Noticias

The Uncredited Defeats

Caracas Chronicles - Hace 5 horas 9 mins

National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena said on Monday that all of their audits have been carried out in the presence of party leaders and that they’re working on the second phase of the telecommunications verification process. Citizen verification will take place on October 20th and the audit on voter data, between November 1st and 4th.

Lucena announced that today she’ll submit the report before the ANC with copies of certified vote tallies, adding that political parties that don’t agree with the results may challenge them, as established in the Framework Law of Electoral Processes.

Delcy Rodríguez announced that the ANC will hold an induction ceremony for governors and also that they’ll try to schedule a date for municipal elections.

Neither free nor transparent

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) formally announced that they’re not accepting the results of regional elections.

Ángel Oropeza said that “everyone knows that elections in Venezuela are neither free nor transparent,” adding that they’ve collected reports of abuses committed before and during elections, so they call on the people and the world to fight for a new electoral system, and convened an emergency meeting with the 23 gubernatorial candidates to plan their political response.

MUD demands a full audit of the elections and Oropeza cautioned: “We won’t attend any negotiation process until audits are cleared,” asserting that the dictatorship keeps losing legitimacy every day.

Challenges

Sucre mayor and gubernatorial candidate for Miranda, Carlos Ocariz, said: “The issue here aren’t the ballots but the fraudulent system we witnessed yesterday (Sunday), many of our witnesses were chased away from their stations and they had 90% turnout. Anyone could’ve voted more than once, the issue lies in vote tallies and inconsistencies.” He claimed to have all the ballots and stated that he’d denounce this situation before national and international instances.

Candidates Alejandro Feo La Cruz (Carabobo), Larissa González (Delta Amacuro) and José Manuel Olivares (Vargas) also said they would challenge the elections.

Bolívar state

Yesterday, CNE released electoral results for the only state where the trend wasn’t irreversible when Lucena made the announcement on Sunday night, showing opposition candidate Andrés Velázquez as the winner, but the information was pulled down shortly after.

A demonstration was called near CNE regional offices in Ciudad Bolívar to demand definitive results for the state, and was promptly repressed by the National Guard with tear gas and rubber pellets.

Yesterday afternoon, Velázquez tweeted:

CNE vuelve a actualizar psgina 5 pm. Seguimos ganando. No pueden torcer los numeros pic.twitter.com/ORPqQXfB93

— Andres Velasquez (@AndresVelasqz) October 16, 2017

“Once again CNE updates site 5 pm. We’re still winning. They can’t rig the numbers.”

We’ll see.

At the OAS

Resuming hearings with international experts to determine whether the situation of human rights in Venezuela should be submitted to the International Criminal Court, several Venezuelan lawyers accused the government of exerting enormous influence on the judicial and legislative branches through coercion, imprisonment and beatings.

Lawmaker Armando Armas denounced that so far no investigation has been opened on the assault they suffered in July during the violent takeover of the National Assembly.

Diputado @ArmandoArmas: Gob. #Venezuela opera con un "Manual Antigolpe", un Manual de procedimientos operativos estándar para la opresión pic.twitter.com/NlCaCY4Pd7

— OEA (@OEA_oficial) October 16, 2017

Pedro Troconis, one of the TSJ justices appointed by Parliament, denounced Nicolás’ persecution against him.

.@pedrotroconis, Magistr. exiliado: no hay justicia en #Venezuela, el TSJ es ilegítimo y el legítimo ha sido perseguido y forzado al exilio pic.twitter.com/0ngOE2VEqQ

— OEA (@OEA_oficial) October 16, 2017

Former control judge Ralenis Tovar, said that her superiors and other public authorities threatened her in 2014 to authorize Leopoldo López’s imprisonment.

Exjueza Ralenis Tovar #Venezuela explica q fue obligada a firmar orden de arresto de @leopoldolopez bajo amenaza de ser arrestada y violada pic.twitter.com/tIT0roM8Tw

— OEA (@OEA_oficial) October 16, 2017

Former diplomat Isaías Medina accused Nicolás of committing crimes against humanity, causing the death of thousands of people by ignoring the reality of a humanitarian crisis.

Votes are worthless

Without elaborating on the electoral process’ many issues, OAS chief Luis Almagro expressed his skepticism and denounced “the lack of guarantees, recurring features of electoral events under dictatorships.”

Aquí mi mensaje sobre las elecciones celebradas ayer en #Venezuela #OEAconVenezuela https://t.co/4liQgO4aFb pic.twitter.com/89mJfw3SWC

— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) October 16, 2017

He condemned the abuses against the civil and political rights of Venezuelans and emphasized the lesson these elections give us: that no election in Venezuela will offer guarantees for voters unless it’s under qualified international monitoring.

Almagro said that he’ll follow up on proceedings to substantiate the claims of crimes against humanity and he’ll promote and legitimize sanctions imposed against the regime.

Olé

Prosecutor general Luisa Ortega Díaz will file a formal complaint for corruption before the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office against government members who allegedly purchased properties in Spain with funds obtained through bribes by Odebrecht executives.

Spanish prosecutor Rosana Morán explained that, in light of the documents presented by Ortega, the Prosecutor’s Office will have to establish if the alleged crime could be prosecuted in Spain and under Spanish laws.

Ortega will also file a second complaint regarding the situation of Yon Goicoechea and other prisoners of Spanish nationality who remain detained without an incarceration order.

Abroad
  • Federica Mogherini, chief diplomat of the European Union, spoke of the Venezuelan crisis in her opening speech before the Foreign Ministers Council, claiming that the electoral results are surprising and that the situation must be investigated.
  • Spanish Foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said that the results won’t impact the EU’s course of action and its potential sanctions.
  • France condemned the opacity of the verification process of results and the questionable conditions of this election.
  • Canada expressed concern for the alleged electoral violations and said that they expect an independent and reliable assessment of the results.
  • Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela said that he’ll study the results once he’s talked with all parties, to decide whether he accepts the results or not.
  • The United States condemned the absence of free and fair elections, remarking that, as long as the regime behaves like an authoritarian dictatorship, they’ll work and bring “the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear” in support of the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy.
  • The Lima Group restated that they’ll discuss the Venezuelan crisis on October 26th in Toronto.

Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza’s reactions to international statements were shameful, as usual.

Chavismo’s greatest triumph was stripping the vote of meaning, sadistically celebrating such a twisted achievement. None of chavismo’s statements are worth writing about; regardless of their cruelty, they’re still mediocre fools.

I didn’t find a single person celebrating this “victory” on my route yesterday; not in the street or in the Metro or in the supermarket, where I found laundry detergent, by the way… at Bs. 30,000 per kilo.

The post The Uncredited Defeats appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

A Staggering Defeat

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 10/16/2017 - 19:36

“It’s impossible.”

That, more or less, was the collective reaction of the Venezuelan political class to last night’s gubernatorial elections result. A government profoundly loathed by vast majorities of the population can’t win a decisive win in regional elections. A party led by a president on 22% approval ratings can’t be electorally competitive. It’s preposterous to even begin to think so and the evidence would obviously bear that out.

As night turned into morning, though, the horrifying insight started to congeal. As opposition spokespeople subtly backed away from earlier claims, we began to realize, this wasn’t going to be like July 30th this year, when evidence of fraud began to pile on almost from the moment the polls closed.

This was going to be like April 2013, when the opposition first signalled fraud but then catastrophically failed to come up with the evidence to back that claim.

You can’t explain a variable with a constant. All of the dirty tricks Ocariz decried have been structural features of the Venezuelan Elections System at least since 2012.

At lunch-time today, defeated Primero Justicia candidate for Miranda State Governor, Carlos Ocariz, gave a profoundly sad news conference. He kept repeating that he had all the actas — the voting tallies produced at each voting center — but that “this isn’t a problem of actas.

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines here.

To draw our attention away from the actas, Ocariz kept pounding away on an electoral system rotten from top to bottom: intimidation, vote buying, violence, coercion, harassment of opposition witnesses, ballot stuffing. All credible, all real, all irrelevant.

Because you can’t explain a variable with a constant. All of the dirty tricks Ocariz decried have been structural features of the Venezuelan Elections System at least since 2012. On the margins, they’ve been good enough to turn a narrow MUD polling lead into a narrow PSUV win.

They’ve never taken an election MUD was winning by 25 points and turned it into one it lost by eight. Something else is clearly at play here.

It may be that there was more ballot-stuffing this time than in the past. If there was, forensic analysis of the results data will surely find it, and we’ll certainly write about it in some detail. But I’ll be very surprised if it turns out the bulk of MUD’s underperformance is accounted for by ballot stuffing.

Occam’s razor is pointing in just one direction: MUD voters didn’t turn out. And so we lost.

I think what happened is actually simpler.

We lost, because we didn’t turn out.

And we didn’t turn out for lots of reasons. We didn’t turn out because we didn’t see how state governorships were relevant to the problems facing the country. We didn’t turn out because we sensed the desperation in our candidates’ pitches, and the condescension in their slogans. We didn’t turn out because we stopped trusting a political leadership that’s out of touch, self-serving and more interested in its own power than in helping us. We didn’t turn out because we’ve left the country. We didn’t turn out because if we’re going to take big time risks to vote we want it to be for something we genuinely believe in, and this wasn’t it.

Shocking as the results were, impossible though they seemed, Occam’s razor is pointing in just one direction: MUD voters didn’t turn out. And so we lost.

The post A Staggering Defeat appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The Worst-case Scenario

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 10/16/2017 - 10:33

Breaking the typical suspense after any election, at 10:00 p.m. last night National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena, together with the four main rectores, announced the results in 22 out of 23 governorships, claiming that with 95.8% of votes tallied, trends were irreversible except in Bolívar state.

There was 61.14% turnout and according to CNE, PSUV won 17 governorships:

Amazonas: Miguel Rodríguez 59,85% – Bernabé Guitérrez
Apure: Ramón Carrizales 51.92% – José Montilla 31.59%
Aragua: Rodolfo Marco Torres 56.83% – Ismael García 39.6%
Barinas: Argenis Chávez 52.78% – Freddy Superlano 34.45%
Carabobo: Rafael Lacava 51.96% – Alejandro Feo La Cruz 46.41%
Cojedes: Margaud Godoy 55.48% – Alberto Galíndez 42.91%
Delta Amacuro: Lizeta Hernández 58.68% – Larissa González 39.5%
Falcón: Víctor Clark 51.86% Eleizer Ciric 44.4%
Guárico: José Vásquez 61.68% – Pedro Loreto 37.38%
Lara: Carmen Meléndez 67.65% – Henri Falcón 40.93%
Miranda: Héctor Rodríguez 52.54% – Carlos Ocariz 45.92%
Monagas: Yelitze Santaella 53.94% – Guillermo Call 43.97%
Portuguesa: Rafael Calle 64.24% – María Beatriz Martínez 43.2%
Sucre: Edwin Rojas 69.9% – Robert Alcalá 39.67%
Trujillo: Henry Rangel Silva – Carlos González
Yaracuy: Julio León Heredia 61.88% – Luis Parra 35.81%
Vargas: Jorge Luis García Carneiro 52.35% – José Manuel Olivares 46.22%

While the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won 5:

Anzoátegui: Antonio Barreto Sira 5 2.01% – Aristóbulo Isturiz 46.76%
Mérida: Ramón Guevara 61.05% – Geison Guzmán 46.03%
Nueva Esparta: Alfredo Díaz 51.81% – Carlos Mata Figueroa
Táchira: Laidy Gómez 73% – José Vielma Mora 35.38%
Zulia: Juan Pablo Guanipa 61.6% – Francisco Arias Cárdenas 47.13%

Lucena didn’t mention that CNE obviously breached protocol by not formally announcing the closure of polling stations by 6:00 p.m. or any kind of time extension.

