Los nexos criminales de los nuevos jefes militares de Maduro en Venezuela

Este artículo fue escrito por Unidad de Investigación de Venezuela de Venezuela y originalmente publicado por Insight Crime en julio 17, 2019. Se reproduce aquí bajo CC BY-NC 3.0.

El presidente Nicolás Maduro ha anunciado cambios en la cúpula militar de Venezuela, mediante una serie de nombramientos que parecen recompensar la lealtad al régimen y promueven figuras que han sido señaladas de complicidad criminal y participación en la represión estatal.

Los anuncios se hicieron el 7 de julio en una ceremonia militar en Caracas. Maduro reeligió a Vladimir Padrino López como ministro de Defensa, lo que demuestra que sigue considerando que Padrino López es vital para mantener sus relaciones con los militares, a pesar de los rumores de los vínculos de este último con la fallida sublevación de la oposición del pasado 30 de abril de 2019.

A continuación, InSight Crime analiza los antecedentes y posibles vínculos criminales de los nuevos jefes militares de Venezuela:

Alexis Rodríguez Cabello, comandante del Ejército

Rodríguez Cabello ha sido un viejo aliado de la Revolución Bolivariana, y participó en el fallido golpe de Estado de Hugo Chávez en 1992. Continuó siendo una figura clave en los altos mandos del Ejército durante la administración de Nicolás Maduro, ejerciendo como director de la principal dependencia militar de la capital entre 2017 y 2019.

Según Rocío San Miguel, experta en asuntos castrenses venezolanos y directora de la ONG Control Ciudadano, el nombramiento de Rodríguez Cabello como comandante del Ejército es “una clara concesión al poder ejercido por Diosdado Cabello Rondón”, presidente de la polémica Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, organismo creado en 2017, y jefe del Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV). Ambos se graduaron al mismo tiempo de la escuela militar y se cree que son primos.

Diosdado Cabello es una figura central en el gobierno venezolano, considerado como el segundo al mando de Maduro. Se encuentra sancionado por el Departamento del Tesoro de Estados Unidos por actividades como tráfico de drogas, lavado de dinero y malversación de fondos públicos. Las investigaciones en torno a su actividad criminal indican que utiliza su influencia en los nombramientos militares para salvaguardar las operaciones de sus redes de poder y actividades criminales, que operan al interior de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) de Venezuela.

Rodríguez Cabello sucede a Jesús Suárez Chourio, cuya salida se puede deber a los rumores de su participación en el fallido levantamiento de la oposición el 30 de abril. Como jefe militar del Distrito Capital en ese momento, Rodríguez Cabello fue uno de los primeros comandantes militares en condenar el levantamiento y afirmar su lealtad inquebrantable a Maduro.

Manuel Bernal Martínez, comandante de la milicia

Bernal Martínez es otro “chavista original” que participó en el intento de golpe de Estado de 1992, lo que confirma que el gobierno de Maduro está premiando las viejas lealtades. En 2014, Bernal fue director del temido Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN) de Venezuela.

Como director del SEBIN, Bernal Martínez estuvo detrás de la sangrienta respuesta a la marcha liderada por el abanderado de la oposición, Leopoldo López, el 12 de febrero de 2014. Las fuerzas especiales del SEBIN, junto con miembros de las tropas de choque paramilitares conocidas como “colectivos”, abrieron fuego contra los manifestantes, lo que dejó como resultado dos personas muertas.

Más tarde, el jefe del contingente del SEBIN y otros funcionarios del servicio testificaron que estaban allí siguiendo órdenes de Bernal Martínez, aunque este ha negado que hubiera dado la autorización. Como consecuencia de dichos asesinatos, Bernal Martínez recibió sanciones de Estados Unidos por violaciones a los derechos humanos. Fue destituido de su cargo en el SEBIN, pero continuó siendo nombrado en altos cargos militares.

