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.

Friday, April 6, 2018

April 06, 2018

International Trade

Venezuela halts commercial ties with Panama, Panama pulls out its ambassador

Venezuela said on Thursday it was halting commercial relations with Panamanian officials and companies, including regional airline Copa, for alleged involvement in money laundering, prompting both countries to recall their ambassadors. The resolution names Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and nearly two dozen Cabinet ministers and top-ranking officials and says that Panama’s financial system had been used by Venezuelan nationals involved in acts of corruption. The individuals named in the resolution “present an imminent risk to the (Venezuelan) financial system, the stability of commerce in the country, and the sovereignty and economic independence of the Venezuelan people,” Venezuela said. The statement came a week after Panama declared Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and some 50 Venezuelan nationals as “high risk” for laundering money and financing terrorism. Panama announced it was recalling its ambassador to Venezuela and asked that Caracas follow suit, which it did several hours later. Panama’s Varela, in brief comments to reporters on Thursday, described the Venezuelan announcement as nonsensical. “We have not heard anything about breaking relations but rather about a set of supposed sanctions - it’s gibberish,” Varela said. Venezuela has been hit with sanctions by Canada, the United States and other countries over issues ranging from human rights violations to corruption and drug trafficking. (Reuters:; ABC News:; Reuters,


Port authority VP stashed funds away in Andorra

According to the Spanish daily “El País”, Elisaul Yépes, Vice President of the Venezuela’s national Port Authority (BOLIPUERTOS), stashed away US$ 600,000 in July 2011 in Banca Privada d ‘Andorra (BPA). The funds were transferred by a company controlled by Carlos Luis Aguilera, who was the spy chief for the late President Chavez. The funds had been placed in BPA, a Panamanian instrumental society. In the forms used to open the account, Yépes recorded his intention of depositing US$ 2.5 million, and transferring US$ 500,000 per month. Last October Yépes was named Vice President of BOLIPUERTOS. More in Spanish: (El Universal,


Logistics & Transport

Venezuela suspends COPA flights, passengers to be reimbursed

Venezuela said on Thursday it was halting commercial relations with Panamanian officials and companies, including regional airline COPA, for alleged involvement in money laundering, prompting both countries to recall their ambassadors. Venezuela’s civil aviation authority said in a statement that inbound and outbound COPA flights were suspended for 90 days, effective Friday, “as a measure to protect the Venezuelan financial system.” COPA, a crucial provider of international flights following a sharp reduction in airline services to crisis-stricken Venezuela, did not respond to a request for comment. COPA announced it would fully reimburse passengers for unused airfare. (Reuters:; and more in Spanish: El Universal;


Oil & Energy

How a small trading house won multi-million deals in Venezuela

No country in the Americas is deemed more corrupt than Venezuela. There are so many tales of bribes and influence peddling, it’s hard to keep track. But now, in a deeply detailed account spelled out in U.S. courts, it is the government itself -- or, to be exact, the trust of the state-controlled oil giant -- that alleges it was the victim of a decade-long bid rigging scheme costing it billions of dollars. The ploy, allegedly executed by a small and mostly unknown Miami oil trading firm, has all the trappings of a TV detective-thriller: A cloned computer server; a computer geek known as “the nerd;” an estranged wife. It also features an oil trader with an intriguing pitch: “I can guarantee you are going to win.” The alleged winners included such household names as subsidiaries of GLENCORE Plc, TRAFIGURA BEHEER BV and VITOL Group, among the more than 40 individuals and firms named as defendants. At the heart of the alleged scheme were auctions, known in the industry as tenders, held by PDVSA to import or export millions of barrels of oil products. The PDVSA tenders are coveted among traders because of the large volumes of fuels, such as gasoline and naphtha, the company has been buying and selling over the years. Only a handful of market participants are invited to take part in the electronic bidding. The suit alleges that oil trader HELSINGE Inc. bribed a former PDVSA tech employee -- “the nerd” -- to hook up its computers to PDVSA’s servers. That gave HELSINGE “direct access” to secret information on oil auctions on a real-time basis. HELSINGE then used the information, such as details on competing bids, to win the lucrative auctions, the suit alleges, often by suspiciously small margins. HELSINGE was formed by two former PDVSA traders, Francisco Morillo and Leonardo Baquero. HELSINGE made its "guaranteed win" pitch repeatedly over the years, according to traders at different companies who were approached and declined to participate. The alleged scheme was broken open, the PDVSA trust says, when it obtained the hard drive from the estranged wife of Morillo. Vanessa Friedman had come into possession of the hard drive after winning a temporary restraining order against her husband in 2010 that prevented him from having access to his computer. The laptop contained emails and instant messages showing incriminating exchanges between HELSINGE and traders, the suit alleges. A market participant who asked to remain anonymous said he eventually gave up bidding -- the same companies would win, over and over. Internally, PDVSA traders were told to be aware of HELSINGE bids, but action was never taken to shut down the practice, according to one of those traders. (Bloomberg:


