Venezuelan Daily Brief

Published in association with The DVA Group and The Selinger Group, the Venezuelan Daily Brief provides bi-weekly summaries of key news items affecting bulk commodities and the general business environment in Venezuela.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 17, 2017


International Trade

Florida bans future investments in Maduro's Venezuela

Florida Gov. Rick Scott easily won approval Wednesday for a proposal to bar the state's US$ 150 billion pension plan from making future investments that directly support the regime of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Scott and the two other trustees who oversee the plan quickly approved the ban, which could be more symbolic than substantive, since the Florida Retirement System doesn't currently invest in any companies or securities controlled or owned by Venezuelan government interests. Scott, a likely Republican challenger of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year, called the ban a "huge step in the right direction." But Nelson, another Maduro critic, accused Scott of backtracking from his original vows by banning only direct investments in Venezuela, but not sanctioning companies that do business there. Florida already has laws that prohibit the state from investing in companies that do business in Cuba, Iran and Sudan. And last year the State Board of Administration was ordered to divest from companies that boycott Israel. But the final proposal approved Wednesday doesn't target all companies that may be doing business in the country, nor would it affect the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, which acquired US$ 2.8 billion in bonds initially issued by Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA at a steep discount last year, acting through a broker for a client. The bank manages some of Florida's investment portfolio, and the state owns stock in Goldman Sachs. Records obtained this week by The Associated Press show that the State Board of Administration prepared a document in mid-July indicating that parting ways with the firm could have a significant impact on the pension plan. That same document also showed that Florida own stocks in nearly two dozen companies doing business in Venezuela. Democratic state senator from Miami Jose Javier Rodriguez has already filed a bill for 2018 that would force the state to drop its business ties with Goldman Sachs. (US News: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2017-08-16/florida-may-ban-future-investments-with-venezuela)

 

White corn shipments continue to arrive at Puerto Cabello

The PROMISE 3 has arrived at Puerto Cabello, bearing another 30,000 tons of white corn. The container vessel NEW YORK TRADER is also offloading there, bringing 146 containers with material for the automobile industry, as well as diapers, light bulbs, sanitary napkins, toothpaste, and chemicals for agriculture. More in Spanish: (Bolipuertos, http://www.bolipuertos.gob.ve/noticia.aspx?id=37565; Noticiero Venevisión, http://www.noticierovenevision.net/noticias/economia/arribo-al-pais-30-mil-toneladas-de-maiz-blanco)

 

Commodities

The fall and collapse of Venezuela’s oil industry

Attached is a note on the state of the Venezuelan oil sector and how it got there. The note describes in detail the decline in production and the rearrangement of export markets. It also analyses in detail the income that Venezuela has foregone from its oil production, via subsidized internal consumption and exports to non-commercial destinations.

 

Economy & Finance

Regime expropriates food producing farm owned by vocal opponent

The National Land Institute (INTI) has ordered the occupation fo the “El Gólgota” food producing farm in Guárico state, which is owned by National Cattlemen Association (FEDENAGA) President Carlos Albornoz, who says the decision is part of a political vendetta. More in Spanish: (Ultima Hora Digital, http://ultimahoradigital.com/2017/08/medida-contra-predio-el-golgota-responde-a-orden-del-alto-gobierno/)

 

Venezuela has paid Gold Reserve another US$ 29.5 million

Venezuela has made another US$ 29.5 million payment to Canadian mining company Gold Reserve, bringing the total it has paid to US$ 99 million, out of US$ 1 billion the company was awarded. More in Spanish: (El Nacional; http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/economia/venezuela-pago-gold-reserve-295-millones_198899)

 

Politics and International Affairs

Venezuela's Socialist-run 'truth commission' to investigate opposition

Pro-democracy opposition candidates running in Venezuela's October gubernatorial elections will be investigated to make sure none were involved in violent political protests this year, the head of a new pro-government truth commission said on Wednesday. The panel was set up earlier in the day by the constituent assembly elected last month at the behest of socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Government critics say the commission is designed to sideline the opposition and bolster the ruling party's flagging support ahead of the October vote. Also before the assembly is a bill that would punish those who express "hate or intolerance" with up 25 years in jail. The opposition fears such a law would be used to silence criticism of a government that, according to local rights group Penal Forum is, is already holding 676 political prisoners. "Whoever goes into the streets to express intolerance and hatred, will be captured and will be tried and punished with sentences of 15, 20, 25 years of jail," Maduro said last week. Maduro loyalist Delcy Rodriguez was named as head of the truth commission, on top of being president of the assembly. She said she would ask the country's CNE elections authority for information about candidates running in October, stressing this would have a "cleansing effect" on Venezuela. "We have seen tweets, messages on social networks and photographs of opposition leaders responsible for convening and organizing violent events in Venezuela," Rodriguez told the commission on Wednesday. In its first session after being elected on July 30, the assembly fired Venezuela's top prosecutor Luisa Ortega and appointed a Maduro loyalist to replace her. The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists said in a report on Wednesday that Ortega's dismissal "removes one of the last remaining institutional checks on executive authority." The country's new chief prosecutor, Maduro's ex-human rights ombudsman Tarek Saab, on Wednesday outlined corruption accusations against Ortega and her husband German Ferrer. They, and members of Ortega's former staff of prosecutors, are accused of running an "extortion gang" and funneling profits to an account in the Bahamas, the new chief prosecutor said. (Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-idUSKCN1AW2A1; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-court-idUSKCN1AV2LN)

 