En 2018 fue nombrado comandante de la principal dependencia militar de la región de los Andes. Ese mismo año fue incluido en una lista de funcionarios venezolanos sancionados por el gobierno de Panamá por representar “un alto riesgo de blanqueo de capitales y financiación del terrorismo y la proliferación de armas de destrucción masiva”.

Fabio Zavarce, comandante de la Guardia Nacional Bolivariana

Antes de su nombramiento como comandante de la GNB, Fabio Zavarce se desempeñaba como jefe del distrito militar occidental. En opinión de San Miguel, su promoción representa, “por un lado, la presencia de uno de los grupos más poderosos dirigido por Néstor Reverol, ministro de Relaciones Interiores, Justicia y Paz, por otro lado, un premio a su lealtad en la criminalización de la protesta en Venezuela”.

Fabio Zavarce es un aliado cercano de Néstor Reverol, una de las figuras que se cree que ejerce más poder velado en la administración Maduro. Al igual que Diosdado Cabello, Reverol ha sido identificado como miembro del “Cartel de los Soles”. Estados Unidos lo acusó por tráfico de drogas en los años 2015 y 2017, y fue mencionado por Hugo Carvajal, el exjefe de inteligencia venezolano, como una piedra angular de las operaciones de narcotráfico de la FANB venezolanas. Este nuevo nombramiento de Zavarce asegura la influencia de Reverol a través de la GNB. Zavarce además podría tener vínculos personales con el narcotráfico. Su nombre apareció en la lista de colaboradores militares que entregó el narcotraficante convicto Walid Makled en 2011.

Además, Zavarce ha demostrado estar dispuesto a participar en la represión estatal. Como jefe del Comando Regional de la GNB en Caracas, dirigió la violenta respuesta de la unidad ante las protestas de la oposición el 12 de febrero de 2014. También han surgido videos en los que abraza al líder del conocido colectivo “La Piedrita”, lo que demuestra su afiliación con estos grupos criminales armados cercanos al gobierno. Zavarce fue sancionado por Estados Unidos en 2018 por represión de manifestaciones, y fue incluido en la lista de Panamá de funcionarios venezolanos castigados por presunta relación con lavado de dinero y terrorismo.

Este artículo fue escrito por Unidad de Investigación de Venezuela de Venezuela y originalmente publicado por Insight Crime en julio 17, 2019. Se reproduce aquí bajo CC BY-NC 3.0.

Trump Administration Announces Support For Guaido As Violence Erupts in Caracas

Juan Guaido called for massive protests on Tuesday against the regime of President Nicolas Maduro. The situation has turned violent in places. According to Reuters, dozens of armed troops loyal to Guaido clashed with regime soldiers and a pro-regime National Guard vehicle ran into opposition protesters.

Guaido is the leader of the National Assembly and recognized as the interim president of Venezuela by the United States, the European Union, and most Latin American countries.

The United States government is standing firmly behind Guaido.

“I am monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely,” President Donald Trump tweeted. ” The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!”

“We are with you!” tweeted Vice President Mike Pence. “America will stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored.”

“Today interim President Juan Guaido announced start of Operación Libertad,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted. “The U.S. Government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated.”

Yesterday, Pompeo would not comment on how long he believed Maduro would stay in power in a conversation with the editor-in-chief of The Hill.

National Security Adviser John Bolton used the platform to warn several high ranking officials in the Venezuelan government to abandon Maduro or “go down with the ship.”

A spokesperson for the Treasury Department released the following statement on the current situation in Venezuela:

“The United States stands with the Venezuelan people and interim President Juan Guaido in opposition to the illegitimate Maduro regime.  The path to sanctions relief for individuals and entities aligned with the former Maduro regime, including institutions such as PdVSA, is to change behavior by supporting Venezuela’s democratically elected leader and those who seek to restore democracy.  The United States and our partners and allies stand ready to leverage the tools of the international financial community to help swiftly restart Venezuela’s economy.  This Administration will continue to hold accountable those who stand in the way of restoring democracy to Venezuela.”

