Photos of the protests in Venezuela on Saturday May 20, against the narco-regime of Nicolás Maduro and his Cuban masters.
It’s easy to see why huge numbers of furious Venezuelans have hit the streets in recent weeks. Years of mismanagement have left the country’s oil-export-dependent economy in a shambles. To appease the angry poor, President Nicolás Maduro announced a 60% increase in the minimum wage on May 1. That won’t reverse the decline of a country where production is in free fall, inflation is in the triple digits and hunger is now a common problem. It’s hard to find time for work while standing in line for the few remaining staples most of the public can afford.
The latest protests, and government response to them, have pushed Venezuela closer to the brink of collapse. Demonstrations have turned violent, with both protesters and police fueling the fire. There have been deaths, though there are few reliable estimates of how many. Riots have erupted even in working-class Caracas neighborhoods that have been loyal supporters of Maduro and his mentor, the late Hugo Chávez. These people are hungry too, and their continuing loyalty to the government can’t be taken for granted.
The nation’s political structure is also at risk. Maduro has effectively shut down the opposition-controlled national assembly and banned opposition leader Henrique Capriles from seeking office for 15 years. A bid by Pope Francis to broker a deal has gone nowhere.
In the past, the Venezuelan government’s main advantages were the strength of its grip on institutions of power, particularly the courts, and the inability of a fractious opposition to unite behind a single idea or candidate. Now that dominance of institutions gives the government full responsibility for a country close to a breakdown, and the opposition is united in desperation. Venezuela’s economy isn’t going to get better. The price of oil won’t move anywhere near the level that can keep this boat afloat anytime soon, and the government is running out of gimmicks.Maduro remains in power because the leftist Chavista movement has remained almost entirely united around the man Chávez anointed his successor. The police have kept the opposition contained, with help from state-backed gangs. The President hasn’t yet had to call in the army, which may not prove loyal enough to open fire on desperate civilians. That would prove the decisive moment. If the military becomes Maduro’s last option, he’s probably finished.
At least 12 people were killed overnight following looting and violence in Venezuela’s capital amid a spiraling political crisis, authorities in Caracas said Friday.
‘We are like a bomb’: food riots show Venezuela crisis has gone beyond politics
Most of the deaths took place in El Valle, a working class neighborhood near the city’s biggest military base where opposition leaders say 13 people were hit with an electrical current while trying to loot a bakery protected by an electric fence.
Two days of massive protests on the streets of Caracas against the government of Nicolás Maduro spilled into a violent night in several parts of the city, with residents in El Valle witnessing repetitive gunfire, street barricades set aflame and more than a dozen businesses looted. Amid the confusion, mothers and newborn children had to be evacuated from a maternity hospital named after the late leader Hugo Chávez when it was swamped with tear gas.
The Public Ministry said the violence left 11 people dead in El Valle, all men between the ages of 17 and 45. Another death was reported east of Caracas in El Sucre. Six others were injured.
Opposition leaders blamed the government for repressing protesters with tear gas but standing idly by as businesses were looted.
Vice-president Tareck El Aissami said the country was facing what he calls an “unconventional war” led by opposition groups working in concert with criminal gangs.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez pointed the finger at the opposition, saying armed groups controlled by them were responsible for the attack at the hospital.
Earlier Friday, officials reported that one of the dead was Mervins Guitian. The young Venezuelan man was fatally shot when he was returning home late from work on Thursday and got caught in the middle of late-night street clashes.
Vicente Paez, a local councilman, said Guitian was an employee of a Caracas-area city governed by an opposition mayor and didn’t join the protests. It wasn’t clear who shot him and there was no immediate comment from authorities.
Venezuelan social media was ablaze late into the night with grainy cellphone videos of light-armored vehicles plowing down dark streets to control pockets of protesters who set up burning barricades in several neighborhoods.
The opposition said they have no intention of pulling back on protests demanding new elections that were triggered when the government-stacked supreme court three weeks ago gutted congress of its last vestiges of power, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of international criticism.
