" streak during the worst possible moment in the history of the country, when a ruling elite used the resources for (1) establishing a political-social and economic project demonstrably failed in other times and latitudes; (2) buying allegiances within the region and fund similar projects in other countries of the hemisphere; and (3) feeding the hunger for easy riches of its national and foreign counterparts.
A winning streak it also took advantage of for dismantling the private productive sector through expropriations, confiscations and the criminalization of the private sector, under the protection of socialist laws passed without consultation from the parliamentary arena, betting that the nation's huge oil revenues would allow imports in bulk without taking into account that the good streak would be over any time soon. A long period that marked the deprofessionalization of state-run oil company PDVSA, as the State stopped investing in technology, maintenance, new equipment and industrial safety plans. Those were years in which the raison d'être of PDVSA was set aside to make it the financier of all the failed populist programs created from Cuba thought up for electoral reasons. A fact of particular importance today is the third anniversary of a huge blast in the Amuay refinery (Falcón state) caused by the lack of maintenance that left 42 people dead.
Then came 2014 and, with it, a decline in oil prices at global level. The entry to the gas and oil shale market of the U.S. increased supply, thus pushing prices lower. To this is added the fact that Saudi Arabia decided to stop being the "needle of the scale" and did not cut its output or reduced OPEC quotas.
This represented bad news for the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, which unexpectedly encountered empty public coffers, with an oil company that doesn't produce enough oil to meet the country's demand for commodities, with a dismantled productive sector and without resources or supplies to get things started and a large part of it in the hands of a monopolist, incompetent and corrupt state. To make the long story short, 2014 was a terrible year for both PDVSA and the country.
What's worse is that things are a whole lot worse in 2015. Reports that things are going from bad to worse don't stop coming in. For example, news that Iran will start competing in the market with its own oil once the sanctions for being an outlaw State are lifted. Or news that the economy of its highest bidder, the Communist Republic of China, is decelerating and that at the same time is affecting the economies of dozens of countries exporting to China.
Oil prices fell to their lowest level in more than six years on Monday. The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell 5.46% and closed at $38.24 per barrel, below $40 per barrel. Taking into account its usual differential compared to the OPEC barrel, it is estimated that the Venezuelan barrel was only $34 per barrel. Monday's price represents a third of the average price of 2014 and very far from the $ 100-per-barrel mark that both Chávez and Maduro had squandered until recently.
There is great uncertainty today with respect to how long the low prices streak is going to last, or how low world oil prices are going to get, in particular those of Venezuela. The size of the economic and social catastrophe will largely depend on this.
This is because Maduro still refuses to apply the required adjustment measures. On the contrary, he is making things worse with his announcement of a "Pilot Project" to comply with Chávez's "Plan for the Homeland", in which workers will take control of the operations of companies.
Everything indicates that he will stick to his failed communist model, which is sending the entire country straight down to Hell.
See VenEconomy: Crisis in Venezuela Likely to Worsen Further After Slump in Oil Prices (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 25, 2015)
The decision of the government of Nicolás Maduro in having the Colombia-Venezuela border closed last Friday makes no sense at all.
To begin with, the spark that set fire to the measure supposedly owed to a small skirmish.
Rumor has it that on August 19 unidentified people opened fire against an army vehicle circulating near the border with Colombia in Táchira state, an incident that left three soldiers and one civilian wounded. The circumstances that led to the confrontation remain unknown at present, as much as the military component the soldiers belong to, the identities of the civilians, and the health status of those affected.
But, whatever the answer, what nobody seems to understand is why a confrontation that took place within the borders of Venezuela ended up with the closure of the border with Colombia.
Nor is it understandable the disproportionate reaction by Maduro, who aggressively said on Tuesday that "until we restore a minimum of coexistence, respect for legality, life and the economy, the border shall remain closed, ladies and gentlemen. And it shall remain closed, no matter what they say in Bogotá or Cúcuta. I give a damn what they say about me".
It is clear that the error of approach from the Maduro government in attacking a structural and essential problem such as that of the border areas, with both Colombia and Brazil, in no-man's lands, where illicit activities of all kinds take place under the protection of corrupt military and civilian officials of the countries involved. A problem whose solution lies in bilateral agreements, strong and transparent decisions of the governments, the establishment of clear rules of the game to the economic actors, and economic and social balances in the population living there. It takes diplomatic solutions without hiding anything.
Even less understandable is a decree of an indefinite state of emergency published in the Extraordinary Official Gazette of Friday August 21, subsequently endorsed in extraordinary session of the Parliament held in Táchira state on Tuesday. A state of emergency that curtails six constitutional political, economic and social rights of citizens that live in the area, and that is taking a dangerous turn to promote human rights violations of both Venezuelan nationals and Colombians.
The media in Colombia (where there is freedom of reporting) and social networks have documented the allegations of serious violations of universal human rights against the population affected by the state of emergency, especially Colombians in legal or illegal state.
