Category Archives: Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro Doesn’t Really Control Venezuela

Article pubished in The Atlantic by Moisés Naím

It’s hard to pick the Venezuelan president’s greatest flaw. Which is more serious: his cruel indifference to the suffering of his people, or his brutal autocratic behavior? Which is more outrageous: his immense ignorance or the fact that he dances on television while his henchmen murder defenseless young protesters in the streets? The list of Nicolas Maduro’s failings is long, and Venezuelans know it; over 80 percent of them oppose him. And it’s not just Venezuelans. The rest of the world has also discovered—at last!—his despotic, corrupt, and inept character.

And yet … Maduro doesn’t really matter. He is simply a useful idiot, the puppet of those who really control Venezuela: the Cubans, the drug traffickers, and Hugo Chavez’s political heirs. Those three groups effectively function as criminal cartels, and have co-opted the armed forces into their service; this is how it is possible that every day we see men in uniform willing to massacre their own people in order to keep Venezuela’s criminal oligarchy in power.

When Nicolas Maduro Was Dictator for a Day

The most important component of this oligarchy is the Cuban regime. Three years ago I wrote: “Venezuelan aid is indispensable to prevent the Cuban economy from collapsing. Having a government in Caracas that maintains such aid is a vital objective of the Cuban State. And Cuba has accumulated decades of experience, knowledge, and contacts that allow it to operate internationally with great efficacy and, when necessary, in a way that is almost invisible.” Havana’s priority remains controlling and plundering Venezuela. The supply of oil from Venezuela to Cuba is no longer as steady as it once was, due to the production troubles of the state-run oil company PDVSA. But the flows, while intermittent, have continued. Moreover, Cuban companies are the intermediaries of choice for many critical imports of foods and medicines to Venezuela.

And Cuba’s leaders know how to keep their Venezuelan allies in power—namely by exporting their own successful military-control strategies to Venezuela. Cubans have perfected the techniques of the police state at home: constant but selective repression, extortion and bribery, espionage, and persecution. Above all, the Cuban regime knows how to protect itself from a military coup: That is the main threat to any dictatorship, so controlling the armed forces is an indispensable requirement for a self-respecting dictator.

The Venezuelan regime has adopted these tactics. The effects are obvious: Officers who do not sympathize with the Maduro regime have been neutralized, while those who support it have gotten rich. It is no coincidence that there are more generals in Venezuela today than in NATO or the United States. Or that many high-ranking officials are exiled, imprisoned, or killed. That is why the hope that a group of patriotic, democratic, and honest officers will defend the nation, and not those who plunder it, has so far been only a hope.

But, in addition, Cuba—in stumbling across Venezuela—happened upon one of the most unprecedented gifts in the annals of geopolitics: Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, the president of a petro state who happily invited a bankrupt dictatorship to exert enormous influence in some of his country’s vital functions, from elections, economic policy, and politics to, of course, military and citizen surveillance. Cuban “advisers” were deployed at critical government agencies and soon started vetoing the decisions of the Venezuelan officials and in some instances imposing their views. The Venezuelans who resisted them were transferred or fired. The surprising influence that Cuba gained in Venezuela was essentially due to the close political alliance and deep emotional attachment that Chavez developed toward Fidel Castro. But even today, more than four years after Chavez’s death, the Venezuelan government makes few important decisions that are not stealthily influenced by the Cuban regime.

Another important player in today’s Venezuela is the drug traffickers, whose power is also a constraint on Maduro. Venezuela is one of the main drug routes to the U.S. and Europe. This status is worth billions of dollars, and the country is home to a vast network of people and organizations that control the illicit trade and the enormous amount of money it generates. According to U.S. officials, one such person is Vice President Tareck El Aissami, and so are a large number of military officers and other relatives and members of the ruling oligarchy.

This oligarchy, made up of Chavez’s political heirs, is the third major component of the real power in Venezuela. Of course, Maduro; his wife, Cilia Flores; and many of his relatives and associates are part of that oligarchy. In this elite there are different “families,” “cartels,” and groups that compete for influence on government decisions, for political appointments, and for the control of illicit markets—ranging from human trafficking to money laundering. The smuggling and selling of food, medicines, and all kinds of products are just a few of the many other corrupt activities that enrich the Maduro oligarchy as well as the Cubans, the military, and their civilian accomplices.