Maduro ally says next year's presidential election still on

Next year’s presidential elections in Venezuela will proceed as planned, according to a top ally of President Nicolas Maduro and former head of the country’s electoral council. Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez, 51, denied claims leveled by Maduro’s opponents that the so-called constituyente, a legislative super body that has claimed supreme power, will upend the electoral schedule or cancel the 2018 vote altogether. “With the constituyente, the 1999 constitution is still valid,” Rodriguez said in an interview. “The time frames established in the 1999 constitution are still current.” According to the nation’s charter, the president must be inaugurated by Jan 10. of his first year in office. The election can be any time before, though they have typically been held in December. (Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-16/maduro-ally-says-next-year-s-presidential-election-still-on)

 

Pro-democracy opposition will hold primaries, accuses CNE of  promoting abstention

Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles has announced that the pro-democracy Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition will hold primaries on September 3rd, to select single unity candidates for gubernatorial elections. The MUD coalition has accused the National Elections Council (CNE) of promoting low turnout. CNE chairperson Tibisay Lucena has reported that 226 candidates have registered to run for governor in Venezuela’s 23 states. More in Spanish: (NOTIMINUTO: http://www.notiminuto.com/noticia/capriles-anuncio-que-primarias-de-la-mud-seran-el-3-de-septiembre/; El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/oposicion-escogera-candidatos-unicos-para-regionales-octubre_666051; http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/lucena-226-candidatos-inscribieron-para-las-elecciones-regionales_665987; El Nacional, http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/oposicion/capriles-primarias-oposicion-podrian-hacerse-septiembre_199073; http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/oposicion/mud-cne-promueve-abstencion-baja-votantes_199127)

 

Intelligence agents raid the Attorney General’s home, husband charged with corruption

The Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) conducted a raid on the home of Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz. Ms. Ortega called the move “revenge for her battle against totalitarianism in Venezuela.” The raid came after the Constitutional Chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal declared that they would try Ms. Ortega’s husband, Congressman Germán Ferrer, of “flagrant” corruption, using a term intended to bypass the constitutionally mandated procedure for removing his immunity. The Tribunal acted at the request of Tarek William Saab, who days ago was named to replace Ms. Ortega by the fraudulent Constitutional Assembly (ANC). More in Spanish: Action against Ferrer was proposed by PSUV Vice President and ANC member, Captain Diosdado Cabello, who accused the couple of operating an “extortion network”, but did not show proof. (Noticiero Venevisión, http://www.noticierovenevision.net/noticias/nacional/sebin-allano-residencia-de-luisa-ortega-diaz; http://www.noticierovenevision.net/noticias/politica/ortega-diaz-califico-allanamiento-de-su-residencia-como-una-venganza; http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/politica/sala-plena-del-tsj-decidio-aprobar-orden-captura-contra-german-ferrer_199146;  http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/gobierno/anc-decidira-allanar-inmunidad-parlamentaria-german-ferrer_199147; El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/sebin-allano-residencia-luisa-ortega-diaz_666034; http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/cabello-denuncia-red-extorsion-que-operaba-desde-ministerio-publico_665973)

 

US Court throws out Venezuela's Diosdado Cabello lawsuit against Wall Street Journal

A Federal Judge in Manhattan has dismissed a libel lawsuit brought by Venezuela political leader Diosdado Cabello against the Wall Street Journal. Captain Cabello, a Venezuela political leader and former military leader, is one of the most powerful politicians in Venezuela. He has served as Vice President, President of the country's parliament as well as in a variety of other positions. "Cabello alleges that Dow Jones published a defamatory article in the Wall Street Journal entitled 'Venezuelan officials suspected of turning country into global cocaine hub,'" wrote U.S. Federal District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest, dismissing the suit. "For the reasons set forth below, Cabello has failed to adequately plead material falsity as to most challenged statements and actual malice as to all challenged statements." "Plaintiff has failed to make out a prima facie case of libel and his second amended complaint is therefore DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court is directed to close the motion ... and terminate this action," concluded Forrest. The article was published by the Wall Street Journal on May 18, 2015, citing 12 sources including prosecutors involved in the investigation, detailed that a group of Venezuelan officials were being investigated for turning Venezuela into a center for international drug trafficking. Cabello also sued 22 media executives in Venezuela for publishing variations reporting the story. (Latin American Herald Tribune: http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2441851&CategoryId=10717)

 

OP-ED: An off-the-cuff remark by Trump may have helped Venezuela’s slide ‘into dictatorship’

Within hours of President Donald Trump's assertion, the US had a "military option" in response to turmoil in Venezuela, governments in the region, which had been nearing consensus on confronting the Venezuelan government, repudiated the statement. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Argentine President Mauricio Macri — two of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's biggest critics — were quick to dismiss the idea of military intervention in their meetings with Pence. Just as Trump's remarks sent a chill through a region that was growing stronger in its condemnation of Maduro, the president's words have left the Venezuelan opposition in an unfavorable position. The main opposition coalition, Democratic Unity (MUD), said in a statement that it "rejected the use of force, or the threat to apply the same, on the part of any country on Venezuela." It didn't mention Trump specifically, but the need to make the statement put the opposition in an unfavorable position. The opposition has gained international support, and the harsh reaction by security forces — more than 120 people have been killed, many of them anti-government demonstrators — have brought condemnation on Maduro, but he has been able to ignore the protests. Now the opposition coalition appears to be fracturing over a decision to participate in regional elections in October. In addition to managing these internal divisions, the opposition will now have to work harder to avoid the appearance of favoring US military action, and it would also likely have to reduce contact with the US State Department and high-level meetings with US officials. Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino, who called Trump's statement "an act of craziness," criticized the opposition's response as ambivalent. "This is a time of reflection," Padrino said. "You are either a Venezuelan patriot, or pro-Yankee." (Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/trumps-bluster-changed-the-game-in-venezuela-2017-8)

