I will not have reliable internet service from June 18 to June 25. As a result, I may not be able to provide daily updates during that time, and/or the quality of the updates may not be up to par. I apologize in advance. 

US-based Venezuelan businessman Roberto Rincon pleaded guilty earlier today to charges stemming from a bribery scandal that saw his firm awarded $1 billion in contracts through PDVSA, the state-owned oil company. Rincon now faces up to 13 years in prison.

Rincon was arrested alongside another Venezuelan, Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, in Miami last December. US authorities believed that Rincon and Bastidas has paid millions of dollars in bribes to three PDVSA officials.

Bloomberg reports that the scheme made Rincon an exceptionally wealthy individual. Rincon owns a 15,000-square-foot mansion in the exclusive Woodlands neighbourhood of Houston, Texas. He also owned high-end luxury vehicles, and had at least three Swiss banks account under his name holding a total of $100 million.

Shiera pleaded guilty to his charges in March, as did the three PDVSA officials involved in the scheme. Shiera’s sentencing hearing will be July, while that of the PDVSA officials will be in September.

0.089% Withdraw Signatures from Recall Petition

Carlos Ocariz, a member of the Primero Justicia opposition party, announced that only 1,200 people had accessed a website set up by the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) to withdraw their signatures in favour of the recall referendum process. Given the fact that the CNE accepted 1.3 million signatures in favour of the recall, the low withdrawal rate means that the number remains virtually unchanged.

Ocariz said:

We have witnesses in all the different sites, and until now the number of people who have withdrawn their signature sits at 1,200. In other words, 1,200 out of 1,350,000 have withdrawn their signature. This amounts to .089%.

The 1.3 million Venezuelans who did not withdraw their signatures must now verify them at one of 128 verification stations that will be set up throughout the country starting on Monday. While teh CNE initially announced that it would only open 24 stations for the process, the number was later increased due to popular demand.

Cabello: Opp. Parties Responsible for Unrest

PSUV vice-president and National Assembly deputy Diosdado Cabello spoke in a press conference last night on the unrest that has taken place in Venezuela over the past few weeks.

Cabello placed the blame on all of the unrest in the country on “right-wing political groups”, and has said previously that every breakout of unrest in the country has been “planned”.

More specifically, Cabello blamed the country’s two largest opposition parties: Voluntad Popular and Primero Justicia. Cabello said:

These are fascists groups that are operating, causing unrest. They carry out little tests to see what the reaction is and then, suddenly – boom! – they escalate things.

Cabello also insisted that the Venezuelan people were not going hungry:

Hunger is what we saw during the 4th Republic [the time before Chavez came to power. What we’re experiencing now is a situation that our people understanding perfectly well.

Rodriguez: Chavez was Murdered

Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced yesterday that Maduro has created a “secret commission” to investigate Chavez’s death in 2013.

Rodriguez made the announcement during a press conference yesterday, during which she said:

We have evidence that Chavez’s death was [the result of] an assassination.

Chavez died after a lengthy battle with cancer on March 5, 2013.

Rodriguez did not provide any more details, either on Maduro’s secret commission or on the evidence the Venezuelan government claims to have.

Rodriguez also said that National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup cannot speak at a meeting of the Organization of American States unless he is given permission to do so by Maduro’s office. Allup is scheduled to speak at the OAS on June 23.

According to Rodriguez, Allup’s trip to the OAS is evidence of his desire to “take on the functions of the head of state”, and that she was “ashamed” by the Venezuelan opposition in general.

Medicine 90% Scarce

Douglas Leon, the head of the Federacion Medica Venezolana [Venezuelan Medical Federation] (FMV) said yesterday that the country’s hospitals and pharmacies were experiencing a shortage of medicine of 90%.

Leon said that essentially every type of medicine was difficult to find, but that cancer patients and diabetics – among others – were particularly hard hit.

Leon explained:

We’re in a really serious situation that has made the eyes of the world focus on Venezuela. Today we have an executive committee at the Federation that is going to expose the health crisis that the government has created. Our hospitals are virtually shut down.

Late today, Maduro announced during a televised speech that Venezuela’s medical industry is working at “120%” capacity, and that medicine warehouses in the country “are full”.

Isturiz: Cultural Change Needed for Urban Agriculture to Work

Vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz spoke yesterday on the government’s efforts to kick-start urban agriculture as a way to get Venezuelans to rely less on purchasing food on account of the scarcity crisis. Isturiz gave credit to the idea of urban agriculture to Hugo Chavez, but said that when he tried to implement it “it didn’t stick”.

Isturiz said that he was realistic and understood that urban agriculture would not be able to feed everyone in Venezuela, but he stressed that it could still have an important role to play in the country:

This whole urban agriculture thing has a cultural, pedagogical, developmental element that is really important. No one is going to feel the need to cultivate their own food unless they don’t produce. Instead, people will feel the need to find cash to buy [food]. And, if they have money but they don’t find [food], they get frustrated and turn [against the government?]… one everyone sees that they can plant even just a chili plant, and they see the chili — and if it’s a pepper plant, and they eat the pepper, the cultural change would be huge.

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