Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Maduro are meeting in Quito, Ecuador today for the first time since Venezuela announced the closing of border crossings into Colombia in Tachira state one month ago.
Santos summed up his attitude towards the meeting last night through tweet:
We’re traveling to Ecuador tomorrow with the best intentions but without great expectations.
Earlier today, Santos said that the state of exception declared in Venezuelan municipalities along the Colombia border “cannot serve as an excuse” for the violation of human rights, and reiterated a statement that has become his mantra throughout the month-long dispute:
Colombia is not responsible for Venezuela’s problems. The problems affecting the border are not new (…) cooperation is required to fight delinquency and crime.
Maduro was more direct with his expectations for today’s meeting, saying:
Tomorrow, I’m going to meet President Santos and one of the topics that I’m bringing is – it’s crude, but we have to face the crude reality – are you going to fight drug trafficking or not? Are you going to stop all those [drug trafficking] flights leaving Colombia?
Maduro and Santos will meet at the Palacio de Carondele, the seat of the Ecuadorian government, at 2:00 PM local time. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez will also be in attendance.
Below, an image of Maduro and First Lady Cilia Flores arriving in Ecuador earlier today:
As of the writing of this post (6:00 PM EST), the meeting appears to still be taking place.
Scarcity Continues in Border Regions One Month After Border Closure
El Nacional published an article today in which it highlights the fact that the border closures appear to have done little to curb the scarcity felt in border municipalities one month into the measure.
The newspaper reports that citizens of municipalities under the state of exception in Tachira state have been forced to travel to San Cristobal, the state’s capital, in order to find food. Local business unions pointed out that one of the consequences of the border closure is that Colombian goods are no longer being imported in order to supplement Venezuelan stock. Lacking official figures, the local unions estimate that the commercial sector in Tachira is losing out on $3 million per day.
Evelin Marquez, a shopper in San Cristobal, told El Nacional:
You can’t take home the quantity of product that you want or need because there aren’t any [products], and the restrictions continue. What has changed since the border closed?
One area that does appear to have benefited from the border closure is oil. Two weeks ago, the Minister of Oil and Mines, Eulogio del Pino, said that gas station inventories in Zulia and Tachira had stabilized, and that the measure was saving 7 million liters of Venezuelan gas per day.
Economists Weigh In on Venezuela
LatinFocus Consensus, a firm that compiles economic forecasts, cites 24 economic consulting firms and financial institutions in a report that forecasts Venezuela’s economy to shrink between 2% and 11% in 2015. The figure is in line with a 7% drop in GDP forecast by the International Monetary Fund.
Alejandro Grisanti, an economist with Barclay’s Capital, is quoted in an El Nacional article as saying:
2015 has been the worst year in Venezuela’s economic history due to the economic contraction and inflation. I should say that the situation could get even worse.
Grisanti told the newspaper about the difficulties in calculating official economic statistics given the fact that the Banco Central de Venezuela has stopped publishing data, but explained that there are other ways to calculate inflation. On that measure, Grisanti forecasts that Venezuela will see an annualized rate of 188% by the end of the year.
Francisco Rodriguez, an analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, puts the 2015 inflation rate and 179.8%, and said:
This is a very severe crisis. It’s the highest inflation rate in [Venezuelan] history.
Guillermo Quiroga, an economist at BancTrust, made it clear to El Nacional that while the continued low oil prices have not helped the economic situation in the country, they did not cause it:
According to available official data. the decrease started trimesters before the drop in [oil] prices. [The drop in oil prices] so far in 2015 has made it clear that the country continues to be as vulnerable or more vulnerable than in the past to external oil price shocks.
The currency exchange system and the overvaluation of the official Bolivar have distorted export and import dynamics for non-oil products…
Wayuu Community Accuses Gov’t of Human Rights Abuses
In the wake of the murder of two Wayuu community members living in Zulia state at the hand of National Guard soldiers on Saturday, a regional human rights coordinator says that at least 16 people have been killed by soldiers in the region since it became “militarized” nearly five years ago. Jose David Gonzalez says that while Decree 7.938 was drafted in order to facilitate community cooperation with the Venezuelan army through the creation of “military districts” in areas where Wayuu people live in Zulia, instead:
… the municipality was militarized and the restrictions started – [along with] human rights violations – in terms of free transit, and the right to life and liberty.
Gonzalez says that state institutions, including the Attorney General of the Republic and the People’s Defender, are aware of the violations.
Gonzalez explained that Venezuelan soldiers:
… grab people off the street, and then they put them in a convoy and they take them to a headquarters. There are a few cases like that. They’re investigating them.
He told La Patilla that on August 9, “the OLP [Operacion de Liberacion y Proteccion del Pueblo; “Operation Liberation and Protection of the People”] came to La Guajira”. Gonzalez said that 15 people were detained that day, including two university students who were suspected of having suspicious amounts of rice and money in their homes. “At the end of the day they are humble people, not bachaqueros”, said Gonzalez.
Guyana Shuts Down UN Mediation, Will Go To ICJ
Guyanese President David Granger said today that his country would not accept United Nations mediation in its ongoing dispute with Venezuela over the Essequibo region. Instead, Granger explained, Guyana would take the case over to the International Court of Justice:
We should resolve this issue through judicial means. We’re going to court. We’re not interested in the sterile process [that is the United Nations] good offices.
Granger also summed up his country’s understanding of the Essequibo dispute:
My message will be that Guyana resolved this territorial issue 116 years ago, and now the Venezuelan claim is affecting our development. It drives away investors and it creates an atmosphere of tension and suspicion.
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