OPEC output falls to lowest in a year amid Venezuela woes

OPEC crude production dropped to the lowest in a year amid the woes in Venezuela’s oil industry. Output from the 14 members of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries fell by 170,000 barrels to 32.04 million barrels a day in March, according to a Bloomberg News survey of analysts, oil companies and ship-tracking data. That’s the lowest since last April’s 31.9 million barrels a day. Back then, Equatorial Guinea -- which pumped 130,000 barrels a day last month -- wasn’t part of OPEC. (Bloomberg,



80% labor absenteeism reported in basic industries due to lack of transportation

Rubén González, a leader of the FERROMINERA del Orinoco union, reports that “80% of the 50,000-man payroll in the Guayana Corporation cannot reach work due to lack of transportation”. He adds: “In Bolivar state there are enormous distances between the homes and workplaces of workers, so transportation services are indispensable. Due to carelessness by authorities there are not enough units available for the different work shifts.” He reports that iron production at FERROMINERA mines at San Isidro, Los Barrancos and Cerro Bolívar has been paralyzed for almost one month because operators cannot get out of Ciudad Piar, since “there is not a single bus operating.” Labor sources at SIDOR, BAUXILUM, ALCASA, VENALUM  and briquette plants repeated the same report, saying that the situation is hitting production that is already low due to scarce spare parts and lack of maintenance. More in Spanish: (El Nacional,


'It feels like we're all dying slowly': Venezuela's doctors losing hope

With major shortages of medicines, many doctors are joining the exodus of people trying to find a better life abroad.  After six years of studying and working part-time jobs, Cristian Diaga, 24, will soon graduate from medical school in Caracas, Venezuela. But instead of continuing his training in a top hospital in the country, as he had hoped, he is taking a job in a fast-food restaurant in Argentina – a situation he says is preferable. But it’s not as though many of Diaga’s relatives still live in the country – the majority have fled to Argentina by road through Brazil. And soon he will join them. More than half of Venezuelans between 15 and 29 want to move abroad permanently, according to a poll carried out by the US firm Gallup and shared exclusively with the Guardian. Shortages of medicines are well-documented in Venezuela, with patients often having to buy prescriptions and basic medical supplies using contacts abroad and risk having them sent over or purchasing at highly-inflated prices on the black market. But many are going without. As is often the case when official channels dry up, black market trade booms. Ordinary people left with no other choice are turning to unofficial channels, with many taking advantage of the demand for drugs to supplement their meager wages. Serina Moritz, 47, a senior doctor in a large public hospital in Caracas, says that in her 20 years working in the profession the system has never been under so much pressure. “Not only do we not have medicines, even basics, but there is no blood as we cannot run tests on it. For most of us we don’t know what to do. I know colleagues who are leaving depressed,” she says. According to the Venezuelan Health Observatory, a research center at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, estimates that less than 10% of operating theatres, emergency rooms and intensive care units are fully operational. It says 76% of hospitals suffer from scarcity of medicines, 81% lack surgical materials and 70% complain of intermittent water supply. “I will stay but it is impossible for us to survive under this system … why would anyone want to?” (The Guardian:


Economy & Finance

Bolivar is weaker than previously thought as value plummets

Venezuela’s currency is worth even less than previously believed, with new trackers of the black-market rate showing deep discounts compared with the long-standing benchmark gauge. Rates from DOLARTODAY.COM shows a rate of 251,000 bolivars per US dollar but DOLARPRO says it is 30% weaker and puts the currency at a rate of 362,000 to the dollar and e-wallet AIRTM believes it is at 313,000 to the dollar. Regardless of the different values the bolivar has been given, the currency is still worth less than it was five years ago. During that time DOLARTODAY has rated it to be 99.99% lower. As Venezuela has limited access to official exchange markets, citizens are more reliant on these websites which track the rate of the bolivar. In 2015, the Maduro government unsuccessfully tried to sue DOLARTODAY for publishing artificially weaker rates to cause turbulence with Venezuela. (Express:; Bloomberg,


