Brazil-Venezuela business flows in doubt
Economist Victor Alvarez believes Brazilian economic interests will be hurt the most in the new stage in bilateral relations since Dilma Rousseff was impeached and replaced by Michel Temer. He said that during the administration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a number of high level government deals were drawn up that vastly benefitted Brazilian companies. More in Spanish: (El Mundo, http://www.elmundo.com.ve/noticias/economia/internacional/comercio-entre-brasil-y-venezuela-debera-ir-a-revi.aspx#ixzz4J5zsyorR)
Logistics & Transport
AEROLINEAS ARGENTINAS cancels two flights to Venezuela, cites security
Argentine state-run carrier AEROLÍNEAS ARGENTINAS canceled two flights to Caracas between Sept. 10 and 12 due to security concerns. The announcement followed one of the biggest anti-government protests last week against socialist rule in Venezuela in more than a decade. "Because of calls for new demonstrations and marches in Venezuela we decided to cancel two flights," Felicitas Cuatrillón, institutional relations manager for AEROLÍNEAS ARGENTINAS told Reuters. (Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-argentina-flights-idUSKCN11B25U; El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/aerolineas-argentinas-suspends-flights-caracas-temporarily_505325)
Oil & Energy
PDVSA takes over barge operations from SCHLUMBERGER in Lake Maracaibo
State oil company PDVSA has announced it has taken operational control of six barges in Lake Maracaibo after a contract expired with Houston-based oilfield services company SCHLUMBERGER and added it would guarantee employment for the 358 workers involved. PDVSA says that the barges are used to drill and repair wells in Lake Maracaibo, a traditional hub of oil production, and that the workers had received severance pay from SCHLUMBERGER, the former operator of the vessels. PDVSA did not specify who owns the barges nor when it assumed their operational control. In April, SCHLUMBERGER said it would reduce activity here, which accounts for less than 5% of the company's consolidated revenue last year, due to insufficient payments and no improvements on this front on the horizon. But PDVSA in its communique said that Schlumberger, was "far from withdrawing operations in Venezuela" and was interested in new projects in the country. One on them, a new drilling project in the Carabobo block of the heavy-crude Orinoco Belt, is scheduled to start at the end of this month, PDVSA said. The state company added that SCHLUMBERGER is also seeking involvement in two of the largest projects PDVSA was running to reactivate more than a thousand wells in both the Lake Maracaibo and Orinoco Belt regions. Earlier this week, Ivan Freites, an oil union leader and fierce PDVSA critic, said some 600 workers are being fired in Zulia state, whose capital is Maracaibo, and 2,000 workers are being let go nationally, as a result of Schlumberger's reduction of operations. PDVSA has run up billions of dollars in unpaid bills to service providers as a result of cash-flow problems amid a deep recession. U.S. oil services company HALLIBURTON in April also said it would begin curtailing activity in Venezuela. (Reuters: http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL1N1BF0E1; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-oil-schlumberger-idUSKCN118288)
Cuba’s Castro asks Putin for oil in light of Venezuelan crisis
Cuba’s President Raul Castro reportedly has penned a letter to Vladimir Putin with a request that Russia provide the island country with stable deliveries of oil and other oil-based products to compensate for issues in supplies from Venezuela. In his letter, Castro also is reported to have said that Cuba has been forced to limit the use of energy amid troubles with oil shipments from Venezuela, faced with serious production issues both because of its economic situation and low crude oil prices. Russia’s Minister for Economic Affairs has warned the Energy Ministry that “Cuba’s ability to pay is a considerable risk”, and proposes to involve “Russian oil companies with investment projects there”, such as state oil company ROSNEFT, in organizing supplies. (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/cubas-castro-asks-russia-for-oil-amid-venezuelan-fitful-supply_505354; Interfax; https://meduza.io/en/news/2016/09/05/cuba-s-castro-allegedly-asks-putin-for-oil-in-light-of-venezuelan-crisis); and more in Spanish: (ABC Spain: http://www.abc.es/internacional/abci-raul-castro-pide-petroleo-rusia-ante-problemas-suministro-venezuela-201609051527_noticia.html)
Venezuela oil price falls back below US$ 40
After 3 consecutive weeks of gains, the price Venezuela receives for its mix of medium and heavy oil fell back below US$ 40 a barrel in the final week of August. 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 September 2 was US$ 38.92, down US$ 1.52 from the previous week's US$ 40.44.