Getting rid of Maduro is necessary. But it’s not enough as long as three criminal cartels—who are intermingled in business, corruption, and the exercise of power—continue to control Venezuela.

View article at The Atlantic

After Maduro’s secret trip to Cuba, opposition leaders want to know: ‘Why did he go?’

The Miami Herald

The unannounced visit to Cuba earlier this week by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, apparently to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro, has rekindled criticisms about the the Cuban government’s strong influence on Venezuela’s crisis.

“Mr. Maduro traveled secretly last night to Cuba. Why did he go? He’s been to Havana more than Maracaibo or San Cristobal,” Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles wrote in Spanish on a Tweet posted Monday.

“Why did Mr. Maduro go?” Capriles added in a video posted Wednesday on Periscope. “To hand over more of our oil? To commit our armed forces even more, asking for reinforcements from the Cuban military so they can continue … to command the Venezuelan military?”

In the midst of the deepening political crisis in Venezuela, opposition activists in both countries have stepped up their complaints about what they allege to be the noxious influence of Havana over domestic affairs in the South American country.

“The Castro government tests and applies all its repressive technology in Venezuela,” said a declaration signed by 42 Cuban government opponents. “Havana designs the strategy for installing a totalitarian regime, and sends the agents necessary to carry out those objectives. The Chavista regime, plagued by corruption and drug trafficking, has been the perfect ally.”

The declaration signers — including prominent Cuban dissidents Berta Soler, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer and Antonio Rodiles — added that Cuban ruler Raúl Castro and his son Alejandro, as well as Maduro and his No. 2., Diosdado Cabello, “should be held equally responsible for the disastrous situation in the sister nation.”

For the Venezuelan opposition, the issue of alleged Cuban interference is of such importance, that in a declaration criticizing President Donald Trump’s recent mention of a possible U.S. military intervention in their country, the Caracas-based Mesa de la Unidad (Democratic Unity Coalition) alleged that “military and political interference by Cuba has not only affected our sovereignty and independence but is one of the main causes for the government’s violence and repression.”

Maduro’s trip to Cuba and meeting with Raúl Castro, kept secret until it was confirmed by the Cuban news media Wednesday, highlighted a frequent criticism of the Venezuelan president: that he accepts too much political advice from Havana.

“I believe the proposal for a new Constituent Assembly was created in Cuba,” said Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner. “Under the current constitution they could not carry out a communist revolution. They needed a tighter model because the experience of the Cuban government is that if they build a system for defending the political model, they survive.”

Raúl Castro recently congratulated Maduro for ordering the Constituent Assembly in a letter that appeared to sum up his advice to Caracas: resist and appeal to “the unity of the people.”

“Experience shows that each act of terrorism lifts the morale of the people, each attack makes it stronger, each blow strengthens unity,” Castro wrote.

Castro also predicted “days of powerful struggles, of international harassment, of blockades, of restrictions. But they will also be days of creativity and work for revolutionaries and the entire Venezuelan people which, like today … will have us Cubans on the first row of militant solidarity.”

The stability of the Maduro government is vital to Cuba because Venezuela has been its biggest trade partners and provides the island with highly subsidized oil. Although the oil shipments have dropped significantly in recent months, Maduro remains committed to a level of supply that has kept the Cuban economy from total collapse.

he Venezuelan opposition has been denouncing the Cuban presence in the country for years. After the alliance between Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Cuba gained a powerful influence over the South American nation, including its national identification system, the PDVSA oil monopoly and many government ministries. In 2012, opposition activist María Corina Machado demanded an investigation of the Cuban military’s Cooperation and Liaison Group (GRUCE) in Venezuela, led by Gen. Ermio Hernández Rodríguez.

“As OAS Secretary General, Luis Almargo, said at a Senate hearing on July 19th, there are approximately 15,000 Cuban regime military and security forces who are acting ‘like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela,’ ” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fl.

“…The world needs to know and stand up against the occupation of Venezuela by the Cuban regime and it needs to support the appeals of the Venezuelan people for democracy and basic human rights,” Díaz-Balart added.

The U.S. government has not taken a clear position on the issue, although it has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan government officials and is drafting new regulations expected to ban U.S. companies from doing business with companies controlled by the Cuban military.