Today, CNE should send political parties the results in each table and voting station.

By the way, three of the newly-elected PSUV governors are affected by U.S. and Canada sanctions: Rodolfo Marco Torres, Carmen Meléndez and Henry Rangel Silva.

As for Miranda, chavismo wouldn’t have won there, even back when el finado was alive.

Nicolás’ reaction

After final results had been announced, Nicolás boasted that PSUV won 17 governorships even though they’re responsible for infamous records of inflation, scarcity, crime and corruption. Amidst the worst crisis in the country’s history, Nicolás congratulated those who “took to the streets to tell the world that there’s peace in Venezuela,” calling his party’s triumph an “overwhelming victory” and emphasizing that chavismo surpassed the opposition in the national vote by nine points. He offered his pledge to the five elected opposition governors to collaborate with them, only to warn seconds later that anyone who crosses the line will suffer a relentless justice. Lastly, he asked the ANC to perform a full audit, because “perhaps we might recover those five governorships they won.”

“We don’t accept CNE’s results”

Ten minutes before midnight, MUD campaign chief Gerardo Blyde said that the opposition alliance doesn’t accept the CNE’s gubernatorial election results: “Not even the government itself can understand these results,” he said, restating that before the CNE’s announcement, they had warned the country about these results that don’t match MUD figures. “They know they’re not the majority, we won’t accept these results,” said Blyde, adding that neither Venezuela nor the world “could believe this lie.” He requested all regional commands to verify the results – even where the opposition won – and also asked for verification of the entire ballot system, machines, etc., because this system provides no guarantees and “we have to fight to change this electoral system.”

Blyde explained they made this attempt (of going to elections) with the conviction of being democrats, that they must unify their policies and opinions, so he called on leaders outside MUD to offer up a common strategy to confront the regime.

Lastly, MUD called on all candidates to set up street protests demanding inspections.

For some reason, pollsters got the turnout right, but not the results. It’s still inexplicable for many (both statistically and logistically) how chavismo won 17 governorships with 61% turnout, recovering 600,000 votes compared to what they got in parliamentary elections back in 2015, while the opposition lost 2,300,000 votes. Respecting the CNE’s figure, PSUV got 9% more votes than the opposition, with 6,600,000, the opposite result predicted by pollsters, political analyses and the logic of a country ruined by a government that is now emerging victorious.

While the majority of Venezuelans showed yesterday that we still believe in elections as a constitutional and peaceful way to solve this crisis, PSUV and all its subservient institutions blocked that possibility.

The post The Worst-case Scenario appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Down the Sketchy Election Fraud Road, Again

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 10/16/2017 - 06:58

I don’t agree with Quico.

I wouldn’t call this outright fraud, yet. The feeling is way too similar to that of the 2013 Maduro/Capriles elections when Maduro won and the opposition questioned the results, pursued an audit, and mobilized people in the streets. And once the dust started settling they realized that the kind of fraud that had happened was harder to explain than just saying they changed a 1 for a 7. It was way more complex than that, and yes, way worse, since it relied on Millions of Dollars from corruption and on using public institutions to gain electoral advantage. It was about the conditions on the playing field, conditions which you accept, under protest of course, but still, conditions that you accept because there’s just no other choice.

We know where that course of action took Capriles. He was called a coward after pulling one of the bravest moves that a politician can pull, which is to put common sense before your followers’ innermost desires, when he called off the street protests against this hard-to-explain fraud.

Tonight, minutes before Tibisay Lucena went on national television to announce the results, MUD rushed a statement by its spokesman, campaign manager Gerardo Blyde, in which he said that they had information that the CNE was to announce the results, and that they had reason to believe these results may not be trustworthy and that they wouldn’t accept them until MUD was able to verify its own numbers.

Tibisay Lucena’s results were unbelievable. Before a national jaw drop, Lucena read the numbers. The opposition was only able to snatch 5 (or 6) governorships, when the worst scenarios from different experts predicted 7.

It is unbelievable. For all the reasons we write about on this website every day. Unbelievable. Absurd. Incredible. Improbable, yet not impossible. It was an extremely hard to call election from the beginning (what if there wer actually some chavistas with their own regional following who weren’t relying in Chávez’s fat mustachioed banana-eating legacy?). This is why, on Friday’s Political Risk Report we didn’t give an estimate of results, but mostly focused on the motivation of the regime to commit fraud, and on the international repercussions that said fraud would entail. I believe, like Quico, that the Venezuelan conflict has migrated to the geopolitical playing field and that with each passing day, the resolution of the conflict slips further away from Venezuelan hands.

But I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that the international police will jump on this one and call fraud. In any case, I’m sure that if they don’t, it is because we are in a similar situation to that of Capriles in that terrible night of 2013, when he lost his second election against the Venezuelan dictatorship. And we should keep in mind the mistakes of five years ago before moving forward. 

The post Down the Sketchy Election Fraud Road, Again appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

An Unsubtle Fraud

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 10/16/2017 - 03:20

Going into this weekend, I think many of us took it for granted the government would try to pick off a few governorships on the margin. Like they’d lose 18 out of 23 and claim they’d only lost 15.

I don’t think many of us expected this, a straight-up, güevoafuera grab for 17 governorships, including in deep-blue urban states like Miranda where it just strains all credulity to think the government could win.

CNE claims that, nationwide, the government scored 54% of the popular vote — despite polling consistently showing them trailing the opposition by 2-to-1 margins, which is what you’d expect, given the economic cataclysm the government has presided over.

The ball now goes to the international community.

In this opinion climate, it’s not possible to steal an election subtly. You’re not close enough to do it elegantly. You have to just straight-up steal it, announcing entirely made-up results.

They went there.

It’ll be relatively straightforward to show that conclusively —a fraud this blatant leaves plenty of evidence, and MUD’s job is now to collect it, document it and present it. It’s a dreary job, but it’s important to do it diligently.

The ball now goes to the international community. A new round of U.S. sanctions should come relatively quickly, and can be expected to be substantially harsher than the first. Oh, and the first formal E.U. meeting to consider sanctions on Venezuela is scheduled for…tomorrow.

Venezuela long ago proved it’s entirely possible to be shocked by a development that you don’t find in any way surprising. Tonight is one of those nights.

The post An Unsubtle Fraud appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

I’m Going to Vote

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 10/15/2017 - 19:27

Just a few hours before regional elections, the National Electoral Council released the list of candidate replacements from August, ignoring all the requests made by the opposition in a more reasonable date. Since this list was made public via a press release, the CNE didn’t explain how processed replacements will impact electoral ballots and much less whether votes for replaced candidates will be counted toward the MUD opposition candidate.

Interference

With the CNE, everything is critical, so on top of the lack of information in the previous paragraph, there’s also a complaint lodged by MUD yesterday, saying that there are Nicaraguan experts in the country specialized fraud techniques that include relocating voting centers -a scheme known as “ratón loco”- used by the Nicaraguan government to confuse opposition voters. MUD demanded that Nicaraguan advisers be expelled from the country and that OAS and the region’s governments demand Nicaragua to stay out of Venezuelan affairs.

A last effort for abstention

This Friday, Nicolás added another phrase to his long rosary of memorable idiocy: “screwed but happy,” summing up his indolence and shamelessness. Yesterday, ignoring the corruption accusation made by the former president of Odebrecht and the complaint on Nicaraguan interference, he insisted that negotiations with the opposition will resume next week and hoping for the participation of leaders from all parties “because we must debate, at least to show our disagreements”; attributing participation in regional elections to the dialogue that never happened, calling them an accomplishment of “revolutionary democracy” (his favorite oxymoron,) right before turning his attention to signing collective bargaining agreements with public servants and spouting another memorable idiocy: “An union leader who isn’t chavista is unnatural.” If someone’s unnatural it’s him and yet there he is.

Defense in the street

Yesterday, MUD asked citizens to take to the streets next Monday to defend the results of today’s regional elections. National Assembly vice-president Freddy Guevara also urged the people to report on every incident that takes place during the electoral process: “We’re ready to denounce and react to any attempt that seeks to twist people’s will,” he said. Additionally, lawmaker Miguel Pizarro said that voting center relocations and other obstacles won’t diminish citizen participation, saying that people are ready to go wherever necessary in order to vote: “if you were relocated, don’t worry: go to your usual voting center because there will be people there ready to help you and take you wherever you have to vote,” he remarked. Pizarro urged citizens not to believe WhatsApp cadenas and focus on organization instead.

Huge turnout

CNE authority Luis Emilio Rondón asked Venezuelans to verify their information on the institution’s webpage and urged them to vote: “You have the opportunity to be lead characters of this election. Go out in massive numbers to exercise your political right,” adding a request for table members to attend the installation of polling stations as early as possible and cooperate so that the process runs smoothly. He also asked them to remain in their posts during vote counting as well as citizen verification audits at the end of the process, remarking that it’s a public event and that helps increase transparency levels. Lastly, he demanded compliance with the amount of ballots that must be printed: for CNE, for the voting table’s head and for the witnesses, restating that polling stations close at 6:00 p.m. or until the last voter in line had voted.

#CNEVetaAPeriodistas

Journalists from various national and international outlets denounced that the CNE didn’t grant them the necessary credentials to cover the elections, a violation against free speech that they expressed on Twitter with the hashtag #CNEVetaAPeriodistas. Espacio Público, an NGO that promotes and defends free speech and the right to information, said: “CNE removes the press from the electoral process.” The Press and Society Institute asked for complaints to be sent to this address: corresponsalessipys@gmail.com. Despite this level of abuse, Ceela spokespeople -the alleged international “observers”- claimed yesterday that the CNE has been operating with transparency.

How to vote
  1. Check your polling station on CNE and MUD webpages, calling the 0800votemos or sending a text message to 2637.
  2. If your station was relocated, there will be people in your usual station who will tell you where you’re voting now and may even take you there.
  3. Carry your original ID card, doesn’t matter if it’s expired, and identify yourself at your voting table.
  4. Choose your candidate directly on the machine’s screen; wait until your selection is marked in marked in green and press the word “Vote”.
  5. Wait for your vote’s voucher and verify that it shows the candidate you chose. If so, place the voucher in the box.
  6. Once again with your ID card, one of the table’s members will point out a line on the records book showing your information, in order for you to sign and place your fingerprint. Remember there won’t be indelible ink this time.
Change starts with reports

Transparencia Venezuela is a NGO specialized in promoting conditions and procedures to prevent and reduce corruption. In the case of elections, this includes: delays in opening voting stations; problems with credentials for witnesses and table members; technical issues with voting machines; propaganda in public areas; the use of tactics such as “Operación Morrocoy”; political intimidation (pro-regime motorizados, red stations, etc.); inadequate behaviour of Plan República members; inappropriate use of public resources and closing voting tables earlier than scheduled. They established several channels for you to get in touch with them: their cellphone app “Dilo Aquí,” the e-mail: denuncia@transparencia.org.ve; the Twitter account @NoMasGuiso and the phone numbers: 0412-312-2629 and 0416-612-2629.

Even with the best table members, forcing big electoral stations into smaller areas will slow down the process! Get ready for long lines and do it with the same precautions you took while protesting: headwear, water, sun screen, something to eat and a charged phone; patience and convictions can’t be carried in a backpack, but they will be decisive.