According to Venezuelan government figures, the average price in 2016 for Venezuela's mix of heavy and medium crude is now US$ 32.79 for the year to date. (Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2420190&CategoryId=10717)
According to Venezuelan government figures, the average price in 2016 for Venezuela's mix of heavy and medium crude is now US$ 32.79 for the year to date. (Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2420190&CategoryId=10717)
PDVSA claims Orinoco oil belt production goal was surpassed
State oil company PDVSA claims it met 103% of oil production goals for the Orinoco belt set for January-August 2016. It said that at the end of the second third of this year, it reached an average production of 28,000 barrels per day (bpd). (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/production-goal-orinoco-oil-belt-surpassed-pdvsa-claims_505317)
HYUNDAI interested in Venezuelan gas
South Korea’s multinational car manufacturer HYUNDAI has expressed interest in investing in the Venezuelan gas sector. The remarks came during a meeting between the company’s representative for Latin America and Europe Kyung Min Lee and Venezuelan Gas Vice-Minister Douglas Sosa, who agreed to prepare a new agenda including a visit late in September, when they are to broaden discussions and assess potential deals. Sosa said that Venezuela ranks eighth among the nations with the largest natural gas proven reserves worldwide and first in Latin America, with 197 trillion cubic feet of gas, that is, 75% of gas in the region. (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/hyundai-voices-interest-venezuelan-gas-sector_504422)
Government medical imports can only cover one month’s demand
Antonio Orlando, head of the Venezuelan Association of Medical Supply Distributors, reports that 19 containers bearing medical supplies from Mexico and Panama have arrived at Guanta port in Anzoátegui state over the weekend, but will provide only a slight respite in view of prevailing scarcities. He said “capacity in those 19 containers is not enough to meet demand … what was imported can last perhaps one month”. He said the industry requires “US$ 1 billion per year to operate, and have received no FOREX during 2016. Out of 157 member nations of the Association have had to shut down this year to date. They had an average 60 employees, so more than 2400 have lost their jobs”. More in Spanish: (El Nacional: http://www.el-nacional.com/economia/Insumos-medicos-importados-gobierno-alcanzan_0_916108634.html)
Economy & Finance
Debt default concerns grow as a PDVSA bond swap remains hanging
CITIBANK's decision to quit its role as the payment processor for Venezuela's foreign debt leaves the country in a precarious position. State oil company PDVSA, which provides about 95% of Venezuela's export revenue, is struggling under low oil prices and a collapsing socialist economy. In November it must make US$ 2.05 billion amortizations on the 2017N bond and a US$ 1 billion maturity payment on its 2016 global bond. PDVSA President Eulogio Del Pino had indicated that the company was interested in swapping the 2017 bonds for later maturities, and was reported to have begun discussions with CREDIT SUISSE. However, with rising pressure from the U.S. government on major banks to keep their distance from illicit Venezuelan financial flows, CITIBANK’s decided to stop processing future debt payments to Venezuela's bondholders by the government and by PDVSA. That decision and the rising perception of risk among other financial institutions places the Venezuelan government in a tenuous position. If PDVSA is unable to pay bondholders because it cannot find an alternate payment processor, it would effectively be in default. Given the nature of PDVSA debt contracts, a default could trigger a lengthy court battle, which would have significant implications not only for PDVSA's financial future but also for Venezuela's social stability. An inability to pay bondholders would eventually lead to a debt restructuring process, but PDVSA, which relies on credit to pay operating costs, would likely suffer a loss of production, as lenders would be less willing to extend credit to a bankrupt company. A significant drop in oil production would exacerbate the country's instability. The flow of dollars to public finances, which are crucial to paying for imports of food and other necessary products, would be reduced, intensifying already extreme inflation and driving more social unrest. There is still a possibility that PDVSA can find a replacement for CITIBANK as a payment processor and make around US$ 5 billion in debt payments due in October and November. But if it cannot, the sharp decline in living standards accompanying a default would be extremely dangerous for stability in Venezuela. This is where U.S. influence through the International Monetary Fund could play a significant role in providing a softer landing post-default. Certainly, in a default situation, Venezuela would seek a financial assistance package from the IMF or other international lenders. The next few months will be crucial. How the military and civilian institutions surrounding President Maduro react to a looming default — or even to the ongoing deterioration of Venezuela's economy and public finances — will be key to the nation's immediate future. A default would likely widen the already visible cracks in the ruling party's alliances and could shift the outlook by pro-government institutions on their continued support of the president as he attempts to resist the recall referendum. (Stratfor: https://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical-diary/venezuela-debt-default-trigger-armed; Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-citigroup-idUSKCN1162L6)
Attention shifts to final quarter 2016
