Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez held a meeting with her Paraguayan and Uruguayan counterparts in Montevideo today in order to oversee the transfer of the MERCOSUR presidency to Venezuela pro tempore (literally, “for the time being”).

The term pro tempore is used to describe an entity that holds an office only temporarily in replacement of the actual holder of that office.

MERCOSUR’s presidency rotation rules dictate that Venezuela is the next country in line to hold the office, and as such the move should be a non-issue. However, given the turmoil surrounding the Maduro administration, MERCOSUR’s member states are in disagreement over whether or not they should allow Venezuela to hold the position.

Last week, Paraguayan Foreign Affairs Minister Eladio Loizaga said that he did not think Venezuela should hold the presidency, since he believes that the post should be held by:

… [countries with] democratic credentials, respect for human rights and lots of economic stability.

Upon her arrival at the Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier today, Rodriguez told reporters that she had “good hopes” for today’s meeting, which is supposed to formalize the transition.

Rodriguez also explained Venezuela’s position on the matter, saying:

As the protocol states, the presidency of this sub-regional body is received automatically (…) We don’t have to respond to the right-wing’s [calls]. We have to adhere to the regulations.

The loudest opponents to allowing Venezuela to become the president of MERCOSUR so far have been Brazil and Paraguay.

Minister of Communication: No Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela

Minister of Communication Luis Jose Marcano said in an interview that aired on Globovision yesterday that Venezuela’s enemies are trying to “sell a false image of Venezuela to justify foreign intervention”, and referred specifically to the label of “humanitarian crisis” that is often used by media outlets to describe the severe food and medicine shortages affecting the country.

According to Marcano, the term “humanitarian crisis” can only be used to describe a country that is at war. Since Venezuela is not currently at war, there can be no humanitarian crisis, Marcano explained. He said:

The term “humanitarian crisis” is used when a country is at war, and our country isn’t. They just want to draw international attention to get an intervention.

Speaking on a proposed bill that would limit the number of times that Maduro can speak en cadena (literally, “in chain”, meaning that every television station must immediately cut away to his speech and transmit them in their entirety, even if they last several hours), Marcano said:

In the face of the economic crisis affecting the country, it is necessary for the people to remain informed about what’s going on. However, the National Assembly is trying to limit the president’s communicative actions with the people, which is absurd since this is about opening up a space for the violation of information.

So far this year, Maduro has spoken en cadena 985 times.

Marcano is set to launch a radio show today called En Letras Pequeñas [In Small Letters], which he will use to talk about the government’s “little-known elements” of governance.

Vielma Mora; Bordered Opened to Avoid Violence

Tachira state governor Jose Vielma Mora spoke to the media today on yesterday’s 12-hour opening of the border with Colombia in his state. The border with Colombia – which has been closed on orders from Maduro since last Fall – was opened in Tachira for yesterday only, allowing over 35,000 Venezuelans to enter Colombia in search of food and medicine.

Vielma Mora provided a simple explanation for the decision to re-open the border yesterday:

The [re-opening] was authorized to avoid violence from opposition sectors.

He also rejected the idea that the tens of thousands of Venezuelans who streamed into Colombia to buy food and medicine did so out of necessity due to a humanitarian crisis, saying:

There is no humanitarian crisis here, as international organizations would like you to think.

The main reason why the government ordered the border with Colombia closed last year has to do with their justification for the scarcity crisis affecting the country. According to the PSUV, the scarcity crisis is caused by a host of reasons, one of them what it calls “extraction”; that is, taking products to Colombia to be sold at a profit. Vielma Mora reiterated his belief in this theory and proposed it as way to refute the claim that there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, saying:

If Venezuelans loved Venezuela and there was a humanitarian crisis here, they wouldn’t send food to another country.

Vielma Mora suggested that the Voluntad PopularPrimero Justicia and Accion Democratica parties were planning a “media show”, and suggested that the events of July 5 – in which over 500 women crossed into Colombia to buy food – was similarly planned by opposition parties.

Speaking on whether or not yesterday’s events could be a sign that the Venezuelan government might consider re-opening the border for good, Vielma Mora said:

We want to stress that there will not be a repetition of this act. There has never been a literal authorization of access into Colombia. President Nicolas Maduro, having seen this multitude of people, has allowed people to go into Colombia to shop, and for [Colombians] to come to Venezuela to shop.

Colombian Newspapers Cover Border Story

The story of the border re-opening yesterday made front-page news in Colombia today. Below, a sample of today’s front pages of some Colombian newspapers featuring the story.

El Tiempo‘s headline reads “Some 35,000 Venezuelans use ‘humanitarian corridor’ along border”:

El Espectador’s simply reads “Desperate”. The small print reads, “Affected by a scarcity of food and medicine in their country, at least 35,000 Venezuelans bought basic necessities in Cucuta yesterday. Neither the government nor the opposition have managed to improve the humanitarian crisis”:

Vanguardia‘s front page features the border story on the bottom left. The title reads, “Cucuta stores didn’t have enough stock for Venezuelans’ purchases”:

La Opinion‘s headline reads, “35,000 people are evidence of the crisis in Venezuela”:

Inflation Reaches 176.2% in First Half of 2016

El Nacional reported today that the inflation rate for the period of January-June 2016 reached 176.2%. The annualized inflation ration rate (June 2015-June 2016) sits at 487.6%. Inflation jumped 22.3% in June alone.

Economist Angel Alayon summarized the situation succinctly for El Nacional

Inflation and scarcity are the inevitable result of economic policies. The government did not prepare itself for a drop in oil prices, which made the crisis worse.

The head of the Datanalisis firm, Luis Vicente Leon, told the newspaper that the increasing inflation and the continued drop in imports means that bachaqueros – people who sell regulated products on the street at high premiums – are quickly running out of stock, causing an even greater rise in products in the black market.

Zapatero Meets with MUD

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero met with representatives from the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) today in an attempt to getting the two sides to sit down and talk through a solution to the crisis.

The meeting was attended by MUD National Assembly deputies Enrique Marquez, Freddy Guevara, Timoteo Zambrano, Luis Aquiles Moreno, Julio Borges and Alfonso Marquina. Zapatero was accompanied by former President of Panama Martin Torrijos.

Deputy Luis Florido, the president of the National Assembly’s Foreign Politics Commission, was also in attendance, and he broke the news through his Twitter account, saying:

We emphasized to the ex-presidents that the recall [referendum against Maduro] must take place in 2016 and that the political prisoners must be freed in order to move forward [with the dialogue].

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

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