The post I’m Going to Vote appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Confusion and determination at three Caracas voting centers

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 10/15/2017 - 18:41

The talk around town was that a lot of centers in middle-class areas all around the country had been switched to intimidating shantytowns. The dirty trick would put MUD under pressure to provide security, transportation, information…mission impossible, or almost.

So Gabriel and I decided to head out and check it all out. We decided we hit three opposition stronghold voting centers. We found three strongly contrasting realities…but confusion

La Metro

Last week, word on the street was that the voting center at the Universidad Metropolitana (known as La Metro to its students) had been moved to a barrio. “Like way up there,” my friend told me, “maybe you need to take a jeep to get to the new place.”

I was all set to jump on a mototaxi and go barrio adentro but as soon as I get there everything was normal: “I already voted, it’s super fast”, one lady around 40 years old told me as she put her expensive sunglasses.

 

“I thought I was going to another center but I came with some friends to see what was happening and there was no change here”, she said.

“We were ready to go to another place. My wife and I came to ask where to vote, but luckily everything is normal”, Jesús Ferreira, a 55 years old, told me.

“In my building’s Whatsapp group they were saying we were going to vote in the same place but I wasn’t sure. I’ve heard so many things that I didn’t know what to expect. But everything was super fast, at least at my table”, Manuela, a 47 years old lady told me.

So it’s business as usual at La Metro. “They (the Government) is trying to confuse everyone,” Manuela mused out loud.

“Come to Santa Paula, the opposition has some camioneticas for the voters”, another friend told me.

Santa Paula

The situation here is peculiar. There have always been two voting centers here, one right across the street front of the other. Today, the larger one was closed “for security reasons.” Bizarrely the smaller one, which was literally a stone’s throw away, was operating normally. No “security problems” there.

“A lot of people are really lost, it’s been hard work. You have this big center (Colegio Jesús María Alfaro Zamora) and all the people there have been changed to some small voting centers, one is even inside like a private house. It’s crazy”, Héctor Martínez, 62 years old, explained to me.

He was one of the volunteers trying to help voters. In fact, most of them had been moved to one center just four blocks down the road. No security problems there either, it seems.

“It’s crazy, the Government is doing this to confuse people and you also have some people who are slow on the pick-up, you know? They don’t understand all the changes”, he said.

“I can’t find myself on the lists, I’m not on the lists”, one fifty-something fit lady in gy clothes interrupted.

“You were probably changed to San Luis”, Héctor said. “I already check myself on that list and I’m not there either”, she said.

Another guy tried to help “Let me check your ID at the website, maybe you’re going to vote in another San Luis, in Chuao”.

“No chama, así no se puede. I’m not going to vote in Chuao, that’s crazy. I’m going home”, she said. Suddenly a young lady runs to us: “I found you! You vote here!”, she screams, suddenly a sigh of relieve in our little circle.

“See, so much confusion and I’m kind of worried because there aren’t so many people, I help here in every election but it’s pretty calm today. Let’s hope that the voters have gone straight to the new center”, Héctor told.  

On the corner, three minibuses were waiting to take the voters to the “new centers”: “We have four routes, from the ‘natural centers’ to the ‘new centers’, every ten minutes or less a bus takes off, takes the voters and later the brings them back. The idea is to help the voters to go to the new centers, especially older people”, a lady, part of the team of the councilor of El Cafetal, Armando Machado, explained.

In fact, the bulk of people had been sent to vote just a few blocks away from the “original”. “The one that is farthest from here is around a 15 minute walk from this place”, Héctor told me, but for the abuelitos it’s not an easy task. He thought the camioneticas were a great idea. According to Machado’s team, the drivers are part of the route of the area and this Sunday are volunteers, they even arrange two shifts.

“I am 86 years old and I have voted here my whole life. They’re trying to suppress the vote, to get people  to stay home instead of voting. Let’s have some patience. It’s ok, what else can we do?”, Gladys told me as she was waiting inside the bus to go to the Centro Infantil América.

Centro Infantil América, where many Santa Paula voters ended up… El Hatillo

Finally, Gabriel and I hit the Universidad Nueva Esparta is the biggest center in El Hatillo. Word had gotten around that all the voters had been switched to a small school in the Barrio La Unión, part of the sprawling Petare mega-shantytown.

“No chamita, todo rápido,” Gladys Pereira, 72 years old, said to me. Her friend, María Antonia, 48, agree: “The logistics are excellent, the order inside. Great.”

“I thought that we were going to vote in La Unión, but last night a friend told me that everything was normal”, María said. “They can’t change this center, it’s a pilot center’”, another guy said to us.

“They are trying to create chaos, why? you know why! You know better than us, you know why and you are thinking what we are thinking”, Glady said and laughed.

“In the end they can’t change anything, there is one table that at this time, almost 10 am hasn’t opened, but people are waiting here, they don’t care how long it takes. It’s what we need to do”.

The post Confusion and determination at three Caracas voting centers appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Reptilian Socorro

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 10/14/2017 - 13:37

CNE rectora Socorro Hernández said this Friday that 204 polling stations were relocated due to violent incidents -a category that includes several schools that refused to participate in the electoral fraud on July 30th- and 70 due to infrastructural issues, claiming that CNE did say that this could happen and that the process has concluded. In her version, they waited until this week to do that, because it was a complex process, disregarding that relocations violate the Constitution. According to Hernández, elected governors must be inducted by the ANC, that was also planned and it’s part of the process: this is a lie.

A nefarious trio

CNE chief Tibisay Lucena said that they installed 95% of voting tables and claimed that the relocation had been widely announced. She condemned the U.S. for questioning CNE, because the State Department “disregards all electoral guarantees” that they’re offering. She said that there were 233 relocations in three days and that they’ll release the chart detailing them. Defense minister Vladimir Padrino López urged respect for people’s will, hoping that Sunday process will be a “clean and tidy” process. FAN Operational Strategic Command chief Remigio Ceballos dismissed concerns that relocations will disrupt election logistics, because they the logistics capacity to fulfill the CNE’s requirements.

“We’ll wrest power away from power on Sunday”

That’s what mayor and MUD campaign chief Gerardo Blyde said yesterday, remarking that Nicolás and his candidates know that they won’t win the governorships with votes, so they’re trying to block the exercise of that right, that the only counterweight for these atrocities is massive turnout, and that there will be activists waiting in closed voting centers to inform and transport voters. He pointed out that Plan Repúbica doesn’t own the electoral process: “they’re only there to guarantee security.” Liliana Hernández said that the international observers are merely pro-government collaborators and that there are only two certified national observers. Although MUD invited several observers, they won’t be able to guarantee them safety or transport within the country.

Unprecedented and absurd?

This Friday, OAS inducted the TSJ justices appointed by the National Assembly in July, who said in their press release that this is a mechanism of international pressure against the dictatorship. Meanwhile several OAS ambassadors -including critics of the Venezuelan government- rejected the event, saying it was absurd. OAS chief Luis Almagro attended the induction ceremony and said that this TSJ’s installation “clears the path for the recovery of democracy in Venezuela,” inviting countries to impose more sanctions against the regime because these are “the way to force the Venezuelan regime down on its knees,” restating that the ANC must be scrapped. Chief justice Maikel Moreno said that the only legitimate justices are “fulfilling their duties in TSJ offices in Caracas.”

PDVSA doesn’t pay

This Wednesday, Fernando Ardila, the owner of a Florida-based energy company, became the tenth person to plead guilty before a federal court in Houston in the investigation on PDVSA bribes and that same day, the oil company delayed a payment for $121 million in debt interests, right when it’s nearly time for PDVSA to face upcoming maturities: $2,9 billion between October and November. This along with the delay on Elecar bonds had an impact on the Venezuelan debt market, because investors are concerned that the nation may not be able to pay, as well as for potential financial sanctions against the government. Also this Friday, when the bolívar keeps plummeting (the black market dollar rose to Bs. 31,109.30) and the Venezuelan Central Bank didn’t release data on international reserves; without a mandatory broadcast, Delcy Rodríguez received the National Budget for 2018 from Economic Area vice-president Ramón Lobo, violating the current Constitution, where article 311 establishes that the president must submit it before the National Assembly.

Suing the government

Prosecutor general Luisa Ortega Díaz said that she shared evidence with the U.S. that incriminates government officials in corruption crimes: “the officials and prosecutors against Venezuelan corruption that stand with me have been meeting with U.S. prosecutors and other powers to exchange information,” she said after meeting with UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, adding that she’s already finalized the document that she will submit before the International Criminal Court for human rights violations in the country.

European sanctions

European Union nations came to an unanimous political agreement to prepare selective sanctions against Venezuelan officials responsible for repression in the country. The decision was made by the EU Council’s Political and Security Committee, with representation of the ambassadors of all 28 member States. Next Monday, in the EU Foreign Ministers Council, UE High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, will mention Venezuela in her speech opening the meeting and the will also be a political debate among attending ministers concerning this Sunday’s elections.

Abroad

Colombia, Canada, the U.S. and Peru have expressed their concern for voting center relocations that prevent the holding of free and fair elections and all of them have urged the government to allow independent national observers to monitor the election and the vote tally process. Meanwhile, Canada and Mexico will continue to work to restore democracy in Venezuela, “which is experiencing a profound political crisis,” said prime minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to the Mexican capital.

Regional elections are a constitutional mandate and a right. No Venezuela law says that governorns must be sworn in before an ANC that is severely despised both within the country and abroad. Our vote is a protest against the schemes of this disastrous regime and its lackey CNE. Not even the most chaotic scenario for opposition votes could give Nicolás its fraudulent 8 million from July 30th:

Go vote!

The post Reptilian Socorro appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Keeping Up With The Kampaign

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 10/14/2017 - 10:00

Regional elections are taking place tomorrow, so let’s take a look at the campaigns for each side and find out what everyone’s up to, shall we?

Here’s the main song of the MUD’s campaign:

The days of fiesta electoral are gone. The tune is catchy (there’s even a reggaeton section!), but its minor-key tones are nothing you’d dance to. Other than the purple filter muting the colors of the Venezuelan flag, nobody’s smiling. Everyone’s pissed, about to scream, punch something or even cry. People standing in long lines, and there’s Maduro dancing with Cilia. This is the election of arrechera.

Toma la calle
Vamos con todo
Di lo que sientes
Dilo con tu voto

The MUD really sobered up for this campaign. In its official YouTube page, there are press conferences about irregularities in the process and the problems of the nation. No background song, no happy colors. Still suffering a mayor backlash for accepting these conditions they present voting as a form of protest. Wanna honor the fallen? Vote.

Check out this video by Voluntad Popular:

Since the National Electoral Council (CNE) didn’t allow for the removal of defeated primaries candidates from the lists, Voluntad Popular published video with the candidate’s right location on the ballot. Their song is even less bailable.

Acción Democrática goes dark. They’ve been campaigning for a while, convincing people that with adecos, life was better:

La escasez alimentaria trajo el hambre a Vzla. Pero el #15Oct la ciudadanía dirá que está harta de comer basura #YoVotoSeguroContraMaduro pic.twitter.com/94gZJ5LfgS

— Acción Democrática (@ADemocratica) October 7, 2017

You know, at least you didn’t eat from the trash.

Primero Justicia even dares to suggest that there’s still a long road ahead:

Mientras más espacios ocupemos los demócratas, más acorralado quedará el régimen. Por eso la #LuchaEnTodosLosFrentes pic.twitter.com/IDuzhTuTRr

— Primero Justicia (@Pr1meroJusticia) October 13, 2017

Looks like the MUD’s biggest threat is not the government, but abstention. And look, if you’re too sad after watching their ads, there’s always Freddy Superlano and his raspacanilla.