This new outrage of the Bolivarian government has reached such a level that Alejandro Ordóñez, the Attorney General of Colombia, told the press on Tuesday that "the actions of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro against Colombian citizens are considered a systematic attack on civilians".
Ordóñez said that the complaints received "have the characteristics described in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as they represent a persecution of a group or community with own identity, in this case, the Colombian nationality, since it includes acts of deportation or forcible transfer of population, incarceration or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, sexual abuse, forced disappearance of persons and inhuman acts that intentionally cause suffering and undermine the integrity of the people."
And should these actions continue "they could be treated as crimes against humanity and within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court".
But, it seems that the Venezuelan "revolutionaries" are turning a deaf ear to these alerts, since they are now opening the doors for new state of emergency measures and close other border crossing points in Zulia and Apure states.
The ambition to cling to power blinds and makes it impossible to observe the norms of coexistence of form and substance.
See VenEconomy: Border Closure Decision by Venezuela's Maduro has Neither Form nor Substance (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 26, 2015)
With a state of emergency decreed in six municipalities of Táchira state, the closure of the border with Colombia, the collapse [demolition] of houses and the nonsense deportation of Colombians living in the area, Nicolás Maduro and his people are showing the world their true dictatorial nature and contempt for human rights.
A nature that, by the way, thousands of Venezuelans have suffered for more than a decade.
That dictatorial nature of the Maduro/Castro government does not tolerate the political dissidence, and those who dare to express it in public are subject to persecution, forced into exile or convicted for crimes made up by a justice system not at the service of the law, but at the feet of a spurious and failed political process.
One of the most emblematic cases is that of political leader Leopoldo López, who has been doing time for a year and a half in the military prison of Ramo Verde, charged with "public incitement, criminal association, property damage and arson" after inciting his followers through "subliminal" speeches so they could commit these crimes.
On Monday August 31 begins the completion phase of López's judicial process that may come to an end in 15 days with a first instance judgment.
A process that begins with the ruling of the presiding judge of "doing without" a part of the evidentiary material presented by the defense lawyers and the Prosecutor's Office.
According to the complaints from the lawyers of López, the trial has been unfair, illegitimate and vitiated of illegalities.
They start from the same core of the indictment of the Public Ministry, in the opinion of the Public Prosecutor's Office were the speeches delivered by López on 01/23/14, 02/02/14 and 02/12/14, which in the opinion of the Prosecutor incited his followers to stage the street demonstrations last year. But, paradoxically, these speeches have not been accepted to be submitted at the trial as evidence of the defense. As López has claimed on several occasions to the judge, "How can you convict me for my words if you don't even know them?"
Sources say that was the own Maduro who ordered the capture of López on February 13 of 2014 "for his alleged involvement in cases of severe injury, homicide and terrorism that took place the previous Wednesday", without there being a previous investigation of the crimes López was accused of.
Among other irregularities are 1) that the trial judge and the Court of Criminal Cassation of the Supreme Court (TSJ) have persistently refused to incorporate elements of evidence; 2) that part of the evidentiary material of the Prosecutor has "disappeared", and what has "disappeared" was subsequently incorporated in the trial in a fraudulent manner; (3) that there was military interference in the courtroom; 4) that the defense was banned from entering electronic equipment and "the access to the media, international observers, or López's fellow members from the Voluntad Popular party was not allowed, even for an oral and public trial".
These rigged trials, this persecution against those who disagree with the process, this siege against the private sector activity, these expropriations without limits, are part of the same outrages and illegalities seen in the Colombia-Venezuela border today. And there is more to come...
See VenEconomy: Meanwhile, Inside Venezuela (Latin American Herald Tribune, August 27, 2015)
Warning: Use a High Security Level for browsing in these sites.
www.aporrea.org aporrea.org - Venezuela "Agencia popular alternativa de noticias"
Also see the official sites of the Venezuelan Government in the main section of this page.
Adolfo R. Taylhardat
ABC.es: Internacional (Madrid, España)
Acción por la Libertad (Presos Políticos en Venezuela)
Did High Oil Prices Cause the Financial Crash? (Oil-Price.net)
See PetroleumWorld.com (Latin American Energy, Oil & Gas)
* [This change was again delayed, till December 9, 03:00]
This is the original time zone for the Legal Time in Venezuela, adopted in 1912 and based on the meridian of Villa de Cura (Longitude 67.5° W, Estado Aragua). It replaced the meridian based on Punta de Playa (Longitude 60° W, Estado Delta Amacuro) adopted in 1965 for GMT - 4 hrs.
Longitude on Earth is related to Local Time:
Topocentric Positions of Major Solar System Objects and Bright Stars
at the US Naval Observatory,
With a time zone of GMT - 4.5 hrs, for Caracas:
This page was updated in: August 28 '15
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