Voluntad Popular (VP) confirmed today that it will not participate in the April 22 presidential election, becoming the largest and most popular opposition party to do so. VP’s announcement comes as the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), the opposition bloc that includes VP has well as over a dozen other parties, is expected to announce its own stance on the matter this weekend.

In a press release, VP called the election a “fraud” and suggested that Venezuelans instead focus their attention on a “great national and international movement of peaceful struggle and resistance” as the better strategy for defeating the Maduro regime. Part of the release reads:

Voluntad Popular will not participate in this electoral fraud convened by the dictatorship for April 22 2018. We will not run nor support any candidate, and we call on all democratic political organizations to not participate and lend credence to the fraud that is April 22. Whomever registers [to run] under these conditions will be doing the dictatorship a favour.

The Maduro regime called the snap presidential election on January 23, and waited until February 7 to announce the actual date of the vote. Due in part to the short amount of time between the election announcement and the day of the vote, regime critics and international observers alike agree that the election cannot possible be held in a free, transparent and fair manner.

Houston Firm Sues Rafael Ramirez, Alleges He Demanded $10 Million in Bribes

Harvest Natural Resources, an energy company based in Houston, Texas, filed a lawsuit today with a U.S. court alleging that former PDVSA chief Rafael Ramirez demanded at least $10 million in bribes from the company in exchange for approving an important sale.

The lawsuit comes just three days after the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against five former PDVSA officials accusing the men of participating in a corruption scheme worth at least $1 billion at the state-owned company. That indictment contains references to an unnamed individual also accused of taking bribes known as “Official B”, whom the document describes as a “senior Venezuelan government official”. The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing a U.S. official familiar with the case, that “Official B” was Ramirez.

In its civil complaint, Harvest Natural Resources claims that Ramirez asked the company for a $10 million bribe in 2012, and that the company refused to make the payment. The company claims that as a result of its refusal, Ramirez torpedoed a bid for the company to sell its stake in a joint venture with PDVSA worth $725 million. The lawsuit alleges that PDVSA officials made a similar demand the following year, and names PSUV officials Asdrubal Chavez and Eulogio del Pino as being involved in the corruption scheme.

Dana Bell, a lawyer representing the company, said:

Harvest played by the rules and was punished for it — to the tune of $470 million — as foreign officials and less honorable companies lined each other’s pockets

Peru: We’ll Turn Maduro Away If We Have To

The government of Peru confirmed this afternoon that it will deny Maduro entrance at the migration point through which he attempts to enter the country should he choose to attend the Summit of the Americas (SOA) in Lima on April 13-14. The announcement is the latest in a series of escalations over the past week regarding Maduro’s participation in the summit.

While Maduro was officially invited to attend the summit by the Peruvian government in November of last year, Lima withdrew its invitation on Tuesday in response to his hard turn towards authoritarianism over the past several months. Yesterday, Maduro told reporters that the un-vitation did not bother him, and that he was still planning to visit Peru for the summit.

Earlier today, Peruvian Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz clarified in a radio interview that any attempt by Maduro to enter Peru would end at the airport. Araoz said:

If he comes in a commercial flight, he will not [be cleared] through customs.

Yesterday, Araoz said that Maduro could not enter Peru “either through land or air”.

Summit Will Feature Debate on Venezuela Elections

Paraguay’s foreign affairs minister, Eladio Loizaga, said today that one of the topics for discussion at April’s Summit of the Americas meeting will be the Venezuelan presidential election, which is scheduled for April 22. The election has become a pivotal issue for both Venezuelans and the international community, given the fact that the elections are widely expected to be rigged in favour of Maduro.

Loizaga said:

This is going to have to be an issue that has to be discussed, taking into consideration also the humanitarian crisis–not only political–that [Venezuela] is facing. We notice the heavy presence [of Venezuelans] at the borders with Colombia and Brazil.

The minister also pointed out that despite the PSUV’s repeated assertions, the fact that country holds elections does not necessarily make it democratic.

Loizaga also said that Paraguay supported Peru’s decision to withdraw Maduro’s invitation to the event.

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com

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