 

Maduro makes surprise visit to Cuba

President Nicolas Maduro paid tribute to the late leftist icon Fidel Castro during a surprise visit to Cuba, state media reported Wednesday. The daily Granma said Maduro traveled Tuesday to Castro's tomb in Santiago de Cuba. Maduro was accompanied by his wife Cilia Flores, Cuban President Raul Castro -- Fidel's brother -- and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, according to the newspaper. Venezuela is Cuba's most important economic and political ally, and Havana has offered strong support for Maduro's embattled leftist regime. (AFP: https://www.yahoo.com/news/venezuelas-maduro-makes-surprise-visit-cuba-150221717.html; Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-venezuela-maduro-idUSKCN1AW20E)

 

UN criticizes Trump's remarks on military action in Venezuela

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday criticized President Donald Trump's threat of military action to resolve Venezuela's political crisis, saying Latin America successfully got rid of foreign intervention and this must be safeguarded. The U.N. chief also implicitly criticized Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro for creating an all-powerful constitutional assembly that leaves the opposition powerless saying Latin America got rid of authoritarianism as well and this must be preserved. Guterres told reporters Wednesday that “it is very clear that Latin America has successfully struggled over the last decades to free itself from both foreign intervention and authoritarianism.” “This is a lesson that is very important, to make sure that this legacy is safeguarded - and namely in Venezuela, both aspects of it,” he told reporters. The secretary-general urged the government and the opposition to restart negotiations “because I believe the only solution is a political solution based on those negotiations.” Guterres said he strongly supports efforts by international facilitators and regional leaders to assist the Venezuelan government and the opposition in negotiating a solution. “I've been in close contact with all of them,” he said. (CP24: http://www.cp24.com/world/un-criticizes-trump-s-remarks-on-military-action-in-venezuela-1.3548679)

 

UN Committee against Torture pursues meeting with Venezuelan gov't

The United Nations Committee against Torture plans to request the Venezuelan government a meeting in Geneva to discuss “the deteriorated situation” in Venezuela and an urgent follow-up report after the claims of mistreatment, abuse of authority and torture. “In this session, we have tackled the deteriorated situation in Venezuela and have resolved to send a special reminder to the government, asking for the urgent delivery of a follow-up report,” the Committee chief, Jens Modvig, told reporters. According to Modvig, the step taken by the Committee “goes beyond, as it gets out from the usual procedures.” (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/committee-against-torture-pursues-meeting-with-venezuelan-govt_665861)

 

UN Special Rapporteur: Dialogue is of the essence in Venezuela

The United Nations expert on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, has advised the international community not to impose restrictive measures on Venezuela due to the democratic crisis in the country. Any sanctions, besides the sanctions imposed by the US government on President Nicolás Maduro and other top government authorities would endanger the ordinary people. (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/special-rapporteur-dialogue-the-essence-venezuela_665744)

 

Russia says military intervention in Venezuela crisis is unacceptable

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the idea of any intervention, including military, in the Venezuela crisis, saying that the situation in the country must be resolved through peaceful means. “We are united in the need to overcome the existing disagreements in the country by peaceful means through a nationwide dialogue as soon as possible, without any external pressure, not to mention the unacceptability of the threats of military intervention in the internal affairs of this country,” Lavrov stated, after meeting with his Bolivian counterpart, Fernando Huanacuni. The minister added that most Latin American states also condemn the possibility of such actions. (RT: https://www.rt.com/news/399755-lavrov-venezuela-military-intervention/; Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-russia-idUSKCN1AW0XQ; Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2441849&CategoryId=10717)

 

China warns interference will not help Venezuelan crisis

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated his country’s neutral stand over the current Venezuelan political crisis, and said external pressure will not help resolving it. Wang stressed the Venezuelan government will have to resolve the crisis through dialogue. “History has shown outside pressure and interference do not help settle a crisis,” the Chinese foreign minister said on Tuesday in a meeting with his Bolivian counterpart, Fernando Huanacuni, while discussing the Venezuelan crisis. (Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2441833&CategoryId=10717)

 

Argentina warns US against military move on Venezuela

US Vice President Mike Pence heard more complaints from Latin American allies on Tuesday about President Donald Trump's warning of a possible US military option to deal with the crisis in Venezuela. "The use of force is not the way", but rather political pressure, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said at a news conference alongside Mike Pence, who is on a tour of Latin American countries. Pence moved to soften the impact of Trump's announcement, stressing that peaceful pressure is the priority. But he did not rule out Trump following through on his threat. "The United States has many options, and we reserve those options," Pence said. "But we truly believe that by increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on the Maduro regime -- not just across the Americas, but across the wider world -- that we can achieve a restoration of democracy in Venezuela by peaceable means." The United States along with Argentina and other regional allies have joined in international condemnation of Maduro. But the South American bloc MERCOSUR over the weekend rejected any use of force to resolve the Venezuela crisis. (NDTV: http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/argentina-warns-united-states-against-military-move-on-venezuela-1738044)

 