The United States was the first country to recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela more than three months ago. The current situation is the most serious threat to the Maduro regime since anti-government protests in 2017.

Maduro to Re-Denominate the Bolívar Fuerte

Venezuela will re-denominate the bolívar this summer by removing three zeros from its highly devalued currency. Hyperinflation in Venezuela has exacerbated one of the most severe economic crisis in the history of the Americas.

President Nicolás Maduro announced last week that the change will take place after June 4, according to Reuters.

Maduro blamed the United States and its allies for waging “economic war” against the socialist nation. The US placed sanctions on the socialist regime last summer after it held elections for a new legislative body meant to override the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Additional sanctions have since been levied against individuals with close ties to President Maduro and his government.

Francisco Rodriguez, an economic and Wall Street analyst, characterized the re-denomination as an attempt “to hide hyperinflation by knocking zeros off the currency.”

In March 2007 then-President Hugo Chávez renamed Venezuela’s currency the “bolívar fuerte” and set its value at 1,000 times higher than that of the previous currency. Although the events are quite similar, Maduro is not replacing his country’s currency the way that his predecessor did 10 years ago.

Dolar Today reports that the actual exchange rate is more than 235,000 bolívares per US dollar. One year ago, the exchange rate was about 3,000 bolívares per dollar.

The common issue of inflation

High inflation has been a persistent problem in many Latin American and Caribbean countries.

One of the most important and difficult tasks of Argentine President Mauricio Macri, when he took office in 2015, was to rein in inflation. While inflation has come down, it remains near 20 percent.

Reuters reported that economists predict Argentina’s inflation rate will be 19.9 percent in 2018. The 54 economists who were polled also predicted that economic growth would only be 2.7 percent.

“Macri has said fighting inflation is a priority as his government seeks to attract private investment and boost growth after more than a decade of populist rule,” stated the article. “But his administration’s utilities subsidy cuts, crucial to efforts to lower the fiscal deficit, have contributed to price hikes.”

https://tradingeconomics.com/embed/?s=arcpiyoy&v=201803261050v&h=300&w=600&ref=/argentina/inflation-cpi
However, while double-digit inflation can be a weight on an economy holding down economic growth, hyperinflation is always catastrophic.

In the 1980s Bolivia experience hyperinflation of 23,000 percent. It took more than a decade for inflation to consistently remain below 10 percent. It was another decade after that before real gross domestic product per capita to return to pre-crisis levels.

Thayer Watkins, a former professor at San Jose State University, explained on his website that the solution to hyperinflation in Bolivia required harsh fiscal discipline and support from policymakers.

“In 1985 Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, working with Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard, formulated a financial program that curbed the hyperinflation. The program was basic. The government maintained a balanced budget. It did not spend any more than it took in in taxes. As the program began to work Jeffrey Sachs recommended that the Bolivian Central Bank use its funds to support the value of the Bolivian peso. This was a remarkable financial coup because it resulted in Bolivians who were afraid to hold their assets in Bolivian pesos regaining their confidence. The transfer of funds back into the Bolivian peso further shored up its value and led to even more capital flows back into Bolivia.”

Other countries like Ecuador and El Salvador abandoned their domestic currency in favor of the US dollar as a means of curtailing high inflation.

No end in sight for hyperinflation in Venezuela

Under the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, however, there does not appear to be an appetite to truly tackle inflation.

Drastic policies are necessary to bring inflation under control. Maduro continues to blame the United States and its allies on his nation’s economic woes rather than enact the painful, but necessary, policies that are needed to slow inflation.

Until the government in Caracas takes such measures, the people of Venezuela will continue to suffer and be paid in a currency that loses value by the hour.

Oil Industry in Venezuela Continues to Deteriorate

The economic crisis in Venezuela continues to deepen ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. The fall in oil production is both a result of the crisis as well as a contributor to the economic downturn.

Oil production in Venezuela fell rapidly in the fourth quarter of 2017. According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ monthly oil market report, crude oil production in Venezuela fell 3 percent from the previous month to just 1.600 million barrels per day. Production was 2.154 million barrels per day in 2016.

