Noticias

Jorge Rodríguez Exposed

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 08/21/2017 - 19:00

One of the dictatorship’s greatest villains, mayor Jorge Rodríguez, was confronted in a street of Mexico City. The guy who approached him made a first video just 17 seconds long, asking the mayor, as he quickens his pace: “Are you running away?” The mayor retraces his steps, recording the guy with his own phone as he asks him: “Did you come to spend some of your blood-stained, corrupt dollars..?” but the mayor simply keeps on recording while blocking the guy’s camera with his hands, demanding that he not take pictures. We hear the man say: “I’m not going to hurt you or anything. I’m not taking pictures of you, but don’t touch me,” something else happens, but the audio didn’t catch it.

In the second part, too long for Venezuela’s lousy connection speeds, we see the mayor hurrying down the street with two youths and a child.

The same man asks him: “What are you doing in a really democratic country? There are no drug traffickers here, you garbage.” The mayor’s son turns to face the guy but Jorge Rodríguez stops him, pulling him by the arm and making him walk ahead of him as they start to walk even faster.

Seeing the son’s reaction, the guy asks: “What? Who are you going to defend? A murderer? Wanna steal my phone because I’m telling you that you’re using blood-stained dollars?”. An older woman hits the guy with her purse. The guy continues “… you’re responsible for all of our dead, you’re a murderer, you’re a murderer and no matter where you go, we’ll find you.” The woman, walking beside him as the mayor and his children widen the gap, tells him: “Shut up, you sissy!”, the guy replies: “I’m not shutting up! And you won’t find peace anywhere in the world. All of our dead have mourners and you will never hide from us.”

“What do you think?”, the man asks the woman. She replies with an indifferent shrug: “Nothing, nothing.” The guy goes on: “Go get your son, because you’re going to have to protect him for the rest of your life anyway, because it’s your fault his last name and future are tarnished, you’re a murderer, and an accomplice of the narco-dictatorship.”

You won’t find peace anywhere in the world. All of our dead have mourners and you will never hide from us.

The woman asks him: “Aren’t you ashamed?” The guy interrupts her and retorts: “No, I’m not. The real shame for me is that you have the same blood as me.” The woman says: “No, no, not the same blood, don’t be an idiot.”

The guy says: “Because you’re murderers, murderers, you destroyed a country, you’re stained with the blood of thousands of young men and women.” The woman turns and rebuffs the argument: “You, you and the opposition.” The guy asks her: “Why did he leave the country in secret? Why did he run away? Why did he try to attack me when I was recording him?”. The woman retorts: “Because you’re a thug.” The guy asks: “What are you afraid of?” and the woman says: “…and thugs are frightening.” The man insists: “What are you afraid of? You’ll have to be afraid because there’s no place where you can hide.” We hear the woman on the background saying. “You’re an idiot.” By then, there was no trace of the mayor and his children.

The woman turned out to be the mayor’s mother.

They’ve been destroying our country for too many years, with cruelty and pleasure, taking delight in their abuses and their enormous impunity. Jorge Rodríguez is a key chavista figure in a rogue gallery of people who will certainly be recognized anywhere, for many years to come, for the damage they’ve caused and will keep on causing. On Twitter, people resumed the debate on whether escraches are right, and whether it’s inappropriate to do them in the presence of minors.

I’ll just say that Jorge Rodríguez made himself an icon of revenge.

Good day.

Categorías: Noticias

Another Coup Within the Coup

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 08/21/2017 - 16:15

The national constituent assembly (ANC), which Nicolás imposed through a fraudulent election, and which is composed exclusively of chavistas, agreed last Friday to usurp the authority of the National Assembly, the country’s only independent public branch. The decree says that the ANC will be able to legislate “on matters directly aimed at guaranteeing the preservation of peace, security, sovereignty, the socio-economic and financial system, the State’s goals and the preeminence of the rights of Venezuelans,” as well as issuing parliamentary decisions as laws. With an urgent motion to assume the National Assembly’s functions, Delcy Rodríguez dissolved the Venezuelan Parliament.

Refusing to obey

The National Assembly’s leadership announced that, since they consider the ANC “a de facto body (…) an unconstitutional structure of oppression,” they won’t recognize its decisions, emphasizing that they’re not bound to do anything the ANC requests and that they’re prepared to reach a meaningful understanding, but also to “intensify the fight on all fronts and with all the consequences this implies.” The Venezuelan Parliament disavows the ANC’s imposed dissolution and won’t comply with it.

Estamos en la obligación de desconocer todos los actos que emanen de la fraudulenta Asamblea Constituyente de Maduro#SesiónAN pic.twitter.com/Upa9PnMcoJ

— Alfonso Marquina (@DipMarquina) August 19, 2017

Reactions

OAS chief Luis Almagro tweeted:

Disolución fraudulenta de la @AsambleaVE por ANC es profundización del golpe de Estado en #Venezuela https://t.co/oBE9jRl4Yd

— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) August 18, 2017

.@AsambleaVE fue elegida por el pueblo soberano por sufragio directo. Su disolución es ilegitima e inconstitucional pic.twitter.com/HyUQ0nj5Gv

— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) August 18, 2017

The National Assembly’s (AN) fraudulent dissolution by the ANC “is the escalation of the coup d’Etat,” cautioning that the National Assembly “was elected by the sovereign people through direct elections. Its dissolution is illegitimate and unconstitutional.” He took the opportunity to insist on his call for a Permanent Council meeting with the rest of the OAS member states to discuss the Venezuelan crisis.

Hoy es más imperativo que nunca Consejo Permanente extraordinario de @OEA_oficial x crisis en #Venezuela pic.twitter.com/6aPbs2OSQx

— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) August 18, 2017

The presidents and parliaments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Spain, Mexico, Panama and Peru also reiterated their disavowal of the ANC and all its decisions.

Inter-Parliamentary Union head Saber Hossain Chowdhury expressed his concern for the country’s political, economic and social crisis to AN speaker Julio Borges.

Mercosur’s founding countries also said that the decision restricts the space for institutional cohabitation, increasing conflict and undermining the restitution of democracy.

Nicolás and Odebrecht

Yesterday, Delcy Rodríguez accused prosecutor general Luisa Ortega Díaz of advocating for white supremacy during her tenure as Prosecutor General:

“From and ideology based on her skin color to what we call white supremacy, she dared to persecute our poorest citizens, mestizo, mulatto and black people who ended up in prison.”

Meanwhile, Ortega Díaz appeared in the Summit of Prosecutors and Attorneys General of Latin America, held in Mexico via teleconference. During her intervention, she confirmed Nicolás’ links with Odebrecht’s corruption cases:

“We have a detailed report on the people who cooperated and the amounts of money they stole, and this investigation involves Mr. Nicolás Maduro and his circle.”

Then the Prosecutor added that 64 national prosecutors specialized in corruption were banned from leaving the country without any legal proceedings.

Ortega Díaz arrived in Bogotá on Friday on a flight from Aruba. Upon arriving, she met with Colombian authorities and asked them for protection for her and her husband, dissident lawmaker Germán Ferrer.

Massacre in Amazonas

Interior minister Néstor Reverol accused governor Liborio Guarulla of being directly responsible for the massacre at the Amazonas Judicial Detention Center by omission, but he didn’t mention that the Amazonas state police was taken over by the central government over a year ago. The ANC appointed a committee headed by Iris Varela, a true champion of justice, to look into this tragedy. The AN will do the same.

Guarulla said to AFP that the National Guard closed off the prison nearly three months ago due to suspicions about an ELN attack:

“It was assumed that some of the inmates could be armed and that’s why the inspection was requested (…) it was a tragedy: 40% of the 103 inmates were killed (…) with no restraint because they used grenades and sophisticated weapons and the result is a true massacre.”

Then he added that the government did what the guerrilla didn’t. Nicolás expressed his support for the victims of the Barcelona attack, but said nothing about this massacre.

Other proceedings

Mexico’s Foreign minister travelled to Havana to try and persuade Cuba to help solve Venezuela’s tense political situation. Havana requested that Luis Videgaray increase the Bancomext state development bank’s credit line from 30 to 56 million euro as a gesture of goodwill, according to Reuters. Mexico understands that Venezuela is Cuba’s closest strategic and ideological ally, and has helped the island with thousands of millions of dollars of cheap oil, but they are convinced that there will not be a peaceful transition in Venezuela without Cuba’s help. We’ll see.

The dictator’s joy

Nicolás made appearance to say that he agrees with holding early gubernatorial elections and took the chance to restart his provocations. He asked for “the people’s trust” after 18 years of bad government and claimed that “it’ll be years before we become a world power, but we’re on our way.” Nicolás wanted to celebrate his dictatorship, the institutional control achieved through force; to cheer for having avoided (for now) the political price of his repression against the vast majority of Venezuelans who oppose him, frustrated by victories achieved through a horrible laundry list of fatalities, injuries and arrests. There was still daylight during Nicolás’ “live” broadcast, despite the fact that it was already dark out in Caracas, differences between the real country and propaganda.

The TSJ is responsible for the National Assembly’s infamous “contempt,” and they’ve been searching for evidence of the alleged electoral fraud committed in Amazonas state during 2015 legislative elections for nearly 600 days now. Even though this is just another coup within Nicolás’ ongoing coup, it hurts a lot.

We go on.

Categorías: Noticias

The Hunger Games: Animalitos Edition

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 08/21/2017 - 14:16

Here’s how it works. There’s a little board with 38 “little animals” on it. Each animalito has a number. If you pick the right one, you win: the payoff is 30 times your original bet. Put 1,000 bolivars on the little camel and if it comes good, you go home with Bs.30,000. You can bet on as many animals as you want.

Los Animalitos is all the rage. I hear people of all ages talking about it everywhere I go: workers, old ladies, housewives, kids. Even the Mangokistan resistencia guys were talking about it.

A statistician will tell you the house can expect to pocket 21% of the total gambled. For players, the expected return is negative. As with all lotteries, this one is rigged.

My neighborhood in Puerto Ordaz is the Las Vegas of lottery agencies, there’s a place selling Animalitos at every direction. Walking two blocks from my front door, I counted 13 places where they sell the game. Not all were lottery agencies though, some food stores are adding a second cashier to sell los animalitos too.

A while ago, I noticed that some clothing and electronics stores had started selling food. That makes sense: amid an economic cataclysm, people are spending only on absolute necessities. I thought that was rock bottom, but worse was to come: now, stores are switching from food to selling animalitos.

Even the Mangokistan resistencia guys were talking about it.