Chile won’t support U.S. intervention in Venezuela, Bachelet tells Pence

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has told United States Vice President Mike Pence that Chile will not support coups d’etat or military interventions, but will agree to sanctions that should be adopted by the United Nations Security Council. Pence met with Ms. Bachelet Wednesday as part of his tour of Latin America, which seeks to strengthen support for joint action against Venezuela. “I want to be very clear. Chile will do its utmost to support the Venezuelans in finding a peaceful way,” Bachelet said during a joint press conference at La Moneda Palace. The U.S. vice president began his trip in the region in Colombia, where he met with President Juan Manuel Santos, then visited Argentina and President Mauricio Macri. The trip will end with a final stop in Panama to meet President Juan Carlos Varela. (Santiago Times: http://santiagotimes.cl/2017/08/16/chile-wont-support-u-s-intervention-in-venezuela-bechelet-tells-pence/)

 

Brazil’s Lula says Maduro’s mistakes do not justify intervention in Venezuela

Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva has said: “We cannot have it that, whatever error Nicolás Maduro may have committed or may be about to commit, let’s a US president say he will use force to overthrow him”. More in Spanish:  (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/lula-dice-que-errores-maduro-justifican-intervencion-venezuela_665872)

 

Panama grants asylum to Supreme Tribunal justice, diplomat

The Panamanian government reports it has granted asylum to José Sabino Zamora, who was recently appointed to Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal by the nation’s legislature. It also granted asylum to Gabriel Pérez, former Secretary at Venezuela’s embassy in Panama, saying they are “in danger” here. More in Spanish: (Noticiero Venevisión, http://www.noticierovenevision.net/noticias/internacional/panama-concede-asilo-politico-a-diplomatico-y-magistrado-venezolanos; El Nacional, http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/mundo/panama-otorga-asilo-politico-magistrado-consul-venezuela_199084)

 

OP-ED: What to do with Venezuela?

Until last Friday, much of the conversation in Latin America was aimed at how to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office. The region is often only unified in its unwillingness to meddle, no matter how radical the politics. So, it was historic when 12 countries met last week in Lima, Peru, and together denounced Venezuela’s “rupture of democratic order.” Such a large and unified opposition was a major blow to Maduro’s narrative that the country’s economic woes are the result of political sabotage led by the U.S. Then President Trump mentioned the possibility of a “military option.” But even with Trump’s inclination for braggadocio, the thought of U.S. military intervention in Latin America struck a nerve because there is a feeling that international pressure might not be enough to convince Maduro to step down, or end his push to rewrite the country’s constitution, and that the U.S. might take the lead with a more drastic approach. Part of Trump’s effect has been to alter the conversation on Venezuela from one of what to do, to that of what will not be allowed.  Finding a balance in U.S. policy will be difficult because Venezuelans might be hypersensitive to any overly aggressive U.S. actions.  Much of the talk at the U.S. State Department so far has been focused on sanctions. And, at the most extreme level, a possible oil embargo, because Venezuela is still one of the top suppliers of oil to the U.S. What’s left of Venezuela’s economy depends heavily on the 2.1 million barrels of oil it exports each day. The U.S. accounts for one-third of that, and banning all Venezuelan crude imports would likely finish off what remains of the country’s broken economy and kill its moribund oil industry. This is sometimes called the “nuclear option” because it would not only devastate the Maduro government, it would equally ruin the powerful and the poor, supporters and the opposition. A move this drastic would likely strengthen Maduro, because it feeds into the historic narrative set up by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. (The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/08/venezuela-intervention/536970/)

 

OP-ED: Venezuela: At the edge of a deeper chasm

According to the consultancy firm ECONOMETRICA, 2.1 million Venezuelans are now eating from the garbage. Its citizens are at war with the military. The real enemy responsible for this lethal landscape is not foreign. This destruction has come from within. For almost two decades, Venezuela's socialist government has managed to undermine every institution that kept the country afloat. When Hugo Chavez ascended to the presidency in 1998, he had an agenda: Bring socialism to Venezuela, then export it to the rest of Latin America. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has continued the country’s hurtle down a slope paved by the total destruction of the means of production. Indeed, he has managed to sharpen the slope. On May 29, the Supreme Court of Justice declared the National Assembly in contempt and usurped its functions. That unleashed a series of protests, which in turn generated a wave of repression that has so far killed more than 130 people and imprisoned nearly 1,400. Maduro declared victory at the end of July with an illegal election. The company that provided the voting system alleges that the results were tampered with. Sixteen people died violently on polling day. The violence, the repression, the assault on fundamental human rights, and the rupture of the constitutional order have prompted opposition leaders to defend the Constitution. The resistance is mainly composed of teens and young adults born under socialism, fighting to defend the country from what they believe will be the deeper abyss of communism. T-shirt soldiers, they call them. These street fighters make shields with just about anything. Their weapons are fireworks and Molotov cocktails. They constantly cover their faces and change their names for fear of being identified and detained, like a lot of their friends. According to the non-governmental organization Foro Penal—Spanish for Criminal Forum—278 have been detained in Bolívar State alone. Only 12 of those detainees have been formally accused by prosecutors. The others have been accused by judges who have usurped the prosecutor function; 21 of them have been released under injunction, while 40 are under injunction but still in custody. The others are under house arrest. This summer's vote is widely considered a sham. Electoral authorities said more than eight million people, or 41.5 percent of the electorate, voted. Yet a Reuters reporter claims to have seen an internal memo from the Electoral Council saying fewer than four million votes had been cast just two hours before polls closed. Opposition leaders and even the attorney general agree that participation was closer to 12%. This latest phase in the drift toward dictatorship began with the dismissal of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz. The assembly plans to take further legal actions against her and opposition leaders, claiming they are "terrorists." International sanctions will only make things worse. The food and medicine shortages will deepen. More people will die. In the streets, people continue to protest. Some military groups have joined the resistance, which struggles to maintain the few free spaces left. It has come to this. (Reason: http://reason.com/archives/2017/08/16/venezuela-at-the-edge-of-a-deeper-chasm)