The State Department declined to answer questions about the Cuban meddling in Venezuela. But CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently said that U.S. concerns over the Venezuelan crisis were justified by the presence of Cuba and hostile countries like Russia and Iran.

“The Cubans are there. The Russians are there. The Iranians and Hezbollah are there,” Pompeo said in an interview with the Fox TV network. “This is something that has a risk of getting to a very, very bad place. So, America needs to take this very seriously.”

Jason Poblete, a lawyer in Washington who follows U.S. policies for the Western hemisphere, said Cuba is trying to support the Maduro government at all costs because it is desperate to continue receiving Venezuelan oil.

“Cuba wants to protect the oil,” he said. “If you want to resolve the Venezuelan problem, you have to resolve the Cuba issue.”

Trump’s Talk of ‘Military Option’ in Venezuela May Bolster Maduro’s Hand

The thought of military intervention in Venezuela probably took many Americans by surprise when it was floated on Friday by President Trump. But in Venezuela, it was a threat that would have sounded familiar, as if the words had been scripted by the government itself.

For years, Venezuela’s leaders have warned of an impending danger from the United States. They claimed American spy planes were flying close to the border. They said United States diplomats had assassination plans for Venezuelan leaders. And at times of domestic crisis, the country’s top officials have said that Washington is planning to invade.

Few besides the most fervent government loyalists ever saw truth in the plots. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion that he was considering a “military option” to deal with the crisis in Venezuela may well breathe life into some of the government’s more wild claims.

“Maduro’s theory of war will be much more concrete and believable,” said David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, referring to Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s leftist president. “This will undoubtedly galvanize his coalition.”

Mr. Trump, speaking with reporters on Friday after a meeting with Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, said for the first time that he might use the American military to intervene in Venezuela’s deepening unrest, which has left more than 120 dead this year.

“We are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away,” Mr. Trump said. “Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

Venezuela’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, called the statement an “act of madness.”

The foreign ministry said Mr. Trump’s “bellicose” and “reckless” remarks were intended “to drag Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict that would permanently alter the stability, peace and security in our region.”

The current tensions stem from a plan by Mr. Maduro to consolidate power in the country. On July 30, he held a vote to install a new body, called the Constituent Assembly, that would give his ruling leftist party the right to rule the country unopposed for up to two years while rewriting the Constitution.

As the vote approached, Mr. Trump warned repeatedly that he would not tolerate the move, and he issued sanctions against members of Mr. Maduro’s government. When the vote occurred, the White House imposed sanctions on Mr. Maduro and on Friday refused to take a call Mr. Maduro had wanted to place with Mr. Trump.

Few analysts believe the United States has any real intention of using its military against Venezuela.

And while the president may have intended his remarks as a warning meant to restrain the Venezuelan government, analysts said, they could have the opposite effect, strengthening Mr. Maduro’s hand as he cracks down on dissent and blames Washington for his country’s economic and domestic strife.

“These are empty threats,” said Shannon K. O’Neil, a Latin America analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And since they are empty threats, Maduro faces no new consequences by taking a tough stand, both rhetorically and against the opposition.”
Continue reading at New York Times

Diosdado Cabello, the “Pablo Escobar of Venezuela” may have issued a death order against Marco Rubio

The Miami Herald

Powerful Venezuelan lawmaker may have issued death order against Rubio

One of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders may have put out an order to kill Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fervent critic of the South American country’s government, according to intelligence obtained by the U.S. last month.

Though federal authorities couldn’t be sure at the time if the uncorroborated threat was real, they took it seriously enough that Rubio has been guarded by a security detail for several weeks in both Washington and Miami.

Believed to be behind the order: Diosdado Cabello, the influential former military chief and lawmaker from the ruling socialist party who has publicly feuded with Rubio.

At a July 19 Senate hearing, the same day he was first spotted with more security, Rubio repeated his line that Cabello — who has long been suspected by U.S. authorities of drug trafficking — is “the Pablo Escobar of Venezuela.” A week ago on Twitter, Cabello dubbed the senator “Narco Rubio.”

The death threat was outlined in a memo to several law enforcement agencies disseminated last month by the Department of Homeland Security. The memo, designated “law enforcement sensitive” but not classified, was obtained by the Miami Herald.