The government and state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) need to pay US$ 310 million this month, and attention will now start to shift toward the last quarter of the year, when interest and coupon payments totaling almost US$ 5 billion come due. Whether or not Venezuela can avoid a default may depend on if the government and PDVSA officials can strike a deal to refinance debt coming due over the next year. “Perhaps signaling more precarious finances, PDVSA continues to insist on the need for debt re-profiling of the 2017 maturities,” says Siobhan Morden, head of Latin American fixed-income strategy at NOMURA Holdings Inc. “Though more worrisome is the nine months of headlines without any follow-through.” Trading in credit-default swaps shows that investors increased short-term default expectations for the first time since May, with the implied probability that it happens over the next 12 months rising to 50%. The probability of a default in the next five years is 91%, according to credit-default swaps. International reserves were little changed in August, hovering around a 13-year low of US$ 11.8 billion. Venezuela’s weakest official exchange rate, used mostly for imports deemed non-essential, was unchanged this month, ending the month at 644.6 bolivars per dollar. (Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-01/venezuelan-credit-dashboard-attention-shifts-to-final-quarter)
Maduro officially names far left Spaniard as his economic advisor
President Nicolas Maduro has en Spanish economic theoretician close to Spain’s extreme left PODEMOS party as part of a group of military men and civilians that seek to abate scarcity in Venezuela. Alfredo Serrano Mancilla is the only foreigner in a group headed by Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino. Sources close to Maduro call Serrano “the Jesus Christ of economics”. Serrano is linked to Spain’s radically leftist party PODEMOS. The official decree here indicates he will on a “new system of distributing and marketing” under the supervision of another general, Nutrition Minister Rodolfo Marco. Serrano has praised the regime’s program called CLAP, for distributing food through Socialist PSUV party loyalists. More in Spanish: (Infolatam: http://www.infolatam.com/2016/09/05/venezuela-incorpora-a-un-academico-espanol-cercano-a-podemos-en-sus-programas-sociales/)
Global Finance ranks Central Bank head, Nelson Merentes as worst
The GLOBAL FINANCE magazine has ranked the head of Venezuela’s Central Bank, Nelson Merentes, as the worst in the list of the 75 countries that it examined. The rankings, which were released on September 1, grade central bank chiefs from “A” (excellent) through “F” (outright failure). Merentes was the only central banker to receive a letter grade of F. Venezuela’s Central Bank no longer publishes official statistics, including inflation rates, making the work of making sense of the Venezuelan economy much more difficult. (Global Finance: https://d2tyltutevw8th.cloudfront.net/media/document/central-bankers-2016-1472776973.pdf)
Politics and International Affairs
Crowds surge into the streets to demand recall of President Nicolas Maduro
Legions of anti-Maduro protesters stretched for as far as the eye could see. Estimates put the crowds at 500,000. The ranks that filled three main avenues in Caracas were brimming with thousands and thousands of protesters, mostly dressed in white. The demonstration, aimed at speeding up a recall campaign against the 53-year-old president, was also a forceful repudiation of the leftist politics that are falling out of favor across Latin America. Nowhere in Latin America has the rise and fall of the left been as dramatic as in Venezuela, a country that has been on the brink of collapse for the last several months. People carried posters reading “No more socialism,” “Maduro Out,” and “Venezuela wants a recall.” The protesters came from all over Venezuela, including indigenous community representatives from Amazonas state. Some marched bare-chested and in loincloths while carrying spears. Some marchers held banners demanding the release of political prisoners such as former Caracas borough mayor and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has been jailed since February 2014 on what he and his supporters say are trumped-up charges. If there was one sentiment that protesters expressed, it was frustration — frustration over having water or electricity service cut off, frustration for hyperinflation that destroys the value of their wages. Opposition leaders participating in the march included Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, national Assemblyman Julio Borges and Maria Corina Machado. Bordering the streets occupied by the masses of protesters were several cordons of riot police. They used tear gas to disperse some protesters who mounted one of Caracas’ freeways, but otherwise there were no violent incidents or confrontations reported. Government supporters also held a counter-march Thursday in a section of Caracas closer to the Miraflores presidential palace. Tens of thousands of chavistas took part. But anti-Maduro forces also suggested the rally supporting Maduro was less than genuine, chanting: “I wasn’t paid to be here, I came because I wanted to.” On Sept. 7, protests will be convened at all the state capitals to demand that the national electoral council convene the recall vote. While the council has verified that enough signatures were collected earlier this year to initiate the process, it has not set a firm time line for the next phase, which opponents claim is a delaying tactic designed to make the opposition miss certain deadlines. (Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-venezuela-rally-20160901-snap-story.html)
Maduro jeered and chased by angry protesters in Margarita Island, activists detained