At 10 a.m. one recent morning, I went to a lottery agency to check it out. Two cashiers protected by security glass. The glass was behind a metal grid for extra protection.

There was no line, but there were four people looking at a cork board with a bunch of papers pinned on it. Not previous results, but pieces of papers with what seemed to be clues about the next numbers to come up good. The numbers were arranged in a pyramid, in a grid, and appeared hidden in a caricature. It seemed silly to me that a number to win the lottery would be pinned to a board at the same lottery agency that sells you the ticket, but there they were four adults with their eyes fixed on it, looking for clues.

There was a lady looking at the animals and scribbling numbers on a piece of paper. She seemed like an expert at this, so I asked her for guidance.

“Which animalito should I play?”

Ay mijo, I don’t know, I’ve been losing for months.”

“Really? I’ve never played, so I’m really lost, what are all those numbers?”

“This one and this one turned up this morning” she points at numbers on the board, “so the next one should be in between these right here.”

I asked her what she would play, and she showed me the piece of paper she had. She had already played 13 numbers, and had spent Bs. 8,100 on them.

“Whoa, that’s a lot, what are you going to do with the money If you win?”

“I’ll help my grandchildren, they need me so much. Who knows, maybe God will help me, if the person that’s running this game will…”

The results would be published in half an hour, and she was just looking at the numbers to see if she could figure out some kind of pattern.

The monkey was her favorite.

She sounded really worried, and I just didn’t dare to dig deeper. This game is thriving on people’s desperation. Some are using it as a last resource to round out dinner or make ends meet.

I’ll help my grandchildren, they need me so much. Who knows, maybe God will help me.

I still wasn’t sure about my choice, so I went on to the next lottery agency. Two old men were speculating that the numbers had been coming out in ascending order: the 16 came out, and after that the 17, so the next would be the 18. A lady in her mid-thirties was looking at a picture of a roulette with the numbers of the animals on it.

I went to the next lottery agency (there’s no shortage, I’m telling you) and that’s where I found five kids dressed in rags buying numbers. They must have been around 7 years old. I tried to talk to them, but they were in a hurry. It’s illegal for kids to play the lottery, so they just bought the numbers and disappeared running with the tickets. All they told me is that I should play the horse.

I decided to go with the dog. Bs.100, the minimum bet.

A whole lore has developed around the numbers. Apparently, the scorpion stings twice: it’s liable to come out twice in a row. People swear to God that some days only animals from Africa appear, or water animals, or the zodiac.

Of course, all of this is bunk: as with any lottery, this one is purely random. Even if there had been a pattern to be discerned, the people I saw trying their hand at it were no Alan Turing. Still, they poured their souls into looking for some kind of theme, trying to figure out what the pattern might be.

There are people on social media selling the data for the next numbers for Bs.15,000. It’s a pathetic scam: if you really knew the next numbers, why wouldn’t you just bet on them? Still, desperate people are easy pickings… and picked over they will be.

This phenomenon has been flying under the radar. The media hasn’t really caught on. Luis Carlos —always ahead of the curve— mentioned it on Twitter, and he got people from Maturin, Sucre, and Guárico complaining about how widespread is has become in those places, too.

Predictably, I lost. It was the goat that day.

I kind of want to go and give another shot, though. That’s the way lotteries work. I’m getting my reward system tickled or something.

Lotteries plus crisis is a dangerous formula, though. I know that goat meant dinner for a few people in Puerto Ordaz that day… and hunger for 38 others.

I’m just glad my chances of getting dinner are better than 1 in 38.

Categorías: Noticias

Dear Spanish Left: I’m sick of you

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 08/19/2017 - 14:30

There, I said it.

I remember our first encounters. We were in a contemporary politics class discussing the surge of the Latin American left. You explained your experience as a leftist NGO volunteer who spent a few months in Venezuela. I knew you supported chavismo and I agreed you had balls, leaving your European comfort to spend some time in a country plagued by violence. I was willing to debate. But when I mentioned where I grew up, you gave me that look. “Oh, right. Chacao.

I was born in Caracas 34 years ago to a Spanish mother and a Japanese father, and I consider myself 100% Venezuelan – Más criolla que una arepa. Politics and education were always discussed at home, so even if I grew up in a rather comfortable environment, I was always aware of our inequality issues.

Even when I left in 2003 – I thought we’d hit rock bottom in 2002, silly me –, Venezuela never really left me, and I would come to spend the next fourteen years glued to local media, watching our slow, but relentless, downward spiral, struggling to make sense of what was going on.

The hardest thing to deal with, however, is your kind. You fancy yourself as educated about Venezuelan matters, an all around social justice supporter – as long as those you perceive as oppressed are in the same ideological axis you are. We’ve faced each other off quite a few times now, I always try to fight back with data, while your answer is that condescending look. “Venezuelans will fall prey to far right dogma” is one of your mantras, ignoring that a leftist leadership is, literally, killing my people.

Supporting socialist policies doesn’t keep me from denouncing the brutal monstrosity being inflicted upon my country.

Remember that time I told you about the horrific spike in violent deaths during the last two decades? You had travelled to Venezuela a couple of times during the 90s and knew it already was a country with violence issues. Somehow that was reason enough to dismiss the statistics proving my point, as, in your eyes, chavismo was not to blame. You were nice enough to remind me my opinion was worthless – anyone who can move to Spain must be filthy rich, right? Sometimes I wish I were; but nope, I do work for a living.

I’ve tried hard to understand how you can believe someone solely based on their social class, while disregarding facts. I can’t, and I think I never will.

But I’ve never been as upset as the time you swallowed the Chavernment message and said the MUD was at fault for calling an “illegal demonstration”, therefore being responsible for the killings. I tried to remind you, with a soul wrenching feeling, that the only ones responsible for the dead are those pulling the trigger. You did much worse than giving me your classic look then: you accused me of being sponsored by the opposition. Just because I voiced disagreement.

You know the worst of it all? We agree on most things. We both believe in public universal education and healthcare financed with taxes. We agree that every government should ensure that its citizens have a safety net and that wealth redistribution should be a major driver against inequality. Here’s a secret though: supporting socialist policies doesn’t keep me from denouncing the brutal monstrosity being inflicted upon my country. My critical thinking (and my empathy) doesn’t go out the window on account of my ideology.

So, next time, stop pretending to be more knowledgeable about my domestic geopolitics, and to conclude that we’re all victims of a CIA sponsored coup d’etat. To Venezuelans like me, who somehow made it this far without a bullet between the eyes, being away from home is an ache  exacerbated by listening to you.

So I’ll spell it out for you right here, buddy: you’re a dick.

Categorías: Noticias

Crystallex Goes for the Jugular

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 08/18/2017 - 17:00

There is nowhere to hide when it comes to paying your debts. Crystallex, the Canadian miner that had its stake in Las Cristinas mine (expropriated in 2008), has requested the U.S. District Court in Delaware to seize Citgo’s holding company shares belonging to PDVSA.

If the US court decides in favor of Crystallex, that company could sell the shares and collect a portion of the $1.4 billion award granted by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 2016.

The magic of the ICSID awards is that they are enforceable. Investors earn the right to seize assets outside the borders of the State in case of non-payment, making this tribunal an attractive dispute resolution mechanism. For example, the “vulture funds” in Argentina resulted in the holding of one of Argentina’s naval training vessels, the 103-meters-long sailing-ship ARA Libertad, docked in Ghana in 2012. An attempt in 2007 to seize Argentina’s Tanto 01, the presidential plane, deprived President Cristina Fernández of using it for official visits in territories where investors could attempt to collect their debts.

Countries may try to annul the award by blaming the procedure, but these are exceptions to the rule. Interestingly enough, Venezuela has had victories at the ICSID, with arbitration tribunals that have dismissed cases on 13 occasions for things like non-payment of the claimant or lack of jurisdiction. In the Crystallex case, Venezuela is exposed through Citgo, but this could escalate as high as buildings and bank accounts around the world.

Each day, Venezuela comes closer to the moment it cannot “correr la arruga” any longer.

There are caveats, though. First, unlike the Argentina case, Venezuela is not the direct owner of the shares — PDVSA is. The Court would have to accept Crystallex’ alter ego theory, and pierce through PDV Holding’s corporate veil to grant the motion in their favor.

Secondly, CITGO Holding Inc.’s shares (owned by PDV Holding) are already pledged to Rosneft and the bondholders who agreed to PDVSA’s 2016 bond exchange.

You can bet that PDVSA, Rosneft, and the big bondholders are ready to fight this to the hilt, using all motions, appeals and stays at their disposal, dragging the case on for years, all the way to the US Supreme Court, as Argentina did.

And we shouldn’t forget that the real market value of Citgo is probably well below $1.4 billion. We are talking about a company with a billion-dollar-debt, whose shares are pledged as collateral for what pretty much amounts to junk bonds, and the equivalent of a payday loan.

However, even the longest trial is bound to end, and Crystallex has its fancy lawyers to play chess too. Each day, Venezuela comes closer to the moment it cannot “correr la arruga” any longer.

Venezuela is bound to pay a part of this debt, and all others resulting from cases at arbitral tribunals with enforceable awards. The lesson remains: do not take something from an investor, unless you can compensate the damage — or they’ll take it from you by force.

Categorías: Noticias

Nausea

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 08/18/2017 - 13:51

It’s been difficult to focus on the news coming out of the Constituent Assembly. A vague sense of nausea grips you when you look at the headlines. “Saab: I Denounce Ortega Díaz as the intellectual author of violence in the country.” “Constituent Assembly asks election council for list of gubernatorial candidates to determine if any of them has committed a crime.” Or “ANC installs a Truth Commission to investigate the opposition’s crimes.”

The nausea only grows as you read the body of the article. Story after story of a government out of control: no guardrails, no restraint, nothing at all to keep them from their worst impulses, to slow them from giving their authoritarian impulses free rein.

It’s frightening.

The Constituent Assembly, you soon realize, has nothing at all to do with rewriting the constitution. It has to do with extinguishing the possibility of a constitution: one final stockade against the rule of law.

The Constituyente amounts to a lightly disguised Junta de Gobierno: a clique of toughs that has decided to take the state and use it like Play-Doh. The doctrine of “supraconstitutionality” providing the flimsiest of legal patinas to an all-out assault on dissent, henceforth to be punished by 25 years in prison, in the guise of legislation “against hatred.”

Orwell se quedó pendejo.