The memo revealed an “order to have Senator Rubio assassinated,” though it also warned that “no specific information regarding an assassination plot against Senator Rubio has been garnered thus far” and that the U.S. had not been able to verify the threat. That Cabello has been a vocal Rubio critic in Venezuelan media was also noted, a sign federal authorities are well aware of the political bluster complicating the situation.

According to the memo, Cabello might have gone as far as to contact “unspecified Mexican nationals” in connection with his plan to harm Rubio.

The U.S. believes Cabello controls all of Venezuela’s security forces. Rubio, a Republican, has President Donald Trump’s ear on U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington declined to comment Saturday. Venezuela’s Ministry of Communication and Information said Sunday it could not respond to media queries until Monday. Messages sent to some of Cabello’s email addresses were not immediately returned.

Rubio declined comment through a spokeswoman. His office had previously sent reporters’ questions about the security detail to Capitol Police, which did not respond Saturday but has in the past also declined comment.

Capitol Police “is responsible for the security of members of Congress,” Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said in a statement. “It would be inappropriate for DHS to comment on the seriousness of the threat.”

Lawmakers have been on heightened alert since a June 14 shooting in Virginia targeted Republican members of Congress practicing baseball. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of California was critically injured. He was protected by Capitol Police officers — who ultimately killed the shooter — only because he is a member of congressional leadership.

Capitol reporters first noticed police officers trailing Rubio almost a month ago. When he was interviewed last week by Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4, Rubio’s security included at least one Miami-Dade County Police officer. MDPD was one of the law-enforcement agencies asked to help protect Rubio.

Venezuelan military brigade rebels against Maduro’s dictatorship

US NEWS

Venezuelan ruling party chief Diosdado Cabello says Sunday that there was a “terrorist” attack at a military base controlled by troops loyal to the government and several people were arrested.

Cabello reported via Twitter that troops acted quickly to control the situation in the early morning at the Paramacay base in the central city of Venezuela.

The announcement came after a small group of men dressed in military fatigues, some armed with assault rifles, released a video declaring themselves in rebellion in Carabobo state, where Valencia is located.

In the video a man identifying himself as Capt. Juan Caguaripano said that any unit refusing to go along with its call for rebellion would be declared a military target.

The South American has for months been in the throes of a political crisis with protests that have left more than 100 dead, nearly 2,000 wounded and over 500 detained.

On Saturday prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was returned home to serve his sentence under house arrest, days after being hauled back to prison in the middle of the night in a move that drew international condemnation.

The activist’s wife Lilian Tintori said in a message on Twitter that she and her husband remained committed to achieving “peace and freedom for Venezuela.”

Lopez was released from prison July 8 and placed under house arrest after serving three years of a 13-year sentence on charges of inciting violence at opposition rallies. Many human rights groups considered him a political prisoner.

But he was taken back into custody last Tuesday along with former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma in what many believed was a renewed crackdown on the opposition following the election of delegates to a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly charged with overhauling the nation’s charter.

That assembly voted unanimously on Saturday to remove Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, a longtime government loyalist who broke with President Nicolas Maduro in April. Cries of “traitor” and “justice” erupted during the vote to oust Luisa Ortega from her post.

Delegates said they were acting in response to a ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court, which banned Ortega from leaving the country and froze her bank accounts while it weighs criminal charges against her for alleged irregularities.

Ortega refused to recognize the decision and vowed to continue defending the rights of Venezuelans from Maduro’s “coup” against the constitution “with my last breath.”

“This is just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government,” Ortega said in the statement she signed as chief prosecutor. “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”

She alleged that authorities were desperate to get their hands on dossiers containing information on dirty dealings by high-level officials, including sensitive details about millions of dollars in bribes paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Assembly delegates later swore in as her replacement Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, who was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration for failing to protect protesters from abuses in his role as the nation’s top human rights official.

The constitutional assembly was seated despite strong criticism from the United States, other countries and the Venezuelan opposition, which fear that it will be a tool for imposing dictatorship. Supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

Its installation is virtually certain to intensify a political crisis that has brought four months of protests in which at least 120 people have died and hundreds more have been jailed.

Maduro also wants the assembly to strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, saying their constant conspiring to oust him shouldn’t be protected.

While members of congress say they will only be removed by force, the opposition is struggling to regain its footing in the face of the government’s strong-arm tactics and the re-emergence of old, internal divisions.

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.