Venezuelan authorities briefly rounded up more than 30 people on Margarita island for heckling President Nicolas Maduro, in what appeared to be a rare public confrontation with the unpopular leader. Videos published by activists at the Margarita Island locality of Villa Rosa on Friday night, show scores of people banging pots and pans and jeering the president during a visit to inspect state housing projects. The display of anger immediately followed a vast march in Caracas that opposition leaders say has emboldened Maduro's foes after 17 years of socialist rule here. After Maduro left Villa Rosa, a rundown area known in the past as a pro-government stronghold, intelligence agents moved in, opposition and rights campaigners said. It is extremely unusual to see Maduro openly booed. His public appearances are normally carefully choreographed to show only cheering supporters wearing red shirts. "The people loathe him and last night they made that very clear with the pots-and-pans protest," said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who published three videos of the incident on his Twitter feed. Polls show that Mr. Maduro would be likely to lose a referendum. The confrontation in Villa Rosa suggests that the tide may have turned in an area that once supported the president. It voted for Maduro and his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, in previous elections by significant margins. (The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/world/americas/venezuelan-president-is-chased-by-angry-protesters.html?mwrsm=Email; Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-idUSKCN1190S8)
Chilean journalist charged in Venezuela after anti-Maduro protest
A prominent journalist and lawyer jailed on Margarita island was charged on Monday with money laundering, according to family and a rights group, following his arrest after publicizing a protest against President Nicolas Maduro. Braulio Jatar, 58, who was picked up by the SEBIN intelligence agency on Saturday morning on his way to host his regular morning radio show, according to his family. They knew nothing about his whereabouts until hours later when intelligence agents came to the family home and searched it, allowing them to send him clothes. Jatar was born in Chile, where Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz expressed concern over Jatar's arrest and the charges against him. "As a Chilean, he has the right to be protected by the state of Chile and we will take all the steps necessary on his behalf," Munoz told reporters. Of 163 people detained in relation to Thursday's protests, 29 remain behind bars, according to local rights group Penal Forum. Five of them have been formally charged. That brings the total of political prisoners in Venezuela to 93, said Alfredo Romero, the director of Penal Forum. Government officials have sought to downplay the incident in Margarita, saying videos had been "manipulated" by pro-opposition media. Showing video clips of their own, they say Maduro was cheered by supporters on his visit to the island. (Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-idUSKCN11B22V)
Opposition aims to take protest outside of Caracas, calls for 10-minute protest stop in capital
Venezuela’s opposition is looking to build the momentum of protests against President Nicolas Maduro with more demonstrations this week planned outside of the capital, after it said around a million people marched through Caracas on Thursday. “We’re interested in reinforcing what’s happening from Caracas to the rest of the Venezuelan provinces,” opposition alliance secretary Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba said Monday referring to the events planned for tomorrow. “Some are calling it the Villa Rosa effect,” he said, in reference to Maduro’s direct clash with protesters in Margarita Island on Friday night. The coalition has called residents of Caracas to protest for 10 minutes at noon tomorrow, by going to a full stop in whatever they are doing and wherever they are, to increase pressure on the Elections Council for them to release a date and specific conditions for collecting the required 20% voter signatures to launch a recall vote on Maduro. (Bloomberg, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-05/venezuela-opposition-aims-to-take-protests-outside-of-caracas; and more in Spanish: Noticiero Venevision: http://www.noticierovenevision.net/politica/2016/septiembre/5/168003=oposicion-protestara-por-10-minutos-el-7-s-para-exigir-el-cronograma-electoral)
Maduro instructs secret police to “put down right wing terrorists”
Embattled President Nicolas Maduro told members of the SEBIN national intelligence service that they had to “put down” the “terrorists” of the “right wing” -- a code word for members of the opposition -- just days before the President was involved in a violent clash with opposition protesters. Human-rights NGOs reacted to the call asking for an investigation. “Maduro needs to be investigated for encouraging police executions”, the NGO PROVEA stated. “By using terms such as 'put down' and 'neutralize', Maduro…encourages the carrying out of more pólice abuse”. The statements appear in an audio recording of a congratulatory phone call Maduro apparently made to a class of graduating anti-terrorism special agents of SEBIN. SEBIN handles all political cases and has arrested more than 60 members of the opposition as part of a crackdown that began days before the massive September 1st march and has continued after the President was assaulted Friday night in Margarita during an official event. (Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2420191&CategoryId=10717)
Venezuelans abroad demand recall vote
- Madrid: Thousands of Venezuelans marched in the streets of Madrid demanding a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro, led by the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD). Shouting “Venezuela, referendum! Maduro, out!” about 3,000 people, according to the police, demonstrated in the capital city of Spain three days after the “Taking of Caracas” called up by the MUD for last September 1.