With opposition mayors on the run, Luisa Ortega skipping the country, SEBIN on an all-out manhunt for German Ferrer and a bunch of Jacobins in a stolen hemiciclo determined to impose truth via commission, it seems like the wrong time to round on MUD.

The Constituent Assembly is about extinguishing the possibility of a constitution: one final stockade against the rule of law.

Could MUD have done more to avoid this catastrophe? I suppose it could have, if it was perfect. But it isn’t perfect. It’s a human institution, and no human institution is perfect.

MUD’s task now is simple, vital, and desperate: to survive.

That’s all.

However it can, whatever it takes, it needs to survive this authoritarian onslaught to fight another day. The plan to create enough pressure on the street to generate enough cracks and desertions on their side to push the government to collapse failed.

It sucks, but it’s the truth. Their ability to dissuade desertions through coercion turned out to be stronger than our ability to provoke them through moral suasion.

And their need to prevent the next set of desertion forces them to act even more heavy-handedly than they had before, because the stakes keep rising and they need to make themselves seem unassailable to keep those who may be harboring doubts on the straight and narrow.

You don’t have to like those facts to accept that they are facts.

And no good political decisions ever flowed from a principled refusal to face the facts as they are.

Categorías: Noticias

The Great Escape

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 08/17/2017 - 18:00

“I’ve been kidnapped twice inside the hospital. Not unusual around here.”

The 33-year-old doctor speaking to me is just another face in the long line.

“I’m not the first one here, she arrived at 4:30 a.m.” she tells me, pointing at a woman shielding herself the cold breeze. It was five in the morning, and still dark out. There were mothers, babies and old men.

This is the line for the Embassy of Portugal in Caracas.

“Aren’t you afraid to be out at this hour?” the doctor asks me. The sun won’t be out for a while and there’s not a lot of activity on the streets. Most people are here to apply for  their European passport, looking to their immigrant ancestors as the key to get out of Venezuela. For the good doctor, most of her relatives are already gone.

“I plan to study in Spain, and having European papers makes everything easier,” she says. “I’ve always wanted out, it’s not just the Constituyente. This society is sick. Even with the opposition in power, the problems will remain.”

Though there are still no official statistics, it’s common knowledge that the number of Venezuelans leaving the country has grown since Maduro took power, and what was already a steady exodus has now become a mass flight, in which making a line at an embassy can be a matter of life or death.

“I don’t have a plan yet. I have friends in Panama, but I guess I’ll knock on some doors” a 38-year-old salesman tells me. With his wife, a 7 year-old and a newborn baby in tow, he had toyed around with “trying his luck” at emigrating. After thinking about it for quite a while, the Constituyente made up his mind for him. “I’ve studied communism, I have Cuban friends, everything they predicted happened. This is the last breath of democracy in Venezuela. It’ll only get worse.”

What was already a steady exodus has now become a mass flight, in which making a line at an embassy can be a matter of life or death.

But it’s not only the Portuguese descendants who use their bloodline as a ticket to get out. On any given weekday, the line in front of the Spanish Consulate takes up a whole block. “There are always a lot of people” a nearby worker tells me. “A few years ago, you could walk in, but now there’s this never-ending line. We’d sell beers at night and that was it. Now we sell coffee and breakfasts. You get here at 4 in the morning, and there are people already in line.”

Manila folders in hand, people wait in different queues: one for passports, another for questions. I meet a young musician desperate for a passport and luck. His grandparents are from Tenerife, but Europe is terra incógnita for him. Although most of his friends have left the country, it’s again the Constituyente that determined his choice: “This is a dictatorship and I better get out while I still can.”

“That’s just part of the problem” a lady in line interrupts. “Everyone knows someone who’s been kidnapped. We’ve been mugged. Just a few hours ago we were all scared because two motorcycles came by here all slow and shit, eyeing us.”

She catches her breath, takes a beat to think, and then gets to the heart of it all:

“I don’t want my kids to live in fear. It isn’t normal for them to hear about their buddies being robbed inside their houses. It’ll take years to fix that.”

She knows the trip won’t be easy. “Spain is the land of my grandparents, but I’m used to living here. Sometimes I forget my grannies are not Venezuelan, they always spoke of how this land opened its arm to everyone willing to  work. But that Venezuela is not my Venezuela.”

“I have to go” she lowers her gaze, and it hits you right in the gut. “It’s now or never.”

Categorías: Noticias

Political Retaliation

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 08/17/2017 - 11:22


As Nicolás made a sudden appearance in Cuba to pay his respects to Fidel Castro’s tomb, reminding us of the island’s role in his perverse script, Diosdado Cabello requested the Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation on an alleged corruption network within that institution, involving dissident chavista lawmaker Germán Ferrer, deposed Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega’s husband; as well as chief of staff Gioconda González; prosecutors Pedro Lupera and Luis Sánchez, and lawyer José Rafael Parra Saluzzo.

Diosdado claimed that they’ve dismantled the corruption network because Nicolás ordered an investigation on the companies that exploit the Orinoco Faja Pedtrolera, which allegedly revealed that once the Prosecutor’s Office started finding evidence of illegal activity, this network of people began extorting the companies that worked with PDVSA. Diosdado clarified that the investigations “have nothing to do with politics” and handed over the original documents of bank accounts opened in Bahamas in April, 2016.

Since he’s the one denouncing an act of extortion, it’s not hard to imagine Cilia Flores or comptroller Manuel Galindo launching accusations of nepotism.

Tarek, the efficient

The imposed prosecutor general Tarek William Saab immediately responded to Diosdado’s request, offering a press conference proving that this an act of political retaliation.

Showing the original documents that he received as evidence, he claimed that lawmaker Germán Ferrer “acted in flagrante delicto – even though the accounts were opened more than a year ago – with malicious intent,” assuming that Ferrer was the network’s leader and demanding the TSJ to order his arrest, while the ANC (of which the accuser, Diosdado, is a member) begins the process of breaching Ferrer’s parliamentary immunity.

Just for the record: only the National Assembly can do that, but PSUV decided to scrap the current Constitution long ago.

Obvious mistakes

Tarek is a disastrous spokesman, but yesterday he broke his own records and asked people to think how a parliamentarian with a modest salary could have accounts in dollars (applicable to 99% of the chavista ruling clique).

He denounced an anonymous campaign from abroad without naming any countries; promised to summon the extortionists, without establishing who they are; and claimed to have evidence of Luisa Ortega Díaz’s corruption since 2008, without explaining why the government took nine years to file charges.

It’s a lousy way to start a razzia in the Prosecutor’s Office, which they’ll probably link to any “traitor.”

With the same urgency of Tarek’s statement, Luisa Ortega Díaz’s apartment was illegally searched yesterday afternoon, and the maid was arrested.

For abstention!

After Jorge Rodríguez’s statements detailing the opposition’s contradictions, mentioning the timeframe to register, modify and replace candidacies and demanding the CNE to make parties promise they’ll honor the results of gubernatorial elections, CNE chief Tibisay Lucena offered incredibly useless information.

The only relevant thing she reported was that 226 people from 78 political parties registered their candidacies, but she didn’t reveal the date for the elections, the electoral schedule or the company that will replace Smartmatic. Today, the parties will choose their position in the ballot.

Hairstyled Torquemada

Truth committee head Delcy Rodríguez said that they’ll ask the CNE for a full list of opposition candidates for gubernatorial elections to “investigate and approve them,” a way of clearing the path for the TSJ’s disqualifications, speeding up the process of canceling candidacies and choosing the candidates against whom the PSUV wants to compete in the 23 states. She said:

“We’ve opened an investigation against the people responsible for violence in 2017.”

Then she pointed out that investigations have already been already launched against Parliament’s Speaker and second vice-president, Julio Borges and Freddy Guevara, the former for sending letters to international banks and the latter for greeting a protester, as proven by a picture he showed.

Pedro Carreño also spoke of challenging the candidacies of Carlos Ocariz and Conrado Pérez, but he didn’t mention that lawmaker Luis Lippa has already been barred from running for office.

A massacre in Amazonas

Governor Liborio Guarulla denounced a massacre in Amazonas Judicial Detention Center, located in Puerto Ayacucho, where 37 inmates were murdered and six National Bolivarian Policemen and National Guard officers were wounded. The most popular theory so far is that the officers were going to begin an inspection and there was “a exchange of gunfire” which resulted in this massacre.

Humberto Prado, head of the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons, confirmed the slaughter and added that there are approximately 250 inmates inside that prison.

Pence in Chile

Accompanied by president Michelle Bachelet, U.S. vice-president Mike Pence restated that the U.S. will use all its strength and diplomacy until democracy is restored in Venezuela, thanking Chile for condemning Nicolás’ regime and saying that whatever they do about Venezuela, they’ll do it together:

“We all live in the same neighborhood (…) we will continue to act, together, to support the people of Venezuela.”

Bachelet expressed concern for “the levels of violence and the humanitarian crisis experienced in Venezuela, which generates a tremendous wave of migration to neighboring countries.” She repeated that Chile will do its utmost to support Venezuela in its fight to find a peaceful way out, but they won’t support military intervention or coup d’état.

As for sanctions, they’ll support all those adopted by the Security Council of the U.N.

By the way, yesterday U.N. chief António Guterres said that Venezuela must remain free of foreign intervention and authoritarianism and emphasized that the solution to the crisis can only be political.

The dictatorship is working hard to do evil well, to boost abstention from all possible sides, to exhibit its repression and intensify it, without tear gas but with cruelty.

We go on.

Categorías: Noticias

In the Trenches with Luisa

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 08/17/2017 - 10:00

In many ways, it was your average office job. You arrived in the morning, had an hour for lunch, you left in the afternoon. There was a WhatsApp group, Christmas parties and planes vacacionales. How is it today? Welcome to the jungle.

“They never asked us to be partisan. That’s part of the manual, to be apolitical. They never asked us to wear red, go to demonstrations or vote a certain way. It’s different from the judiciary branch of the public administration, where judges wear red berets and hang portraits of Chávez in their chambers. We were proud of not being like that.”

For over a decade, Nelson has been a public prosecutor en el interior, the province. He started when Isaías Rodríguez was Prosecutor General, and has remained at his post for the entire tenure of la doctora.

“But now, with Tarek, time will tell.”

From the get-go, it’s pretty clear that Nelson feels admiration for Ortega Díaz. While there’s no doubt she’s chavista, he says at least she’s not “one of them.” He defines her with a word not many would use for someone heading a government institution: “She’s an idealist.”

They no longer fought the Prosecutor General, they fought us all as an institution. And after the Constituyente, all the support turned into silence.