Since we’re all lowering standards here, let’s talk about what’s going on in the government’s campaign.

Now this I can dance to! Chavismo loves to pretend that everyone’s happy and everything’s fine. But despite that oh eh oh eh sending you to constituyente times (totally not an accident), there’s not a thought-out strategy behind the piece that you can point out. It’s the bare minimum, because what’s the worst that can happen, right?

Of course, there are always classical malpractices. Here we have Rodolfo Marco Torres, candidate for Aragua, using Mercal’s official Twitter account to promote himself and, while Hector Rodriguez is the oddball in the bunch, sneaky and even conciliatory, there’s Rafael Lacava too.

Lacava’s strategy is to get people talking about him. I’m falling into it by mentioning him, but I have to mention the donkey in the room. Literally:

Llegamos a @Globovisión con parte d nuestra nueva flota de transporte traida de alemania y no nos dejaron entrar porque no lo veían oportuno pic.twitter.com/k4FP2hhXt5

— Rafael Lacava (@rafaellacava10) October 9, 2017

He went full Lacava. Never go full Lacava.

So, okay, what’s the takeaway?

These arent real elections for any of the players.

The opposition is using most of its resources to prevent abstention. They don’t assume that winning will give them real power and, aware that an office is empty without support from the people, they frame tomorrow’s event as an act of protest.

As for the government, their lack of care shows what they think of the process. The game is to win with tricks and abstention; they might be okay with giving a few states away and they have the CNE in control, so they’re really not losing any sleep.

And overconfidence is dangerous…

The post Keeping Up With The Kampaign appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The (electoral) Joker Cards: Null Vote & Abstention

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 10/13/2017 - 18:00
Infographics by Mario Dávila

Null votes and abstention are there in every election and, once results are in, nobody thinks about them. But how did they really factor in during the last regional elections, and how do they predict what’s to come?

The Power of the Null

In the 2004 regional elections, the null vote averaged 5.5% of total votes. It was 4% in 2008, and 3.8% in 2012.

It might seem like pocket change, but in 2004, the null vote surpassed the difference between the winning and losing votes in Carabobo, Miranda and Yaracuy. This happened again in Carabobo and Táchira in 2008 (helping the opposition win, by the way), and in Bolívar in 2012.

Abstention can (help you) win

The number of citizens who didn’t vote was always higher than the difference between the winning and losing votes — with the exception of Delta Amacuro in 2008.

And though it may seem obvious, it’s funny how, as voter turnout decreased, it got easier for the winner to lead — since fewer votes were needed.

See, on these last regional elections, eight governorships were won with 25% or less of all registered voters in each state — one state took the cake in all three elections: Francisco Rangel Gómez won the governor’s race in Bolívar with 23% of the electoral registry in 2004, 25% in 2008 and a mere 18% in 2012.

Abstention and Null Votes don’t play together (or do they?)

Now, the percentage of null votes amongst total votes didn’t vary much when crossed with abstention levels. But careful here: the number of null votes seems to be directly proportional to abstention.

An abstention of, say, 42% is not the same in Miranda as it is in Táchira, as the results of 2012 depicted (830,281 and 350,762 votes respectively). But as the number of voters increases, the number of null votes decreases.

This means that in an election with informed and motivated voters (as it was in 2008), the number of voters increases — and these folks know how to vote.  

How will it play out this time?

The opposition leaders seem to have forgotten about last year’s referendum, inhabilitaciones and political prisoners,  to favor a widely unpopular CNE in all the regular (and irregular) steps to hold regional elections. Chavismo protected their unpopular governors by choosing different candidates for some states, while throwing away money in anything but modest campaigns full of age-old promises.

So these elections come right at us with (apparently) unmotivated citizens, who don’t think this election will make much difference in their daily life.

In this scenario, the null votes and the abstention could make a huge difference.

If, for example, traditional opposition municipalities like Baruta and Chacao don’t pull in good numbers, or show up making a bunch of mistakes at the voting stations, the opposition candidate for Miranda will lose.

Keep an eye on these joker cards, for they might be critical.

The post The (electoral) Joker Cards: Null Vote & Abstention appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

31,109 Bolívares for a Dolar, Today

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 10/13/2017 - 14:11
Original art by Mario Dávila

The price of a dollar hit 31,109 VEF/$ today, up from three thousand VEF/$ this January. That’s another zero on the exchange rate in 10 months. The growth since 2013 has been so explosive you have to graph it in logarithmic scale to even see anything:

Look at the graph’s vertical axis. The numbers don’t increase by some fixed amount each step, they double. The line gets steeper in 2017 because the exchange rate is now doubling every three months on average, about twice as often as during the four years from 2013 to 2016. This is genuine exponential growth, and if the 2017 trend sticks, the exchange rate could climb to 60,000 VEF/$ by year-end and 120,000 by April 2018. 

It’s depressing but hardly surprising. In this late stage of voodoo populism, Venezuela’s central bank (BCV) creates trillions of bolívares from thin air every month to cover the government’s fiscal deficit. So every month, the economy is flooded by a tsunami of new bolívares that chases the same supply of goods and dollars, causing soaring inflation and washing away some large fraction of everyone’s bolivar holdings. That’s why Venezuelans rush to buy canned tuna, car batteries or anything else with durable value if they have leftover money.

As it happens, this is a dangerous and unstable monetary equilibrium. On one hand, the bolivar’s value is falling closer and closer to zero as government dilutes the shit out of the currency and collapses demand for local money. On the other, to get the same spending power from BCV’s printing press, the government is having to mint more and more currency every month to compensate for the lower and lower value of the bolivar.

It’s a terrible feedback loop. Maduro is growing the money supply by 750% a year because the value of the local currency has cratered 83% in real terms and 97% in dollars since 2012. And as long as it keeps falling, he’ll have to print more. 

The regime backed itself into this corner by refusing to rationalize policy. Instead of entering an IMF program to get the house in order, Maduro gutted imports 80% to keep paying external debt and caused the deepest recession in Latin American history. Imports fell so severely that the private sector was wiped out and the economy hung out to dry. It’s no surprise real tax collections have fallen 70% since 2014 and that Maduro’s now scrambling to plug the resulting deficit with BCV’s printing press. 

But here’s the thing about the printing press: after a certain point, governments actually get less real money by printing more nominal money. There’s a limit to how much the regime can siphon from the economy, and after that limit, the printing press backfires and only causes explosive inflation. Tragically, most governments react to this by printing yet more money, which only makes the overshooting worse.

If the regime hasn’t crossed that line already, it will soon. BCV printed over 5 trillion bolívares in September (29% of base money or ~300% of tax collections) to finance Sunday’s regional elections and Christmas spending is right around the corner.

This textbook disequilibrium tends not just to high inflation but to high and accelerating inflation. And at some point, higher and higher inflation can spin out of control into bona fide Zimbabwean hyperinflation. Prices rose 36% in September and are up something like 900% against last year, so Venezuela is right on track to hit 1000% inflation this month or next and 50% a month sometime next year. Those are two common thresholds for hyperinflation, i.e., fucking danger zone.

This is serious. Straight hyperinflation is to the economy what “Little Boy” was to Hiroshima – a nuke. Hyperinflation razes banks and the financial system to the ground, reducing the real value of all deposits and loans to zero. It forces some or all of the economy to dollarize with dollars it doesn’t have, or worse, it makes people barter. Hyperinflation rips supply chains apart and disrupts business in the extreme. It’s a nightmare for everyone, but especially for people without bank accounts and the poor. Whatever Venezuela’s got now, hyperinflation is worse. Believe me.

It’s not too late to do something. Maduro could always resign, appoint ministers that aren’t criminally incompetent, or stop selling 80% of PDVSA’s dollars for 0.03% of their market value (10 VEF/$) to ghost companies and sell them for 100% of their value to real companies instead.

If PDVSA sold its dollar surplus (however small) at market value, it would raise a boatload of bolívares for the government and replace some significant fraction of the currency BCV mints from thin air. That’s why a devaluation could paradoxically slow inflation and the exchange rate’s explosive growth, even though many “controlled” prices would adjust upwards at first. A single dollar fetches 31,000 bolívares right now, so it might not take that much FX to stabilize things.

Or maybe it is too late to do anything. Maybe confidence in the currency has been flushed too far down the toilet. I don’t know.

In any case, Venezuela is edging closer and closer to hyperinflation and the regime hasn’t even acknowledged the problem, much less come up with a plan to address it. They’re either asleep at the wheel or happy with the status quo where Venezuelans are too poor and too tired to protest. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen, as if Venezuela needed another.

The post 31,109 Bolívares for a Dolar, Today appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Julio Borges, Unplugged.

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 10/12/2017 - 19:31

Today, National Assembly Speaker, Julio Borges along with a group of Venezuelan assembly members, will board a plane — if the powers that be at Maiquetía let them — bound for St. Petersburg. Borges will preside over the 137th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s yearly assembly to be held this year in Russia, joined by representatives of 700 parliaments worldwide.

The symbolism is serious. Law-makers from around the world over —including Russia— will recognize the National Assembly (AN), and not the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), as legitimate Legislature elected by the Venezuelan people.

Legitimacy has been the opposition’s battle flag ever since MUD’s landslide victory in parliamentary elections back in 2015. Maduro’s strategy has been to gradually strip the AN of its functions: legislating, appointing judges, appointing electoral authorities, oversight, paying its staff, and, perhaps most importantly for a cash-strapped dictatorship, approving debt issues and energy joint ventures.

When it comes to asserting its legitimacy, for all the broken promises, missed opportunities, failures and disappointments that our AN leadership has dealt us over the past two years, one effort stands out as effective, and, ironically mostly underestimated. Borges’s silent but diligent crusade of cautioning embassies, governments and investment banks that any financial operations or public contracts carried out by Maduro’s government without parliamentary approval are illegal and unconstitutional. It’s working. Along with individual and financial sanctions, Borges’s strategy has severely hamstrung the government’s drive to pawn off whatever needs pawning off to pay the next maturity. 

But how is this kind of pressure supposed to translate into the only outcome that could conceivably save Venezuela from this horrendous crisis, a change in regime? And will Borges be able to deliver before his short tenure as AN Speaker ends and UNT takes over next January, or before the window of international focus on Venezuela closes?

We sat down with Julio Borges, on the eve of his Russia trip, to ask him.

Caracas Chronicles: Did you embark on this international strategy once you became Assembly Speaker?

Julio Borges: Yes. One of the things we had already planned when we took on the role of heading the National Assembly was this strategy. We publicly announced then that we were going to demonstrate that it was Nicolás Maduro who was in contempt [and not the] Parliament. We knew we were going to walk down a path where we would demonstrate that Nicolás Maduro was outside the Constitution, knowing that we would be able to vindicate the Parliament’s authority on national interest contracts, debt and other particular laws such as the matters of strategic oil associations or joint ventures. 

CC: Was the strategy based around those letters you sent to embassies and investment banks?

JB: Yes. We started working on providing direct information to various banks about what this meant on two specific front: from the legal standpoint, we told them they were aiding and abetting a violation of the Venezuelan Constitution and Venezuelan legislation; and another which turned out to be as effective as the legal explanation: reputation, or essentially what it means for a bank to do business with a dictatorship or with a government that violates human rights or that is destroying a country’s democracy.

CC: Are you referring to the criticism of Goldman Sachs’ bond purchase operation?

