Tag Archives: Nicolas Maduro

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.

Venezuela: Trouble on the streets

nohaycomida

The Economist

The country is poised between chaos and dictatorship

“THIS government is going to fall!” chanted hundreds of protesters alongside the Avenida Libertador in central Caracas. Staring them down were ranks of security forces—from the police, the national guard and the feared, black-uniformed SEBIN (secret police)—charged with making sure that does not happen. Looming above was a huge grinning portrait of the late president, Hugo Chávez.

The protesters’ aim on May 18th was, as it has been on two previous occasions this month, to march to the offices of the National Electoral Council (CNE). The supposedly independent, but nakedly biased, institution has been delaying its consideration of a petition it was handed weeks ago, the first stage of a process to recall Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, through a referendum. With government forces blocking all routes to the CNE, the protesters were never likely to get close.

The regime may feel the day was a success. The protests were not huge. The poor have yet to stream down from the barrios en masse to demand the president’s ouster. But they are enraged and the government is worried. Almost 70% of Venezuelans want Mr Maduro to leave office this year, according to a recent poll. That demand is fuelled by the appalling deterioration of living standards under his incompetent rule. Venezuela is suffering the world’s deepest recession. Self-defeating price and currency controls and rampant corruption are causing shortages of everything from medicines to rice. “I am here because I am sick of queuing from dawn,” said José Galeano, a protester who describes himself as a poor man. “This has to end.”

Across Venezuela, small protests are now commonplace. Social media are awash with videos of shoppers plundering supermarkets and brawling with each other. As crime soars, the lynching of petty criminals is becoming more common.

The desperation such incidents reveal is dismissed by the increasingly delusional Mr Maduro during his endless television appearances. The shortages, he says, are the consequence of an “economic war” waged by enemies at home and abroad. Some in Caracas joke that he must be the only man who can claim to fight a fictional war, and then lose it. But they fear the direction his rule might now take.

After the May 18th protests he threatened to supersede the current economic state of emergency (announced five days earlier) with a “state of internal commotion”. Whereas the first gives him powers such as instructing the army to supervise the production and distribution of food, the second would give him the ability to impose something closer to military rule across the country.

Continue reading Venezuela: Trouble on the streets

Angry streets, not recall, may be Venezuela leader’s biggest risk

People shout while they queue to try to buy toilet paper and diapers outside a pharmacy in Caracas May 16, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People shout while they queue to try to buy toilet paper and diapers outside a pharmacy in Caracas May 16, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Reuters

Streaming down from hilltop slums in the dead of night, hundreds of Venezuelans join an ever-growing line that circles the vast “Bicentennial” state-run supermarket.

By sunrise, there are several thousand, closely watched by National Guard soldiers, all waiting for the chance to buy coveted rice, flour or chicken at subsidized prices amid crippling nationwide shortages and inflation.

Many of them used to be devoted supporters of Hugo Chavez, the late socialist president who brought his quirky brand of left-wing nationalism to the OPEC nation during a 1999-2013 presidency.

Now, in the grumbling of pre-dawn lines, there is disillusionment with Chavez’s “Beautiful Revolution” and undisguised anger at his successor and self-declared “son” Nicolas Maduro.

Word that no price-fixed food – only diapers, detergent and deodorant – would be on offer this particular morning spreads quickly, further deflating and frustrating the crowd.

The day before, when food ran out, there was a riot.

“This is unbearable,” says Wilson Fajardo, 56, a mechanic whose three children ate only bread for dinner the previous night. “We voted for Maduro because of a promise we made Chavez, but that promise has expired. Either they solve this problem, or we’re going to have to take to the streets.”

It is these people – who struggle to find food or medicine amid worsening shortages, see their income gobbled up by runaway inflation, and suffer near-daily water and power cuts – who are arguably a bigger problem for Maduro than his formal opponents.

For sure, the opposition coalition is organizing marches and trying to channel discontent into a drive for a recall referendum against the former union leader and bus driver.

Yet they are failing to attract large numbers to protests and Socialist Party officials say the referendum will not happen this year, confident the government-leaning electoral body will drag its feet on the complicated paperwork needed.

As institutional channels to remove Maduro close, anger is spilling over in other ways.

Small spontaneous demonstrations are picking up: about 17 per day around the nation, according to the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict, a rights group. It says looting, too, is becoming more common, with 107 incidents in the first quarter.

In towns around the nation, it is becoming common for neighbors to block roads or gather near state utility offices to show their rage over power-cuts, food prices or lack of water. Videos of mobs breaking into shops, swarming onto trucks or fighting over products often make the rounds of social media.

