The National Assembly approved the Ley Organica de Referendos [Referendum Law] earlier today, paving the way for a recall referendum that might see Maduro removed from office as early as October of this year.

The law clarifies that referendums will be held according to the letter of the law as stated in the constitution. Before the law, the rules surrounding referendums were in a state of limbo that allowed the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the national electoral body, to essentially dictate the rules. The opposition believed that the CNE might abuse this legal ambiguity to sabotage the referendum effort against Maduro, making the passing of this law today an important step in the efforts to recall Maduro.

Deputy Enrique Marquez spoke on the importance of the law after it was passed, saying:

This is a forward-looking law because it means that those that govern over us now feel that there are clear legal rules that allow control over their terms through recall referendums. Moreover, this regulates every kind of referendum (…) in other words, we’re giving the Venezuelan people more power to exercise their responsibility to guide the future of our country.

Marquez also offered a scathing rebuke of PSUV deputy Jorge Rodriguez’s speech at the legislature today, in which he defended Maduro’s tenure as president and suggested that seeking to recall him was contrary to what most Venezuelans wanted. Marques said:

Deputy Hector Rodriguez speaks as if the government had come into existence yesterday, as if the country hadn’t been victim of economic, political and social uncertainty over the past 17 years. [17 years that have] subjected the Venezuelan people to the most pronounced food and medicine shortages of our history (…) deputy Hector Rodriguez, sir: don’t be so shameless, so audacious , to tell us that the government has built up this country, when it has in fact destroyed it. Venezuela doesn’t have one healthy bone left in her.

Dutch Navy Intercepts Venezuelan Drug Boats Off Curacao

The Dutch Ministry of Defense announced today that a navy frigate intercepted two Venezuelan fishing boats that were hauling at least 600 kilograms of cocaine on March 5 off Curacao.

This appears to be the second drug interception in the area within a week, as the Dutch navy was also involved in an operation that netted 400 kilograms of marijuana also found aboard a Venezuelan fishing boat.

Deputy Carvajal: Drug Trafficking Accusations Are “False”

PSUV National Assembly deputy Hugo Carvajal made a rare public statement regarding ongoing allegations about his alleged involvement in a drug cartel operating through the highest levels of the Venezuelan government, including the military. Carvajal made the comments in response to MUD deputy Ismael Garcia pointing out that there were currently two open cases against Carvajal in the US over his alleged involvement in the drug trade: one in a Florida court and another in a New York court.

Carvajal explained that he is the victim of a conspiracy headed by the DEA:

This is for attacking the government. In 2005, President Chavez forced the DEA to leave Venezuela over all of the bad work that they were doing here, given the fact that they were practically trafficking drugs (…) they want to capture [whoever they feel like capturing].

Carvajal, who was at one point the head of Venezuelan military intelligence, was arrested in Aruba last year on a warrant from US authorities, who alleged that Carvajal was working alongside Colombian drug traffickers to export cocaine to the US.

Carvajal made the comments as the National Assembly approved the proposal for a law that seeks to tackle drug trafficking by individuals linked to the Venezuelan government and the military.

Maduro Withdraws Ambassador to US

Yesterday afternoon, Maduro ordered Venezuela’s top diplomatic official in the United States, Maximilien Arvelaiz, back to Caracas in a move meant to symbolize the severing of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Maduro made the move in response to US President Barack Obama’s extension of a decree made last year that placed economic sanctions on a number of high-ranking PSUV and military officials in response to their alleged roles in human rights violations and corruption in the country.

Venezuela and the US have not shared ambassadors since 2010, making Arvelaiz the highest-ranking diplomatic official in the US until yesterday.

Gov’t Sets Aside $7 Billion for New Exchange Systems

The Vice-President of the Productive Economy, Miguel Perez Abad, told Reuters today that the Venezuelan government expects to be able to set aside anywhere between $5.5 to $7 billion for exchange through the country’s newest currency exchange system, DICOM.

Abad also told Reuters that Venezuela has formally requested that the government of China reconsider its financing agreements with the country to make them more favorable for the Venezuelan government, given the ongoing crisis.

At the same time, Angel Garcia Bachs, the head of the Econometria firm, told El Universal that the new currency exchange system announced yesterday will do virtually nothing to help alleviate the serious problems affecting the Venezuelan economy.

Critics Call DIPRO/DICOM System More of the Same

Bachs said that the main problem lies with the fact that the new system – as the old one – is multi-tiered. While the DIPRO exchange rate is Bs. 10/$USthe DICOM rate is free-floating, and is currently trading at Bs. 206/$US.

This type of multi-tiered exchange rate system is conducive to corruption, because individuals who are able to buy US dollars at the cheaper rate can then easily sell them at the more expensive rate. Since the government is solely responsible for assigning dollars at each rate, corrupt officials stand to make a tremendous amount of money by gaming the system.

In September 2014, a special commission headed by a PSUV deputy found that approximately $20 billion were stolen between 2011-2013 directly as a result of the corruption schemes facilitated by CADIVI, the multi-tiered exchange system at the time.

Bachs explained:

Until we undertake economic reform that involves the unification of the exchange rates so that every citizen can access dollars at the same price (…) we will continue to have the problems of scarcity and shortages.

Bachs also said that the new exchange system does not represent anywhere close to “a major change” from the previous system, since it works in identical fashion to the old SICAD/SIMADI system.

Luis Vicente Leon, the head of the Datanalisis polling firm, agreed with Bachs, saying:

We can’t be optimists and think that this new dual exchange system will solve the severe crisis affecting the Venezuelan economy. These political economic policies do not influence the availability of foreign currency. This is the same [system] we had yesterday, but [with a devaluation of the bolivar].

At the National Assembly, the head of the permanent commission on finance, Alfono Marquina, argued that the new DIPRO/DICOM system is nothing but another in a long line of virtually identical systems, each of which has been declared faulty by the government with each successive “iteration”:

The government, which has failed with CADIVI, SICAD, CENCOEX and SIMADI, continues to insist on the same system but with a different name. The results will be the same.

On the issue of the systemic corruption the system facilitates, Marquina argued

Video Allegedly Shows Tumeremo Massacre Site

A video posted to YouTube yesterday by RunRun.es alleges to show the site of the Tumeremo massacre, where 28 missing miners were allegedly murdered by state security forces acting on behalf of criminal organizations that operate in the area. The massacre allegedly took place last Friday near Tumeremo, Bolivar state.

The video below shows a group of people walking through a wooded area. The ground is littered with shoes and other articles of clothing, some of which appear to be stained with blood. Wallets and other personal effects can also be seen scattered among the leaves at the site. Occasionally, the camera zooms in to what appear to be blood spots on the ground.

Below, the video:

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com


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