Category Archives: Venezuela

Maduro is trying to cool off the protests: Leopoldo Lopez released from prison to house arrest

CNN

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whose imprisonment has been a rallying cry for anti-regime demonstrators, has been ordered released to house arrest because of health concerns, the nation’s Supreme Court said Saturday morning.

Lopez has been detained since early 2014 over accusations of inciting anti-government protests.
“By the power of Supreme Court Judge Maikel Moreno, the criminal court of the Supreme Court Justice grants house arrest to Leopoldo Lopez due to health problems,” the court tweeted.
One of Lopez’s relatives confirmed that he has been granted house arrest.
The South American country is in the throes of a political and humanitarian crisis that has spurred mass protests against the government, especially over the past few months.

Venezuela crisis: Helicopter launches attack on Supreme Court

BBC

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has been attacked by grenades dropped from a helicopter in what President Nicolás Maduro called a “terrorist attack”.
Footage on social media shows a police helicopter circling over the city before shots and a loud bang are heard.
The police officer said to have piloted the stolen aircraft issued a statement denouncing the “criminal government”. His whereabouts are unknown.
It comes after mass protests against the political and economic crisis.
The Supreme Court is regularly criticised by the Venezuelan opposition for its rulings which bolster Mr Maduro’s hold on power.
What happened?
In an address from the presidential palace, President Maduro said the helicopter had flown over the Supreme Court and also the justice and interior ministries.
Officials quoted by Reuters news agency said four grenades were dropped on the court and 15 shots had been fired at the interior ministry.
No injuries were reported but Mr Maduro said “a social event” had been taking place at the Supreme Court and the attack could have caused “dozens of deaths”. One of the grenades failed to detonate, he added.
Mr Maduro has placed the military on alert.
“I have activated the entire armed forces to defend the peace,” he said. “Sooner or later, we are going to capture that helicopter and those who carried out this terror attack.”

Who flew the helicopter?
The police officer identified himself as Oscar Pérez in video statements posted on the social media platform Instagram.
Appearing in military fatigues and flanked by armed, masked men in uniform, he appealed to Venezuelans to oppose “tyranny”.
“We are a coalition of military employees, policemen and civilians who are looking for balance and are against this criminal government,” he said.
“We don’t belong to any political tendency or party. We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists.”
He said the “fight” was not against the security forces but “against the impunity of this government. It is against tyranny”.
It is not clear how much support, if any, the officer has.
Mr Maduro said the pilot had worked for former Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, but was no longer with him.

 

Goldman’s Venezuela deal shows it missed a dramatic shift in its business

Business Insider

Ever since the Wall Street Journal reported Goldman Sachs bought bonds issued by Venezuela’s state oil company, it has faced a firestorm of criticism.

There were protests outside of the bank’s New York headquarters, and Venezuela’s opposition lawmakers accused it of funding an oppressive regime.

All this, and we just learned that the deal didn’t even rise to the attention of top bank executives. In fact, the way WSJ’s Liz Hoffman tells it, buying the bonds for $0.31 on the dollar was a “no brainer” for fund managers.

Sure, it’s a no brainer in a vacuum. But Goldman doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Outside of the fact that Venezuela is currently defined by stories of extreme human suffering, Goldman is also under more scrutiny now that the White House is filled with its alumni.

Put in terms a portfolio manager might understand: If there was a marketplace for media hive and public outrage, then Goldman’s reputational risk premium exploded when Donald Trump became president and Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn (and Steve Bannon) took his side.

The Venezuela trade, though, shows that the bank might not have understood this.

Now, to be fair, a bank should be able to do whatever legal deal they want and — on paper — Goldman’s in the clear.

Venezuela didn’t even issue new debt for this, and Goldman will likely make money for its shareholders on the trade. Bonds of the oil company, PDVSA, are basically sovereign debt.

Goldman’s problem has to do with how we expect banks to do business after the financial crisis. We actually want banks to care about their reputations, especially when their alums help run the world from the White House. When they act like they don’t care, that’s now bad for business because we’re watching.

“Forget the moral and the ethics of it all… As a practical business model they obviously made a mistake,” Steve Hanke, an economist who advised former Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, told Business Insider.

As you can see from the chart of Venezuela’s cash reserves below, the regime has wiggled out of tight spots before. Whether Goldman had bought those PDVSA bonds or not the carnage in Venezuela would continue, perhaps for quite a long time. Regimes that have seemed close to death for years still exist on the planet (think: Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe).

Here’s the good news though, the fact that there is an uproar about this shows we’re not sinking into a dangerous space of complete moral relativism.

Good job, guys.

We now live in a world where the president of the United States decided that the secretary of state should be the former Exxon Mobil CEO, who actively lobbied Congress to remove a rule that made his company unable to do clandestine business with authoritarian petro-states.

That rule was a part of Dodd-Frank, and a few months ago the Trump administration had it removed.

The message here from the great hive that is the media and the internet is that Goldman should be less vulgar, less greedy. The message that decisions involving brutal autocrats should no longer be “no-brainers.”

Maybe this is a new era in how we react to banks doing business around the world. Maybe soon enough every kid in American will know something about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Maybe bankers will catch themselves before they work with the bad guys because, frankly, it’s bad for business.

Wouldn’t be such a bad thing, to be honest. This doesn’t have to be the Wild West — not yet.

The protests and the repression in Venezuela continue

TIME

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 dead after night of looting and violence in Venezuela

The Guardian

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.

Violence at parade highlights escalating Venezuela protests

CNN

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.
Bloody protests
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: Venezuela is a socialist paradise

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.

Venezuelans Take to the Streets after Chavista Court Eliminates Congress’ Legislative Powers

PanAmPost

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. ”