A few months ago, the Prosecutors Office demanded a guideline of procedures from the Ministry of Interior, after several cases of police brutality were recorded during OLP raids. That’s when it started, in Nelson’s take. “We’ve seen the rift for a long time, even if it was invisible from the outside.”

He remembers Luisa’s pronunciamiento very well:

“They took us all to the capital to watch her yearly address. We knew something was up, since our superiors were nervous and one even told me that hard times were coming. But I felt relieved to see her addressing the reality of the nation.”

Chavista hardliners didn’t feel relieved at all, wondering what was going on with the Prosecutor General, even if many were supportive of her stance inside the institution. It was business as usual and, as days went by and Luisa Ortega didn’t back down, things went sour. “We were told not to receive any kind of communications from the judiciary, essentially paralyzing legal processes.”

Courts had already been already ignoring orders from the Prosecutor’s Office, particularly for the release of detained protesters. Like the use of courts-martial on civilians, not releasing political prisoners who had been exonerated by courts violated due process. Days were tense and security was increased at the main gate and corridors of the Prosecutor’s HQ. Employees were advised not to wear shirts or jackets with emblems of the institution; the symbols could become targets.

“The worst was when the Supreme Court sworn in [Katherine] Harrington [as vice-prosecutor general]. It was the moment when they no longer fought the Prosecutor General, they fought us all as an institution. And after the Constituyente, all the support turned into silence.”

Employees were advised not to wear shirts or jackets with emblems of the institution; the symbols could become targets.

Nelson shrugs and finds the idea of working for ANC-appointed Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab, revolting. Barely surprised about how quick the changes among the top brass have been, he can’t stop feeling disgust at the illegality of it all. The future is more uncertain than ever, but he hopes Luisa will bring justice through international courts.

“Even if she’s deposed, they’re still worried. Why do you think they went raided her place? She has the scoop on them, corruption, human rights violations. Crimes with no statute of limitations.”

I look at Nelson, visually uncomfortable with some of my questions. I ask why la fiscal didn’t say anything in the past, knowing so much. He doesn’t know, perhaps by choice. He’s essentially a simple man doing his job to support his family. Aspirations beyond that are luxury.

But he closes the interview catching me off-guard with introspection:

“Look, the Public Ministry is filled with professionals who will continue their work as they’ve always done, no matter who’s in charge. We love what we do and we’ll try our best, given the circumstances.”

In Venezuela, public employees barely do their job as they barely make it by with their quince y último. But people like Nelson, the human face on the cogs of the machine, serve as a reminder that, regardless of your job, we’re way less divided than some would want us to be.

Categorías: Noticias

How Colombia does ‘I Told You So’

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 08/16/2017 - 18:29

Every day since I landed in Colombia a month ago, I’ve felt very much at home. Even the caleño sun reminds me of Valencia. I’ve been pampered by the world’s best hospitality. I’ve been fed a staggering variety of food every-freakin’-where I go. Supermarkets are home to at least nine different kinds of potatoes, a gazillion tropical fruits; and all the chicken, beef and beans you can wish for. At affordable prices, too!

I can’t believe it: this is outright paradise, almost pure joy. The only times my conversations with Colombian brothers and sisters take a sad turn is, of course, when they realize my costeño-sounding accent hails from a bit further East.

“Oh my God, Venezuela… I’m… I’m sorry for what you’re going through.”

“That Chávez was really a jueputa, wasn’t he? He really messed you up.”

Parce, Colombia has no shortage of problems, but I’m glad nobody like Maduro is running the show here.”

President Juan Manuel Santos agrees with his street paisanos, and just published a powerful piece detailing how the two countries’ economies have diverged:

But, like Reagan and Gorbachev, [Chávez and I] decided not to criticize each other’s preferred models – in our case, twenty-first-century socialism versus the Third Way – and, instead, to let history deliver its verdict. With this mutual understanding, we remained cordial until Chávez’s death in 2013.

Now, history has finally spoken, and the verdict is conclusive. Colombia has grown well above the Latin American average in recent years, and inflation stands at less than 4%. Moreover, Colombia has become an increasingly attractive investment destination, as it has made great strides in poverty reduction, job creation, infrastructure development, and education reform.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s economy has contracted by nearly 40% under the weight of large debts and the world’s highest inflation rate. Some 82% of Venezuelans are now impoverished. There is a chronic scarcity of foreign currency, medicines, and food. Malnourishment is rampant. The maternal mortality rate in hospitals reportedly increased fivefold in 2016, while the infant mortality rate has increased a hundredfold. The temptation to migrate elsewhere in search of a better life is growing.

A nation brutalized for over 50 years by armed pro-Fidel groups waging war against society and trying to take over government is looking much better than her sister, where the pro-Fidel group actually got to power and has been making policy for just under 20 years.

History has indeed spoken. Colombia is an alternate Venezuela where communism didn’t ruin things. I’m ecstatic it exists. I’m eternally grateful for their genuine solidarity.

Can we turn the ship around now, please?

Categorías: Noticias

The Two Assemblies

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 08/16/2017 - 12:08

Yesterday, the democratically elected National Assembly discussed the United Nations’ report on the “extended and systematic use of force” against protesters, unanimously approving a motion to transcribe the discussion to make it a part of the UN’s file and summoning Tarek William Saab to appear before Parliament, due to his role as NONE-budsman, to explain the actions he took in cases of human rights abuses.

They also approved the request not to go to parliamentary recess and continue with extraordinary sessions.

During this session, both victims and relatives of victims denounced the threats, extortions, illegal arrests, isolated detainees and the use of military tribunals against civilians.

A year ago, the lawmakers got their last paycheck, thanks to one of the TSJ’s many assaults against the National Assembly. The Parliament’s payroll, excluding the lawmakers, is managed by the Economy and Finance Ministry, they’re demanding this institution the payment of up to Bs. 22 billion in debt which is currently affecting some 4,500 people.

The imposed assembly

The same day that NGO Foro Penal reported that 5,326 people have been arrested since April 1st and 1,048 of them are still detained; that 655 civilians were prosecuted by military tribunals and there are 676 political prisoners, chief justice Maikel Moreno proposed the ANC to raise the maximum penalty for treason, terrorism, homicide and robbery to 50 years and to include intolerance and hatred as crimes in the Criminal Code, as if Venezuelans were demanding crueller sentences instead of justice.

He also proposed:

  • Reconsidering the corruption exercised by “the country’s enemies”
  • “Revolutionizing” the judicial system
  • Creating an institution solely responsible for overseeing security forces
  • Resignations of all TSJ justices, including himself

The ANC authorized gubernatorial candidates Aristóbulo Istúriz, Carmen Meléndez, Jheyson Guzmán, Miguel Rodríguez, Héctor Rodríguez and Víctor Clark to temporarily leave any offices they currently hold, so in case they lose, they’ll have somewhere to return to.

The other instance

Delcy Rodríguez announced that the cases of civilians arrested during protests that were prosecuted by military justice will now be handled by civilian courts on Nicolás suggestion, which is enforced as an order.

It won’t fall on the Prosecutor’s Office to decide their fate either, but on the Truth Committee, which will be installed today and will include: Delcy as president; Larry Devoe as executive secretary, Carmen Meléndez, José Vicente Rangel Ávalos, Tarek William Saab, Alfredo Ruíz (acting Ombudsman); Numa Molina, María Eugenia Russián (from Fundalatin, which recently accused NGO Provea of engaging in psychological violence against public servants); Soraya El Ailin Guerra and Edgar Márquez from institutions for victims, as well as three members to be appointed by the National Assembly, meaning that 12 out of 15 members are chavistas, which allows them to impose their equanimity and sense of justice.

Prices

The Food Basket’s price rose by Bs. 304,932 in just a month, and is currently at Bs. 2,043,083 for July, a 17.5% increase compared to June and 339,3% compared to July, 2016 (which is 16.2 minimum wages.)

The gap between regulated prices and market prices is 10,433.5%.

Meanwhile, Venezuela made a third payment for $29.5 million to the Canadian company Gold Reserve. $99 million have already been paid to Gold Reserve out of the billion that they must receive as part of the arbitral award’s compensation and for the mining data of Las Brisas mine.

Additionally, the Canadian mining company Crystallex is trying to confiscate the shares of PDV Holding – a PDVSA subsidiary in Delaware – as part of the legal dispute after the State nationalized its operation in a gold mine back 2008. Crystallex is trying to collect $1,4 billion that the World Bank’s arbitral court ordered Venezuela to pay them as compensation for expropriating their mining project in Las Cristinas.

Pence in Argentina

While Jacqueline Faría claimed that the U.S. government is responsible for unemployment, violence and the shortage of food in Venezuela, U.S. vice-president Mike Pence said in Argentina:

“Today, the once-free people of Venezuela are being forced to endure this fate by the brutality of the Maduro regime. The Maduro regime has ignored and undermined the National Assembly; stifled the voices of the free media and the people alike (…) more than 130 brave Venezuelans have died in the desperate fight to restore democracy.”

He ratified that they have many options, but they’re confident they’ll find a peaceful solution, asking Latin America to “do more for Venezuela” and thanking Argentina for their regional leadership on this matter.

President Macri restated that force isn’t an option to solve the Venezuelan crisis, that a high “increase on political and economic pressure” is needed “so that political prisoners are released and branch autonomy restored as soon as possible,” amping up political demands and considering the country’s economic reality to see how they can help restore democracy.

Abroad

Neither Jorge Arreaza nor Nicolás issued a response to the message of Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, vigorously condemning the deaths of Venezuelans during protests and the amount of political prisoners.

El Salvador’s Congress Speaker Guillermo Gallegos refused Nicolás’ request to convene a Celac summit to restore Latin American dialogue: “He won’t be welcomed by a vast majority of Salvadorans,” said Gallegos, condemning human rights violations in Venezuela.

The Federation of Central American Chambers of Commerce (Fecamco) urged the region’s governments to condemn the “brutality” of Nicolás’ regime, expressing their concern that Central American governments “blithely support the rupture of constitutional order that the Venezuelan administration is carrying out in its eagerness to deprive its citizens from the most fundamental civil and political rights.”

Lastly, Santa Lucia’s prime minister Allen Chastanet announced his plans to impose visa restrictions to Venezuelans as a preventive measure in view of the country’s severe situation.

Tarek William Saab reported yesterday that violinist Wuilly Arteaga was released, after he was illegally arrested last July 27th, beaten, tortured and burned. The National Guard released Wuilly in Plaza Altamira and the Foro Penal team picked him up at 10:40 p.m. to take him home.