Crypto rating sites are already calling Venezuela’s Petro a scam

Two weeks after Venezuela’s cryptocurrency scheduled sale date, many aspects of the Petro remain a mystery and initial coin offering rating sites are already calling it a fraud. Rating website gave the token a "scam status," saying the project was missing critical information, from the description of the mechanism to its technology and supposed oil-backing. “We can discourage people from wasting money on this project,” the site reads. Another rating site, ICObench, rated the Petro 1.6 points out of 5. Other ICO raters, including CRYPTORATED and ICOreview, haven’t even bothered to review the project, Criptonoticias reported. (Bloomberg,


Maduro regime must pay US$ 750 million more in debt this month

April is another heavy month for Venezuelan debt payments. It must shell out US$ 756.3 million in 4 PDVSA and 4 government bonds that come due within the next few days. Everything seems to indicate the payments will not be met. Congressman José Guerra says that if the payments are not made, total payments in arrears will rise to US$ 3.1 billion in default. More in Spanish:  (El Nacional,; Noticiero Venevisión,


Politics and International Affairs

Member of Presidential candidate campaign wounded in Venezuela, Falcón vows to continue

Venezuelan opposition candidate Henri Falcon denounced on Monday an attack on him during an event in the country’s capital in which a member of his campaign team was severely injured in addition to multiple thefts and assaults taking place. Lawmaker Teodoro Campo received a head injury shortly before the end of the campaign event in Caracas, from a blow apparently inflicted by a steel object, and was admitted to a military hospital where he is under observation, Falcon said. At a press conference shortly after the incident, Falcon said that the attack was carried out by a group of 30 people carrying knives. He also suffered a wound to the head when he tried to defend the journalists present from whom the attackers attempted to steal cameras and other equipment. President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday that 17 people had been detained for an attack on a rival presidential candidate’s campaign, but the leftist leader rejected accusations that pro-government thugs were to blame for the unrest ahead of the May vote. Falcón vowed to remain in the streets, and criticized opposition groups that are boycotting the upcoming election saying: “Some of them say they have plans for the nation, I haven’t heard them, the Lima Group is not going to solve our problem for us, neither will a military coup”. (Latin American Herald Tribune,; Reuters,; and more in Spanish: El Universal;


Peru to Maduro: You're still not welcome at Summit of Americas; Maduro says meeting is not his priority

Peru’s new foreign minister said on Tuesday that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was still not welcome to attend a regional summit in Lima next week, upholding a decision by Peru’s disgraced former president. U.S. President Donald Trump and heads of state from across the Western Hemisphere plan to travel to Peru for the Summit of the Americas, which will celebrate the theme “democratic governance fighting corruption” from April 13-14. In his first speech as Peru’s foreign minister, Nestor Popolizio said Peru’s decision not to invite Maduro to the event reflects the view of a dozen countries that have been pressuring Venezuela to hold free and fair elections. Maduro’s refusal to heed calls for democratic reforms “negates even the slightest notion of democracy and represents an insurmountable impediment to taking part in the Summit of the Americas,” Popolizio said before a crowd of diplomats and journalists in the foreign ministry.  This is a firm decision that is not up for revision,” Popolizio said. Maduro, who had vowed to attend come what may, is now saying that going is not among his “priorities” and called the meeting s “waste of time” and a “failure”. He adds that he knows what the “Peruvian people are going to do, because they are calling to go out into the streets, and I know what for”. (Reuters:; and more in Spanish: El Universal;


France and Argentina demand fair, transparent elections in Venezuela; Maduro slams Macron

France and Argentina have expressed concern for the Venezuelan crisis and called for fairness in the upcoming snap presidential elections. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, said his nation demands “fair and transparent” elections that guarantee equality and he Independence of election authorities. He warned that if there is no progress France and its European neighbors would take Additional steps.  French President Emmanuel Macron echoed this call after meeting with former National Assembly President Julio Borges, former Metropolitan Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, and Carlos Vecchio, an exiled leader of “Voluntad Popular”.  President Nicolás Maduro responded that Macron is working on behalf of the world financial oligarchy and is simply a spokesman for US President Donald Trump in attempts to discredit Venezuela. More in Spanish: (Noticiero Venevisión,;; El Nacional,