 

EDITORIAL: Exporting chaos to Venezuela

Having scared a lot of people last week with his bombast over North Korea, causing jitters about nuclear war, President Trump he threatened on Friday to use force to quell chaos in Venezuela. That threat poured fuel on the worsening conflict between President Nicolás Maduro and his opponents. It also unsettled people across Latin America, which has suffered a long history of American intervention. In this environment, Mr. Trump’s threat of military action is a lifeline for Maduro. Like other Venezuelan leaders, he has used the United States to rally his people, often with specious warnings of American plots to invade. Regional leaders also responded to his threat. Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, said on Sunday, “The possibility of a military intervention shouldn’t even be considered.” Vice President Mike Pence, on a trip to the region, attempted to calm the outrage, saying in Buenos Aires on Tuesday that he was confident about reaching a “peaceable” solution for Venezuela through economic and diplomatic pressure on Maduro. But he also said, “We’re simply not going to tolerate seeing Venezuela collapse into dictatorship.” The precipitous decline of Venezuela is not just a tragedy for its people, but a threat to regional stability. Mr. Trump should continue to toughen sanctions, but any lasting solution will be achieved only in concert with regional leaders. (The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/opinion/venezuela-trump-maduro-military-threat.html)

 

Prison 'massacre' kills 37 in Amazonas state, governor says

At least 37 people in a southern Venezuela prison died Tuesday night after a massive fight broke out between inmates and security officials. The violence started around midnight on Tuesday at the prison in Puerto Ayacucho, according to Gov. Liborio Guarulla of Amazonas state. Guarulla said security forces entered the grounds to restore order in the prison, where the inmates had seized control several weeks ago. The governor referred to the fighting as a "massacre". The bloodshed was believed to be the worst in Venezuela since a prison riot in 2013 that left 61 people dead. The office of Venezuela's chief prosecutor said on social media that 14 prison guards were injured in the fight, and that it was investigating the incident Venezuela has around 30 prisons, many of which suffer from overcrowding and are dominated by criminal gangs that traffic in weapons and narcotics. The prison system, built to hold about 16,000 inmates, is currently estimated to house some 50,000 prisoners, according to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, which monitors prison conditions. (Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/08/16/venezuela-governor-says-36-killed-during-fighting-at-prison.html; The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/venezuela-governor-at-least-36-dead-following-raid-by-security-forces-at-jail/2017/08/16/0b8da24e-82d3-11e7-9e7a-20fa8d7a0db6_story.html)

 

Violin-playing protester freed from jail in Venezuela

A Venezuelan violinist who is a well-known face of protests against his country's socialist government has been freed after more than two weeks in prison. The office of Venezuela's chief prosecutor said Tuesday night that a court granted its request for Wuilly Arteaga to be let out on parole. He was detained last month during a protest and his lawyers have said he was beaten with his violin while during custody. The 23-year-old musician skyrocketed to fame after he and his violin were dragged to the ground by national guardsmen during a confrontation with protesters. Arteaga was often seen playing somber renditions of Venezuela's national anthem while standing amid clouds of tear gas. He even was invited to Washington to perform for members of Congress. (ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/violin-playing-protester-freed-jail-venezuela-49241570; Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-violinist-idUSKCN1AW05A)

 

Venezuelan soldiers caught in Guyana begging for food

A handful of Venezuelan soldiers - armed and in uniform - have been caught in neighboring Guyana begging for food, local police reported, another sign of Venezuela's deepening hunger crisis. Guyanese Police Inspector Christopher Humphrey said he'd gone to the border along the Amacuro river, which divides the two nations, last week to investigate reports that the Venezuelan military was stealing food from locals. But the three soldiers he encountered - two carrying military assault rifles - said they had come to beg for meals and hadn't harmed anyone. Humphrey said the men had crossed into Guyana on a wooden raft and seemed genuinely hungry. The Guyana Guardian newspaper, which first reported the story, said the men had been given some additional food and then sent back across the border. Venezuela's armed forces - which are key to propping up the administration of President Nicolas Maduro - have always been perceived to have easier access to basic goods. Lately, though, there have been growing but uncorroborated reports of soldiers going hungry, particularly at far-flung border outposts. Venezuela's military is under intense scrutiny for signs that its support for Maduro might be eroding. That soldiers would cross into Guyana is telling. The two nations have been locked in a centuries-old border dispute over a swath of Guyanese territory known as the Esequibo and are not on good terms. (The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/world/venezuelan-soldiers-caught-in-guyana-begging-for-food-20170816-gxxdf8.html)

 

Zoo animals 'stolen to be eaten' amid Venezuela shortages

Police in crisis-hit Venezuela believe animals stolen from a zoo were taken to be eaten amid chronic food shortages here. Two collared peccaries, a mammal similar to a pig, went missing over the weekend from the Zulia Metropolitan Zoological Park, near Venezuela's northeastern border with Colombia. "What we presume is that they (were taken) with the intention of eating them," said a local police official. A recent study revealed 93% of Venezuelans cannot afford to buy enough food and 73% have lost weight in the last year. But the zoo's chief Leonardo Nunez denied the thefts were related to food shortages. Former zoo director Mauricio Castillo said thieves had made off with two tapirs - another mammal like a pig that is classed as vulnerable to extinction. The shortages have left zookeepers unable to properly feed their animals, with some 50 estimated to have died within six months last year at one of the country's main zoos in the capital Caracas. The government denied the animals had starved. (Sky News: http://news.sky.com/story/zoo-animals-stolen-to-be-eaten-amid-venezuela-shortages-10991977)