Protesters are angry at what they see as a government that has essentially become a dictatorship responsible for triple-digit inflation, rising crime and food shortages.
“Twenty days of resistance and we feel newly born,” said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara during an evening, outdoor press conference as residents looking out from balconies in an eastern Caracas neighborhood at the heart of the protest movement cheered loudly in support.
The next planned protest is Saturday, when opponents are being asked to dress in white and march silently to commemorate the victims of the demonstration. There’s also a sit-in to block major highways planned for Monday.
General Motors announced early Thursday that it was closing its operations in Venezuela after authorities seized its factory in the industrial city of Valencia, a move that could draw the Trump administration into the escalating chaos engulfing the nation.
A number of major Latin American governments, including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, called on Venezuela to take steps to increase democratic order and halt the violence that has been swirling around the protests. Across the country, clashes have been intense as protests grow in size and fervor.
The supreme court ruling reinvigorated Venezuela’s fractious opposition, which had been struggling to channel growing disgust with Maduro over widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime.
Opponents are pushing for Maduro’s removal through early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections that the opposition was heavily favored to win and it cut off a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro’s removal before elections scheduled for late next year.
It was meant to be a moment of celebration, the commemoration of one of the major milestones that led to Venezuela’s independence from its Spanish colonizers 200 years ago. Tuesday’s bicentennial festivities for the Battle of San Felix included a military parade and the inauguration of a new public square, which filled the streets of Ciudad Guayana.
As night fell, President Nicolas Maduro rode through the city in an open-top Jeep, waving at the crowd while wearing green military garb and the presidential sash. State-run broadcaster VTV showed a livestream of the event on national television.
Suddenly, President Maduro motioned to cover his head and his security team hopped on the hood of the Jeep. The live signal cut to the image of the newly unveiled statue of local hero Gen. Manuel Piar, but the microphone picked up audio of an agitated woman yelling “wait, wait — the President was hit.”
Within minutes, videos appeared on social media sites showing another angle. Maduro and his entourage had been pelted by what some identified as eggs and trash. In one video, the man filming can be heard yelling “damn you!” at the end.
While the scene was unusual, it wasn’t surprising. Since the beginning of April, massive protests have formed in the capital Caracas and other major cities calling for Maduro’s resignation and for the government to set a date for the delayed state elections. This comes as the country faces a crippling economic crisis, which has nearly bankrupted the oil giant and led to national shortages of food and medicine.
At least four people have been killed and hundreds injured in the wave of violent protests that have rocked the country since April 1.
In the city of Valencia, 20-year-old student Daniel Alejandro Queliz died Monday when a bullet struck him in the neck during a protest.
Enrique Moreno, 19, said he was present at what he described as a “peaceful protest” and said he was “just a few meters away” from Queliz when police began to open fire.
“They (the police) wouldn’t stop shooting at us, so we decided to run into one of the nearby residential buildings to hide. I was able to run and, thank God, none of the bullets reached me,” Moreno said. “By the time Daniel started running, he had already been hit. I turned around and he asked me for help. I wanted to help, but the bullets kept flying. We tried to tell them a student had been hurt, but they kept shooting at us.”
The office of Venezuela’s attorney general said Wednesday that two of the officers involved in the incident have been arrested and are expected to face criminal charges.
Guy W Farmer is a retired diplomat
Venezuela, a country where I lived and worked for seven years during my U.S. Foreign Service career, and where my beautiful daughter Maria was born, is on the brink of collapse, thanks to the pernicious effects of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution.
When Col. Chavez took office in 1999 after leading a failed coup attempt in 1992 (for which he served two years in prison), he promised Venezuelans would soon be living in a socialist paradise. And now, four years after his death, a once-thriving South American democracy has become an international basket case. As Peruvian journalist Alvaro Vargas Llosa — the son of Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa — wrote earlier this month, “Four years after Chavez’s death, Venezuela’s descent into the abyss is one of the truly tragic events of the 21st century.” Well said!