#15Ag 10:40pm Insólito! A Wuilly Arteaga nos dicen q lo liberaron y la GNB lo dejó en la Plaza Altamira. No nos avisaron. Ahora buscándolo

— Alfredo Romero (@alfredoromero) August 16, 2017

Categorías: Noticias

Teresa, la Usurpadora

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 08/16/2017 - 10:14

Just hours after the TSJ ordered his removal, plus 15 months in prison for contempt, Barquisimeto’s Mayor, Alfredo Ramos, was arrested by SEBIN intelligence agents. His relatives and lawyers have been denied their right to visit him, multiple times.

The following day, the Iribarren Municipal Council, under Chavista control, named its current head, Teresa Linarez, as the new mayor. She took office by stating:

We got the mayorship back. I don’t mind being called an usurper, I came here to implement a court order and I’ll do it with the support of the people and the revolutionary councilmen. Therefore, I won’t allow any attacks on the municipality. We’ll apply a heavy hand to watch over our people and those who ride roughshod over our people will be sanctioned.

In her first days, praised by Lara’s chavistas in charge, she has led  “the clean-up of the city”, under the slogan of her administration, “For Barquisimeto’s sake”. Planning protests and trancazos? Linarez promises harsh retribution.

But beyond that, and singing the Constituyente’s praises, she’s making sure that local social programs are done for political profit: People looking for free health assistance must now carry the Carnet de la Patria, and you probably know how much fun that is.

CR | En medio de #CrisisHumanitaria usurpadores de la alcaldía de Iribarren, piden Carnet de la Patria a nuestra gente para recibir ayudas. pic.twitter.com/UMzDTh71GK

— Alfredo Ramos (@AlfredoARamos) August 12, 2017

Carmen Ramos, Alfredo Ramos’ wife, denounced this practice showing a Municipal Institute of Social Development (IMDES) flyer and its new requirements for social assistance, including a letter to either Linarez, or the IMDES chief, stuff that previous IMDES heads consider abhorrent.

With a new political platform, recently created to demand the freedom of Mayor Ramos and other political prisoners, the scarce information available about his health is cause for concern. He suffers from hypertension and Mrs. Ramos said that, days after his imprisonment, he had a crisis. She’s not sure if the medicines she gave the SEBIN have reached him.

Just remember: Alfredo Ramos is but one of many opposition mayors jailed, removed from their posts or wanted by SEBIN.

¡Dígalo ahí, Amnistía Internacional!

Ola de arrestos: Gobierno venezolano se vuelca sin ningún motivo legítimo contra funcionarios opositores electos https://t.co/JWCbKNPGNs pic.twitter.com/LVTTPhexat

— amnistia . org (@amnistia) August 14, 2017

Categorías: Noticias

The Two Big Macs Bet – An Accountability Post

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 08/15/2017 - 18:05

Part of my job is to make predictions. Broadly, there are two ways you can do that. You can take the Luis Vicente León approach and hedge every call to within an inch of its life until it really isn’t a prediction at all, because there are no circumstances in which it can be falsified. The appeal of this approach is clear enough: the guy’s never ever wrong because he never ever takes a risk. Bo-ring!

The other approach is to make clear predictions. That’s the one I go for. It’s risky. It means some times I get to take victory laps and other times I have to take the walk of shame… this one is, erm, one of the latter.

Basically, I read the politics wrong, and also MUD’s reaction.

Back in June, my partner Raúl Stolk bet me two Big Macs that the Constituent Assembly election would go ahead as scheduled on July 30th. I bet him they wouldn’t. I owe him two burgers (Emi is vegetarian, so she sat this one out).

Here’s how I got it wrong.

My argument, originally, was that going ahead with a widely despised Consituyente election was just too risky, and the government would eventually come to see that. Specifically, I argued:

To press forward with an Assembly the country plainly doesn’t want is to invite the kind of civil conflict that I don’t believe the people around Nicolás Maduro actually want. It’s to court the next wave of Oscar Pérezes, this time inside the Armed Forces and organized, to attempt a power play. It’s to invite a situation so explosive and uncontrollable that no politician with a working self-preservation instinct could want it.

My argument had two parts: first, that the Constituyente election was likely to destabilize the regime, and second that the regime would recognize that, accept that view, and respond by cancelling or postponing the vote. The first part of the analysis had serious problems, the second part was just plain wrong.

First the first part: protests were pretty strong in early June, and my assumption is that if people were destabilizing then, they’d be that much more raucous come Assembly Election time. Basically, I read the politics wrong, and also MUD’s reaction. MUD didn’t really dare to mount a coordinated attempt to sabotage the vote – and even so election day left 15 dead. The government then immediately pivoted – in what I have to admit was a brilliant, JVR-style gambit – to sucking MUD into a fratricidal discussion on gubernatorial elections. Together, the images of the Constituent Assembly officially convening with Delcy Rodríguez at its head, alongside anger at MUD leadership and its visible powerlessness ended up sucking all the air out of the protest movement instead.

Jorge Rodríguez/Raúl: 1, MUD/Quico: 0. 

Of course, I also argued that going ahead with Constituyente elections would destabilize the Armed Forces, and I was partly vindicated by the Fort Paramacay fracas. There are lots of signs of military discontent, they are ongoing, and it may yet be that the government rues the day it decided to go ahead with such a polarizing election. (But that wasn’t what my bet with Raúl was about, so I still lose those Big Macs.)

I plainly misjudged exactly how much risk Maduro and the people closest to him were willing to tolerate.

It’s in the second part of the argument that I really had it wrong: I thought the clique around Maduro would eventually come around to understanding how destabilizing the election would be. I thought they’d share my analysis and realize it was in their best interest to avoid it. This just didn’t pan out at all. 

Jorge Rodríguez/Raúl: 2, MUD/Quico: 0. 

The reasons are many: Diosdado Cabello’s faction and the radical civilian wing of chavismo both mobilized to keep Maduro to his word, and their opinion plainly outweighed the voices urging a postponement of the vote. Though it’s clear the government was repeatedly warned by multiple voices, both inside and outside Venezuela, about the dangers of going forward, Maduro concluded the warnings were just overblown. The ones that were coming from within his own security aparatus, I think, he dismissed as just overly cautious: exercises in bureaucratic ass-covering by analysts who didn’t want to be blamed if “something” happened and they’d failed to issue the appropriate warnings.

One thing July 30th has taught us is that the Armed Forces aren’t really a veto player within the regime. Their instinctive conservatism and their private warnings to Maduro were just disregarded by a leadership clique that has a higher tolerance for risk than they do. Like them, I plainly misjudged exactly how much risk Maduro and the people closest to him were willing to bear.

Turns out they’re willing to tolerate a lot more risk than I thought.

Personally, I still think that’s likely to catch up with them sooner rather than later, but that’s neither here nor there. The voices counselling caution ahead of July 30th weren’t strong enough to get the Constituyente election called off, and next time we meet I get to sit in stony silence while Raúl enjoys two gorgeous burgers in front of me.

I went out on a limb, and I got it wrong. For an analyst, it’s an occupational hazard. Posts like these aren’t a huge deal of fun to write, but I’d still rather do it this way than hedge everything to the point of meaninglessness.

Categorías: Noticias

Picking through the Crazy in PDVSA’s Financial Statement

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 08/15/2017 - 12:52

Is it possible that a company with $48 billion in revenues can’t keep the elevators running at its corporate HQs and can’t afford enough paper and printer-ink cartridges for their offices?

If you’re PDVSA, it is!

Venezuela’s battered-and-bruised public oil company published its 2016 consolidated financial statements late at night last Friday. The data was supposed to be published by the end of July, but PDVSA requested, and was granted, an extension until August 11th. It ended up being posted with less than 90 minutes on the clock to the deadline, like some partied out undergrad staggering to deposit a paper in a professor’s mailbox minutes before it’s due.

They had no choice. Any further delay may have triggered a default under the terms of PDVSA bonds, which require that the company releases its financials each year before June 30th, with a 30-day grace period.

As for the substance, everybody knew it would be ugly — the average price of Venezuela’s oil was barely over $35/barrel — but we didn’t imagine it this ugly.

The biggest tell is right at the front of the doc.: the signed report at the beginning. Normally, this section is always a precise couple of pages, but in this case, we get eight pages full of KPMG’s minutely-crafted warnings, caveats and explanations. This is very far from normal, and points to the delicate negotiations that must have gone into getting Mauro Velázquez, of Rodríguez, Velázquez y Asociados (the lead auditor for this statement, and KPMG’s local partner) to sign off on this thing.

Everybody knew it would be ugly… but we didn’t imagine it this ugly.

The eight pages of caveats are like a dystopian poem written in bureaucratese. You can tell the whole story of PDVSA through those caveats, if you’re able to read them forensically. Taken as a whole, they underscore just how difficult it’s become to characterize PDVSA as a going concern, which is fancy accounting slang for a company with no imminent risk of bankruptcy.

The warnings relate to the key issues that are drowning the company: the drop in oil prices and output, the numerous corruption scandals and the multitude of ‘related-party transactions’ undertaken between PDVSA and the Venezuelan government. These issues paint a picture of internal disorder so pervasive that it puts into question whether PDVSA is keeping the government afloat or vice versa. Or even worse, whether both entities are dragging one another into a shared abyss.

Let’s start with a Golden Oldie: the staggering gasoline subsidy, which — if these Financials are to be believed — cost the central government $5.72 billion last year. But wait, how did they arrive at that number? In fact, PDVSA requested a Bs.3.8 trillion unilateral transfer to the Oil Ministry, which was subsequently approved by the country’s vice president, according to Note #29 of the statements. Where did all those freshly minted bolivars go? To the dollar black market, it seems.

Revenue was down 33.5% from $72.2 billion in 2015 to $48 billion in 2016. Net income was down a staggering 88.2% from $7.3 billion to $0.83 billion. Oil output dropped 10% to 2.57 million barrels per day, from 2.9 million in 2015.

The financials confirm several parts of the explosive Rosneft story published by Reuters on Friday, which said the Russian company had prepaid PDVSA $1.49 billion for future oil shipments in 2016, with a collateral on 49.9% of Citgo’s shares. Also, on April 2017, Rosneft again paid PDVSA $1.02 billion in advance for future oil shipments. These schemes, devised in desperation to make ends meet, could severely compromise future cash flows for the company.

It puts into question whether PDVSA is keeping the government afloat or vice versa.