Production of crude oil has fallen steadily in recent years as the economic and political crisis in Venezuela has deepened. / Data from OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report / Graph by Nathan Davis
Production of crude oil has fallen steadily in recent years as the economic and political crisis in Venezuela has deepened. / Data from OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report / Graph by Nathan Davis

Dan Eberhart, CEO of the oilfield services company Canary, sees the upcoming elections and the United States’ response as the linchpin to Venezuela’s future.

Assuming the country doesn’t collapse entirely, Eberhart said in Forbes, “Venezuelan production is likely to fall another 400,000 to 600,000 barrels a day this year.”

Presidential elections will be held on May 20. President Nicolas Maduro is hoping that the elections will provide him an opportunity to give his regime legitimacy. Maduro used the same tactic last summer when he held elections for the National Constituent Assembly to replace the opposition-controlled legislature.

The Trump administration placed sanctions on Maduro and regime officials after those elections. Eberhart believes that the upcoming election could lead to a similar response from the United States.

“If Maduro uses the election to further consolidate his grip on power, it could prompt Washington to slap the harshest of measures on Caracas,” Eberhart speculated. “These could include an outright ban on imports of Venezuelan crude, or, more likely, an embargo on U.S. exports of light oil and refined products to the South American country.”

Such a tactic would put extreme pressure on Venezuela’s economy and could push the embittered country over the edge into collapse. In addition to exacerbating the already intense migration crisis coming out of Venezuela, an economic and political collapse would most likely bring oil production to a grinding halt.

Eberhardt argues that a combination of Saudi supply, shale oil production in the United States, and the use of the national strategic oil reserves by the Trump administration would make the short-term oil price shock bearable for the United States.

Eberhardt is ultimately optimistic that “Venezuela’s reserves can be extracted profitably” if the government in Venezuela is “credible and creditworthy.”

However, given that Maduro is expected to win the upcoming election, it seems unlikely that such a government will take power in Caracas anytime soon.

Venezuelan Attorney General Charges Three with Corruption

The Attorney General of Venezuela, Tarek Saab, has arrested two businessmen and the former manager of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The three men are charged with corruption in connection with oil development projects in the Orinoco Oil Belt.

Reuters reports that the two of the accused men are Manuela Sosa, a television actor who was close to one of the daughters of the late President Hugo Chavez, and Pedro León, the former general manager of the Orinoco Belt.

The Orinoco Oil Belt contains Venezuela’s largest oil reserves. Oil Sands Magazine, an industry magazine based in Canada, compared the Orinoco Oil Belt with the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada. First, the warmer climate “means much less energy is required to bring the oil to a flowing temperature.” Second, the oil is more concentrated and more uniform. Third, it is located at a more optimal depth for extraction.

Corruption in public works projects has been a consistent issue in Venezuela. The reports by the United States Department of Justice in December 2016 on the Odebrecht corruption scandal revealed the extensive nature of bribery and corruption in the country.

Between 2007 and 2014, $98 million the Brazilian construction conglomerate, Odebrecht S.A., paid $98 million in bribes in Venezuela. According to the Department of Justice’s report, Odebrecht spent more than $800 million in bribes from which it reaped $2.4 billion in benefits. It is unknown how much Odebrecht benefited from corruption in Venezuela since the Venezuelan government has so far not cooperated with international investigators.

Attorney General Saab’s predecessor, Luisa Ortega, announced in August that she had proof that linked Maduro to the Odebrecht scandal. According to Reuters, Ortega said the evidence implicated Maduro and high ranking officials in the Socialist party. She did not reveal her evidence but did call on the international community to investigate.

President Maduro and PDVSA officials have previously pledged to combat corruption.

Support El Hemisferio by donating through Patreon

Venezuela Attorney General Charges Three with Corruption

The Attorney General of Venezuela, Tarek Saab, has arrested two businessmen and the former manager of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The three men are charged with corruption in connection with oil development projects in the Orinoco Oil Belt.