JB: The Goldman Sachs case was a serious blow and eventually, a bank that has traditionally cared little about reputation matters, such as Deutsche Bank, used its own internal codes. The result was that the Goldman Sachs debacle had an impact on other very important organizations and…

CC: Credit Suisse?

JB: Then came Credit Suisse, and that has led not only the financial world, but also the political world of countries, to clearly realize that the Venezuelan government was developing an entire financial system that was absolutely illegal, that is destroying democracy and human rights in the country. It’s worth noting that when Maduro came up with the National Constituent Assembly, I have no doubt he thought that, among many things, he’d be able to sidestep Parliament’s political control and establish his own.

CC:You mean that president Maduro thought that the Constituent Assembly would be able to authorize new oil joint ventures or new debts?

JB: Exactly. One of his main motivations for convening the Constituent Assembly was that it was supposedly a mechanism established in the Constitution and everyone would recognize it, that everything he had been doing though the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, he could do through the ANC with the world’s blessing. Which is why I think that it was a surprise and a tremendous blow for the government to see how the entire world not only condemned the ANC, but also disavowed all its proceedings and appointments.

I think we have been carrying out a very important task, making sure that the world knows of only one valid entity of the people’s sovereignty, the National Assembly elected on December, 2015. This is when the government’s scheme to replace the National Assembly as an authority on financial operations, contracts, debts and all the other dealings they wanted to push through to do failed. In that regard, I think the government’s plan backfired. They thought they were clearing their illegitimacy with the ANC and ended up covered in it, because one of the things the world clearly understands about Venezuela’s situation is that the ANC is illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate in all aspects, from its voting system, to the way it was convened and the electoral fraud itself – as stated by Smartmatic. Nearly 60 countries worldwide do not recognize the ANC’s decisions, so if we see the government’s project now, two months after its installation, it’s weak and has only been useful for repressing and persecuting dissidents, and removing the prosecutor general…

CC: In order to force a negotiation?

JB: Perhaps that’s their last ace for negotiation, in the sense that the ANC is essentially holding the State hostage, just like political prisoners are hostages for negotiation, there’s a thing called Venezuelan State that the ANC is holding for ransom.

CC: How was the strategy followed with China?

JB: In China’s case, we basically explained the situation. I had the chance of traveling to China last year as a guest of the Chinese government and we have had good relations ever since.

CC: Have the Chinese expressed concern to you about non-compliance with regards the loans they have been granting the government?

JB: Absolutely.

CC: Does this include loans approved during Chávez’s administration?

JB: Totally.

CC: After that visit, was China less willing to continue lending to Venezuela?

JB: Venezuela used to be the most important country in Latin America for Chinese investment and now, it’s been waysided. I think the Chinese have a more practical, less ideological approach.

CC: Would you say that those complaints are the reason why PDVSA Finance vice-president Simón Zerpa has not been able to reach an agreement with the Chinese for a bailout?

JB: Yes, for several reasons. Firstly, because it’s clear to them that there will be political change in Venezuela; second, the Chinese are thinking long-term, beyond a Maduro government; and third, they don’t want to keep losing money because, regardless of what people might think, the Chinese are smart, because the agreements were bound to the purchase of Chinese supplies, equipment and projects. In the end, they want the projects to work out, they want coherence, not just someone selling garbage, another one buying garbage and a third one stealing the money in the process. That’s not their approach and that’s why criticism is growing. I’m amazed by the strong, raw criticism regarding financial management and the chaos of projects started but never finished, like abandoned graveyards. These projects, such as railways and the Guarenas-Guatire train cannot be resumed now.

CC: But PDVSA’s Finance vice-president was in China for several weeks and returned empty-handed

JB: China made a political decision, they could help Venezuela or Maduro by providing certain conditions, such as when they granted a grace period. They can accept non-payment but they won’t grant new loans and they will provide some flexibility in oil shipments, but I don’t see the Chinese investing in Venezuela – even though they have the money – because they know that if they do the accounting and review of all their investments, there is nothing to show for them.

CC: Was the National Assembly lobbying as a counterweight to Zerpa’s attempts at negotiating a deal?

JB: Yes.

CC: Do the Chinese buy the legal argument that a contract requires National Assembly approval?

JB: Absolutely. I think it’s one of the fears they had when they invited us. It was a part of the conversation and also, their trust grows with the fact that we tell them that our relations with China are not ideological or political, we just want mutual benefit, progress and a long-term vision. Now, the government wants to sell the story that Putin and China are their allies, in a kind of imagined Cold War, but I think that’s not true, at least in China’s case, because we see how they are starting to cooperate with the United States regarding North Korea. I do believe, and this is a very personal opinion, that there’s a political ingredient for Russia in the Venezuelan issue, but not for ideology but rather to create a nuisance for the United States, but in that sense, Nicolás is playing the useful fool because Russia is simply using Venezuela, the interests and assets in our country to bother the United States, not because they care about Venezuela or Maduro or their so-called revolution.

CC: But Rosneft does have a strategic interest in the investments they have made in the Orinoco Oil Strip.

JB: In that case, yes, there’s an economic interest.

CC: Are you planning on visiting Moscow?

JB: I’ll be attending the meeting of the World Inter Parliamentary Union in Saint Petersburg. That’s important because we will be able to head the meeting of world parliaments and it’s a great boost for the Venezuelan parliament, which is going to be fully recognized by all the world’s parliaments. It’s a good opportunity because just like with the Chinese, we have the chance to actively dismantle the prejudices and walls they might have, regarding the idea that if we establish a government we won’t keep doing business with China and we’ll throw Moscow under the bus, and that’s a mistake, that’s not our roadmap, on the contrary. If we have relations with China, they should be for mutual benefit, just like the ones we want with the United States, with Russia and with the European Union or any other country. Everything is important in the end because the government wants to cause alarm with the myth that if we reach power, we’ll scrap all the social programs, hand over the Orinoco Oil Strip to the Americans, disregard the debt with the Chinese or break relations with Russia.

CC: Can the debt be paid?

JB: I don’t know, but we’re willing to establish a relation to allow us to refinance or renegotiate the debt.

CC: Are you considering negotiations with multilateral institutions such as the IMF?

JB: Of course. What I want to say is that it’s not our intention to establish a government and then ignore the agreements with China. If we default with China, we default with the everyone because that’s now really globalized and universalized.

CC: If international recognition of the National Assembly has been secured, where do these rumors that a part of the opposition wants to recognize the ANC come from?

JB: That’s a falsehood stemming from the meeting in the Dominican Republic where the government said that one of the necessary commitments or pre-conditions that we reached with them was recognizing the ANC.

CC: Did that happen during the meeting in the Dominican Republic?

JB: That was one of the points in the government’s agenda, they want recognition for the ANC as a product of negotiations, but we don’t want that. It’s like water and oil.

CC: Do you think that the government wants that because they’re desperately trying to secure financing?

JB: When I say their move backfired, that’s because it’s not just financing. Now there’s no way for the ANC to fulfill Parliament’s role, even if we were to recognize it, the world wouldn’t. I think that, beyond the financial issue, the government has lost international legitimacy. We see it when we see Japan, a typically neutral nation, talking about Venezuela while the European Union is currently discussing sanctions, the Vatican, the Lima Group, and it’s not often that Canada imposes sanctions. We’ve seen how Venezuela has become a global issue and I don’t see any country supporting the government, except for China, Russia or North Korea.

CC: Don’t you think there could be a shift in global support, if the government buys enough time?

JB: This process is here to stay, unless there’s such a huge change that López Obrador wins the Mexican presidency, Evo Morales is re-elected and Brazil’s political map changes, which could still happen, but with world powers —beyond Latin America— I think the process is irreversible for a simple reason: if we take a look at the history of this international campaign, Venezuela’s situation used to be unknown to everyone and we had to call them to explain it, we were in a process in which some external political groups supported us while others were pro-chavista fanatics.

Now, it has become a bipartisan issue, for instance, in the United States both Republicans and Democrats are united on this; in Spain, it used to be sacrilege to criticize Chávez in the presence of PSOE and now we see them working along with PP on this matter, and Podemos has been forced to take a back seat because there’s a national consensus on this. The Venezuelan situation no longer divides but rather joins nations against Maduro, it used to be a divisive topic, so in the countries where this issue is relevant the discussion is here to stay.

This is going to get worse with the triggers of this whole situation, I mean, countries have interests in Venezuela because they share democratic values with us, but they’re also suffering the Venezuelan crisis firsthand because the migration situation is a serious issue for Latin America. There are half a million Venezuelans in Colombia; Venezuelans constitute 5% of Panama’s population, and there are between 200,000 and 300,000 Venezuelans in the United States. In cities near the border with Roraima state in northern Brazil, which used to have 30,000 inhabitants, now 70,000 Venezuelans are arriving monthly, that is, more people than are currently living in those cities, and I was shocked to learn that there are 200,000 Venezuelans in Chile, same with Spain. Venezuela is no longer an isolated issue, it’s now impacting other countries’ governability, resource management and social cohabitation. And if we add other problems such as corruption, we see what’s happening in Europe, where government cronies have turned the real estate business and the labor market upside down, and have even started corruptiing political officials in those countries.

CC: Have you discussed the narconephews or accusations against Diosdado Cabello in these meetings?

JB: Yes, we have discussed them. There’s a phrase I constantly repeat: global democracies can’t allow the consolidation of a second Cuba that, unlike the original Cuba, has the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, as well as large gold and mineral deposits. A Cuba with these resources would mean subversion in all corners of the world. For instance, during our meeting with Angela Merkel, she asked me two questions, one regarding the the presence of extremist Islamic groups in Venezuela, as pointed out by the head of CIA; and the second, regarding Russia’s interests in Venezuela, which are also a problem.

CC: How does this strategy of blocking further financing fit into bringing about regime change?

JB: The entire process is focused on mounting pressure. I’m talking about this year’s street protests, Parliament’s work, international pressure, everything is focused on undermining the government’s stability and either forcing them to accept a serious negotiation, or making them collapse to allow regime change. That’s the goal of all the pressure that we’ve been trying to advance.

CC: Could the financial aspect of this strategy be the tipping point?

JB: It’s just another element. In the end, that last straw is unpredictable.

CC: Has the government been unable to get any kind of financing?

JB: They haven’t secured any fresh financing for the last three years.

CC: We understand you managed to prevent a loan from the Corporación Andina de Fomento?

JB: Yes. We prevented a loan from CAF and also an operation in gold with Deustche Bank. Every time we get reports that something like that could happen, we intervene.

CC: Have you met with companies associated with PDVSA?

JB: I haven’t had the chance.

CC: Should they be worried?

JB: I think so. This is a personal opinion, but I think oil companies can endure more and are used to doing business in the most adverse contexts, but they’re also greatly concerned about the country’s situation and this is about long-term business.

CC: Shoulnd’t you also focus your lobbying efforts on the oil companies?

JB: At least in the case of strategic associations or rather joint ventures, one of the things Chávez used to say time and again is that in order to create them, one of the great accomplishments he boasted about is that they had to obtain the National Assembly’s authorization and now they are completely ignoring that. They have tried to accomplish that through other means, such as the infamous Supreme Tribunal rulings [155 and 156] that we disregarded.

CC: What was that the main motivation behind those rulings? To allow energy joint ventures without AN approval?

JB: That was the original goal.

CC: This is why you think that the ANC was established, to circumvent these issues?