Why Rosneft continues to play ball is hard to fathom. Consider Note #24, which sets out all liabilities PDVSA has incurred with Rosneft. It includes two big prepayments which came in 2014 ($2 billion each, first in May, then again in November). PDVSA missed its grace period for servicing its obligations over those deals in 2016, which forced it to start delivering unspecified quantities of crude oil and “other products” to Rosneft’s subsidiaries, further reducing its share of cash-generating exports.

As of December 31, 2016, PDVSA had exchanged $1.37 billion of its outstanding  commercial debt for promissory notes issued with a 6.5% interest rate, and a 3-year maturity. PDVSA’s plans to correr la arruga, by turning overdue debt into unmatured debt, have become business as usual for the company.

On the corruption scandals, the financials repeat the almost comical language pioneered in 2015, briefly mentioning the Roberto Rincón case, then setting out vague internal procedures to avoid and investigate corruption practices, stating that “PDVSA does not tolerate corruption” – which is true, because what they do is encourage it.

One of the most infuriating themes shown in the statements is the systematic plundering of PDVSA’s pension fund, detailed in Note # 22. The defined-benefit plan is nominally run independently from the board of directors of the company, but in reality has been used for several years now to support the payment of bonds, enriching the Bachaqueros of Wall Street at the expense of the present and future retirees from the oil industry.

The mechanics are rather simple: the pension fund is instructed to buy next-in-line PDVSA bonds and keep them to maturity, thus buying a significant share of the float every year. In the days around the payment date, PDVSA arranges with the fund to “swap” the holdings of bonds for an IOU that might as well be scribbled on a napkin, but for the purposes of the statements is a ‘short-term debt investment that does not represent any financial risk whatsoever for the pension fund’. Little by little, the vast majority of the pension fund’s assets have been subject to the scheme, leaving it holding little less than USD 100mm in assets and over $3 billion in so-called Pagarés. [Corrected: this paragraph originally misstated the currency of the $3 billion figure.]

Shameless…

Another caveat is the fact that the statement was prepared using two different exchange rates: the DIPRO exchange rate of 10 bolivars per USD and the Dicom exchange rate as of December 31, 2016 of 674.81 bolivars per USD. As you can imagine, the arbitrary use of such wildly different exchange rates may overestimate assets and downplay liabilities making the reported data unreliable at best. It’d take a team of talented forensic accountants an eternity to disentangle the effects of the exchange rate shenanigans.

There is just so much that’s just plain wrong with the statements. For example, they completely screwed up Note #21(b) related to last year’s swap of PDVSA 2017 for 2020 bonds, clearly misstating one of the bonds that was subject to the operation. Going through all of them is an exercise in learned depression that we cannot recommend. We will leave at here and wonder what do buyside investors think of these figures.

Not surprisingly, PDVSA is becoming toxic to international investors. Last month it tried and failed to put together an investor call. And that was before the firm’s Finance Director was sanctioned by OFAC, rendering anything he signs radioactive to all counterparts. For years, we’ve known the PDVSA roja rojita was a train-wreck in the making. Now it’s made.

Categorías: Noticias

Anti-imperialism in Miraflores

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 08/15/2017 - 12:05

Nicolás arrived late to the event the government improvised for Monday in Miraflores and, as usual, there were more freshly-made signs, flags and banners than people, unless you count those in uniform and public employees forced to attend.

Angry at MUD’s “truly miserable” response to Donald Trump’s statement, he urged the ANC to prosecute them for treason and asked the Truth Committee to call dissident protest leaders to testify, and to find them and “put them behind bars” if they didn’t comply. Encouraged by his token audience chanting “Jail them, jail them, jail them,” he ratified that he wants punishment for each and everyone of those responsible for violence, as if the State had no responsibility for all the people wounded, arrested and killed during these months of protests.

In prison, but thanks

Oddly enough, after this show of avenging might, he once again turned to rabble-rousing, thanking some opposition leaders by name for registering their candidates for gubernatorial elections, which, he assumes, is a sign that they recognize the CNE and its head, Tibisay Lucena.

He claimed that the ambassadors of Guatemala, Japan, Vietnam, Syria, Spain and France will be witnesses in October’s “electoral celebration.”

Prior to that, however, on August 26th and 27th, he’ll launch a military drill with tanks, planes, missiles and rifles, calling on the whole world to watch “the empire’s shock” with such a patriotic display.

But of course, regarding the man who inspired this new-found sovereign zeal, he repeated:

“I want to talk on the phone with you, Trump, because you’re being deceived.”

Nicolás also said that he’ll announce “important economic measures,” and asked us to support them.

Baduel’s whereabouts

Relatives and lawyers of Raúl Isaías Baduel denounced his forceful disappearance at OAS headquarters in Caracas. Lawyer Guillermo Rojas explained that after Baduel was transferred from Ramo Verde prison on August 8th, and since they were unable to verify his current detention center, they denounced his forceful disappearance before the Prosecutor’s Office.

This happens on the same day that OAS chief Luis Almagro condemned the persecution against Omar Lares, mayor of Campo Elías municipality, Mérida, demanding the immediate return of his son, Juan Pedro Lares, who disappeared on July 30th in a joint operation performed by the National Guard and SEBIN.

A totalitarian government

The ousted prosecutor general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, denounced that the government extorted public employees into voting for the ANC, which she said was “common practice in the regimes of Hitler and Stalin,” remarking that the Prosecutor’s Office received complaints from employees of 25 State institutions that prove they were threatened into voting.

Ortega announced that she’s working on a website where she’ll upload all the information on criminal matters and the Prosecutor’s Office, since many investigations are at risk now. “This is a totalitarian government, ” she said, adding that the ANC can’t operate above the Constitution.

She’s considering going to The Hague with evidence that would allow her to denounce severe human rights violations.

Menacing or delirious?

Defense minister Vladimir Padrino López claimed that the Armed Forces condemns president Donald Trump’s statements:

“We think his is a delirious, menacing attitude, and the threat of arms is madness (…) we won’t tolerate imperialists from the American government.”

He said he won’t accept ambivalent stances and demanded everyone who hasn’t condemned the threat yet to do so, because “this is about the survival of our territorial integrity.”

Once again, he accused the American government of financing violent groups inside the country.

Sadly, he didn’t talk about the GN captain who was arrested while stealing wires from Corpoelec in Paraguaná, the sublieutenant who declared herself in open rebellion or the government’s red alert on Interpol against Nixon Moreno, Patricia Poleo and Roderick Navarro.

Pence in Colombia

Yesterday, president Juan Manuel Santos asked US vice-president Mike Pence to disregard a military intervention in Venezuela because neither Colombia nor the rest of America Latina would agree with that:

“America is a continent of peace. Let’s keep it that way.”

Santos shares Pence’s concern for Venezuela where “citizen liberties and the institutional order are being destroyed.”

Pence met with thirty Venezuelans who settled in Calvary Chapel, Cartagena.

He said that he heard heartbreaking stories about food shortages and that they’re “not going to tolerate seeing Venezuela collapse into dictatorship,” as he remarked that this is a failed State that poses a threat to the safety and prosperity of the entire hemisphere, and that a greater influx of victimized families and a rise in illegal immigration that could compromise the Colombia’s borders, economy and security is expected.

The U.S., he declared, is “absolutely determined to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until we see democracy restored in Venezuela.”

Abroad

CIA head Mike Pompeo said in an interview that Venezuela postes a danger for the U.S. due to the alleged presence of Cuban, Russian and Iranian cells in the country, as well as members of Islamic group Hezbollah:

“This is something that has a risk of getting to a very very bad place, so America needs to take this very seriously.”

Yesterday, the German government condemned the breakdown of democratic order in Venezuela with the de facto dissolution of Venezuela’s Parliament. Steffen Seibert, spokesman for the German administration, urged Nicolás to clear the way for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the crisis.

English prime minister Theresa May called for the suspension of licences for controlled exports of military equipment from the United Kingdom to Venezuela, after closing deals worth over two and a half million pounds in the last decades, including military radar components, weapon scopes and engines for military aircrafts.

Mexican Foreign minister Luis Videgaray said that Venezuela’s suffering an extreme, regrettable and very painful situation with the ANC, which is an assault on democracy, ratifying that they don’t recognize it.

It was moving to see the image of farmers from Northern Santander collecting vegetables and fruits to take them to the Cúcuta diocese, for those Venezuelans who go there looking for food. In our circumstances, solidarity is invaluable.

Categorías: Noticias

And now… las bombonas

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 08/14/2017 - 18:00

It’s hard to persuade someone who doesn’t have enough to eat that anything else is a big problem. When you can’t buy food, or medicine to treat a serious illness, all other difficulties pale in comparison. Which is why it’s easy to overlook things that, while maybe not as crucial to life and health, are still deeply woven into everyday life.

Like, say, cooking fuel. Or, what amounts to the same thing for most Venezuelans, la bombona.

This is a problem that flies under the radar, but, you, try going for a week without being able to cook food. Yet that’s not an uncommon situation Venezuelans find themselves in these days: delays to refill gas cylinders can range anywhere from a week to months. Reuters reports people are now turning to cooking with wood for lack of options. The problem is so bad that it has set off its own protests in the capital and elsewhere.

But why is it so bad? We know the whole gas sector is subsidized, and the reality is that we don’t know how exactly that subsidy works.

We don’t have a detailed understanding of how much of the benefit of the subsidy is captured by final consumers, how much by bachaqueros, and how much by the consejos comunales increasingly in charge of distribution.

If you have gas directo – if you live in one of the one-out-of-every-seven households that get gas piped to your kitchen – this is a non-issue. But everyone else must go through hell and high water just to cook. It’s already a war zone, without having to picture the effects an official price increase would have.

It’s ironic because, of course, Venezuela has enormous gas reserves – the stuff should be cheap, and plentiful. It’s anything but that.

Try going for a week without being able to cook food. Yet that’s not an uncommon situation Venezuelans find themselves in these days.

If you ask an official about this, they’ll blame the protests, how they prevent trucks from reaching the distribution centers. The fact is that these problems have been ongoing for years. What follows is our best approximation of why this is happening, given the lack of public information on gas scarcity and its supply chain’s operational status. Get ready for the big box of crazy that bombonas is.

What’s up with the supply?

Most Venezuelan homes (82% according to the 2011 Census) use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) – basically propane – stored in cylinders known as bombonas. Around 14% use methane sent through pipes (the so-called “gas directo”), while the rest have electric stoves or burn wood. When you hear about distribution problems with gas, they’re essentially talking about bombonas and the trouble people face refilling them.

