After warning that yesterday’s massive march in Caracas and other cities of the country would be the last “conventional” one, Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles led a “surprise” protest today in the capital city, blocking traffic on the Francisco Fajardo highway with dozens of demonstrators.
The protest took place in the El Rosal area of Caracas’s east end.
Capriles spoke to reporters at the scene, and said:
Venezuela is living through a critical moment right now. There is a lot of frustration due to this situation. That is where our challenge lies: people cannot lose hope. We cannot let them steal our hope away from us. Every Venezuelan knows what they have to do, and I implore all Venezuelans to do what they have to do: defend their rights.
Responding to criticism from reporters that the opposition had disappointed Venezuelans by proving itself ineffective in dealing with the Maduro regime, Capriles admitted that the opposition had stumbled in its strategy, saying:
All of us stumble during our lives. The important thing is getting up again.
Capriles was joined by other opposition figures, including National Assembly deputies Gabriela Arellano, Adriana D’Elia, and Jose Manuel Olivares, and National Assembly vice-president Freddy Guevara.
Capriles also said:
Venezuela wants elections as a way to solve this crisis. Yesterday, on the whim of Maduro and his lackeys, they didn’t let us
Below, images from today’s demonstration on the Francisco Fajardo highway:
A video showing the taking of the highway:
TSJ Rules “Military Companies” Not Bound to Oversight
The Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) made public today a decision it made on December 15 2016 which stripped the ability of the Comptroller General of the Republic to exercise its oversight mandate over military companies, handing that power over to the Comptroller General of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. The decision is important because it makes the military’s fiscal policies accountable only to itself, removing an important mechanism of civilian accountability.
The decision is also important given the importance of military companies in Venezuela.
In February of last year, Maduro created the Compañía Anónima Militar de Industrias Mineras, Petrolíferas y de Gas [Anonymous Military Company for Mining, Oil, and Gas Industries], or Camimpeg for short. According to the decree that created it, Camimpeg’s role in the Venezuelan state is as follows:
[Camimpeg will be in charge] of everything that is related to legal activities in the oil, gas and mining industries in general without any implied limitation.
At the time of its creation, Camimpeg triggered alarm bells in opposition circles, as it placed the entirety of Venezuela’s oil and resource extraction squarely in the hands of the military, and in particular those of Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez.
This latest decision by the TSJ means that none of Caminpeg’s financial activities will be visible to scrutiny by the civilian sector.
Gov’t Spending Falls 30.8% in 2016
El Universal reported today that the national government spent 30.8% less in 2016 than it did in 2015, signalling a “sustained fiscal contraction” last year.
The figures come via a report Torino Capital group, a financial firm. According to the report, the trend in reduced spending is likely to continue into this year:
This level of decline maintained itself throughout the whole year , and did not show signs of change. Our preliminary estimate for January 2017, based on data gathered during the first three weeks of the month, show a decrease of 47.8% from 2016 and 66.1% from 2015.
The Maduro regime rigidly adheres to policy and has seldom demonstrated an awareness or need for economic or fiscal change. Earlier this month, 10,000 public employees lost their jobs as the government attempted to lower its payroll expenses.
At the same time, Torino Capital stressed that they believe it is unlikely that Venezuela would default on its debt obligations this year, calling fears that it would be unable to make debt payments “overestimated”:
In our opinion, the market continues to overestimate the probability of a default. In fact, our calculations show that the economy will have a surplus of $1 billion in its accounts in 2017, with payment obligations that are substantially lower than those we saw in the past few years. It is difficult for us to see a government that continued to make debt payments even when oil fell to $22 per barrel [to stop making payments] when the price of oil is at $45 [per barrel].
Air Canada Asks World Bank for Arbitration Over Venezuela Debt
Yesterday, Air Canada formally recruited the help of the World Bank over ticket sale earnings in Venezuela that have been locked in the country since 2003 due to its byzantine currency exchange system. Air Canada has requested that the international body help to arbitrate the dispute between the Canadian air carrier and the Venezuelan government.
While Air Canada did not reveal exactly how much money it has in Venezuela, La Patilla reports that the country’s debt with international carriers totals $3.8 billion dollars.
In Venezuela, airlines must sell tickets in Bolivares, the local currency. In order to exchange Bolivares from ticket sales into foreign currency, airlines must work with a labyrinthine government bureaucracy that is, as in the case of Air Canada, often unable to comply with exchange requests in a timely fashion.
Bridge Collapses in Vargas State
The Guanape II bridge in Vargas state collapsed late this afternoon in the city of La Guaira, resulting in at least eight injuries.
Below, images of the collapse:
Vargas state covers a thin strip of land on the coast north of Caracas. A prominent mountain range in the region means that most of the state’s residents live on a very thin strip of land between mountains and the Caribbean Sea. The Guanape II bridge stood on the main highway connecting the western and eastern parts of the state.
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