The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday that reveals the identity of the individual paying for the defense of Efrain and Francisco Flores, Maduro’s nephews-by-marriage currently on trial for drug trafficking in New York City. The benefactor is a Venezuelan businessman named Wilmer Ruperti, the “wealthy, politically well-connected” owner of a shipping empire via his company, Suramericana de Transportes de Petróleo.
According to the newspaper, Ruperti is paying the legal costs of the Flores’ defense out of a sense of patriotic duty. Ruperti told the newspaper:
This [trial] perturbs the tranquility of the presidential family. You need the president to be calm. I am helping to preserve the constitutional government.
In the same article, The Wall Street Journal also claims that Ruperti “recently” won a multi-million dollar contract from PDVSA, the state-owned oil company.
Efrain and Francisco were arrested in Haiti in November of last year for allegedly attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. They are being represented by two law firms: Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP and Sidley Austin LLP.
Inflation Rate Hits 452.5%
Asdrubal Oliveros, the head of the Econometrica economic consulting firm, said today that the inflation rate in Venezuela from August 2015 to August 2016 sits at 452.5%.
Oliveros announced the figure at an economic event organized by Polar Enterprises in Caracas, and said:
From August 2015 to the end of August 2016 the inflation rate is almost 453%, but this [figure] includes a portion of subsidized or regulated products.
Since the Venezuelan government regulates a wide range of food and other basic necessities, the prices of these items are not reflective of market forces and are therefore resistant to inflation. Olivares explained that when measuring only products that are not sold at regulated prices, the inflation rate is actually 1,108%.
The Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) does not publish economic data in any kind of uniform or predictable fashion. The last time that the BCV published inflation data was late last year, when it announced that the 2015 inflation rate had reached 180.9%.
Oliveros spoke on the increase in the rate of inflation, saying:
We’re seeing a very strong acceleration of inflation, the worst in our history. Venezuela is the country with the highest inflation rate in the world.
Correo del Caroni: Gov’t Hiding Diphtheria Crisis
After news that diphtheria – a disease eradicated in Venezuela in 1992 – might be making a comeback after killing 17 children in Bolivar state, Correo del Caroni published an article today claiming that the national government is suppressing news of the outbreak in order to not damage the government’s image.
The newspaper cites a meeting that happened yesterday between doctors from the city of Caroni in Bolivar state and Marisol Escalona, a vaccination coordinator from the Ministry of Health. The newspaper claims that at the meeting, Escalona confirmed the diphtheria deaths, but told the doctors not to talk about them “to prevent harm to government’s image”.
The same article claims that the Menca de Leoni Pedriatic Hospital was forced to close on Wednesday after a large number of patients showed up showing possible symptoms of diphtheria. The hospital closed out of a concern for public health, as it did not want the hospital’s crowded rooms and hallways to act as grounds for the disease’s spread.
National Assembly Deputy Americo De Grazia criticized the government’s handling of the crisis by pointing to a recent change in the way vaccines are administered in Venezuela. De Grazia explained:
Up until two years ago, [the vaccines] were imported from the United States and France. They could be given in a public or private hospital. Not anymore. Now, diphtheria vaccines are monopolized by Cuba, [and can only be given] in public [hospitals], which creates exclusion.
MUD Announces “Plan 1356”
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) announced a new initiative in preparation for the next step of the recall referendum process against Maduro scheduled for October 26, 27 and 28. The MUD’s initiative is called “Plan 1356”, and will apparently involve opposition canvassers going door-to-door to inform voters about the recall process and make sure that they have up-to-date information on how and where to vote in October.
Carlos Ocariz, a MUD representative, said:
Each day there will be 1,356 activities to reach out to to 5 million people were week about the [second step of the recall]. Tomorrow we will start with 1,356 [door-to-door visits]. We will all head to the streets to deliver a message of hope and optimism to our people.
The initiative is named after the 1,356 voting centres that will be made available for the process in October.
Ocariz also said that on the voting dates, each MUD member would be given the responsibility to observe the process in a given voting centre. He also explained that every leader would be included in the process:
Absolutely everyone. Henry Ramos Allup [and] Henrique Capriles will also be the coordinators in a centre.
HRW: Jatar’s Imprisonment Evidence of “Desperation”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement yesterday on the continued imprisonment of journalist Braulio Jatar. The report calls the journalist’s detention a sign of “desperation” from the Maduro government in the face of mounting pressure from a deeply discontent populace.
Jatar was arrested on September 3 after posting pictures and videos on his website, Reporte Confidencial, of an anti-Maduro protest that took place that day in Nueva Esparta state.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director for the Americas at HRW, said:
The Braulio Jatar case (…) is evidence of the authoritarianism and increasing desperation of the Maduro regime.
Vivanco also spoke on the irregularities that mark the investigation into his alleged crimes:
Jatar has been accused of laundering money because they claim to have found $25,000 in his car, but he didn’t have that amount.
He also spoke on the difficult conditions under which Jatar is being held:
He’s being held in a common jail [that is, a “normal” prison holding violent criminals] with very limited access to his family and lawyer only because he made the Venezuelan people’s discontent with the situation in their country public.
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