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The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the country’s electoral body, has finished its role in the first step of the recall referendum against Maduro: it has counted all of the signatures that the opposition submitted to it last Monday.

The announcement was made by the mayor of the Sucre municipality in Caracas, Carlos Ocariz. Ocariz said that at 11:36 AM, the CNE finished counting the 200,220 forms it received from the opposition, which contained 1,786,000 signatures.

Ocariz also called on the CNE to immediately launch the verification process. This next step will require everyone who signed the forms to personally verify their signature at one of the centres that the CNE will have to set up for that purpose.

Demonstration at the CNE Planned for Wednesday

Earlier today, the country’s opposition leaders have called for a peaceful demonstration at the CNE headquarters in Caracas this Wednesday.

National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles called for the demonstration earlier today, and were quickly followed by other opposition figures who disseminated the information.

The opposition handed over a batch of approximately 1.85 million signatures to the CNE on Monday of last week so that the body could verify their validity as a precursor to the next step in the referendum process. The process – which according to CNE regulations must take place within five continuous days – has been delayed, since CNE president Tibisay Lucena announced on Wednesday that each individual signature had to be counted before it could be verified.

Opposition leaders and supporters alike have complained that the CNE is purposely shuffling its feet and making up barriers in order to delay the referendum process for as long as possible.

Capriles announced details of the demonstration, saying that it would start at the Bello Monte subway station at 9:00 AM on Wednesday and culminate at the CNE headquarters in Plaza Caracas.

PSUV Responds with Counter-Demonstration

Shortly after the opposition announced its demonstration for Wednesday, the PSUV fired back with a demonstration of its own.

The mayor of the Libertador municipality, Jorge Rodriguez, called on PSUV supporters to meet at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas on Wednesday morning to show their support for the Gran Mision Vivienda, the government’s subsidized housing program.

Economic Emergency Decree Expires Today

The economic emergency decree that Maduro decreed starting on March 11 of this year expires today. The constitution does not allow neither Maduro nor the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia to extend the measure by decree. Instead, Maduro must ask the National Assembly to determine if the emergency decree met any of its goals, after which time the legislature can decide if the decree can be put in place again.

Possible Conflict of Interest in Flores Case

Prosecutors in the drug trafficking case involving Cilia Flores’ nephews – Efrain and Franqui – have brought to the court’s attention a possible conflict of interest in the case. According to the prosecutors, the fact that the legal fees for both defendants are being paid by a single individual presents the possibility that the interests of one or both of them will not be observed by the defense.

A motion filed to the court partially reads:

The potential conflicts arises due to the fact that the same individual is financing the legal defenses of both of the accused. For example, the person paying the fees could try to influence the defense [to carry out] a global defense that would not be interest of one or both of the accused. It is also possible that this third party could persuade a lawyer to avoid seeking a sentencing reduction by cooperating [with authorities], or tell some one of the two accused to abstain from speaking in his defense.

The motion calls for a meeting with defense attorneys to ensure that they can provide a defense to both of the accused that is free from conflicts of interest. Alternatively, the accused can waive their right to a conflict of interest-free defense.

The two men were arrested in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on November 10 2015 by DEA agents for allegedly arranging to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. They are in custody and awaiting trial in a New York City court.

Panama Papers Reveal Venezuela-Iran Link

Panama Papers Venezuela, a website set up by investigative journalists pouring over the leaked files from the Mossack Fonseca law firm for Venezuelan connections, reported findings today that link the Venezuelan government under Hugo Chavez to Iran.

According to the website, a subsidiary of PDVSA called Pequiven created offshore entities through the law firm in order to hide connections to the Iranian National Petrochemical Company. Pequiven’s move predated the creation of VenIran in 2007, a joint-venture between the two countries to construct petrochemical infrastructure.

The website claims that “the original idea was to register [VenIran] in Panama” through Mossack Fonseca, a request which the law firm denied given United Nations sanctions against Iran over its nuclear weapons program at the time. Mossack Fonseca replied to Pequiven’s request by saying:

We have decided to not incorporate the company in Panama due to the recent restrictions on Iran by the United Nations.

One of the firm’s partners, Chris Zollinger, even warned that becoming involved in any business between Venezuelan and Iran would be too risky for the law firm. In an email dated January 5 2007, Zollinger wrote:

It seems like it’s too risky for our reputation. On top of this – and even though we are apolitical – I don’t think we should indirectly help Chavez and Ahmedinejad with their mutual plans.

Despite Zollinger’s hesitation, Mossack Fonseca did eventually aid in the creation of VenIran, registering the company in the British Virgin Islands later in 2007.

Panama Papers Venezuela points out the oddity that is the Venezuelan government creating offshore companies in tax havens to work with state funds, saying:

There is no expert able to point out the reasons why a state-owned company would have chosen to register a company in a tax haven.


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