Vice President Tareck El Aissami presented his yearly address before the magistrates of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), the nation’s to court, in direct violation of procedural norms set in the constitution. While Article 315 of the Constitution states that the executive branch must present an account of the previous year’s achievements to the National Assembly, the TSJ ruled in January that the address could be made to it instead.
The reason for the ruling stems from the fact that the National Assembly is currently controlled by the opposition.
During his address, El Aissami blamed “external mafias” for attempting to steal the country’s money, and that he was sure that the “right wing” would be unable to defeat the Venezuelan people with such measures. El Aissami said that he was also proud of the work that the Maduro regime had done to combat the “induced inflation” that is plaguing the country, but he did not provide any details on this topic.
El Aissami also praised the fact that “extreme poverty” in Venezuela had fallen to 4.4% in 2016, a figure that is at odds not only with a superficial account of the Venezuelan crisis, but also with academic research. The results of a report compiled by scholars from the Universidad Central de Venezuela and the Universidad Catoilica Andres Bello last month found that 82% of Venezuelan households lived in poverty, while 55% live in extreme poverty.
One Day Away From Completing Sentence, Baduel Charged With New Crimes
Former Minister of Defense Raul Baduel has been charged with two new crimes on the eve of the completion of his seven year and eleven month sentence for corruption, meaning that he is unlikely to become a free man today as was expected. His sentence finished today.
Baduel is credited with being a key figure in restoring Chavez to power after he was temporarily removed from office during a 2002 coup d’etat. He left his position at the Ministry of Defense in 2007 and became an outspoken Chavez critic. He was arrested in 2009 on allegations of corruption, and was convicted in 2010.
At a court hearing yesterday, Baduel was charged with “attacking the liberty and independence of the nation” and treason. The court ordered that he remain in detention while he faces the new charges, meaning that it is not possible to know for certain when Baduel might be released.
Lopez Surfaces in Video from Ramo Verde
A video surfaced today showing jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in the Ramo Verde prison. The video, which was likely recorded yesterday, is the first sign that anyone outside of the prison has had of Lopez’s well-being for the past eight days.
The video was shared on Twitter by Oswaldo Rivero, the host of a television show called Zurda Konducta that airs on the state-owned VTV channel. Rivero accompanied the video with an insult targeting: “[Here is] proof of how the REGIME tortures Leopoldo Lopez. He’s fatter than anyone you see out on the street @liliantintori”.
Rivero directed the comment to Lilian Tintori, Leopoldo Lopez’s wife. Tintori denounced yesterday that prison authorities had not been allowing anyone to visit or otherwise communicate with Lopez for the past eight days.
Below, the video along with my translation:
Man Recording: What day is it today?
Lopez: What? What is it?
Man Recording: Today is… March 2 2017, right?
Lopez: I don’t know. [Note: It is difficult to hear exactly what Lopez says here. He is saying one of three things: “No se” (I don’t know), “Yo se” (I know), or “Lo se” (I know that). It sounds to me like he’s saying “No se”].
Man Recording: No, I don’t know.
Lopez: What’s up with that camera?
Man Recording: Nothing. Just a video.
It is not clear who recorded the video.
The video is interesting for a number of reasons. Lopez is clearly uncomfortable with the man who is recording him. At the beginning of the video, he refuses to answer the recording man’s simple question: “What day is it today?”. It is likely that, skeptical of the recording man’s intentions, Lopez was unwilling to play along by answering the man’s questions.
During the video, sirens can be heard in the background. This is a common tactic deployed by the Ramo Verde prison staff in order to prevent Lopez from hearing messages yelled at the prison from his family and supporters who, often denied access to the prison, stand by the front gate and shout short messages hoping that Lopez will hear them.
Early this morning, Tintori tweeted:
After shouting at Leopoldo from [outside the prison] for four hours, he responded to us by saying: “He who tires, loses!”
PSUV Union Leader: Venezuelan Inflation “Not Real”
Wills Rangel, the head of the Federacion Unitaria de Trabajadores del Petroleo [United Federation of Oil Workers] (FUTPV), said in an interview on the Globovision network this morning that the inflation in Venezuela—which is the highest on the planet—“is not real”. Rangel did not explain exactly what he meant by the comment, but based on the context of his statement it appears as if he believes that the inflation crisis affecting the country is not the result of economic forces.
The inflation that we have to day is not real inflation. We are convinced that neither collective bargaining agreements nor salary increases will resolve the inflation crisis.
Rangel was speaking on the Maduro regime’s routine increases to the minimum monthly salary and monthly social benefits, and said he is convinced that the government does not mandate the increases as a way to combat inflation, but rather to “protect” earnings. He said:
At no moment does the government play dumb and pretend that [the increases] are a solution. They are a form of protection for household earnings, because we’re starting from the premise that in almost every home one or two people work.
Since the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) no longer publishes economic data, the work of calculating markers such as the inflation rate has fallen to national and foreign financial experts. The International Monetary Fund estimated that the inflation rate in Venezuela at the end of 2016 was at least 700%, although estimates from other sources place the figure as high as 850%.
Alleged Rogue Anti-Regime Military Group Gets Twitter Account
A group calling itself the Movimiento Bolivariano de Liberacion Nacional [National Liberation Bolivarian Movement] (MBLN) has appeared on Twitter under the handle @JuramentoSacro (@SacredOath), fueling rumours that disgruntled personnel are actively organizing inside the armed forces.
The group’s name bears resemblance to another known anti-Maduro group called the Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberacion [Bolivarian Liberation Forces] (FBL), which published a series of videos on YouTube in 2013 and 2014 criticizing Maduro for what the group considered his betrayal of chavista principles. At around the same time as the video was published, the FBL created a website that has remained inactive since then.
It is not clear if the MBLN and the FBL are related, or if the groups are even made up of anti-Maduro military personnel.
The MBLN has one message posted on its Twitter account, which it sent on March 2. The message is a quote from the Bible, and comes from 1 Samuel 17:45
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of Jehova of the armies [sic]…”
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