Venezuela Weekly: Drone Attack Reveals Maduro Vulnerability

Over the weekend Venezuela news was dominated by the drone attack that interrupted Nicolás Maduro’s speech during the celebration of the 81st anniversary of Venezuela’s National Guard, and led soldiers to break formation and run for cover. The evidence suggests this attack was real, but amateur. Nevertheless, it revealed the vulnerability of a President who has few political challengers but is presiding over a governance disaster and a state apparatus crumbling from within. The most important task for an autocratic leader is to make him or herself look invincible and inevitable. This attack did just the opposite. (Listen to this interview (starting at 35:00) for a summary of the main issues. See this post for a summary of WOLA media statements.)

The government quickly made 6 arrests of people it says carried out the attack and trained in Colombia. It also arrested opposition deputy to the National Assembly Juan Requesens for supposed involvement. A former opposition mayor claimed to have been involved, and Miami talk show host Jaime Bayly said he knew about it ahead of time and that more attacks are on the way.

  • The Constituent Assembly (ANC) has derogated the exchange control law which will allow people to freely buy and sell foreign currency at exchange houses. However, it is not yet clear whether the government will do away with currency controls entirely or try to maintain an official fixed rate for priority goods. It has done this several times in the past and each time has ended up controlling the supposedly free-floating rate. The government said one of its motives was to undermine currency speculation. However, elimination of the law did not affect the parallel rate of approximately 3.5 million Bolivares to the dollar. Changes in the exchange control regime are part of the economic reorientation that Maduro previously announced.
  • Despite elimination of the exchange control law, the intervention of Venezuela’s largest bank Banesco has been extended. This intervention was justified as part of an investigation of money laundering, but widely suspected of being part of an attempt to detect black market sales of foreign currency.
  • On July 31st, most of Caracas suffered one of the blackouts that have become common in the interior. While Electricity Minister Luis Motta Domínguez claimed the power outage was the result of sabotage, the Federation of Electricity Workers said it was because of a lack of system maintenance.
  • On August 1, hundreds of peasants reached Caracas after marching 500 kilometers over 20 days. Declaring themselves Chavistas and revolutionaries, they demanded to speak with President Maduro. They indeed were received by Maduro, President of the ANC Diosdado Cabello, and Vice President Delcy Rodriguez. On national television they denounced corruption, influence trafficking, and the jailing of 34 of their fellow peasants. They pointed out that the 210 ranches and farms taken over by the government are “a cemetery of machines and unproductive land.”

Venezuelan migration

  • As one of his final measures, outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree giving Special Permission (PEP) status to 442,000 Venezuelans who participated in the census carried out in May and June. PEP status provides beneficiaries with access to Colombian social services and allows them to legally work and freely circulate in the national territory. Activists applaud this measure but point out that it is less than optimal. First, the ambiguity of the census meant that many Venezuelan migrants were fearful and did not participate. Second, the PEP status is temporary and does not include any road to citizenship. Finally, as a presidential decree it can easily be undone by Santos’ successor. What is needed instead is actual legislation that regularizes the situation of Venezuelan migrants now and in the future.
  • Public officials’ efforts to address the wave of Venezuelan migrants crossing in to Brazil caused a legal back-and-forth putting in jeopardy the status of those seeking relief. The Roraima State government decreed that Venezuelans attempting to use social services would need to show a valid passport—a requirement that arguably violates Brazil’s constitution. Three days later, Federal Judge Helder Barreto argued that the measure was illegal and ordered the vaccination of Venezuelans admitted to Brazil. However, in doing so, he ordered the border closed until Roraima State could guarantee humanitarian conditions for Venezuelan migrants. Two days later, an appeals court judge overturned the ruling saying closure would not improve the humanitarian situation of Venezuelan migrants.
  • While major transit points like Cúcuta and Paraguachón draw the most attention, there is increasing concern regarding the fate of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia’s Catatumbo region, where they are being recruited into drug trafficking and contraband networks. The area is currently the site of violent conflict between the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional and the Ejercito Popular Nacional, for control over drug trafficking.
  • The Jesuit Service for Refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean published a route map and practical guide for migrants leaving the country.
  • Minister of Education, Elías Jaua recognized that out-migration of faculty and other education professionals is affecting Venezuela’s entire education system.

Human rights

  • Web portals Armando.info and Cronica.uno were the objects of DDoS attacks leaving the former inaccessible for 24 hours and the later even longer.
  • Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator (CONATEL) prohibited DirecTV from transmitting a documentary “Venezuela: Escaping a Failed State” on Deutsche Well television.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. As such most of our links will be to local and regional Spanish-language press. English-language links will be highlighted in bold.

Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]