 

The following brief is a synthesis of the news as reported by a variety of media sources. As such, the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Duarte Vivas & Asociados and The Selinger Group.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 04, 2017


Oil & Energy

Venezuela oil price below US$ 40 for a 2nd week

The price Venezuela receives for its mix of medium and heavy oil bounced off its lowest point since the coordinated OPEC supply freezes were announced back in November. According to figures released by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, the average price of Venezuelan crude sold by Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) during the week ending June 30 rose to US$ 39.95, up 72 cents from the previous week's US$ 39.23. According to Venezuelan government figures, the average price in 2017 for Venezuela's mix of heavy and medium crude fell to US$ 43.63. (Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2439267&CategoryId=10717)

 

Economy & Finance

Miner CRYSTALLEX wins court order against NOMURA over Venezuela deal

Canadian miner CRYSTALLEX, seeking to recoup financial damages from an expropriation by Venezuela, won U.S. court approval on Friday to bar Japanese bank NOMURA from transferring securities owned by this nation. The court decision follows a Reuters report that Venezuela is seeking to sell some US$ 710 million in fixed-income securities back to NOMURA, which originally issued them in 2008, to raise cash amid an economic crisis. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the request, according to court papers. The company, which cited the Reuters report in its request, said Venezuela was seeking to draw down assets in the United States to prevent it from collecting on the award. The move is one of the most aggressive legal gambits to date by a company seeking compensation for a wave of nationalizations under the leadership of late Socialist leader Hugo Chavez. (Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-crystallex-idUSKBN19L2WV)

 

Venezuela selling gold, Goldman selling Venezuela bonds?

A guest on Bloomberg Radio Friday morning suggested that Venezuela could be selling gold to pay for chemicals to dilute its domestic "heavy" oil for fuel. Meanwhile, GOLDMAN SACHS Asset Management reportedly sold Venezuela bonds with a face value of at least US$ 300 million to a small group of hedge funds in recent days, according to an anonymous source quoted by MarketWatch, which notes that the GOLDMAN bond purchase in May drew harsh criticism from Venezuelan opposition leaders and others who think investors should not finance the authoritarian regime of President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela critic Russ Dallen, a publisher, lawyer and Venezuela bond investor through Caracas Capital, offers some background on the political stagnation under Maduro. In short, the escalating violence and civil strife in the country means an impending "inflection point," Dallen says: "the Maduro regime has been unable to raise significant foreign capital – aside from the loan from ROSNEFT against 49.9% of Petroleos de Venezuela's U.S. refining operation CITGO and the “morally repugnant” cash injection from GOLDMAN SACHS last month. The Maduro regime’s refusal to co-exist and/or negotiate with an opposition-dominated legislature has led Maduro to unleash his own weapon of mass destruction by calling a National Constituent Assembly (ANC). The government is using this wafer-thin veneer of constitutional legality for two reasons ... One is to bring along the military rank-and-file. The second reason for the legal lip-service is an attempt to give legal surety to potential investors (namely Russia, China & others interested in investing in oil, gold and mineral mining ventures) that were put off by the lack of National Assembly approval. Russia and other investors felt that ground was too shaky to invest billions of dollars, hence the regime’s National Constituent Assembly, designed to replace the obstinate National Assembly and pave that legal path for investment more solidly.” (Barron’s: http://www.barrons.com/articles/venezuela-goldman-selling-selling-gold-1498850055)

 

Maduro hikes minimum wage 50%, effectively down 17%

President Nicolas Maduro raised the country's minimum wage by half on Sunday to just over US$ 12.50 per month at the black-market exchange rate. But given the currency's fall, the new minimum monthly wage of 97,532 bolivars is effectively down 17% in dollar terms since the last increase in May. The currency's fall -- of 99.7% since Maduro was elected president in April 2013 -- has exacerbated a brutal economic crisis that has millions struggling to find or afford food. A thousand dollars bought in local currency when Maduro was elected would be worth just US$ 3 today. Maduro's leftist government blames speculators and the opposition for the problems. "Following the immoral campaign that fixes prices through a false dollar abroad ... we are going to put the handcuffs on ... the whole campaign of speculation," said Maduro on state television, adding that the rise would be effective retroactively from July 1. (Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-economy-idUSKBN19N0X5)

 