Currently, the main source of gas is the oil extraction operation located in the eastern part of the country. This hydrocarbon mix generates Natural Gas Liquids (NGL), and some of the NGL is later transformed into propane (and from there, put into bombonas).

The vast bulk of gas released from oil extraction is used by the oil industry itself or sent to boost other industries or power plants. The NGL that gets processed and, in part, goes into bombonas is only 2% of the gas PDVSA produces. The NGL goes from the extraction plants into  fractionation plants, where different components are obtained, including propane. The Jose Cryogenic Complex in Anzoátegui handles almost all natural gas from the east and processes it for different uses. From here, propane is shipped to other regions or loaded onto trucks and sent to distribution plants. Finally, the gas is transported to your home by a PDVSA subsidiary called PDVSA Gas Comunal.

You start to see the problem. Since 2006 the supply of natural gas has been declining, which can be attributed to declining oil production. Let’s also keep in mind that, as the northern Monagas fields are depleted, the share of the extracted gas that could be used for NGL purposes is lower (the gas becomes “less rich”), so this poses an additional problem. Between 2006 and 2014, the cumulative decline in NGL supply has been 35.3%. The country stopped exporting propane in 2012, and, in recent years, LPG imports have been increasing to 24% of domestic use.

Consider the multiple uses for NGL and their components. Propane could be used by the petrochemical industry to obtain polypropylene, which is used to make, for instance, plastic bags or pipes. The rivalry between final uses has important economic implications: the natural gas in a bombona could be worth 30 times more than what you pay for it in a bombona if it was used by the petrochemical industry instead.

Thirty times!

LPG is also a subproduct of the refining sector. And as activity in refineries declines, less and less LPG is available. With PDVSA’s financial distress, it’s harder to compensate domestic gas supply with imports.

In boroughs like Catia, prices in the Bs.5,000-6,000 range are common for a bombona that might last 10 days.

Gas production is not the only problem. There aren’t enough actual bombonas available for everyone. Most cylinders are 10kg, and, if you assume that each family uses one unit while it has another on stand-by, then some 14.2 million cylinders are required. There’s no public information about the number of bombonas currently in circulation, but if we consider that in 2008 it was estimated that there were 7.5 million, it’d mean that you should have produced over 750,000 bombonas each year between 2008 and 2017 to meet the shortfall. Current estimates by local analysts point to a deficit of 2 million cylinders.

The latest info provided by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining says that in 2015 PDVSA manufactured 98,302 bombonas, and lately there have been announcements of the creation of mixed enterprises to increase production to a million per year.

Then we have PDVSA Gas Comunal. This PDVSA subsidiary was created in 2007 from the expropriation of Tropigas and Vengas, which together accounted for about 60% of domestic gas distribution. (Private companies had been in charge of this final distribution stage since 1938.) The idea was to transfer the distribution of gas to Empresas de Propiedad Social Directa Comunal (EPSDC). PDV Comunal is also in charge of constructing LPG storage plants, among other things. There’s no public information on the status of any of these projects.

For example: one of PDVSA Gas Comunal’s projects was the creation of Estanterías Comunales – community facilities where people could fill their bombonas at a “fair price”, once signed up on a list kept by the local consejo comunal.

Thing is, the gas never made it to the Estanterías because the cylinders just got stolen: either final users kept them, or they fell foul of shady deals between the distribution plant and bachaqueros.

So forget about the “fair price”. The bottom line is that people have to wake up pretty early to be in line, risking street crime, and wait up to 8 hours to see if they can fill their bombona at a price-controlled rate.

It’s like the old infierno venezolano joke: if you have a bombona, there’s no gas. If the truck comes with gas, there are no bombonas. If you find the bombonas and the gas, the bachaquero doesn’t show up.

The natural gas in a bombona could be worth 30 times more than what you pay for it in a bombona if it was used by the petrochemical industry instead.

The end result is that the country with the world’s 8th largest reserves of conventional natural gas, and the largest natural gas reserves in Latin America, is full of people who can’t get enough gas to cook.

The good news is that PDVSA has several infrastructure projects to help everyone get more bang for their buck… theoretically. In practice, the large investments, operational efficiency and massive human capital requirements are a challenge, not necessarily on the scale of say, developing the Orinoco Oil Belt or recovering production in Lake Maracaibo, but nevertheless with the same results as pretty much any other energy issue mentioned in the Plan de la Patria.

One of the projects now underway is the creation of an additional extraction unit in the San Joaquin extraction plant, to increase gas processing capacity and a 98% C3+ (used to obtain propane) recovery factor.

That was supposed to have been completed by 2015.

In 2011, it was 36.8% finished. By 2015, that was 40%, the investment required was US$ 1,385 MM and the project is now supposed to be completed by 2018. Similar mysteries shroud projects to increase the daily barrel capacity for the Jose Complex and the substitution of domestic propane for methane.

While there are also fractionation plants (that could be used to increase available propane) in western areas of the country, these are small compared to Jose, but more importantly, the decline in oil production in Lake Maracaibo constrains the amount of gas used for these purposes.

It could all be solved with private sector investment, right? Well, the legal framework allows for a higher participation by private companies in comparison to that in oil sector exploration and production activities, but it all comes down to when the issue messing everything-up-for-everyone rears its ugly face: the price of gas and its subsidies.

Subsidies, again

Gasoline is not the only fuel in Venezuela whose price is fixed. Domestic gas prices – nominal prices – haven’t budged since 2004. By now, the price Venezuelans pay is a laughably tiny fraction of international prices. Even representatives of PDVSA Gas Comunal have acknowledged that the price of a bombona in Colombia is about 1,300 times higher than in Venezuela.

Let that number sink in.

It has also been estimated that, as of last year, the cost to PDVSA of producing LPG could be eight to 14 times the price it can charge customers. If you’re a private company, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a financial incentive to get involved in such a business.

The country with the world’s 8th largest reserves of conventional natural gas… is full of people who can’t get enough gas to cook.

Fine and dandy, but local prices are in bolivars and international prices in US$. Which rate should PDVSA use to convert the income from gas exports? Lately, a conservative VEF 60/US$ is being used (the rate used by PDVSA in its 2015 Financial Statements) and that’s how the Center for Energy and Environment at IESA estimates an LPG subsidy of some $600 MM in 2015.

Now, if you’re a guy in Táchira selling your cylinder in Colombia, the rate will be much higher, and we’re not even talking about bachaqueros and their candid role. In the end, nobody knows how much this subsidy really helps consumers (to the extent they get access to a subsidized bombona at all.)

Another issue is that the problems are highly localized. In some areas, access to subsidized gas continues to more or less work. In the Petare 2016 IESA study, among D and E income level homes, less than 1% of the households reported gas shortages.  54% reported getting gas directly -the rest waited in line for less than an hour.

The estimated average consumption of LPG was 21.42 Kg/month, with fees paid at between Bs.10.47/Kg and Bs.24.02/Kg.

Based on these numbers, Petare residents spend less than 1% of their estimated monthly income on cooking gas. Notice that the study was performed about a year ago, so there might be reason to believe that some of these results have changed.

Even representatives of PDVSA Gas Comunal have acknowledged that the price of a bombona in Colombia is about 1,300 times higher than in Venezuela.

The situation is radically different in other areas. In boroughs like Catia, prices in the Bs.5,000-6,000 range are common for a bombona that might last 10 days. In Guayana bachaqueros charge up to Bs.8,000 for a 10 kg bombona.

How much the subsidy helps depends on how easy it is for you to actually get a cut-rate bombona in the first place.

How much Venezuelans benefit from the scheme is a nebulous zone with no government info and the currency distortion game singing the tune we all know and hate. What do we know? Many questions arise involving the supply chain and the operation and economics of the oil & gas industry in this country. Reforming this mess will be excruciating in a nation with subsidies for gasoline, diesel and electricity. Gas issues affect people’s lives in an immediate, palpable way…

And will continue to do so for as long as there are arepas to be baked or fried.

Categorías: Noticias

Picking Up the Pieces from Trump’s Empty Threat

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 08/14/2017 - 13:38

With the transformation of Venezuela into a total Cuban-style dictatorship virtually complete, the international community continues to ramp up the pressure on an increasingly isolated Maduro & Co. Talk of sanctions was on everyone’s lips, a rare international consensus had congealed on the illegitimacy of the constituent Assembly —52 countries and counting— Perú had kicked out Venezuela’s ambassador.

Somebody probably laboriously explained to him how counterproductive that would be.

Global institutions were starting to stake out a much harder position — the Organization of American States reactivated its Foreign Minister’s meetings, several of whom have completely disavowed the Constituyente, Mercosur activated its Democratic Clause, the U.N. was roused from its slumber, the European Parliament picked up the torch, some financial organizations have even refused to trade Venezuelan debt. Switzerland, made a statement…Switzerland, coño!

And then Donald J. Trump had to go and fuck it all up.

They have many options for Venezuela — and, by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,…We’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.

When asked by a reporter whether this military option would be led by the United States, Trump responded: “We don’t talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

The grown-ups in the administration were pushed back into a by-now familiar role: damage control.

The “we don’t talk about it” part is telling. Trump knows he’s not supposed to say this out loud. Somebody probably laboriously explained to him how counterproductive that would be. Guy can’t help himself. Sad.

Soon, the Pentagon was subtly distancing itself from this shitshow. It’s clear zero prep-work went into the president’s threat: no interagency process, no heads-ups to key players, no specific planning, nothing. So the grown-ups in the administration were pushed back into a by-now familiar role: damage control.

Right now, Mike Pence is traipsing around the region trying to, erm, retroactively edit Trump’s Friday statement. Which is a shame because his role, ever since brokering the Lilian Tintori meeting back in February of this year, had been mostly proactive and yielded results.

The condemnation to Trump’s statements was pretty swift, and pretty universal. Without mentioning the US in particular, MUD said it rejected Cuban intervention as well as military threats from any foreign power, and blamed Maduro for turning the country into a regional threat (we’d link to the statement but MUD’s website has been hacked, again).

The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention.

The communiqués followed thick and fast — by 39 local Venezuelan NGOs, by Peru, by Colombia, by Gina — what you’d expect.

“Since friends have to tell them the truth, I’ve told Vice President Pence the possibility of military intervention shouldn’t even be considered,” Colombia’s J.M. Santos said at a press conference, with Pence standing inches from him.

“The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention and that is why we are saying we are intent on looking into other measures some of which are already underway and others to be implemented in the future,” Santos added.