JB: Absolutely. In the current financial context, the government’s fundamental goal has been to try and bypass the National Assembly via the TSJ, the ANC or through a direct agreement without any checks, and they have only managed to destroy their own platform.

CC: What could happen in the next few months? Do you think that there will be default?

JB: I have conflicting information in that regard. Some people say yes, the government will pay, while others say they have the money but the logistics are difficult, and still others say that they have the money but I prefer not to speculate.

CC: Can you picture Maduro rectifying economic policy?

JB: They have tried to approach us for discussing other matters and we have refused them, since the Assembly can’t be valid for some points of interests and powerless for others. There are important matters that the government should consider, debt restructuring must also be approved by Parliament, but they don’t care about that or understand the economic implications. I think the issue at heart is that the government won’t change its economic model. We have been talking about that for the past four years and absolutely nothing has been done, they simply keep radicalizing the model.

I think the government believes that their only chance of survival is further destroying the economy and therefore, forcing people into having to depend on them, so that elections have to do with the carnet de la patria. The other matter that is really painful is that the government doesn’t care for the people, they’ve held onto power through hunger, death, violence and human rights violations. The government has shown that they are not moved by people’s suffering, in fact they have turned it into a practical and ideological justification to hold onto to power.

CC: But the government always ends up getting financial support through shady means

JB: On the contrary, financial support is dwindling, assets are running out and whatever they want to sell, they have to do it with the National Assembly’s approval. I think that their walls are closing in. This government’s only hope is for oil prices to rebound again.

CC: That could happen…

JB: Perhaps, but they are in such a disastrous level right now that not even a boost in oil prices could normalize the situation, since our present context includes many issues where the international opinion has made up its mind.

CC: Do you think the ANC could take over the legislative role to solve financing problems?

JB: I don’t think so, because it lacks the legitimacy to do so.

CC: Is there a possibility that ANC head Delcy Rodríguez might approach the AN to find a joint solution to the situation?

JB: I don’t think it will come to that. The government has started this negotiation process and we’re taking the first steps, to prepare not just for these fourth quarter maturities, but for the next ones, when individual and collective sanctions will be in full swing. If they pay now, they’re out of money. The chances of a default are very high and that’s why they’ll try to negotiate, but always with their arrogance.

CC: Do you have a plan on what to do with that debt if and when the opposition establishes a new government?

JB: Yes. We have various perfectly aligned working groups doing many things, and they have a clear vision of how to do things in a very short period of time both at the humanitarian and financial levels, even in terms of structural economic changes.

CC: Does that include debt restructuring?

JB: It seems that there’s no other way.

CC: We understand that you’ll step down as Parliament Speaker in January

JB: Due to internparty agreement of rotating Speakers, my term ends on January 5th, 2018.

CC: Who will follow up on this international and financial strategy next year when you’re no longer National Assembly Speaker?

CC: The next party to head the Assembly will be Un Nuevo Tiempo. Perhaps it will fall to Enrique Márquez, Stalin González, Delsa Solórzano and I understand that Luis Emilio Rondón is also a candidate. Any of them will follow up on that strategy.

CC: With the same priority as you?

JB: To me, the international matter was clearly something that had to be done. Each administration prioritizes different things, but I’m confident my successor will continue on that work.

CC: Do you see China or Russia pressuring for a solution to the political crisis in Venezuela? Do you see them as mediators?

JB: I do. Both China and Russia also want normality and stability in Venezuela. They’re already pressuring in their own way.

The post Julio Borges, Unplugged. appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Re-arranging the Pieces

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 10/11/2017 - 23:44

“I’m looking for the address but it’s not even on Google Maps.”

Alfonso, a 26 year old from Caracas, just found out that he will no longer vote in Universidad Nueva Esparta, his regular voting center, but in the Unidad Educativa Nacional Bolivariana La Unión, a place he has never been to and has no idea where it is.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) just changed the location of several voting centers, mostly in densely opposition states, in an apparent gambit to win the upcoming gubernatorial elections.

“What a shitshow” Alicia, a young woman from Chacao, tells me. “I vote with my grandpa here in the neighborhood, and now I don’t know where we’re supposed to go on Sunday.”

The actual number of centers relocated is 205

Although there’s no official statement from the CNE, boardmember Tania D’Amelio announced the relocation via Twitter, citing “safety” and “infrastructure” concerns as the main reasons, and asking voters to call 0800 VOTEMOS (08008683667) to check which and where their new voting stations are.

With four days to go, that’s all she said.

“They are making it harder for people” says Liliana Hernández, MUD’s elections coordinator for this election. “The government knows what we know, and this is their way to dupe the voters on October 15th.”

The actual number of centers relocated, she adds, is 205.

According to Eugenio Martínez, a journalist and expert on the Venezuelan electoral system, the decision jeopardizes victories for the opposition in the states of Miranda (30 centers affected) and Aragua (36 centers affected). Overall, this decision could affect 500,000 registered voters.

“The decision was made, allegedly, for security reasons” he said, “repeating a speech from July 30th that doesn’t make sense. They’re moving voters from San Ignacio, where everything is usually calm, to Campo Alegre, where a few months ago there was nothing but tear gas.”

But the CNE’s move makes sense if you consider the political and economic meltdown, and all the polls predicting a major opposition triumph. And Martínez agrees: “They’re changing centers from cities to rural areas, with the obvious purpose of affecting voter’s rights to participate in the election.”

Overall, this decision could affect 500,000 registered voters.

“For example, they switched all the voters from [middle class] Universidad Metropolitana to a poorer area where you can’t add more voting booths. They need the opposition to abstain. They are trying to take control in centers where, in normal conditions, the opposition could have an easy victory.”

The MUD faces a new challenge with little time and tools, so Martínez advices strategic thinking: people at the voting centers must inform their fellow voters and guarantee their transportation.

Perhaps this move might even change the minds of some disaffected opposition voters who now see casting a ballot in a far away polling station as a way to push back on the regime’s authoritarian practices.

“I don’t care if I have to drive 30 minutes” Karina, a 26 year old caraqueña says, while learning the news. “This means that the Government is scared. I don’t know where I’m voting, but I’ll find out and I’ll definitely vote.”

It seems that the government just did the opposition a favor by giving Sunday’s election the epic narrative that no amount of campaigning and mediocre candidates could, up to now.

The post Re-arranging the Pieces appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Democratizing the Protest

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 10/11/2017 - 13:46

I arrived in Caracas one day before the fury unleashed.

Everyone told me this was the worst time to research for my master’s in social psychology, but how could anyone know? These years of chavismo have taught Venezuelans how to integrate chaos and political struggle into their personal and professional duties, so even if an outright war broke out, I figured I could juggle my job and the brawl, however that might be.

It was March 28, 2017, and the Supreme Tribunal coopted the duties of the National Assembly the following day. The calm before the storm was over and our Whatsapp group chats went insane.

My job was to interview teenagers living in the poorest slums of the capital. Even though my research was not about their opinions regarding the country’s political situation, most of them spoke spontaneously about the crisis, with a common desire: moving abroad, to escape “the situation.” That’s how it happened in the first community I visited, deep within the alleys of a large barrio in western Caracas.

There were no main highways or proper public transportation systems connecting this community to the rest of the planet, so I had to leave home early, and take the caminos verdes. Some days I felt my research could wait while I joined the protest. It later dawned on me that none of my interviewees mentioned them. Odd, for something that was happening daily.

It provides context to that “los barrios tienen que bajar” line, when you actually see how hard that is for the ones walking the path.

There wasn’t a clear connection between “the situation” and the battles of La Fajardo. It made me consider the protests themselves.

However, the second Barrio I worked with, teenagers spontaneously talked about the protests and their involvement in them. Even though it was a segregated community, it had public transportation connecting their residents with the wider urban Caracas.

These teenagers, residents of two different barrios in Caracas, talked about the crisis and their wish to leave for better opportunities, but they had very different views about the demonstrations happening around the country. Their level of involvement was apparently determined by their location in relation to the wider urban Caracas, and their ability to go in and out of their respective communities. 

As it turns out, taking part in rallies on the main highways is an exclusive thing, not accessible to everyone.

Some communities are still segregated, and the classic framework of marchas doesn’t fit into their desire to protest. It’s not lack of discontent, or even motivation, it’s the inability to enter the wider city, that all of us take for granted. It provides context to that “los barrios tienen que bajar” line, when you actually see how hard that is for the ones walking the path.

There is, though, an alternative: voting in the regional elections.

I know, very unpopular, but see, participating in an election includes even those living in segregated areas. Chavismo did one thing right, thinking it would always work in its favor: they registered everyone to vote. So maybe this election lacks the heroic appeal, or the MUD’s argument isn’t convincing, there are severe flaws in the “electoral party” picture. But take it from me: people in the really depressed slums are unhappy with this government and they don’t have any other tool to express their discontent. For them, this sunday means quite a lot.

It’s their one shot to get their voices heard.

The post Democratizing the Protest appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

300,000 Voters Relocated

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 10/11/2017 - 11:56

Yesterday, just five days before the elections, the National Electoral Council relocated 200 voting stations in 16 states across the country, allegedly due to lack of electoral material. CNE authority Luis Emilio Rondón statedlast night that this affects over 300,000 voters, very serious.

Earlier, rectora Tania D’Amelio disregarded the importance of indelible ink, claiming that it’s merely symbolic and only good for voter pictures. She also said that an international monitoring committee will be created on Thursday, although she forgot to mention that Ceela is as legitimate as her, considering how they supported the fraud on July 30th.

The Venezuelan Electoral Observatory denounced how and when the CNE has undermined the free exercise of voting rights, breaking institutional practices, violating the current legislation and clouding the electoral process.

Exercising a right

Prosecutor general Luisa Ortega called on Venezuelans to vote on October 15th: “even though the conditions are unfavorable and the CNE is totally illegitimate, I call on all Venezuelans to not give in to any threats, to overcome fear and go to the polls,” she said in her presentation about the situation of human rights in Venezuela, at the Univeridad del Rosario, Bogotá. Ortega criticized the obstacles and threats against opposition candidates, denouncing human rights violations and misdeeds committed in the judicial proceedings of people detained during protests. She ratified the rupture of constitutional order, saying that there’s no Rule of Law, democracy or civil liberties in Venezuela.

Malnourished and hungry

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), hunger rose by 6% in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016, while obesity rates keep rising and causing more deaths than drug trafficking and organized crime. 42.5 million Latin Americans (6.4% of the population) suffer starvation: “The region has taken a big step back in a fight it had been winning,” said Julio Berdegué. In Venezuela, malnutrition rose from 9.1% in the 2013-2015 period to 13% between 2014 and 2016 due to political and social instability, which translates to food shortages and much more hunger.

Debacle

In its World Economic Outlook for the second half of the year, the International Monetary Fund predicts that Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole will experience a slight growth in 2017 and 2018. In Venezuela, however, they estimated a contraction of over 10% besides rising inflation and a severe recession:

“The intensifying political crisis in Venezuela has a great impact on economic activity, we estimate a contraction of over 10% in 2017, as oil output continues to drop and uncertainty increases even more.”

Inflation is estimated at 652.7% for this year, and at 2,349.3% for next year.

But relax, Basic Industries minister Juan Arias said: “I assume those figures are, let’s say, exaggerated, right? I don’t think the drop in our industrial GDP can be that large,” claiming that they expect an industrial growth close to 30% for the second half of the year.

Human Rights

Later this month, OAS will establish whether crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela, after listening to the victims’ testimonies.

NGO Foro Penal announced that they submitted the updated list of political prisoners to OAS chief Luis Almagro, with 419 people in total, 4 new additions and 24 releases since the most recent update.

