Venezuela Weekly: Maduro Gets Help from China

In the midst of generally worsening relations in the region (see below), Nicolás Maduro travelled to China with first lady Cilia Flores. He said he was “going with great expectations and hopes to deepen relations with our sister republic.” His hopes do not seem unfounded as the government has secured additional resources that could give it some breathing room over the coming months.

Vice President Delcy Rodríguez traveled to China before Maduro and signed oil and mining agreements. Terms of the agreement are not clear but it appears the government has secured $5 billion. Rodríguez suggested these agreements amounted to a “new stage” in Sino-Venezuelan relations. This may be less overstated than appears. Bloomberg’s Ben Bartenstein reported that China’s foreign ministry told journalists that China was committed to providing additional support to Venezuela, and that “the Trump administration’s attempt to overthrow Nicolas Maduro with sanctions is ‘unfair.’”

  • While the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg had previously revealed the existence of coup plots that had been discovered and disrupted by the Maduro government, this weekend the New York Times revealed that the Trump administration had secretly met with Venezuelan coup plotters several times over the past year. US officials appear to have rebuffed requests for material support—such as encrypted radios—in large part because they were not convinced the conspirators were trustworthy or had concrete plans what to do after a coup occurred. (See Washington Post coverage here.)
  • Debate in the days after this story centered on whether the Trump administration had done the right thing. Defenders suggested they had just listened and not facilitated, a wise move given the lack of knowledge of what is going on inside the military. Critics point out that the Obama administration had the same opportunity but rejected it and that simply meeting with the plotters provides tacit consent. In addition, as made clear by Ernesto Londoño in an interview on National Public Radio, comments by Trump that the US has a military option in Venezuela back in August of 2017 caught the attention of the plotters and made them think they would receive a sympathetic ear.
  • In the following days the Whitehouse did not deny the report but suggested their preference is for a democratic solution. On September 11 in an informal meeting at the UN called by US ambassador to the UN Nikky Haley, she and other US officials had harsh words for the Venezuelan government.
  • While Colombian president Ivan Duque has clearly rejected the idea of US military intervention, former president Alvaro Uribe continues to call for it.

Migration

  • Francisco Quintana of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) said this week that the number of Venezuelan migrants could reach 4 million by the end of the year. He says that, in contrast to the United Nations’ estimates of 2.3 million Venezuelans currently being outside of the country, their numbers suggest it is closer to 3 million.
  • On September 5 the Organization of Americna States (OAS) Permanent Council met to discuss the Venezuelan migration crisis. Delegates called on Venezuela to accept food and medical aid. They also agreed that they need to work against outbreaks of xenophobia against Venezuelan migrants.
  • OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro named David Smolansky as the coordinador of an OAS work group that will write a report on the migratory crisis and seek to raise funds for addressing it. Smolansky is a member of Leopoldo López’s hardline Voluntad Popular party and former mayor of the Hatillo municipality near Caracas. He went into exile in September 2017. He said he assumes his new role with the conviction that “Venezuela has to get rid of the dictatorship to stop the exodus” (listen from 0:50).
  • Vice President for Communication Jorge Rodríguez rolled out the “Return to the Fatherland Plan” to facilitate Venezuelans who he says have realized they have been deceived by the myth of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Vice President Delcy Rodríguez has even met with United Nations representatives in Caracas to try to gain support for their repatriation program. The program was dismissed as propaganda by the Peruvian foreign minister.

Economic controls and resources

  • On September 7 the government announced it was eliminating exchange control and allowing the “free exchange of money in the entire national territory.” However, upon closer examination, the government is actually just developing a more flexible regime. All exchanges of currencies will be carried out by the Central Bank through blind auction, and the official rate will be determined as a result of an average taken of the exchanges taking place daily. Critics suggest the blind auctions will give the Central Bank privileged information and allow only them to take advantage of low offers (in the case of selling dollars) or high offers (in the case of buying dollars). And while the “Law against Illicit Exchange” was abolished last month, authorities can use other instruments in the penal code to penalize exchanges outside of the system, such as the law against organized crime, as was done in the case of journalist Jesús Medina.

Freedom of Information

  • Journalists in three western states protested the disappearance of local media.
  • The state telecommunications company CANTV continues to block access to highly critical news portal El Pitazo through its internet service, the most used internet service provider in Venezuela.
  • Academia Wayra Venezuela is organizing a “Fact Checking Hackathon” which will provide a tool for journalists and citizens to check new stories and detect fake news. The initiative is supported by the British Embassy in Caracas.

Violence

  • In Efecto Cocuyo Keymer Ávila summarized a piece of his from earlier this year looking at the decline in homicide during 2017 (read the original piece here). He points out that 2017 was so exceptional given the 4 months or protests and other political commotion, that the reduction in homicide cannot be attributed with any confidence to actual government policies. He also suggests that given significant migration out of Venezuela, estimates might be underestimating violence statistics (such as murder per 100,000 inhabitants) by overestimating Venezuela’s population.

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]