Paraguayan Attorney General Javier Diaz Veron met with Venezuelan organised crime investigators today after authorities in that country found approximately 30,000 tonnes of Venezuelan currency in 603 bags containing mostly Bs. 50 and Bs. 100 bills on February 13. The meeting was confirmed by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, who said that her office would investigate how the money ended up in Paraguay and for what purpose.
The money was found in a city called Saltos del Guaira, approximately 400 kilometres east of the capital of Asuncion. Saltos del Guaira sits on the border with Brazil.
The shipment was discovered after the truck that was carrying it rolled over on a highway, revealing its illicit cargo. One person has been charged in connection with the case, and two others are wanted.
It is not clear if the bills are legal tender of falsified notes, although Paraguayan authorities called them “high quality” suggesting that they may have been fake.
Julio Cesar Yegros, an investigator heading the case from the Paraguayan said, told EFE today that he believes that the Venezuelan currency found in Paraguay may have been part of a larger shipment of money that had been making its way south from Venezuela through Brazil, and that it is possible that the majority of the shipment is still in Brazil.
Maduro Meets with Zapatero
Maduro met with former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero last night in Caracas, presumably to discuss the now-defunct talks between his government and the opposition. Zapatero has played a key role in attempting to mediate between the two sides through several attempts at dialogue.
Below, a picture showing Zapatero and Maduro shaking hands inside the Miraflores Palace in Caracas:
Zapatero also met with other high-ranking PSUV officials, picture below. In the image below, from left to right: Carmen Melendez, head of Presidential Office; Zapatero; Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez; Mayor of Libertador Municipality and head PSUV negotiator Jorge Rodriguez.
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) has responded to Zapatero’s visit by saying that while they were aware that he was in the country, the opposition does not currently have plans to meet with him, casting doubt on the possibility of another round of talks between the two sides.
3.7 Million Zulia Residents Serviced by Only 13 Public Ambulances
Zulia’s regional health secretary, Richard Hill, told Panorama today that the state only has 13 public ambulances, leaving the state’s 3.7 million residents with the grim choice of not receiving emergency ambulance care of having to pay exorbitant fees for a private one. While public ambulance service is free, a private ambulance can cost anywhere between Bs. 40,000 – 60,000 in the capital of Maracaibo, which is more than a month’s minimum salary.
Panorama points out that the World Health Organisation recommends one ambulance for every 25,000 inhabitants as a minimum standard, meaning that Zulia state should have at least 148 ambulances in service. By that metric, Maracaibo alone would need 58.
The Maracaibo Fire Department is emblematic of the issue facing the rest of the state: out of its 19 ambulances, only one is in service due to a lack of repair parts of broken down vehicles.
The country’s economic crisis has affected not only food and medicine levels in the country, but also that of virtually every other commodity, including repair parts for vehicles. This is due to the fact that Venezuela imports the overwhelming majority of everything that it consumes. Decreasing oil incomes, massive corruption and a byzantine state-controlled currency exchange system have all made it virtually impossible for businesses to import everything from antibiotics to tires.
Maduro Sets Aside Bs. 696 Million for Carnaval Festival
Maduro announced today that he was setting aside Bs. 696 million for the 8th annual Sports and Recreation Festival that is scheduled to take place during the carnival season this year.
Venezuela is currently undergoing the worst economic crisis of its modern history, but Maduro made assurances that the money would come out of tax revenue “that is a product of tax revenues” without providing further details.
At the best official exchange rate (Bs. 10/USD), the carnival fund amounts to approximately $69.9 million. However, at the current black market exchange rate (Bs. 4,285/USD), the sum equals only $163,127.
Carnaval is one of the biggest holidays in Venezuela. In years past, families would take the week off work and typically travel to popular beaches and resort towns around the country.
Simon Bolivar Int’l Airport Hit By Blackout
The Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia just north of Caracas was hit by a blackout today, plunging the country’s largest air connection to the rest of the world into darkness for approximately one hour. The blackout occurred at approximately 6:10 AM local time.
Below, images of the airport during the blackout:
The same blackout affected areas around the airport, and originated by a failure at the Arrecife substation. The country’s electrical authority confirmed that some of its equipment at the Arrecife substation was knocked offline by recent heavy rains.
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