El Nacional published an article today in which it discusses what appears to be an increase in lynchings in Venezuela in response to the authorities’ inability to tackle crime.

According to Roberto Briceño Leon, the president of the Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia [Venezuela Violence Watch], 60-65% of Venezuelans are in favour of the idea of lynching. Leon pointed out that extra-judicial killings have also come to the forefront of national attention over the past several months, as state authorities engage in often deadly firefights with suspected criminals as part of the Operacion para la Liberacion del Pueblo [Operation to Liberate the People] (OLP) initiative.

Leon pointed out that research suggests that lynchings tend to occur when at least one of three key motivators are in place: 1) the crime committed is particularly heinous, such as child or elder sexual abuse; 2) citizens believe the police will not deal with the crime, and 3) citizens believe that if left alive, the culprit will take revenge.

Leon calls this phenomenon “the privatization of justice”, and that the most obvious risk that it runs is that the person being lynched is in fact innocent. For Leon, lynchings can never be justified because they essentially diffuse the state’s monopoly on violence, which in turn has the effect of making society more violent in general.

Fermin Marmo Garcia, a lawyer and criminologist, agrees with Leon, and points out that lynchings also have the effect of converting otherwise ordinary citizens into murderers. Fermin said:

You don’t solve crime by committing crime. Lynching generates a loss of values; it creates emotional damages and weakens social sensibilities. It’s a spiral of violence that will engulf all of society.

For Garcia, the apparent rise in lynchings recently is tied to a general decay Venezuela society which is also manifested in the relatively frequent looting and home invasions that occur in the country. Garcia framed lynching as a desperate measure for desperate people:

It’s a response, an emotional trigger before a threat that the defenseless face. Rationality is lost; it invades emotions at the individual level and multiplies itself in the collective. This emotional trigger fires a type of behaviour that is capable of taking another human being’s life.

Garcia also stressed that lynchings appear to be more prominent in areas where government authorities are absent.

As evidence of the problem that is lynching, El Nacional provides a list of nine recorded lynchings that have taken place in March alone. The list can be seen here.

BCV Liquidates $1.77 Billion in Gold Reserves

The Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) has swapped $1.77 billion of its gold reserves into cash so far this year, according to an article published in La Patilla published today. The article cites a Reuters report that claims that according to Swiss data, the BCV liquidated $456 million worth of gold in February, on top of a swap for $1.27 billion the BCV carried out in February.

While it is not unusual for a central bank to undertake this kind of exchange, the context in which it is taking place makes it worthy of note. Venezuela is currently traversing through its worst economic crisis in living memory, and is in desperate need of cash.

Official figures place Venezuela’s reserves at $13.318 billion, one third of which are in gold.

BCV Workers Write Open Letter

Workers at the BCV wrote an open letter that was published today in which they denounced that the organization was working with methodologies to hide or alter economic figures, and that corruption and nepotism at the organization are having a tremendously negative impact on the workers.

The open letter can be found here, along with my translation below:

To all Venezuelans:

Again, the [workers] at the BCV speak to the country to bring to light a set of problems that are affecting the institutions. We’re doing it through [this open letter] due to the fact that political persecution is rampant in the BCV. Our phones are tapped, and e-mails are monitored.

  1. It is normal for a bank to exchange its gold. What is reprehensible is that the directors of the institutions do not make this fact – nor the nature, nor the terms and conditions of the exchange – known clearly and in an opportune manner.
  2. Opaqueness continues to exist. While March 2016 is drawing to a close, the directors has yet to authorize the publication of GPD and payment balances for 2015. These figures have already been calculated and processed. Worst of all, methodological changes that have been made have altered the true figures.
  3. Nepotism now joins corruption, and they’re out in the open. Maritza Balza, a person who is very close to Nelson Merentes [the head of the BCV], continues to pass off as a kind of boss at the BCV, with positions that are clearly above her technical abilities. To this we can add Julio Viloria’s return to the BCV, who is the former president of IVSS and the BCV, who had been maliciously sacked.
  4. At the level of working conditions, the situation has become much worse. Salaries have been stagnant, and the credits for securing a home are not enough to cover the expense. The real earnings of the BCV workers have decreased dramatically.
  5. The budget for social benefits [ayudas sociales], a kind of secret file that president Nelson Merentes manages, cannot be audited. These funds are used to organize parties and events in Naiguata, and millions of bolivares are given away without any kind of oversight.

Three Former PDVSA Execs Plead Guilty In Bribery Case

A Houston court released information today in a high-profile corruption case involving PDVSA and two Venezuelan businessmen, as three executives of the state-owned oil company pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to launder money. The information was sealed until today.

The three former PDVSA executives are identified in court documents as Jose Luis Ramos Castillo, Christian Javier Maldonado Barillas, and Alfonzo Eliezer Gravnia Muñoz.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the men admitted to accepting bribes from Roberto Rincon and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, two Venezuelan businessmen based in the United States. Rincon and Bastidas are at the heart of a corruption case in which the two are accused of bribing PDVSA officials in exchange for lucrative contracts for their companies. Authorities claim that as much as one billion dollars may have exchanged hands illegally in the scheme.

Bastidas pleaded guilty to the charges last Friday, while Rincon’s trial is not scheduled to start until April 25.

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


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