- Bogotá, Colombia: Over 500 people who rallied at the Monument of Heroes, to the north of the capital city, “and in demand of the recall referendum right away”.
- Santiago de Chile: Venezuelan residents rallied on Italia Square in support of the “Taking of Caracas,” a march convened by the Venezuelan opposition last September 1. Demonstrators also requested the Embassy of Venezuela to open the register of voters for new Venezuelan residents in Chile, whose number has increased over the past few years. Other cities also expressed support.
- Miami: Dozen Venezuelans rallied in downtown Miami to demand the implementation of a recall referendum against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Wearing white T-shirts and holding national flags and placards, demonstrators gathered in front of the Tower of Freedom, a bastion of the Cuban diaspora.
- New York: Under the rain, Venezuelans from the Tri-State area filled the side stairway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and turned it into a demonstration that headed toward Duffy Square in Times Square, calling for a speedy recall vote.
- Venezuelan expatriates also held demonstrations in Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Denver, Paris, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and México City.
(Latin American Herald Tribune, http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2420188&CategoryId=10717; (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/venezuelans-abroad-request-activation-recall-vote_505328; http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/venezuelans-madrid-lobby-for-recall-referendum_505319; and more in Spanish: El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/retando-lluvia-los-venezolanos-marcharon-nueva-york_486448)
Venezuela's top court nullifies reform of law on gold exploration
Arguing it was passed “in clear contempt of court,” Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal annulled a reform of the organic law that regulates gold exploration and exploitation and related activities that was passed by the National Assembly on August 9. The decision came, in response to an action filed by President Nicolas Maduro, who described it as unconstitutional because it was approved with the vote of three opposition deputies for Amazonas state the Court had previously suspended. (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/venezuelas-top-court-nullifies-reform-law-gold-exploration_505370)
Colombia’s President Santos says the Venezuelan people want to speed up recall
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos says “what happened in Venezuela is proof that the Venezuelan people want to speed up the recall process, and they have every right to do so.” He added that “Colombia has always been willing to help at any time to avoid an implosion that would be good for no one”. More in Spanish: (El País: http://184.108.40.206/mundo/santos-pueblo-venezolano-quiere-se-agilice-revocatorio/)
Venezuela’s man-made humanitarian crisis is deepening.
The Associated Press reports that the typical resident of Caracas, the capital, spends 35 hours a month waiting in line to buy food, and 9 in 10 say they can’t find enough. After the government of Nicolas Maduro opened six border crossings to neighboring Colombia on Aug. 13, about 380,000 Venezuelans poured across in the first eight days, desperately seeking supplies. Sackings of food warehouses by hungry mobs have been reported; 50 animals in the Caracas zoo are said to have starved to death. Meanwhile, Maduro refuses to allow aid shipments into the country, contending they are unneeded. The United States and most of Venezuela’s neighbors have responded to this collapse of a once-prosperous oil-producing country by doing their best to ignore it. They issue feckless statements calling for “dialogue,” overlooking the by-now obvious reality that the regime has no intention of seriously negotiating with the opposition. The government appears intent on crushing the protest movement, rather than responding to its legitimate demands. Maduro, who polls show would win as little as 15% of the vote in a recall ballot, has been gloating over this obstructionism. He ordered the firing of hundreds of government employees who signed recall petitions. When a U.S. federal indictment was unsealed against a general for drug trafficking, Maduro appointed him interior minister, in charge of domestic security forces. The Obama administration should be prepared to act if the regime responds violently to the protest. It should quickly punish officials involved in repression and press the OAS to move against Venezuela under its democracy charter. At the same time, the United States should begin coordinating with Colombia, Brazil and other nations about ways to respond to the humanitarian crisis. As Maduro cracks down, Venezuelans are likely to get hungrier. (The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/venezuelas-hunger/2016/08/29/6f295370-6e02-11e6-8533-6b0b0ded0253_story.html?utm_term=.2778d64bd308)
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.