Politics and International Affairs

Venezuela high court, top prosecutor in political showdown

A conflict between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the increasingly defiant chief prosecutor was coming to a head today as Luisa Ortega Diaz announced she was boycotting a Supreme Tribunal hearing on whether to lift her immunity from being tried for unspecified irregularities. Ortega Diaz argued the outcome of the hearing is a foregone conclusion decided by the government that violates her legal right to defense and due process. "I am not going to validate a circus that will stain our history with shame and pain," she said at a news conference as the hearing was getting under way. The case against her for alleged "serious errors" while in office was brought by a ruling-party lawmaker and could lead to her ouster. National Guard troops and riot police took up positions outside the court building in Caracas, where protests against Maduro's government have been raging almost daily for several months. On Monday, the government-stacked Supreme Tribunal acted to strip a key power from Ortega by acting itself to impose her deputy: a loyalist who was sanctioned by the United States in 2015 for her role prosecuting some of Maduro's most vocal opponents. The decision to name Katherine Harrington to the post effectively made her the nation's No. 2 law enforcement official even though the constitution says the semi-autonomous chief prosecutor has the power to name her own deputy, with confirmation by congress. Lawmakers on Monday had re-confirmed Ortega's own choice as deputy after he was removed by the high court last week. Almost daily assaults by the Maduro regime have only emboldened Ortega: First, she noticed people started following her family. Then, anonymous threats started to pour in. Her stepdaughter was briefly kidnapped. Then the nation’s Supreme Tribunal gutted most of her powers, froze her bank accounts and banned her from leaving the country. Vice President Tareck El Aissami accused the Attorney General of plotting to overthrow the administration of President Nicolas Maduro. His comments came hours after Ortega summoned Maduro’s intelligence chief and the recently dismissed commander of the national militarized police for questioning about alleged human rights violations over the course of more than three months of sometimes-violent protests accompanied by scores of deaths. On Monday, her office was raided by officials from the Comptroller General, an unprecedented happening even in the country’s amazing political history. The Comptroller General’s is the office tasked with detecting and pursuing financial misdeeds in the Venezuelan government. The raids took place as Attorney General Luisa Ortega was delivering a support speech at the opposition-controlled National Assembly. “We never imagined it would reach this magnitude,” said German Ferrer, her husband, who is a lawmaker for the ruling socialist party. As Venezuela's political crisis has deepened, Ortega has emerged as Maduro's most-feared critic. In April, the once-loyal leftist broke with the government over its decision to strip congress of its last powers, and she has made common cause with pro-democracy opponents in blasting Maduro's plans to rewrite Venezuela's 1999 constitution. The Supreme Tribunal has thrown out her order for the former head of the National Guard to testify about alleged human rights abuses during the crackdown on the protests, which have left at least 80 dead. Ortega was warmly applauded Monday during an address by opposition lawmakers who until a few months ago considered her Maduro's jailer. The Venezuelan opposition staged a demonstration on Saturday in Caracas against a Chavista request that the nation’s attorney general be submitted to a hearing, which could result in her being sent to trial. Ortega thanked the public and international organizations for standing with her. Harrington, a career prosecutor, was sanctioned by the Obama administration in 2015 for her role pursuing charges against members of the political opposition. That included the jailing of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma on charges of plotting to overthrow Maduro and a case against former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado that was based on emails later shown to be fraudulent. (ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/venezuela-names-loyalist-sanctioned-us-key-legal-post-48434379; Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-30/maduro-s-most-dangerous-critic-confronts-legal-system-she-served; TIME: http://time.com/4840764/venezuela-chief-prosecutor-national-guard/;  Latin American Herald Tribune,http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2439265&CategoryId=10717; http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2439227&CategoryId=10718;  http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2439314&CategoryId=10717)

 

Attorney General’s attorneys recused 17 Supreme Tribunal justices

Private attorneys acting on behalf of the nation’s Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, have recused 17 of the Supreme Tribunal’s members due to irregularities in procedures underway against her. More in Spanish: (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/defensa-ortega-diaz-recuso-magistrados-sala-plena-del-tsj_659798)

 

…and asks the US for a report on Maduro’s conviceted relatives

Venezuela’s Attorney General has also formally asked the US to provide information on the case of Maduro’s nephews, Efraín Flores and Francisco Flores, who have been found guilty of drug trafficking by a US jury and are awaiting sentence. More in Spanish: (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/fiscalia-pide-eeuu-informe-familiares-pareja-presidencial_659797)

 

Venezuela opposition unites with dissident chavistas to challenge Maduro with unofficial referendum

President Nicolas Maduro's foes have announced plans for an unofficial referendum to let Venezuelans have their say on his plan to rewrite the constitution and the opposition's alternative push for an election to replace him. The opposition, starting a fourth month of street protests against the socialist government it decries as a dictatorship, will organize the symbolic vote for July 16, in a joint effort with dissident chavistas, as part of its strategy to delegitimize the unpopular Maduro. Venezuelans will also be asked their view on the military's responsibility for "recovering constitutional order" and the formation of a new "national unity" government, the Democratic Unity coalition announced. "Let the people decide!" said Julio Borges, the president of the opposition-led National Assembly. While the referendum would lack any real enforcement mechanism, it will occur just weeks before a July 30 vote for delegates for a constitutional convention that is opposed by two-thirds of voters. Critics fear Maduro will use the convention to consolidate power and take the country further toward Cuba-style authoritarianism. With the opposition saying it won’t participate in the vote, Venezuela is bracing for an uptick in violence that has left more than 80 dead since March. The opposition has announced a continuing schedule of demonstrations and blockades to continue protesting the Maduro dictatorship this week, (Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-idUSKBN19O1M0; Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-03/venezuela-opposition-said-to-plan-plebiscite-on-maduro-s-future); and more in Spanish: (Noticiero Venevisión, http://www.noticierovenevision.net/noticias/politica/oposicion-convoca-al-trancazo-este-martes-4-de-julio; El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/mud-convoca-nuevo-trancazo-este-martes_659799)

 

Venezuela’s poor rebel, roiling Maduro’s socialist strongholds

In Caracas, the rich and poor are suddenly less divided. For most of Venezuela’s two-decade socialist experiment, the city’s wealthier, whiter east has been the hotbed of anti-government sentiment. Now, noisy protests are erupting in poorer-but-calmer western neighborhoods that were strongholds for embattled President Nicolas Maduro as crime explodes and medicine and food are scarce and expensive. Residents in neighborhoods like La Candelaria, blocks from the presidential Miraflores Palace, erect barricades and yell slogans against Maduro’s government, banging pots and pans from inside their homes. They’re increasingly demanding a change in government, infuriated by mismanagement and Maduro’s proposed constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution -- and perhaps seize total control. (Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-03/venezuela-s-poor-rebel-roiling-maduro-s-socialist-strongholds)