Let’s examine the abyss into which Venezuela has fallen under the failed leadership of Chavez and his designated successor, Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver. Alvaro Vargas Llosa wrote Maduro has tried to turn the anniversary of Chavez’s death “into a mystical experience of sorts — and a dose of much-needed political oxygen.” That’s difficult to accomplish, however, “in a country with inflation predicted to run at 1,600 percent, an economic growth rate of negative ten percent, a painful shortage of basic stuff (including toilet paper), and the highest crime rate in the world.”
Other than that, socialism has been a big success in Venezuela. I’m amazed some American celebrities like left-wing filmmaker Oliver Stone and actor Sean Penn still champion Chavez’s failed revolution. If they still love it so much, they should move to Venezuela. I suppose they could live without toilet paper and basic foodstuffs like meat, but it wouldn’t be like their gilded, pampered lives in Hollywood.
When I arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, for the first time in 1968, it was the “City of Eternal Spring” awash in petro-dollars thanks to its immense oil reserves. But when I left Venezuela for the second time in mid-1990 the nation was suffering from a downward economic spiral and Chavez was plotting an unsuccessful coup attempt. What a contrast from my early years in Caracas, when in 1969 I witnessed the first peaceful transition of power between competing Venezuelan political parties. That was a shining moment for the emerging democracies of Latin America.
Three-quarters of Venezuelans tell pollsters they repudiate their own government. Nevertheless, Maduro remains in power by bribing the military and because the democratic opposition is deeply divided. According to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Maduro and the Venezuelan military are engaged in “a Mafia-style complicity in crime,” including drug trafficking. That became clear in February when the U.S. Justice Department imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck el-Aissami and canceled his visa “for playing a significant role in international drug trafficking.” I rest my case.
Earlier this year a National Survey of Living Conditions conducted by three universities found 72 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds each in 2016, and the average shopper spent more than 35 hours per month waiting to buy groceries. Maduro’s response to a 2014 nationwide protest was to order his military and police to attack the protesters, 40 of whom were killed during several weeks of unrest. On and on it goes three years later.
I always have two questions about Third World countries in crisis: (1) Who has the guns? and (2) Who counts the votes? In Venezuela the answers are the same: President Nicolas Maduro. Good luck to the brave Venezuelans who are trying to remove him from office.
Protests in Venezuela April 6: Thousands of unarmed citizens break through a police blockade
Venezuelans are blocking highways and taking to the streets in response to an apparent Coup d’Etat.
Though Maduro’s regime arranged anti-riot measures in several Venezuelan cities, hundreds of Venezuelans turned out to express their opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling that dissolved the powers of the country’s congress.
Caracas, Los Teques, Vargas, Carabobo and Anzoátegui are just some of the states where protests are taking place.
In Urbina, Caracas — a popular area that has traditionally been faithful to Chavez — is now flooded with protesters.
“No more dictatorship,” they are reportedly chanting. “We want freedom.”
During the protests, members of the student movement were pushed back from the main headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice in Caracas and the Bolivarian National Guard reportedly detained two students.
Student Leader Hasler Iglesias said the students arrested are Andres Olivero and Rafael Alvarez from the Central University of Venezuela.
Cameraman for the TV channel Vivoplay, Andry Rincon, was detained for 30 minute.
Since protestors were not allowed to demonstrate at the TSJ, students went to the Palace of Justice. When they arrived, they were attacked, and three more protesters were arrested.
The opposition has called for protests in the country’s streets this Saturday as well.
“This is the time to stand up,” said President of the Parliament and Opposition Leader Julio Borges.
Also, the Popular Will party has urged Venezuelans to resume demonstrations in the street so as to “impose the will of the people.”
Even renowned singer Jose Ignacio Mendoza — also know as “Nacho” — said he is ready to travel to Venezuela “to take to the streets.”
