Former PDVSA head and current ambassador to the United Nations Rafael Ramirez called opposition deputies at the National Assembly “garbage” in response to an ongoing corruption probe ofn which he is at the centre. Yesterday, the Assembly formally accused Rodriguez of being involved in at least ten distinct acts of corruption while he headed the PDVSA state-owned oil company, allegedly netting himself at least $11 billion in stolen funds.

Under his watch, at least $43 million dollars disappeared through PDVSA in an embezzlement scheme involving the purchase of Chinese oil drills, while $579 million disappeared through the company’s pension fund. The National Assembly is holding Ramirez personally responsible for all of the “disappeared” money under his leadership of PDVSA from 2004 to 2014.

El Nacional reports that Ramirez responded to news of the accusation yesterday by saying that he will always be proud of his work at PDVSA, and of the work that Hugo Chavez did in “defeating transnational” oil companies in Venezuela. On that point, Ramirez said:

The garbage deputies in the Assembly will always hate us because of that (…) the oligarchy hates us because the oil money now goes to [government programs] and the poorest of the poor.

Lorenzo Mendoza Detained at Barquisimeto Airport

Lorenzo Mendoza, the CEO of the country’s largest and most successful private company, Polar Enterprises, was detained in the Barquisimeto airport this afternoon while attempting to catch a flight to Quito, Ecuador where he was scheduled to give a speech before a local chamber of commerce there. Mendoza was detained by authorities from the Instituto Nacional de Aviacion Civil (INAC) [National Civil Aviation Institute], and the pretext for the detention is not clear.

At approximately 4:00 PM local time, Mendoza recorded and released a cell phone video in which he explained that he had spent four hours in detention after his 12:30 PM flight was refused clearance for take-off. Mendoza said that when he asked INAC staff why he was being detained, the staff told him that they were merely following orders “from Caracas”.

Mendoza said:

The local INAC [staff] told me that it was because of orders from Caracas, that they were not aware of the reason [why the flight was denied permission for take-off], but that they had received orders from their superiors….

As of the writing of this post (8:45 PM EST time), Mendoza is still being refused transit out of Venezuela.

In response, the Quito Chamber of Commerce cancelled the opening ceremony of its 110-year celebration, at which Mendoza was a special guest. Mendoza was scheduled to make a speech at the ceremony this evening.

The Quito Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on Mendoza’s detention, saying:

The Quito Chamber of Commerce has suspended the celebration of its 110th anniversary. They’re preventing our special guest Lorenzo Mendoza from leaving Venezuela.
Today we mark our 110th anniversary, and we remain steadfast today more than ever in our fight for liberty.

TSJ Clarifies Position on Peaceful Protest

Two days ago, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) issued a ruling banning “calling for and carrying out acts that alter the public order”. The phrasing of the ruling was vague enough to leave commentators and opposition figures fearing that the ruling banned organizing and holding protests.

Today, the TSJ issued another ruling, this one clarifying that it had not in fact banned peaceful protests in Venezuela.

In its new ruling, the TSJ begins by reminding Venezuelans that the right to peaceful protest is not “absolute”, meaning that it is subject to regulations that might serve as limitations on the right.

Part of the ruling reads:

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice ratifies that citizens have the right to protest peacefully and without weapons as outlined in article 68 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela…

After stressing that, unlike the right to life, the right to protest may be subject to certain limitations, the ruling continues:

At the same time, article 68 of the constitution also calls on police and security bodies in charge of public order to abide to the law, which in the conduct of their duties are obligated not only to guarantee the right of citizens to protest peacefully, but also to prevent the same from engaging in excesses during the course of the protest that could result in crimes and violations of fundamental rights against the rest of the citizenry, as would be the case with the right to freedom of transit, [the right to] work and [the right to] peace.

Maduro Hints at Amazonas Repeat Elections

Almost a week after the PSUV and the MUD agreed to hold new parliamentary elections in Amazonas state, Maduro today hinted at their possible date: December 20 of this year.

While giving a televised speech today, Maduro appeared to accidentally let slip the date of the elections. However, given his rambling and often surreal manner of speaking, it cannot be said for sure if Maduro was simply speaking off-the-cuff when he made the remark.

Maduro said:

I’m sorry for those who voted for them [the Amazonas deputies who were forced to resign from the National Assembly], because the great majority of this country – well, they’ll make the choice. And we will demonstrate this at the first change that we get. When the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) says, “Let’s do the elections on December 20” — I don’t know when the CNE will set the date — but whatever the date is, the people of Amazonas have to send out the first course-correction signal.

Maduro also assured listeners that “fraud was committed” during the December 6 parliamentary elections last year in Amazonas, despite a complete lack of evidence for his claim.

Defense Makes Closing Argument in the Flores’ Case

The defense for Efrain and Francisco Flores made its closing arguments today before a jury in a New York City courtroom. The two men are the nephews of first lady Cilia Flores, and stand accused of attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States last year.

In its closing arguments, the defense argued that Efrain and Francisco were innocent and “honest men” who had been tricked into the drug trade by an unscrupulous DEA information. The defense also pleaded with the jury to allow the men to return home to their friends and family.

A verdict in the trial could come as early as tomorrow If convicted, the two men could face 10 years to life in prison.

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