Healthcare workers marched in Caracas today to demand action from the regime on the country’s chronic healthcare crisis. While the demonstration was scheduled to reach the Ministry of Health offices in the city, heavy National Bolivarian Police (NBP) presence prevented the workers from reaching the building.
The demonstrators belonged to a number of healthcare unions including FETRASALUD and the Capital District’s College of Nurses, and were able to reach the San Martin Avenue before NBP pickets made further progress impossible.
Below, an image of the NBP line preventing the demonstration from continuing towards the Ministry of Health:
The demonstrators were met at that point by Vice-Minister of Employment Jose Ramon Rivero and Vice-Minister of Health Tulia Maria Hernandez. The protest leaders handed the officials a document outlining their demands, including immediate action to improve salaries and working conditions, as well as measures to ensure that clinics and hospitals are adequately equipped with medicine and medical equipment.
The situation at the San Martin picket became tense after a pro-PSUV television figure, Oswaldo “Mango Head” Rivero, allegedly organized a group of counter-protesters to confront the healthcare workers. The counter-protesters were described by witnesses at the scene as a colectivo armado, the colloquial term for pro-PSUV armed gangs that act as rapid-response “shock troops” to unrest. Colectivos tend to move en masse by motorcycle.
Mauro Zambrano, the leader of the Caracas University Hospital worker’s union, told El Nacional:
We were right in front of the [NBP] picket when this all happened. In front of us were the police, and behind them were the colectivos that were threatening us and trying to provoke us.
Zambrano said that Rivero had threatened to organize the counter-protester crowd before it showed up, and he described the following scene:
There were people there who rejected [Rivero’s] presence because they didn’t trust him. People didn’t want him there. He threatened that he would bring over a colectivo, and then 30 motorcycles showed up. It’s fine for [Rivero] to do his job since he works for a media outlet, but he can’t come here to cause conflict because people reject that.
The video below shows an increasingly angry crowd yelling at Rivero, who is wearing a black shirt and is recording the crowd with a handheld recorder. While it is difficult to make out exactly what everyone is saying, many people in the crowd are asking Rivero questions like, “Aren’t you suffering from the lack of medicine and food, too?”:
Below, a video of some of the demonstrators yelling, “Yes! We are going to march!” in defiance of the NBP officers that were attempting to stop their protest:
The protesters were joined on their march by opposition figure Maria Corina Machado (wearing white, in the middle of the picture on the right):
Another shot of the protest, this one courtesy of National Assembly deputy Gaby Arellano:
CNN Investigation Reveals Passports-For-Sale Scheme at Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq
CNN En Español published a video report yesterday in which it exposes what it described as a network of corruption that saw Venezuelan embassy staff in Baghdad, Iraq sell Venezuelan passports and visas to the highest bidder. CNN was able to review “vast amounts” of documentation provided to the organization by a former embassy staff member that suggest the existence of the network.
The CNN investigation begins with Misael Lopez, who was employed at the embassy July 2013 to September 2015 as legal counsel to the Venezuelan ambassador in Iraq, Jonathan Velasco.
Below, some of the claims made in the video:
- Lopez was approached several times by an unnamed embassy worker to participate in the sale of passports and visas for sums of money ranging from $10,000-$15,000 per document.
- Upon investigating the unnamed translator’s desk, Lopez found that she had in her possession an official embassy seal, as well as blank documents bearing the Venezuelan embassy letterhead. Lopez claims that as a translator, she did not have the clearance to possess those items.
- The translator once proposed that Lopez help her provide passports to 13 Syrian men at a price of $10,000 per passport. The men allegedly told the translator that they only wanted the passports so that they could travel to Brazil to watch the World Cup in 2014.
Lopez told CNN that on his first day working at the embassy, he was handed a folder full of passports and visas by the ambassador. When he grabbed hold of the folder, the ambassador allegedly remarked, “Be careful with that! You’ve got a million dollars in your hands”. When pressed by CNN for what he thought the comment meant at the time, Lopez said that he thought that the ambassador had only been joking.
Identity Theft Involved in Embassy Corruption Allegations
Arguably the most shocking revelation shown in the CNN report comes from what appears to be a complex network of identity theft that would suggest collaboration between multiple government organizations.
CNN was able to obtain official state documents that contained the names of twenty one individuals, along with their Venezuelan national I.D. and passport numbers. According to the report, the names and national I.D. numbers on the embassy list did not match the records of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), which holds a database of all national I.D. numbers in Venezuela.
When CNN searched the national I.D. numbers of the 21 individuals on the embassy list on the official government website, it found that 20 of those I.D.s did not correspond to the names on the list. In other words, the embassy list contained the names of at least 20 individuals who had been assigned national I.D. numbers already belonging to Venezuelan citizens for reasons that are not known.
Embassy, Foreign Ministry Ignore Allegations
Lopez told CNN that he collected and recorded all evidence regarding the corruption scheme operating of the embassy and forwarded all of that information to the ambassador. Lopez claims that the ambassador never responded to the allegations, and subsequently fired him.
Once he had been dismissed by the embassy, Lopez took his evidence to the top of the Foreign Ministry. He has yet to hear back from that body as well.
At the end of the report, CNN reporters managed to confront Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez in New York City while she was attending a United Nations event. The reporters repeatedly asked Rodriguez about the allegations, and she denied them out of hand.
Dulbi’s School Gets Help
On Sunday, Maduro heard from a 16-year-old high school student named Dulbi live on his television show about the extreme neglect that her school suffered. As per Maduro’s orders, work crews arrived at the Benito Canonico high school in Guarenas today to begin work on the issues that Dulbi identified through her comments to Maduro.
One of the most troubling claims Dulbi made before Maduro was that some of her classmates would faint during the school day, presumably as a result of the chronic food shortages affecting the country. Speaking to reporters today, the school’s principal, Jacqueline Moslaga, confirmed the fact, saying:
The situation that the country is living through has forced many students to come [to school] without having eaten anything because they don’t have food at home, but they can’t sit through class without breakfast or lunch.
Dulbi made the comments within the context of a request that Maduro somehow reinstate the school’s cafeteria program, which was cancelled at some time in the past for unknown reasons.
Principal Moslaga took opportunity of the school’s newfound media fame by telling reporters that three homeless families have taken refugee in the school ever since their homes were destroyed during heavy rains. She said that government officials had already promised to move the family out to permanent homes.
Deputy Davila’s Passport Annulled
National Assembly deputy (MUD) William Davila’s passport was annulled today by customs and immigration officials at the Maiquetia International Airport near Caracas as Davila attempted to board an international flight. Davila travels extensively as part of his official duties, as he is a member of the legislature’s Foreign Policy Committee and the Parlasur International Commission.
Through his Twitter account, Davila said that immigration officials detained him at the airport, initially telling him that there was an “error” with his passport. He was later informed that his passport had been annulled. It is not clear if Davila was provided with a reason for the annulment.
Passport annulment appears to be gaining popularity in the Maduro regime’s repertoire of repression. Just last week, deputy Luis Florido’s passport was also annulled as he returned from official parliamentary business in the Dominican Republic, and he was prevented from attending an event at the Peruvian congress in Lima yesterday for that reason.
The Maduro regime has taken issue in the past with National Assembly deputies travelling overseas to meet with regional democratic leaders as well as with the leadership of bodies like the Organization of American States (OAS) in an attempt to spread awareness over the Venezuelan crisis.
Last May, Maduro accused deputy Florido of “treason” after he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with OAS secretary general Luis Almagro over the regime’s persecution of political opponents.
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