Continue reading Angry streets, not recall, may be Venezuela leader’s biggest risk

Venezuela blackouts: ‘We can’t go on living like this’

Back in 1999, Hugo Chávez promised to take the Venezuelan people to the same “sea of happiness” that Cubans enjoyed under the Castro brothers dictatorship

Incredibly enough, they still voted for him. Now, 17 years later, they are finally arriving at that promised “sea of happiness” and they don’t like it.

apagonvenezuela

CNN

About the only thing that can be counted on around the clock at Gustavo Diaz’s home these days is the gas stove.

The food in the fridge is spoiling. The microwave oven sits unused. The television is dark and the stereo system silent. It’s sweaty and uncomfortable inside, thanks to government-imposed electricity blackouts meant to deal with chronic power shortages across the country.

Even getting running water is a problem.

“We can’t go on living like this,” he said. “We Venezuelan people deserve much better.”

Power outages are nothing new for Venezuelans, including Diaz, who lives with his wife and three daughters in a Caracas suburb. But with the government’s recent announcement of a formal rolling blackout program set to last at least 40 days, things have only gotten worse, he said.

“We’ve had rolling blackouts since last month. We used to lose power two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, but now it’s four hours straight,” Diaz said.

Opposition blames corruption, mismanagement

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other government officials blame the El Niño weather pattern and epic drought for the problem. The water level at the Guri hydroelectric dam, which provides 75% of Venezuela’s electricity, is at a record low.

But opposition figures blame mismanagement and corruption for the problems.

Caught in the middle: people like Diaz. Life has taken on new rhythms, dictated by the ebb and flow of power.

“We unplug everything when we lose power so that the appliances don’t get damaged (with power surges) when we get the power back on,” Diaz said.

The blackouts are the most significant step yet the government has taken to save energy.

On April 6, Maduro forced government employees and other workers to take Fridays off. He also plans to push forward Venezuela’s time zone half an hour in May to give people more daylight during working hours.

The capital district in Caracas and some adjacent municipalities are exempt from the rolling blackouts because they house government officials. Nueva Esparta and Vargas — states that heavily depend on tourism — will not be affected either.

But for most Venezuelans, the blackouts add to a litany of other daily burdens.

‘This life is killing us’

The government — cash-strapped because of low oil prices — can’t pay for basic imports such as sugar, flour and eggs. Many Venezuelans wait several hours in lines outside supermarkets, hoping shelves won’t be emptied out by the time they arrive.

Venezuela’s economy shrank 5.7% in 2015 and is expected to contract another 8% this year, the International Monetary Fund says. Inflation has skyrocketed, and it could rise another 500% in 2016, according to IMF projections.

The bolivar, Venezuela’s currency, is worth less than a penny on the black-market exchange.

In Charallave, a working-class area that has historically been supportive of the late President Hugo Chavez and the socialist government, just about every business displays the same sign.

“No hay luz,” it says. (“There’s no power.”)

At a paint store, owner Luis Marcano said sales are way down, not just because of the power outages, but the economic crisis as well.

“I’ve been waiting all morning to sell something,” he said.

At another shop, a woman started to cry when a reporter asked how hard things had been. Unless something gives, she’ll likely have to shut down before the end of the year.

“We can’t live like this anymore,” said the shop owner, who feared reprisals and asked not to be identified. “This life is killing us.”

Venezuela Buys Weapons As Food Shortages Become the Norm

Venezuela-armas

PanAmPost

En Español

Despite Severe Shortages, President Nicolás Maduro Purchased US$162 million in Artillery, Planes, Ships

Venezuela’s leaders are seemingly more concerned with the remote possibility of war than with the country’s severe economic depression and very real social unrest. According to the Stockholm Institute of Peace Research Investigations, Venezuela was Latin America’s top buyer of weapons in 2015.

President Nicolás Maduro’s government, the report concludes, spent US$162 million on weaponry last year alone.

Instead of tackling the severe shortages of food and medicine, President Maduro decided to purchase armored vehicles, artillery, war planes and ships from China (US$147 million), the United States (US$6 million), Austria (US$5 million), and the Netherlands (US$4 million).

The report ranks Venezuela as the world’s 18th largest buyer of weapons. Between 2011 and 2015, spent more on arms than any other Latin American country.

As for the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, military spending virtually remained constant compared with 2013. Brazil, the regional leader, has cut down expenses on weapons due to economic hardships.