“Should I ignore this and force myself to not care to avoid taking the risk that gangs turn on me?” He said. “Sorry, I do care. I’m ready to go to Venezuela to take the streets when the majority of Venezuelans decide. I’m not a politician. Beyond being an artist I’m a citizen demanding democracy.
The TSJ ruled in favor of Maduro’s administration, deciding that the opposition majority congress will be held in contempt and no longer be allowed to carry out its legislative duties.
The judicial ruling said that “as long as contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persist, this Constitutional Chamber shall ensure that parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body that it deems suitable, to ensure the Rule of Law. ”
After hearing the ruling of the highest court in Venezuela in which the approved the annulment of the Parliament, members of Congress protested and held a press conference outside of the court. In the midst of this, the Venezuelan military struck members of Congress.
Officers of the National Guard physically assaulted several deputies who only expressed their opposition to the court’s ruling. The deputies attacked were Marco Bozo, Carlos Paparoni, and Juan Requesens.
The National Assembly’s board of directors called Judgment 156 of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) as a coup d’etat in which it ruled that the judiciary would assume full parliamentary powers.
“This is a coup, it is a dictatorship and in all the nations of the world, all the alarms must be turned on. This National Assembly does not know the TSJ. This Assembly refuses to recognize and ignores this sentence of the Supreme Court,” emphasized Borges.
“We were chosen by 14 million Venezuelans … You are not going to go unpunished, we are going to make denunciations inside and outside Venezuela for your crimes against humanity,” he said.
He also commented “What is the difference of this sentence with the previous ones? That this sentence grants all the powers to Nicolás Maduro to make the laws that he pleases.”
Borges called on the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) to ignore the last two rulings of the Supreme Court of Justice and restore Constitutional order.
The president of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, announced in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, that the opposition will take to the streets in protest. The first will take place this Saturday, April 1.
“We call for different street actions in which we hope the people will accompany us. We know that there is fear and repression but this is the time to make your voice heard,” he stated.
The Supreme Court, which has heavily favored the regime of Nicolás Maduro, ruled that the National Assembly, in which the opposition enjoys a large majority, will no longer exercise its function, because they supposedly remain in contempt of the court.
The judicial ruling declares the “National Assembly out of Constitutional order” and warns that “as long as the contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persists, this Constitutional Chamber shall ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber, in order to ensure the rule of law.”
The U.S. government added Venezuelan Vice President Tarek El Aissami to its sanctions list Monday, saying he “played a significant role in international narcotics trafficking” and freezing his access to a fortune estimated at $3 billion after a lengthy investigation of his alleged links to drug traffickers and Muslim extremists.
The measure also covers Samark Lopez — accused of being the principal front man for El Aissami — and nearly a dozen companies linked to Lopez, including some in Miami.
El Aissami and Lopez were the latest of several Venezuelan government officials and supporters listed as alleged drug traffickers by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency in charge of enforcing U.S. sanctions. The sanctions were authorized under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
“OFAC’s action today is the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities,” OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith said.
“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States,” Smith added in a statement. “Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the U.S. financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department.”
The sanctioned companies own three condos at the upscale Millennium Tower Residences at the Four Seasons hotel in Brickell. The companies paid nearly $7 million for the three units in 2012 and 2013, Miami-Dade County property records show.
South Florida’s real estate market is a known conduit for dirty cash. Since 2015, an anti-money laundering push by the U.S. Treasury Department has required extra checks on shell companies buying luxury homes in Miami-Dade County and Manhattan. (The heightened monitoring was later imposed on other pricey real estate markets around the nation.)
OFAC also identified and blocked properties held by 13 companies owned or controlled by Lopez or others “that comprise an international network spanning the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela,” the news release said. Lopez oversees an international network of petroleum, distribution and other companies, according to the release.