Víctor Ugas, the young man imprisoned for tweeting the picture of Robert Serra’s body, is still detained in SEBIN Helicoide even though he already served his sentence of 2 years and eight months and despite having a release warrant.

Journalists Alberto Cabrero and Antonio Medina have been detained in Santa Ana military prison for 76 days now, but their hearing is yet to be scheduled, according to Letty Vásquez, secretary of Zulia’s National Association of Journalists, explaining that the crimes they’re being accused of are not appropriate for professionals who only had photographic cameras and cellphones when they were arbitrarily detained.

Abroad

Mexican Foreign minister Luis Videgaray confirmed yesterday that his country is willing to join the group of nations that will mediate in a new phase of dialogue between the government and the opposition, and that they’ll do it in good faith.

Five of the TSJ justices appointed by the National Assembly who were sheltered in the Chilean embassy fled yesterday morning to Colombia and from there, they’ll travel to Washington to meet with OAS representatives.

Transparency International said that at least 90 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have engaged in bribery at some point and Venezuela is among the four countries where people most frequently admit paying them.

The commander of the Colombian police said yesterday: “There are Venezuelan armed colectivos fighting with gunfire at the border.”

According to Official Gazette N° 6.333, Nicolás decided to extend the expiration date of passports by two years, for those passports about to expire.

The escrache that wasn’t

A couple of young Venezuelan lawyers approached Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza in London. His entourage spread out to block the footage.

Pedro Rodríguez, one of the lawyers, said that he had to leave the country due to the murders and deaths by hunger. An aggressive member of Arreaza’s entourage confronts Pedro asking him if he’s lost a relative to violence, Pedro says yes and the attacker responds that he’s lost family too and it was before el finado’s government. The other lawyer speaks about a friend murdered with a marble and Arreaza retorts: “Back in my day, people were killed with firearms every week.” Pedro speaks again, the Foreign minister tries to interrupt him several times, but the lawyer insists and Arreaza even has the nerve to spout a “But let me talk, man,” right before holding back the attacker in his entourage who asked the young men whether they trash or praise the country. “Venezuela hasn’t seen any progress in 19 years,” says Pedro and Arreaza merely says: “You think so, brother?”, the lawyers tell him that he’s living in a different reality, that he doesn’t need to stand in line. Arreaza slaps: “I wish I had my own time and could stand in line to shop (…) you know it’s a production issue.”

He blamed the rest on the drop in oil prices and on the outdated design of our economy, but he forgot to mention the fake economic war, the imaginary blockades and U.S. sanctions.

Pedro won.

We have four days to tell more than 300,000 people where they must vote. Make sure you verify where you’re voting, even on Sunday itself.

Principal recomendación a los electores para el #15oct es revisar periódicamente antes del domingo el centro y la mesa de votación asignada

— Eugenio G. Martínez (@puzkas) October 10, 2017

The post 300,000 Voters Relocated appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The Ever Present Niño

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 10/10/2017 - 19:00

The Minister for Basic, Strategic and Socialist Industries, Juan Arias, claims there will be an industrial growth rate close to 30% in 2017, compared to the poor results of 2016, a year marked by water and electricity shortages due to El Niño.

Crazily enough, el Niño is not one of the main reasons why the national industry accumulates close to four years of recession. According to the Encuesta Cualitativa de Coyuntura Industrial (“Qualitative Survey of Industrial Situation”) carried out by Conindustria in the first quarter of 2017, over 80% of companies surveyed consider that the main factors restricting local production are political and institutional uncertainty, low national demand, unavailability of foreign currency and difficulties finding raw material suppliers. This last factor is critical.

A study published by Obuchi, Lira and Raguá in 2016, in which high executives and trade union representatives from different sectors were interviewed, concludes that:

“The most burdensome problems of this policy are related to the fact that some of the affected companies are the suppliers of key inputs for other economic activities. In the hands of the state, companies in industries such as steel, cement, petrochemicals, or agricultural inputs are failing to meet demand, and they end up disrupting or restricting the economic activities in other areas such as construction or manufacturing. The most mentioned case was a steel company, Sidor. There were also mentions of Agropatria (agrochemicals), Sidetur (steel), “Lácteos Los Andes” (dairy products), and the cement plants that used to be Holcim, Cemex and Cementos La Vega, that are at best working at minimum.”

Arias also considers that the figure provided by the International Monetary Fund of a 12% drop in GDP está abultada; its been jacked up. 

We beg to differ.

According to the Conindustria Survey mentioned before, local private industries are using only 32.4% of their installed capacities, a decrease of 3.9% from last year, and a decrease of 16.4% since the beginning of recession in 2014 (the number has remained below the 50% mark ever since). Also, when crossed with official data (available up until 2015), the levels of used installed capacities show a correlation of 91.3% with Venezuela’s y/y growth rate of real GDP.

So if the used installed capacities keep on falling, the GDP is bound to drop a lot – and there’s just so much you can blame on that poor Niño.

The post The Ever Present Niño appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Come Report in Venezuela (And Be Jailed For It)

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 10/10/2017 - 15:11

Earlier this year, right at the time when Venezuela was thrust onto the spotlight of global news coverage, I wrote about how the government decided to make it difficult (if not impossible) for foreign correspondents to work. But even now, as our political situation drastically changed and international attention waned, such pressure obstinately remains.

The following video (courtesy of the National Press Workers’ Union, or SNTP) shows three journalists released by a court, after spending the weekend detained.

Primeras declaraciones, luego de ser puestos en libertad, de los periodistas detenidos en Tocorón el viernes #6Oct pic.twitter.com/YMRS0tTxpY

— SNTP (@sntpvenezuela) October 9, 2017

Authorities caught Italian Roberto Di Matteo, Swiss national Filippo Rossi and Venezuelan Jesús Medina inside the infamous Tocorón Prison, in Aragua State, and accused them of illegally introducing equipments into the facility. The journalists said that they were allowed inside without objections.

The SNTP, NGO Foro Penal Venezolano and the local chapters of the journalists’ guild (CNP) and the lawyers’ guild (Colegio de Abogados) rushed to provide legal assistance, resulting in their eventual release last Sunday. The arrest of DiMatteo and Rossi made headlines on Italian and Swiss media, respectively. Medina works for notorious website Dolar Today.

The Foreign Press Association in Venezuela (APEX) released a written statement about the Tocorón incident, stating that they “reject the harassment and detention of journalists as a mechanism of intimidation against the press, and regret that our colleagues were deprived of their freedom…”

Later on Monday, Tocorón Prison was the stage of an armed attack against members of the forensic police CICPC, who were just passing by, leaving three agents wounded and a burned patrol car. So much for the notion that outside reporters are a bigger threat than Tocorón’s own inmates.  

Video: Así fue como desde Tocorón internos le dispararon al Cicpc. Tres detectives resultaron heridos y una unidad incendiada pic.twitter.com/UGVnMq9Gvs

— Daniel G. Colina (@danielgcolina) October 10, 2017

This latest incident with correspondents could be dismissed as a mishap, except its not. It’s part of a continuing pattern of State harassment against foreign correspondents, which includes being summarily turned back at the airport, or spending days arbitrarily retained.

Last month, another international reporter went through a similar situation in South Venezuela. National Guard soldiers arrested Dutch freelance journalist Bram Ebus, his driver and two local human rights activists, and took them to a military base in Caicara del Orinoco. All four were released without charges the following day. Ebus made the news public through this message:

All four that were illegally detained by the GNB are free unharmed and back home. Thanks for all the support, pressure and messages!✊️ pic.twitter.com/NSywxbbxMN

— Bram Ebus (@BramEbus) September 23, 2017

Mr. Ebus has written for different media outlets about environmental issues in Colombia and Venezuela, he recently addressed the grave consequences of the Orinoco Mining Arc for Earth Island Journal and reported on the spike of malaria in Guayana for Al Jazeera.

The writing’s on the wall: the government is still very uncomfortable with reporters going around the country and documenting a reality that shatters their narrative. After all, the sad state of our prison system and the huge implications of a mining project that could cause irreparable damage to the environment are the opposite of what they want to present, stuff like “We got a new (Chinese) satellite on space!”

And it ain’t better for local journalists either. After the uproar over the Pastor Oropeza photos, the government thinks that one arrest and more security will solve everything.

True socialist egalitarianism. In Revolution, there’s no preference: all journalists are equally dangerous, ergo, equally targeted.

The post Come Report in Venezuela (And Be Jailed For It) appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The Dreamers: Meeting Mérida’s Rocket Scientists

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 10/10/2017 - 10:00

“The whole idea of the satellites has been sold to the public in an incomplete, misleading way,” says María Alejandra Parco. “The government presents them as a triumph of Venezuelan sovereignty, but all it did was write a check for the Chinese. The technology and the people involved were Chinese and none of the technology was transferred to Venezuela. The only ‘sovereign’ thing on those satellites is the Venezuelan flag sticker on them.”

And if someone would know, it’d be these guys.

In 2012, after seven years of work, Hugo Chávez told Vicente Marcano that the government would fund his lifelong dream: “I was having lunch when my cellphone rang. It was Jorge Arreaza, then Science Minister. ‘The President wants to talk to you’ he said; Chávez congratulated me. He said we made our Patria proud.”

A multi-million bolívar budget was approved for his Center for Atmospheric and Space Investigations (CIAE, for its Spanish acronym) at the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA). It was the perfect encapsulation of how resources were managed in Venezuela, back when there were any.

It was Jorge Arreaza, then Science Minister. ‘The President wants to talk to you’ he said; Chávez congratulated me.

Marcano, a biologist specialized in astrobiology and evolutionary chemistry, tells me the story at CIAE headquarters, next to ULA’s Engineering School. The grass is unkempt, there’s a horse chewing the cud nearby, and the place doesn’t exactly scream “rocket science” but there is a solar panel in the entrance so, you know, there is some technological modernity around.

I am greeted by a small team of off-beat scientists. Some teach Sanskrit lessons in their free time, and they’re the brains of ULA’s Space Program.

Alongside Vicente Marcano, there’s John Ferreira, an electrical engineer specialized in designing power circuits for transport vehicles and we’re joined by María Alejandra Parco and Leonardo Lacruz, mechanical engineers with Master’s degrees in Applied Mathematics.

Since the CIAE’s creation in 2005, they have developed a series of rockets completely designed and built in their workshop.

They have produced two lines: the subsonic ULA-1 series, and a bigger supersonic ULA-2 series, launching 15 rockets in total. The last one, built in 2011, reached an altitude of 20 km and released a probe that collected meteorologic data. They are currently developing a third line, ULA-3, expected to reach up to 150 km, and place small satellites in orbit.

But you decide if this was a Faustian deal:

CIAE has always been forced to work closely with the Military, even when the ULA completely financed the research during its first years. Cooperation with the Air Force’s Center for Investigation and Aeronautic Development (CIDAE) was required to deal with logistics such as finding a place to launch the rockets and get the legal permissions needed to buy and transport fuel. This kind of interinstitutional relationship is not rare around the globe (take a look at DARPA), but in the Venezuelan context, it rang bells.

“The military didn’t trust us because we came from the University, they didn’t want to be linked with ULA, where an anti-government movement was growing strong. Many people in the University said we must be chavistas, getting benefits from the government. Some professors even sabotaged our work and threatened to kick us out,” says Maria Alejandra Parco.

