Venezuela Weekly: Follow the Money

[Venezuela Weekly took Thanksgiving break off. Thus this week’s edition covers two weeks of news.]

The case of Venezuela’s former treasurer Alejandro Andrade, who admitted to accepting a staggering $1 billion worth of bribes, is still making waves in Venezuela. These bribes were accepted in exchange for him using his position to favor businessmen seeking official rate dollars. For over a decade Venezuela’s foreign exchange rate has been inflated providing extraordinary opportunities for corruption (see Efecto Cocuyo explainers here and here.)

One client was apparently Raúl Gorrín, the owner of the Globovisión network, who has been charged by US authorities with facilitating more than $150 million in bribes for favorable treatment in currency exchange deals. Globovisión was once virulently anti-government but, after years of judicial harassment, the owners decided to sell to Gorrín in 2013. Globovisión subsequently soften its line and changed its coverage. While it will still run studio interviews with opposition politicians, it does not run live coverage of any opposition protests or campaign events.

Bringing Gorrín into the mix has unleashed more accusations across political lines. Deposed Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that Hugo Chávez’s daughter María Gabriela Chávez is involved in the case as well as acting attorney general Tarek William Saab. After the sentence in the US, acting Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced that he was designating a prosecutor to investigate irregular sale of bonds. Saab said they would be requesting Andrade’s extradition from the US. Ortega points out that while Saab is suddenly interested in Andrade, he steers clear of mentioning Gorrín.

Not to be left out, opposition politicians and activists have been using photos with Gorrín or rumors of a relationship to Gorrín, to accuse and discredit each other.

  • Venezuela’s Central Bank (BCV) finally provided data to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the latter threatened it with penalties for not doing so in timely fashion. While the BCV’s 2017 numbers were less bad than the IMF’s estimates, they still painted a bleak situation with: 860% inflation, a 15.7% economic contraction, a 51% decline in private imports and a 27% decline in public imports.
  • The head of Russian oil company Igor Sechin went to Caracas with a delegation of oil executives to show data that Venezuela was fulfilling its commitments to China to a greater degree than its commitments to Russia. Venezuela sends over half of its production to China and Russia to payback loans.
  • Venezuela has reached a settlement with Canadian mining firm Crystallex that will, if fulfilled, prevent the latter from obliging an auction of Citgo, Venezuela’s US based gasoline refining and retail operation.

Opposition

After months of stagnation, the “Frente Amplio Free Venezuela” is successfully pushing forward with its mobilization strategy. On the weekend of November 17-18 it held state congresses across the country to consult with various social sectors and define strategies. On Monday, November 26, in a public meeting in Caracas, they presented a document outlining strategies of action and goals that emphasized pushing for a peaceful and democratic solution through social mobilization.

At the end of the meeting, two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles expressed support for a political pact and electoral solution. “It’s not true that a political transition must necessarily happen through force. We have to let there be a door so that those responsible for this can exit, so that there can be a negotiation with different conditions and different actors.”

International Pressure

  • The Trump Administration is apparently preparing to put Venezuela on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism along with Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. This designation would imply additional sanctions, including a prohibition of economic assistance. I told the Washington Post that the most important impact would be symbolic. US military intervention is more easily justified if Venezuela can be portrayed as a threat to US national security, and a SSOT designation would effectively do that. The measure has not yet been announced. An anonymous US official told Reuters it will be a challenge for the Trump administration to provide concrete proof linking the Maduro government to terrorism.
  • The US is considering sanctions on Cuban intelligence officials who have helped the Maduro government crack down on protesters and dissent.
  • In response to an investigative report that exposed the work of Chinese telecom ZTE in helping the Maduro government develop a database that helps it monitor its citizens, Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen have asked the US Secretaries of state, treasury, and commerce to investigate whether sanctions were violated.
  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet confirmed that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro sent her a formal invitation to visit Venezuela and certify the state of human rights in the country. There has been much anticipation of such a visit since Bachelet assumed this position in September.

Migration and Humanitarian Crisis

  • 8 of the 11 countries the signed the “Quito Declaration” in September met again on November 23 and put together an action plan and agreed to have another meeting in March, 2019. They agreed to strengthen initiatives to facilitate social and economic insertion of migrants, as well as the regularization process, with support from United Nations organizations.
  • Delegates from 17 member states of the Organization of American States visited the Colombian-Venezuelan border in two places on November 20.
  • The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund has approved $9.2 million for humanitarian programs in Venezuela. The funds will focus on small children and pregnant and lactating women.

Policing and violence

  • The Victims Monitor reported that on their count, police were responsible for half of the 368 homicides in the Libertador municipality (Caracas) from June to August, 2018. One recent survey shows that 65% of the population distrusts Venezuela´s police forces.

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]