According to the Stockholm Institute, the international arms trade saw a 14-percent increase between 2011 and 2015 compared to the period between 2006 and 2010. The world’s main exporters of weapons remain the United States, Russia, China, France, and Germany.

Venezuela, “War Economy”

Oil accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s exports. As oil prices plunge, the Venezuelan government is getting less and less foreign currency to meet obligations and import basic goods.

Data from the Ministry of Oil and Mining shows that, in 2015, crude barrels were sold for an average of US$44.65, significantly lower than the US$66.42 average in 2014. Due to sinking international oil prices, the nation saw a 68-percent drop in revenues from exports last year.

Venezuela’s economy is in a similar condition to countries at war, experts assure. It has the highest inflation rate in the world, and estimates suggest that GDP could sink as low as 8 percent in 2016.

Shortages of food and medicine have become the norm, and some speak of an imminent humanitarian crisis. Venezuelans wait in lines every day hoping to find basic products at supermarkets and pharmacies.
In conversation with the PanAm Post, Venezuelan economist Luis Oliveros said the Venezuelan government’s military spending was a “lack of respect.” He called out President Nicolás Maduro for telling Congress that the state had to make do with less money due to oil prices while he “wasted” US$162 million in weapons.

Oliveros argued that Venezuela’s title as Latin America’s top military spender “is a slap in the face of the many people who cannot find medicine or food.”

“Venezuela is a country that has no international threats to justify the spending of millions of dollars in war weapons. Its economy is in a critical condition as never before in its history, with a deficit of approximately US$28 billion,” he explained.

Oliveros also claimed that this shows the Venezuelan government’s true priorities. “We are all asking ourselves where the government is getting all those dollars to buy weapons, and why it wasn’t used to address shortages and low productivity,” he said.

Based on unofficial information, Oliveros assured that the government’s system of foreign exchange controls allocated 80 percent less dollars to Venezuelan firms in January. This means that the shortages will get worse as the capacity to import products decreases.

“The government should have used that money to improve the availability of medicine and food, and invest in national production and raw materials for Venezuelan firms,” he argued. “It seems that Maduro is buying guns only to repress the Venezuelan people even more once the crisis worsens.”

Venezuela is on the brink of a complete economic collapse

Venezuela-Currency

The Washington Post

The only question now is whether Venezuela’s government or economy will completely collapse first.

The key word there is “completely.” Both are well into their death throes. Indeed, Venezuela’s ruling party just lost congressional elections that gave the opposition a veto-proof majority, and it’s hard to see that getting any better for them any time soon — or ever. Incumbents, after all, don’t tend to do too well when, according to the International Monetary Fund, their economy shrinks 10 percent one year, an additional 6 percent the next, and inflation explodes to 720 percent. It’s no wonder, then, that markets expect Venezuela to default on its debt in the very near future. The country is basically bankrupt.

That’s not an easy thing to do when you have the largest oil reserves in the world, but Venezuela has managed it. How? Well, a combination of bad luck and worse policies. The first step was when Hugo Chávez’s socialist government started spending more money on the poor, with everything from two-cent gasoline to free housing. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, it’s a good idea in general — but only as long as you actually, well, have the money to spend. And by 2005 or so, Venezuela didn’t.

Why not? The answer is that Chávez turned the state-owned oil company from being professionally run to being barely run. People who knew what they were doing were replaced with people who were loyal to the regime, and profits came out but new investment didn’t go in. That last part was particularly bad, because Venezuela’s extra-heavy crude needs to be blended or refined — neither of which is cheap — before it can be sold. So Venezuela just hasn’t been able to churn out as much oil as it used to without upgraded or even maintained infrastructure. Specifically, oil production fell 25 percent between 1999 and 2013.

The rest is a familiar tale of fiscal woe. Even triple-digit oil prices, as Justin Fox points out, weren’t enough to keep Venezuela out of the red when it was spending more on its people but producing less crude. So it did what all poorly run states do when the money runs out: It printed some more. And by “some,” I mean a lot, a lot more. That, in turn, became more “a lots” than you can count once oil started collapsing in mid-2014. The result of all this money-printing, as you can see below, is that Venezuela’s currency has, by black market rates, lost 93 percent of its value in the past two years.