 

General charged with human rights abuses promoted to command Venezuela’s Army

Hours after Venezuela’s Attorney General charged General Gustavo Gómez López with human rights abuses he was promoted by President Nicolás Maduro to Commander General of the Army here. Until now, González Lopez has headed up the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN), and is one of the officers sanctioned by the United States for being responsible or complicit in serious human rights violations. He also served briefly as Minister of the Interior under Maduro. Maduro also decorated colonel Bladimir Lugo Armas, who attacked Julio Borges, the president of the Parliament, and previously attacked Lilian Tintori and Antonieta Mendoza – wife and mother of opposition leader Leopoldo López, in addition to making several mobile phones of journalists "disappear." (Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2439307&CategoryId=10717; and more in Spanish: (Notiminuto: http://www.notiminuto.com/noticia/conozca-al-nuev/)

 

Pope calls on Venezuela to find peaceful, democratic solution to unrest

Pope Francis used his public address on Sunday to call for a peaceful and democratic solution to the unrest in Venezuela, which for months has been gripped by political instability and violence. The Argentine pontiff asked worshippers gathered at the Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square to pray for Venezuela and said his thoughts were with those families whose children have been killed in the street protests. “I call for an end to violence and for a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis,” the Pope told the faithful congregated for the Angelus prayer.
May Our Lady of Coromoto intercede in Venezuela,” Francis added, referring to Catholic Patroness of the South American nation. (Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2439277&CategoryId=10717)

 

CARICOM's division on Venezuela could cloud leaders' summit

Prime Minister Andrew Holness left Jamaica yesterday for the annual meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Grenada with ambiguity still clouding its position on Venezuela's political and economic crises. Holness said on Sunday that the issue would be on the meeting's agenda. However, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque was reported yesterday as saying that the matter is “not on the agenda”. LaRocque added that, while the Venezuelan issue is not on the agenda, “there are some basic principles that the community has elaborated and this principle still holds.” CARICOM still appeared divided on the issue, with three of its 15 member states — St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica — urging the others not to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela.  There is also speculation that some of CARICOM states fear the effect of supporting the resolution on their concessionary facility with oil-rich Venezuela, known as PETROCARIBE. (Jamaica Observer: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/caricom-8217-s-division-on-venezuela-could-cloud-leaders-8217-summit_103897)

 

Adiós to Venezuelan democracy

Constitutions, like diamonds, are supposed to last. But that is not the view of Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver chosen by a dying Chávez to replace him as president in 2013. He has ordered a new constituent assembly, to be chosen on July 30th. Everything about the process is different from 1999. In violation of Chávez’s constitution, it has been called by presidential decree rather than by referendum. Maduro says its purpose is to defeat the opposition’s “fascism”. Yet it will be chosen under a system that might have been devised by Mussolini. Each of the 340 municipalities will elect one assembly member, regardless of size (only state capitals will get two), meaning the opposition-supporting cities are under-represented. A further 181 members will be chosen from communal and occupational groups controlled by the regime. Maduro wants the assembly because he can no longer stay in power democratically. Low oil prices and mismanagement have exacted a heavy toll. Food and medicines are scarce; diseases long curbed, such as diphtheria and malaria, are killing once more. The opposition won a big majority in a legislative election in 2015. Since then Maduro has ruled by decree and through the puppet supreme court. In almost daily opposition protests since April, 75 people have been killed, many shot by the National Guard or pro-regime armed gangs. Maduro’s lurch to dictatorship has opened cracks in his political base. Luisa Ortega, the attorney-general and long a chavista, has become an outspoken critic. The constituent assembly will “complete the definitive dismantling of democracy”, she told a Peruvian newspaper this week. Its apparent purpose is to turn Venezuela into a dictatorship along Cuban lines. The only potential obstacles to Maduro’s gambit are on his own side. Many chavistas oppose the constituent assembly. The armed forces, which sustain Maduro in power, have wavered but not bent—so far, at least. Tension is rising. On June 27th, a police officer in a helicopter buzzed the supreme court and interior ministry. A pro-government mob attacked the parliament, and large-scale looting took place in Maracay, west of Caracas. Maduro and his circle lack the aura of heroism that originally surrounded Fidel Castro. “If chavista Venezuela was a caricature of the Cuban revolution, Maduro is a caricature of the caricature,” says the Latin American diplomat. There is no revolution in Venezuela, just squalid abuse of power. More blood may be spilled before this tragedy ends. (The Economist: https://www.economist.com/news/americas/21724388-nicol-s-maduro-prepares-caricature-caricature-cuba-adi-s-venezuelan-democracy)

 

The number of Venezuela’s who want to migrate has tripled in 3 years, according to a study conducted by the Catholic University in association with Vanderbilt University and DATANALISIS.  The desire to leave is seven times more than it was in 2012, and has tripled since 2014. According to the Venezuela chapter of the Americas Barometer, carried out in January 2017, one out of every three Venezuelans would like to live or work in another country. More in Spanish: (Notiminuto: http://www.notiminuto.com/noticia/se-triplico-la-intencion-de-emigrar-del-venezolano-desde-2012/)

 

The following brief is a synthesis of the news as reported by a variety of media sources. As such, the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Duarte Vivas & Asociados and The Selinger Group.