Although cooperation was initially strong, it quickly deteriorated: “The day after our last launch, in 2011 (before Chavez’ call), an act for the Venezuelan Military Aviation Anniversary was to take place. The military took our project and presented it as their own. They never mentioned us, nor the ULA, they were just trying to impress Chávez. It was ridiculous, they were asked simple questions that they couldn’t answer. It was evident they didn’t make those rockets.”

Many people in the University said we must be chavistas, getting benefits from the government. Some professors even sabotaged our work and threatened to kick us out.

A Dossier episode regarding “CIDAE’s research” was filmed two years later. The CIAE is never mentioned, although one of their rockets is on display.

Funding came through a full year after Chávez’ call, when the Comandante was dying, interest waned and not even rockets could outrun inflation. Most of the money went to their current project, the ULA-3 series, but it quickly proved insufficient.

After contacting the recently created Müröntö, a shady dependency of the Defense Minister meant to promote research inside the Armed Forces, the government said it could finance the rockets, as long as they were developed in the context of Plan Sucre, an ideological restructuring project for the Armed Forces denounced by María Corina Machado back in 2012. Victor Cano, former president of the Bolivarian Space Activities Agency visited their installations, offering official support… as long as a military officer was in charge.

“We said no, of course” Lacruz remembers. “It’s one thing to work with the Armed Forces as a representative of the Venezuelan State, but to align our project with the military is quite another. Our rockets are strictly for civilian purposes.”

“They want to build rockets for a prolonged People’s War, when the Revolution has to defend itself from its enemies” adds Marcano. “I read it myself in the document they sent us.”

Working with a University whose budget barely covers professors’ salaries, CIAE’s ULA-3 project is on hold. They have completed the design stage and are using fermented horse pee and poo to get the nitrate needed for the fuel, since the Defense Minister has ignored their requests to buy the required chemicals. 

The project was further delayed when CIAE’s installations were robbed this year.

But earlier today, the VRSS-2 “Sucre” Satellite was launched. This is the third satellite built and launched by the Chinese for the Venezuelan Government, a project heavily publicized by the propaganda apparatus.

“Look, the government says the satellites are meant to improve communications and develop cartographic models” sighs Marcano, “but I’ve seen the satellite’s specs, and remember all the money spent on war materials. There’s no way those satellites aren’t used for military purposes, maybe by the Chinese.”

We are in the dark about how deep the Chinese are in Venezuelan affairs, but it’s clear that just like it did with food and industry, the government is happily embracing foreign research while burying the national development.

Marcano and his team know they won’t complete any project until a political change occurs.

No one in this country will.

The post The Dreamers: Meeting Mérida’s Rocket Scientists appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Open Letter from Political Prisoners

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 10/09/2017 - 18:00

Caracas, October 8th, 2017

OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF VENEZUELA

We, the undersigned political prisoners, address the Venezuelan people regarding the gubernatorial elections that will take place on Sunday, October 15th.

We’re taking the risk of writing this statement from El Helicoide’s dungeons, where Nicolás Maduro keeps us imprisoned for the crime of exercising our freedom of thought. We do it in the hope that the people of Venezuela will rise up and express their will on behalf of all us who are being silenced. The democracy missing in our country today remains alive in the heart of Venezuelans.

We’re asking the people to participate massively in these elections, voting for Democratic Unity Roundtable candidates and actively working in polling stations, mobilizing and informing voters and defending votes in every electoral center.

We’re asking the people to participate massively in these elections by voting for Democratic Unity Roundtable candidates and actively working in polling stations…

These elections were illegally delayed by the same CNE that has prevented the people from expressing their political will since 2016, on Nicolás Maduro’s orders. And even now, as they’re forced to call for elections, the CNE itself has dismissed candidate replacements on the electoral ballot, arbitrarily scrapped voting stations and imposed uneven and, therefore, unconstitutional conditions. Despite all of that, we’re the majority and we’re unstoppable. Today, we’re not voting because we’re in a democracy, we vote because we can’t give democracy away. Elections are an irreplaceable method for those who believe in freedom to raise our voice against fraud and repression.

We shouldn’t doubt for a second that gubernatorial elections were convened due to street protests, the pressure of the international community and in compliance with the mandate of July 16th. Elections will be a fundamental step in our process to recover constitutional order.

We must continue fighting tirelessly in the streets and, once again, we call on the people to take part of the largest public demonstration in Venezuelan history this October 15th, by massively attending every voting station in the country.

As political prisoners, we’re not allowed to vote on October 15th, but we ask all Venezuelans to vote on our behalf. If we want change, we must participate, guaranteeing a resounding electoral victory that allows us to:

  1. Punish Maduro and his candidates for their ineptitude and indifference to the severe problems people are facing; for their corruption, for their constant human rights violations and for disrespecting fundamental liberties.
  2. Wrest regional power from the regime to serve the people and release hundreds of thousands of public employees in PSUV-controlled governor’s offices, where they are constantly threatened and blackmailed by the State.
  3. Keep advancing until we win presidential elections and recover all the spaces overtaken by the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution” just like we took back the National Assembly in 2015.
  4. Promote decentralization and restore gubernatorial authority.
  5. Exercise pressure to find a solution to the social, political and economic crisis, using the opportunity offered by this election to recover spaces, voting to overcome the crisis and those who caused it.
  6. Defeat the government once again on the electoral arena and force them to hear our plight for change.

— WHO ARE WE?

— VENEZUELA!

— WHAT DO WE WANT?

— FREEDOM!

This document is genuine. Signatures are on the back. Dozens of additional signatures were protected to avoid potential retaliation.

Daniel Ceballos
Rolando Guevara
Otoniel Guevara
Franklin Hernández
Ronny Navarro
Juan Giraldo Ochoa
Gregory Sanabria
Yon Goicoechea
Renzo Prieto
Villca Fernández
Leonel Sánchez
Roberto Picón
Juan Bautista Guevara
Dany Abreu
José Vicente García
Gabriel Valles
Carlos Pérez
Alfredo Ramos Acosta

Click to view slideshow.

The post Open Letter from Political Prisoners appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

How that intervention worked out for Chacao

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 10/09/2017 - 12:29

Walking at night around the heart of Chacao, in Caracas, was a common thing for its neighbors. Now, those streets are stage for violence and misery, reflecting an institutional crisis tragic in its narrative.

Chronicle of a Takeover

Since 2002, Chacao was symbol of the opposition to the late Hugo Chávez. Altamira, the municipality’s core, birthed rallies and what would be a fleeting coup d’État, becoming ever since the setting of battles between dissidents and security forces loyal to the government.

“This is an insurgent municipality, and nobody prevents roadblocks or marches. In Libertador, there’s never been freedom to take the streets in protest” said Isabel Rodríguez, resident of Chacao for 40 years.

Halfway through 2016, Gustavo González López, minister for the Interior, Justice and Peace, reported that 14 Polichacao officers were involved as direct perpetrators in the murder of journalist Ricardo Durán, back in January. With this alleged evidence, the government closed its pincers around the Mayor’s Office and, on May 29th 2016, ordered the “Intervention of the Autonomous Institute of the Municipal Police of Chacao, due to the massive and ongoing involvement of its officers in human rights violations, in compliance with article 75 of the Framework Law for the Police Service and the National Bolivarian Police.”

How do the neighbors feel about this? According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, Venezuelans truly fear becoming victims of crime, mainly in the vulnerable and middle-class sectors, who move across the streets on foot.

Intervention of the Autonomous Institute of the Municipal Police of Chacao, due to the massive and ongoing involvement of its officers in human rights violations.

“We thought the takeover would improve the situation” said Justa Ramírez, a businesswoman from central Chacao. “It’s true that those cops were involved, but everything now is the same or worse. There are less squad cars, less cops in the street and robberies have increased.”

Johana Robles, chacaoense, agrees:

“People here live in fear and it didn’t improve with the intervention. There are two things: the country’s decaying situation and the police’s incapacity. Sometimes you trust the malandro more than the cop.”

“You wonder how to denounce. The Chacao police used to be exceptional, but they’re under inspection in a difficult political moment. The call us ‘the district of rioters.’”

Between August and September, according to the Monitor of Victims created by media outlets Efecto Cocuyo, Runrunes, Crónica Uno, El Pitazo and El Universal, there’s been five homicides in this borough of 71,511 people. Although the number is low compared to the 137 deaths in the Petare parish for the same period, it’s quite unusual for the community.

Intervention & Politics

According to Luis Izquiel, criminal lawyer, criminologist and head of the technical committee of Interior Policy of the National Assembly, no intervention has ever improved these bodies.

“There are no positive experiences. Besides, this action violates the principle of decentralization and the people’s will, since electing a Mayor and a Governor is a sovereign exercise. If the government decides the police will no longer be managed by the Mayor, it’s violating voters’ will. There’s always a story behind these procedures; they say it’s to purge the police body, but in many cases it’s the beginning of a witch hunt against dissidents to the force in power.”

The current National Assembly (AN) actually reformed the police tenets and one of the modifications looked precisely to prevent an intervention from the central government. “They’ve been done for political reasons, and this has affected three opposition governors to my knowledge.”

If the government decides the police will no longer be managed by the Mayor, it’s violating voters’ will.

The proposal is still in the AN’s files, and takeovers keep being extended. Last time was this September, with an extension for 90 more days, to investigate whether the police operates correctly.

Diego Scharifker, lawyer and Chacao councilman, demanded that Polichacao’s autonomy be restored, since he “the takeover has political motivations.”

“They incriminated officers in the deaths of a journalist and a soldier, but José Vicente Rangel’s nephew was kidnapped that same weekend. Two Scientific Police officers were involved in this incident; if a rotten apple hurts the entire body, why hasn’t CICPC been intervened?”

Fortunately, he said, the man now in charge of the police respects the law.

The Detainees

Miguel Mora, María Pérez Mendoza, Edgar José González, Reggie Jackson Andrade, César Eduardo Mijares, Alfredo Chirinos Salamanca, Venus Soleil Medina, Eduardo José Salazar, Ever Darwin Meneses, Ángel Alfonso Sánchez, Jhonny Roberto Velásquez, Darwin Estiben Herde and Jorge Luis Delgado have been detained in the National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) headquarters since June 20th, 2016.

It all began with the murder of journalist Ricardo Durán, whose true culprits are still unknown. Sources linked to the officers say that SEBIN staged the incident and incriminated them, to justify Polichacao’s takeover.

In August 8th, 2016, the Seventh Court of Control of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas… granted a substitutive measure of imprisonment for the 14 Polichacao officers… 

Within the first 45 days of their arrest, the officers were reportedly tortured, their eyes covered with newspaper and tape, they were beaten with baseball bats, electrocuted, choked with plastic bags, and one of the agents was hung and exhibited.

In August 8th, 2016, the Seventh Court of Control of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, under judge Luisa Andreína Romero Campos, granted a substitutive measure of imprisonment for the 14 Polichacao officers, under release warrant 1110-2016, file N° 7C-1513-16.

However, this has been ignored, even though many of the detainees and their families launched a hunger strike, sewing their lips shut.

Paying the Price

Aura Urqueola, head of the Association of Small and Medium-size Retailers, remarked that the streets are quieter now that the protests subsided. “But I don’t know how the takeover is working out, because in central Chacao, at least from my kiosk, I see a robbery a day, with four or five daily along the Francisco de Miranda avenue. We’re under siege. A curfew starts at 5:00 p.m.”

At the time of this writing, we couldn’t get comments from either Gustavo Duque, Chacao’s Mayor in charge, or Gustavo Olave, head of Polichacao.

The post How that intervention worked out for Chacao appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Páginas