Now you might have noticed that I talked about Venezuela’s black market exchange rate. There’s a good reason for that. Venezuela’s government has tried to deny economic reality with price and currency controls. The idea was that it could stop inflation without having to stop printing money by telling businesses what they were allowed to charge, and then giving them dollars on cheap enough terms that they could actually afford to sell at those prices. The problem with that idea is that it’s not profitable for unsubsidized companies to stock their shelves, and not profitable enough for subsidized ones to do so either when they can just sell their dollars in the black market instead of using them to import things. That’s left Venezuela’s supermarkets without enough food, its breweries without enough hops to make beer, and its factories without enough pulp to produce toilet paper. The only thing Venezuela is well-supplied with are lines.

Although the government has even started rationing those, kicking people out of line based on the last digit of their national ID card.

And it’s only going to get worse. That’s because Socialist president Nicolás Maduro has changed the law so the opposition-controlled National Assembly can’t remove the central bank governor or appoint a new one. Not only that, but Maduro has picked someone who doesn’t even believe there’s such a thing as inflation to be the country’s economic czar. “When a person goes to a shop and finds that prices have gone up,” the new minister wrote, “they are not in the presence of ‘inflation,’ ” but rather “parasitic” businesses that are trying to push up profits as much as possible. According to this — let me be clear — “theory,” printing too much money never causes inflation. And so Venezuela will continue to do so. If past hyperinflations are any guide, this will keep going until Venezuela can’t even afford to run its printing presses anymore — unless Maduro gets kicked out first.

But for now, at least, a specter is haunting Venezuela — the specter of failed economic policies.

Venezuela Default Imminent, Chavez Legacy Rests In Pieces

psuv

Forbes

Venezuela has been on default watch for months. Its credit rating is already in the gutter, at CCC at Standard & Poor’s. With oil now $20 lower thant it was when the S&P made that call, a default is no longer a question of if, but when.

A recent emergency economic decree is likely too late to save anyone but president Nicolas Maduro. After two years of inaction and the recent decline in oil prices, Barclays  Capital analyst Alejandro Arreazaa said a ” credit event”  in 2016 is ” increasingly difficult to avoid.” In other words, oil major PDVSA and the government it bankrolls is going bankrupt.

With oil under $30, Venezuela would need to use 90% of PDVSA’s oil export revenue to meet debt obligations to local and foreign creditors.

Figures released Wednesday by the Central Bank of Venezuela show that foreign currency reserves were just around $20 billion in the third quarter, but by the end of November they hit just $14 billion, the lowest ever. Net assets are also seen shrinking to around $24 billion, roughly $10 billion less than  a year ago. Considering current oil prices, any reasonable additional import cuts may be insufficient to cover the financing gap.

Maduro keeps reiterating his government’s willingness to pay its debts, but his anti-Yankee rhetoric and is hardline against multinationals there makes him hard to believe. The official position shows a lack of understanding of the magnitude and roots of the crisis, making for this default to be the biggest Latin America has seen since Argentina’s in 2001 and its more strategic default on the same debt in 2014.

Venezuela has about four weeks to figure this out or the first sovereign default of 2016 will come from the radical socialist government of Hugo Chavez and his successor Maduro.

Continue reading Venezuela Default Imminent, Chavez Legacy Rests In Pieces

The Castros ordered their Venezuelan puppets to ignore the election results

madurogritonThe Castro brothers are the ones who control Venezuela’s puppet regime and they will not recognize the results of the December 5th election because they do not believe in obeying the will of the people.

Court threat to Venezuela opposition’s super-majority

AFP

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s party has filed a legal challenge against the election of eight opposition lawmakers, threatening the two-thirds majority it won in landmark polls this month, the high court said Tuesday.

The opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), accused the leftist ruling party of violating “the people’s will” after the December 6 legislative polls, in which MUD won control of the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years.

The opposition won 112 of 167 seats in the elections, a dramatic blow to Maduro and the “revolution” launched in 1999 by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

If the court challenge is successful, it could reduce that number to 104, which is shy of a two-thirds majority.

The super-majority gives MUD the power to put legislation to a referendum, remove officials from office, call an assembly to draft a new constitution and possibly seek to force Maduro from power before the end of his term in 2019.

The case will be decided by the Supreme Court of Justice.

Last week Maduro’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, used an extraordinary session in the final days of its legislative majority to name 13 new judges and 21 substitute judges to the 32-member court.

The opposition, which boycotted the session, condemned the move.

MUD had last week accused the ruling party of filing a court challenge against the election of 22 of its incoming lawmakers, calling the move an “attempted judicial coup.”

The high court denied it had received such a case.

But Tuesday’s challenge shows the opposition’s super-majority is in fact under threat.

Analysts warn of a tough political struggle ahead for the oil-rich but deeply troubled nation, which is mired in recession and facing a potentially chaotic period of divided government.