The National Assembly swore in its new president for the 2018 parliamentary session today, naming Omar Barboza to the position. An established member of the Venezuelan political Old Guard, Barboza served as governor of Zulia state for the Accion Democratica (AD) party in the 1980s. In 2000, Barboza left the party and created his own, Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT), which he represents to this day.
Barboza’s appointment to the presidency of the legislative makes him the third opposition politician to head the National Assembly since 2016. After winning the 2015 parliamentary elections, the Mesa de a Unidad Democratica (MUD) agreed to rotate the presidency each year. The first president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly was AD’s Henry Ramos Allup, who served for 2016. He was followed by Julio Borges from the Primero Justicia (PJ) party, who served last year.
The opposition was not monolithic in its appointment of Barboza to the position. Omar Gonzalez, the head of a parliamentary faction that calls itself “July 16” after a plebiscite that took place that day in 2017, said:
We will not vote for this executive committee because it will not move us closer to finding a way out of this regime.
In voicing his concerns, Gonzalez spoke for a sizable portion of the Venezuelan opposition that does not consider negotiating with the Maduro regime an option, given its continued hostility towards dissenters. On the ongoing talks between the opposition and the ruling PSUV party, Gonzalez said:
Liberty cannot be negotiated. [The ongoing talks] are a parody of a negotiation. People want to live without censure and repression, without crime…
Barboza used his first time at the podium as president of the legislature to lay out his vision for the future of the country’s legislature and its struggle against the Maduro regime. Barboza said:
In light of the unprecedented decay of the country, we have the political and ethical duty to rebuild our unity, and in order to do this we must take into account the sense of urgency that we must give to the steps necessary to achieve this goal. No personal or party aspiration, no matter how legitimate it is, can stand in the way of us agreeing to act united in order to achieve the prosperity and freedom that Venezuelans deserve. We face a national emergency [that requires] political change (…) and all of the democratic leadership on the side of the people must truly unite in order to achieve this.
Maduro Cuts Off All Contact With ABC Islands
Maduro announced today that Venezuela is cutting off all connections with Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao “as of today”, in a move that he claims is aimed at stopping smuggling.
Maduro made the announcement by saying:
They’ve robbed us enough. They’ve taken enough of our products there.
It is not clear what specifically prompted the measure. However, the Maduro regime absolves itself of all responsibility for the country’s economic collapse by blaming an “economic war” that it claims is being waged against the country by a nebulous and vast network of conspirators, including the United States, Colombia, Spain, Venezuelan migrants, the international media, and human rights organizations.
Maduro announced that as part of the measure, he had ordered security forces to take control of five ports that conduct trade with the islands: Zazarida, Guaranao, Las Piedras, La Vela, Muaco, San Jose de La Costa, and Tucacas.
Maduro Issues 100,000,000 Petros
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Caracas, Maduro also announced that Venezuela would issue 100,000,000 petros, a cryptocurrency that was developed and is operated by the regime. According to Maduro, the value of a single petro will be equal to that of a barrel of oil in the international market.
Maduro clarified that the point of the petro is to circumvent the financial sanctions that the United States has placed on the regime.
The cryptocurrency fever that has spread throughout the world on account of bitcoin appears to have found a new host in Maduro, who also said that the government would foster the development of petro mining operations in the country. He said:
We’re going to build special places all across the country, special places for mining the cryptocurrency that is the petro and for the mining of all cryptocurrencies that are being used in the world.
By design, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin allow for anonymous and untraceable transactions between individuals. This has made them extremely attractive to criminal organizations, who likely take advantage of these features to launder money and avoid detection by the authorities.
Maduro Will Deliver “State of the Union” Address to Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly has approved a motion to allow Maduro to deliver his yearly state of the union address there, rather than before the National Assembly as mandated by article 237 of the Constitution. The motion was brought to the floor of the Constituent Assembly by Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, who is also a Constituent Assembly member.
Article 237 of the Constitution mandates that the President of the Republic must address the National Assembly within the first ten days of its first session each year, and provide “an account of the political, economic, social and administrative” landscape of the previous year. The act–similar in purpose to the state of the union address in the United States–is meant to provide a degree of transparency and accountability in government.
While the National Assembly is controlled by the country’s political opposition, the Constituent Assembly is made up entirely of regime supporters who were elected under a highly suspect vote on July 30 of last year. The vote was marked by so many irregularities that the company that provided the voting machines for the election issued an unprecedented statement days later, saying that the results announced by the regime did not correspond to the actual number of votes cast.
US Sanctions Four More Regime Officials
The United States Department of the Treasury has expanded its targeted sanctions against Maduro regime officials by adding four individuals to the list. The individuals are:
- Aragua state governor Rodolfo Marcos Torres
- Minister for the New Peace Frontier Gerardo Izquiero Torres
- Former Bolivar state governor Francisco Rangel Gomez
- National Guard General Fabio Zavarse Pabon
Washington justified the sanctions by saying that the individuals–all of whom are either active or retired military officers–violated Venezuelan law by participating in human rights abuses. A press release by the Department of the Treasure reads:
These designations, all against senior military officers, highlight that corruption and repression continue to flourish under the Maduro regime, both by those in current government positions and former officials who continue to benefit from a corrupt system, even as Venezuela’s citizens, economy, and constitutionally enshrined democratic institutions languish
The sanctions freeze all assets the individuals may have in the United States, and prohibit all U.S. persons from conducting business with the individuals.
Looting Breaks out in Bolivar States
Bolivar state was once again the scene of looting today, this time affecting the municipality of Caicara del Orinoco. According to reports on social media, the looting began after word bean through spread in the city that business were no longer accepting Bs. 50 and Bs. 100 bills, which are the lowest and most common denominations in circulation. It is not clear if these rumours are true.
Below, images of the unrest:
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