The chances of a military intervention were remote before Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, and became even remoter right after.

“But a transition in the Venezuelan regime toward democracy must be a peaceful transition. It must be hopefully a democratic transition. And it must be done quickly.”

Even a guy like the CIA’s hyper-hawkish director, Mike Pompeo, had to go to work jamming the presidential toothpaste back into the tube. “What I believe the president is trying to accomplish this week,” Pompeo said, “was to give the Venezuelan people hope and opportunity to create a situation where democracy can be restored.”

The deus ex machina fantasy where U.S. Marines fall from the sky and deliver us of this nightmare has a certain, undeniable appeal to people brutalized by this horrible regime. But to state the painfully evident, the chances that any such thing will ever happen were remote before Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, and became even remoter right after.

The work of building political, military and diplomatic support for a policy as extreme as invading Venezuela would’ve taxed the skills of even the most gifted and experienced U.S. President. Lining up allies, talking down the Colombians, lining up the U.N. Security Council, figuring out where Russia stands in all of this, earning the support of a skeptical congress, rallying your own State Department, working public opinion… none of this was ever going to be easy. It would have taken skill and coordination, detailed understanding, a mastery of the bureaucracies involved, personal relationships with key stakeholders…and a light touch, as well.

A Lyndon B. Johnson might, just might have pulled it off, or a George H.W. Bush. But we don’t have an LBJ or a Bush père in the White House. We have a guy who freelances nuclear threats and plays footsie with neo-nazis.

So, y’know, good luck with that, Marinés.

Categorías: Noticias

134 Days of Protests

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 08/13/2017 - 15:15

Pedro Moretti likes to use medium format and 35mm film cameras to document what he calls a “contemporary ethnography:” pictures of the protests, mostly in black and white, which he develops himself.

A photographer and teacher, he’s been out on the streets, every day, for the past 134 days, capturing moments from the “periphery of conflict” for the future, that quieter side of protests less visible than the violent repression.

He selected some highlights from his work, a look back on the streets, the painted walls, the pavement stained, the lives lost.

They are in no particular order.

We must go on.

Categorías: Noticias

Macondo with oil

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 08/12/2017 - 13:35

The ruling party loses Parliament in democratic elections. As their only option to recover the lost power, they impose a constituyente with the goal of writing a new Constitution, even though the country never asked for it. The imposed election has record-low turnout and the government decides to lie about it, and then the company that designed the country’s current electoral system blows the whistle on the lie. The scandal that should’ve been unleashed by that accusation ends up buried by the discussion over whether parties should register for potential gubernatorial elections, while the imposed constituyente decides to run the country for the next two years and legislate on any matter and above any public institution. The government has spent many years blaming the consequences of its absurd decisions on a non-existent economic blockade and on a potential foreign intervention that has never been announced, until now, when an egotistical charlatan of the same ilk as their dead leader, rises to lead their enemy country, and one fine afternoon chooses to fulfill the government party’s wet dream: threatening them with a military intervention.

Marines in La Guaira

President Donald Trump said this Friday: “The people are suffering and dying. We have many options in Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.” Soon after, the spokesman for the Pentagon, Eric Pahon, said that they haven’t been issued any orders regarding Venezuela after Trump’s comments. But the damage is done: the PSUV has its golden prize, a potential American military intervention, el finado’s and Nicolás’s favorite argument to close ranks with their fanatics and even to ignore the broad international disregard for the ANC, adding it to individual sanctions against its officials. This happens just when vice-president Mike Pence is set to start his first formal tour in Latin America, keeping Venezuela as a matter to discuss in Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, countries that also signed the Lima Declaration this weeks.

At a municipal checkpoint

Shortly after this, minister Vladimir Padrino López reported on Twitter that “the material and intellectual authors” of the assault on Fuerte Paramacay last August 6th, were captured, including their leader, Juan Caguaripano Scott, along with Yefferson García, the officer responsible for the weapons stolen from the fort. Promising an exemplary punishment for the captives, Padrino López forgot to explain that the detention took place not because of the Armed Forces’ special operation, which included a midnight raid in a house inhabited by elderly nuns, but because the fearless rebels ran into a municipal checkpoint.

Ratified

The ANC ratified National Electoral Council authorities in their posts, because they appeared before them “to pledge their subordinate to the all-powerful body.” CNE chief Tibisay Lucena remarked that the Electoral Branch will always side with voters (as it did with the recall referendum, eh?) and will loyally stand beside the Venezuelan people, adding that the ANC’s election meant a great “ideological and political [progress] for Venezuelan democracy.” She also gushed over the constituyentes and praised the body’s political model. She spoke of how political rights are being privileged, but she didn’t specified that only some citizens are entitled to them and much less explained her definitive role in this local apartheid.

Early elections

Perhaps the consequences of the economic collapse will be too hard in December or perhaps chavismo’s factions are starting to test the strength of their all-powerful assembly, but the fact is that Earle Herrera proposed an emergency motion to hold early gubernatorial elections in October. Delcy Rodríguez claimed that the proposal took the board by surprise and explained that these elections were delayed because of “the violence exercised by the opposition,” although in truth, back then the CNE said that they didn’t have enough funds to organize them. They proposed a discussion for their next session; meanwhile, they’ll gauge the impact on public dissident opinion, which will have to discuss about the impossibility of holding primaries, which means candidates will have to be chosen by consensus, as the ANC formalizes the illegal request for certificates of good conduct or imposes any other obstacles to disable opponents.

Revenge

Imposed prosecutor general Tarek William Saab announced that he’ll reopen the investigations made by Luisa Ortega Díaz into violence during protests, with new cases that, according to him, were ignored by the previous occupant, adding that he’s found serious mistakes in those investigations. The Nonebudsman will now open criminal investigations on environmental damages (trees cut down to make barricades); and on the “horrible use” of children in opposition protests (they look so sweet in government events,) as well as hate crimes. He also announced the creation of a commission to cleanse the Prosecutor’s Office, meaning that he’ll fire any employee who remains loyal to the previous administration and mentioned that they’re reviewing 72 proceedings against civilians before military tribunals, although NGO Foro Penal has denounced that 626 civilians have been subjected to this injustice.

Abroad

Yesterday, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, urged countries not to impose restrictive measures on Venezuela as they would only worsen the situation. The UN Commission against Torture will request the government for a meeting in Geneva to discuss the country’s declining situation and an urgent monitoring report on accusations of human rights violations. Argentine president Mauricio Macri signed a decree to invalidate the Collar of the Order of the Liberator San Martín that Cristina Kirschner granted Nicolás back in 2013, for disrespecting human rights and democratic order. Peru’s Foreign Ministry said that it decided to expel the Venezuelan ambassador Diego Alfredo Molera Bellavia. Russia uses its position as Venezuela’s lender to leverage more control over our oil reserves, PDVSA has offered Rosneft a place in nine of the most prolific oil projects. Meanwhile, international reserves marked a new low on August 8th, reaching $9,9 billion, a drop of 9.7% in 2017 and of 19.3% compared with August 8th, 2016.

Gabriel García Márquez would have to admit the severe limitations of his magical realism to describe chavismo’s accomplishments in Venezuela. While the ruling clique masturbates to the image of marines that will never make it to La Guaira, the rest of the inhabitants of this amplified Macondo can tell our North American peers a lot of stories about the danger posed by a “leader” such as the one they now suffer. And on it goes.

Categorías: Noticias

About a Capitulation

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 08/11/2017 - 18:00

“Because a majority of lawmakers is more powerful than a president.”

The campaign slogan used by MUD for the 2015 Legislative elections campaign has been stuck in my head all week. An Assembly that was meant to face down the dictatorship has, instead agreed to a tacit cohabitation with its most blatant abuse of power. It may look like a truce but is, in fact, a capitulation: the price we’ve agreed to pay for a few state governorships.

Remember that no fewer than 17 lawmakers have already registered their candidacies for governor’s posts. The logic is simple: the election rules will depend on the Constituent Assembly. If you’re angling for a governorship, why would you imperil your certificado de buena conducta?

The tragedy is that those who vowed never to recognize the ANC before it was elected are now recognizing it de facto.

Yesterday I watched Nicolás Maduro say that “the National Constituent Assembly has started a process of peaceful cohabitation with the old legislative branch.” How can we explain that, after four intense months of street protests, of international pressure and institutional pushback from the AN itself, the opposition surrenders the very space where it actually operates?

The moderate MUD lawmakers who’ve obsessed all year about “not giving up spaces,” gave up the historic building that is their seat with nary a peep. Even the toilets at the Palacio Legislativo are out of bounds to National Assembly deputies.

If they won’t fight for the very seat for which they were elected, how will they manage governorships under the straight jacket of the ANC?

Venezuelans didn’t take to the streets and risk their lives for regional elections, so that our political leaders could tell us that we’ve “gained something,” when we’ve actually lost more. 

The tragedy is that those who vowed never to recognize the ANC before it was elected are now recognizing it de facto.

The seat of Parliament has been invaded in every sense. The National Assembly has not only cooperated with the Constituyente installation, though its Directorate of Protocol, it stood by and watched as it was stripped of its usual Tuesdays and Thursdays session days (now they get to convene on Mondays and Wednesdays, because that’s the way ANC wants it) —the ANC even took over the Hemiciclo Protocolar as its permanent seat.

We’re talking about a “valiant” National Assembly — only 40 diputados showed up to Wednesday’s session— who must now enter the Palace walking side-by-side with foreign ambassadors in order to protect themselves. Lawmakers who called for a popular consultation promising to abide by its results, and are now subjugated by a fraudulent body.

Of course people feel betrayed.

Arguing that “they don’t have any guns,” at least 109 opposition lawmakers hope to be excused from their responsibility to their electorate. But are guns the only way to defend spaces? Why wait two days after the ANC’s installation to meet, instead of calling for an emergency and permanent session? Why not meet on the streets, in the same defiant spirit that has guided our months of protests? When you let Hugo Chávez’s portraits back into the Federal Palace, you cooperate in demoralizing a society that sacrificed so much, demanding more from its leaders. At this point, one could even argue that the reason AN failed to appoint new CNE board members, like it promised to, is that its governorship hopefuls feared their chances of reaching a state would be destroyed if a new CNE was appointed.

This National Assembly had the full support of the people, yet chose a few electoral promises without guarantees instead of the legitimacy and the historic role that the country demands of them. With this silent cohabitation, how dare you to demand compliance from a society screaming for freedom?

Of course people feel betrayed.

Categorías: Noticias

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