González: “Zapatero and I did not talk for half an hour on Venezuela

Spain’s former president and socialist leader Felipe González admitted yesterday his discrepancies with the mediating work that the also former president of the socialist Government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is carrying out in Venezuela. “Dialogue just for the sake of dialogue makes no sense, it only makes sense to solve problems”, González declared during a joint press conference with the former president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Julio Borges; Caracas’s mayor in the exile, Antonio Ledezma; and two leaders of Voluntad Popular, Carlos Vecchio and Lester Toledo. “I completely disagree with this type of dialogue that the only thing that does it to give time to the Government of Venezuela”, he continued during the event, celebrated at Casa de América in Madrid. In these moments, according to González, “the only thing that must be negotiated is the date of elections and guarantees for these to be clean”, which entails that the presidential election of 20 May “cannot be recognized”. “I believe Nicolás Maduro when he says that he will never again call elections to lose them, and I assure you that he will honor that, that he will never hold elections with guarantees that he can lose”, he explained in an ironic tone. Nevertheless, he pointed out, “I believe him in a way different to that in which my colleague Zapatero believes him”. According to González, so far, it has not been possible “to speak for even half an hour” with Zapatero about Venezuela. “He knows my opinion perfectly, because it is in writing, but we have not met, although I have offered him to do so”, he affirmed. In the same press conference, Antonio Ledezma asked Spain and the EU to “reject the fraudulent process organized by Maduro’s regime with the election of 20 May” and to tighten up and extend the current international sanctions. The group met subsequently with the president of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy, who says Spain will have a relevant role in resolving the Venezuelan crisis. Apart from Rajoy and González, the Venezuelan delegation -which met President Emmanuel Macron the day before in Paris met the Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, yesterday and the president of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera. (The Diplomat:


Guyana wants ICJ to order Venezuela to withdraw from Ankoko Island; stop scaring investors

Guyana has asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule that Venezuela must withdraw from Ankoko Island and stop harassing investors onshore and offshore the Essequibo Region, that United Nations (UN) court said in statement. In its case filed with The Hague-headquartered ICJ to settle the controversy over the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal boundary award, Guyana asked the court to adjudge and declare that Venezuela must withdraw from Ankoko Island that it has been occupying for the past 51 years. Venezuelan soldiers have been occupying the eastern half of Ankoko, a three-square-mile island at the junction of the Cuyuni and the Wenamu rivers, since 1966. As part of Guyana’s core request for the ICJ to find that the Tribunal Award is a “full, perfect, and final settlement” of the boundary that was ““identified, demarcated and permanently fixed” by a joint Anglo-Venezuelan Boundary Commission between November 1900 and June 1904, it also wants the Court to order Venezuela to cease scaring away investors from the Essequibo Region. After that exercise, the United Kingdom, on behalf of then British Guiana, and Venezuela had signed a Joint Declaration in 1905 agreeing to the demarcated boundary.If Guyana gets its way, that principal UN judicial organ will also have to adjudge and declare that Venezuela is internationally responsible for violations of Guyana’s sovereignty and sovereign rights, and for all injuries suffered by Guyana as a consequence. The ICJ is also being asked to rule that Guyana enjoys full sovereignty over the territory between the Essequibo River and the boundary established by the 1899 Award and the 1905 Agreement, and Venezuela enjoys full sovereignty over the territory west of that boundary. Guyana submits that the Geneva Agreement authorized the United Nations Secretary-General to decide which appropriate dispute resolution mechanism to adopt for the peaceful settlement of the dispute, in accordance with Article 33 of the United Nations Charter. (Demerara Waves:


Exiled jurists hear graft claims against Maduro

A group of exiled jurists has met in Colombia's capital to hear corruption allegations against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, launching a largely symbolic process that could tarnish the embattled socialist leader's reputation. The jurists known as the "Supreme Court in Exile" met at Colombia's congress Tuesday to review accusations linking Maduro to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which has acknowledged paying bribes in many countries. The case was brought by ousted Venezuelan Chief Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega. The judges where appointed to Venezuela's Supreme Court last year by the country's opposition-controlled Congress, but weren't able to take office. Maduro accused them of treason, prompting them to flee Venezuela. The group of 32 judges has sought asylum in Colombia, Panama and Chile, where they have continued to issue decisions on Venezuela's affairs. (New Zealand Herald:


Durbin visits Venezuela for talks with government and opposition

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is in Venezuela to meet with government and opposition leaders, his spokesman said. Durbin, of Illinois, is the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. His spokesman, Ben Marter, said he wouldn’t comment on the agenda or the purpose of the trip. President Donald Trump’s administration is weighing whether to ratchet up sanctions against Venezuela, and officials have said that could include banning oil imports from and exports to the nation. Meetings are planned this month between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his counterparts from the European Union, Canada, the U.K. and many Latin American countries to coordinate efforts to tighten economic pressure on President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Durbin is in Venezuela to push for the release of a Utah man, Joshua Holt, who has been jailed in Caracas for nearly two years on what the U.S. considers trumped-up weapons charges. The senator also planned to deliver a stern message to Maduro that he must guarantee upcoming the presidential election will be free and transparent. (Bloomberg,; CBS:


Texas Republican made secret peacemaking trip to Venezuela

Texas Republican congressman Pete Sessions quietly visited Venezuela this week and met with President Nicolas Maduro at the invitation of the socialist government in a peacebuilding mission that has raised some eyebrows in Washington. It’s not clear what prompted the previously undisclosed visit by the Dallas congressman to the politically turbulent nation. Caroline Booth, a spokeswoman for the congressman, said it was related to work Sessions has done over the past year as an intermediary to resolve issues in Venezuela, but she declined to elaborate. She added that as chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee he routinely works to ensure countries adhere to international standards and the rule of law. The two-day trip came as Maduro’s government is making a full-court press to prevent the Trump administration from imposing crippling oil sanctions on the OPEC nation for what the United States considers Maduro’s flaunting of human rights and democratic norms. A U.S. official said the private trip was not taxpayer funded and that Sessions had received a letter of invitation from the Venezuelan government and met with Maduro. He said State Department officials played no role in organizing the trip, which ended Tuesday and added that they were not invited to sit in on Sessions’ meetings as they were by Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, who arrived in Caracas on Wednesday for his own meetings with Maduro and government officials. Sessions doesn’t have other obvious links to Venezuela, besides writing a letter in 2004 to the country’s banking regulators in support of financier Allen Stanford, a former Sessions donor who in 2012 was convicted in Texas and sentenced to 110 years in prison for running a $7 billion-plus Ponzi scheme. Sessions has been in Congress since 1997, representing a wealthy Dallas district that is home to CITGO, a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company. Last year, several of the company’s executives, including five who hold U.S. passports, were arrested by Venezuelan authorities in a corruption investigation that critics say is politically motivated. (The Washington Post:


Maduro mourns conviction of Brazil’s Lula as Socialists lose grip on Latin America

Venezuelan socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro mourned a court order allowing for the imprisonment of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on a 12-year prison sentence for corruption. Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled early Thursday morning that Lula, 72, must begin his sentence after they rejected his habeas corpus petition by six to five following a marathon session watched by millions of people. “Not just Brazil, the whole world embraces you @LulapeloBrasil,” Maduro wrote on Twitter, accompanied by a photo of Lula hugging his supporters. While in office from 2003 to 2011, Lula developed a close alliance with the administration of former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, as well as other left-wing leaders across the region such as Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Cuba’s Raúl Castro. The upholding of Lula’s conviction will, therefore, come as another blow to the Maduro regime, which is finding itself increasingly isolated as neighboring countries and international bodies condemn its egregious human rights violations and its war on Venezuela’s democratic institutions. (Breitbart:


Maduro regime arrests five cops for jail fire that killed 68

Five members of the Carabobo state police have been arrested and were charged with murder Wednesday after a jail fire in the Central Venezuela city of Valencia in which 68 inmates and prison visitors were killed. The deputy director of POLICARABOBO, Jose Luis Rodriguez and agent Jose Antonio Loaiza are charged with qualified murder seeking profit (“dolo” in Spanish), denying help to those in distress, smuggling firearms and ammunition inside the jail, located in police headquarters, as well as with “inherent corruption”, the Supreme Court explained in a series of tweets and web postings Wednesday morning, reporting after an arraignment hearing in the city of Valencia. Three other POLICARABOBO officers -- Jose Rafael Colina, Sergio Enrique Rodriguez and Anibal Antonio Padron Pacheco -- were charged solely with “inherent corruption”. (Latin American Herald Tribune,


Maduro mocks fleeing Venezuelans as “toilet cleaners in Miami

Embattled Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro disparaged Tuesday millions of Venezuelans fleeing starvation in the once oil-rich nation, calling them “toilet cleaners in Miami”. The Organization of American States (OAS) and Caracas-based consultancy firm Consultores 21 estimate that between 4 to 4.1 million Venezuelans have left the country since the beginning of the "Bolivarian revolution" in 1999. About 1.6 million of those who have left have done so since 2013, the year Maduro was first elected. The “toilets in Miami” became the theme of Maduro’s televised speech Tuesday: he kept repeating it at least three times, in a cavalier, off hand manner. (Latin American Herald Tribune,


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.




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