El Aissami, who has not hidden his presidential ambitions, has been under U.S. investigation for many months because he is considered to be one of the top leaders of drug-smuggling operations in Venezuela.
He was appointed vice president in January by President Nicolás Maduro after serving as governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state fromm 2012 to 2017. The Treasury Department news release said he “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela” by plane. The statement also said he “oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms” from Venezuela with a final destination of the U.S. or Mexico.
The U.S. also said he received payment for facilitating drug shipments from Venezuelan “drug kingpin” Walid Makled Garcia, and officials linked him to Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel. They said he provided protection to Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Palanco.
As vice president, El Aissami is first in line to replace Maduro if the president leaves office for any reason.
Most alarming for many Venezuela-watchers are his ties with radical Islamic organizations in the Middle East, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
El Aissami is one of the main contacts in Latin America for the extremist organizations, said Luis Fleischman, senior adviser at the Center for Security Policy (CSP) in Washington, D.C.
“He is one of Venezuela’s main contacts with Hezbollah,” said Fleischman, who keeps a close eye on the South American country. “He has been providing logistical and financial support to those organizations.”
A 2014 report by the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) highlighted allegations that El Aissami played a key role in efforts by Muslim fundamentalists to create a network in Latin America that would finance terrorism in other parts of the world.
“Over the years, Tarek El Aissami has developed a sophisticated and multilevel financial network that functions as a criminal terrorist pipeline for bringing Islamic radicals to Venezuela and its neighbors, and to send illegal funds from Latin America to the Middle East,” the report said.
The vice president “has used his political prominence to establish intelligence and financial channels with Islamic nations, especially Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Iran,” the report added.
The investigation also concluded that when El Aissami was minister of the interior, he issued Venezuelan passports and other documents to members of the radical Islamic organizations.
“The majority [of 173 individuals] had Venezuelan passports,” said Joseph Humire, executive director of SFS and one of the authors of the report. “Others had identity cards and others had Venezuelan visas. In some cases, these people had birth certificates.”
The individuals “were from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. But the majority were from Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Seventy percent of them came from those countries and had some sort of ties to Hezbollah,” Humire told el Nuevo Herald.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was among the Miami-area politicians who welcomed the sanctions.
“The Venezuelan government is run by corrupt, incompetent and criminal thugs who have inflicted misery on their own people and routinely used violence to crush dissent,” Rubio said. “For years, I’ve talked about how Venezuelan regime officials are committing crimes in Venezuela, stealing from the Venezuelan people and then spending their riches living in the lap of luxury in Miami. Today’s announcement further confirms how true this is, and the extent to which corrupt and criminal Venezuelan regime officials have been allowed to freely travel and prance around U.S. soil with impunity.”
The oil from Caracas that once paid for doctors from Havana is running low, imperiling an ideological union
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez proclaimed a decade ago that they presided over a single country, combining Cuba’s educated workforce with Venezuela’s oil wealth to challenge U.S. power across Latin America.
Now Mr. Castro is gone, three years after Mr. Chávez’s death, and the union between their two countries, while still strong on paper, is withering away fast.
Daily shipments of more than 100,000 barrels of subsidized Venezuelan oil, the lifeblood of Cuba’s economy, have dropped by more than half since 2013, according to oil traders and Cuban refinery workers. In November, Cuba had to buy oil on the open market for the first time in 12 years, because of Venezuela’s plummeting output.
Meanwhile, thousands of Cuban doctors who toiled in Venezuelan shantytowns to pay off the oil deliveries are quietly returning home, scaling back an important vestige of the popular social programs Mr. Chávez left to his now embattled successor, Nicolás Maduro. The air bridge between the two Caribbean countries is also dissolving: Cuba’s flagship airline, Cubana de Aviación, stopped regular flights to Caracas earlier this year. Charters from Caracas to Havana have scaled back too as demand slumped.
On the surface, leaders in both countries swear to an ironclad coupling, which detractors mockingly call Cubazuela.