Reuters reports that the two of the accused men are Manuela Sosa, a television actor who was close to one of the daughters of the late President Hugo Chavez, and Pedro León, the former general manager of the Orinoco Belt.

The Orinoco Oil Belt contains Venezuela’s largest oil reserves. Oil Sands Magazine, an industry magazine based in Canada, compared the Orinoco Oil Belt with the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada. First, the warmer climate “means much less energy is required to bring the oil to a flowing temperature.” Second, the oil is more concentrated and more uniform. Third, it is located at a more optimal depth for extraction.

Corruption in public works projects has been a consistent issue in Venezuela. The reports by the United States Department of Justice in December 2016 on the Odebrecht corruption scandal revealed the extensive nature of bribery and corruption in the country.

Between 2007 and 2014, $98 million the Brazilian construction conglomerate, Odebrecht S.A., paid $98 million in bribes in Venezuela. According to the Department of Justice’s report, Odebrecht spent more than $800 million in bribes from which it reaped $2.4 billion in benefits. It is unknown how much Odebrecht benefited from corruption in Venezuela since the Venezuelan government has so far not cooperated with international investigators.

Attorney General Saab’s predecessor, Luisa Ortega, announced in August that she had proof that linked Maduro to the Odebrecht scandal. According to Reuters, Ortega said the evidence implicated Maduro and high ranking officials in the Socialist party. She did not reveal her evidence but did call on the international community to investigate.

President Maduro and PDVSA officials have previously pledged to combat corruption.

Support El Hemisferio by donating through Patreon

Presidente Trump Coloca Sanciones Adicionales al Gobierno Venezolano

El presidente Donald Trump firmó hoy una orden ejecutiva que impone nuevas sanciones al gobierno de Venezuela ya la petrolera estatal PDVSA.

En una declaración a la prensa, la Casa Blanca echó la culpa de la actual situación económica y política de Venezuela a los pies del presidente Maduro.

La dictadura de Maduro sigue privando al pueblo venezolano de alimentos y medicinas, encarcelando a la oposición democráticamente elegida y suprimiendo violentamente la libertad de expresión. La decisión del régimen de crear una Asamblea Constituyente ilegítima -y más recientemente para que ese cuerpo usurpe los poderes de la Asamblea Nacional democráticamente elegida- representa una ruptura fundamental en el orden constitucional legítimo de Venezuela.

Las nuevas sanciones financieras frenarán el flujo de capital financiero en forma de deuda, bonos y pagos de dividendos al gobierno de Maduro. La sanción afectará tanto a los bonos nuevos como a los ya existentes.

Las sanciones permiten ciertas excepciones para “mitigar el daño al pueblo estadounidense y venezolano”. Una excepción es para “transacciones que involucran sólo a Citgo”, una subsidiaria de PDVSA con sede en los Estados Unidos que posee una cantidad significativa de infraestructura relacionada con el petróleo Industria en los Estados Unidos.

La secretaria de prensa de la Casa Blanca, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, continuó aclarando que las nuevas sanciones de los Estados Unidos estaban dirigidas a que los venezolanos ordinarios no tuvieran más dificultades.

Estas medidas se calibran cuidadosamente para negar a la dictadura de Maduro una fuente crítica de financiamiento para mantener su regla ilegítima, proteger al sistema financiero de Estados Unidos de la complicidad en la corrupción de Venezuela y en el empobrecimiento del pueblo venezolano y permitir la asistencia humanitaria.

Las tensiones entre Venezuela y los Estados Unidos han estado creciendo durante meses, cuando el presidente Nicolás Maduro convirtió a Venezuela en un estado autoritario. En un intento de usurpar la Asamblea Nacional, Maduro pidió la creación de una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente. Las masivas protestas sacudieron a Venezuela en la víspera de las elecciones del 30 de julio.

En respuesta a la creación de la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, Estados Unidos impuso sanciones directamente al Presidente Nicolás Maduro. Según un comunicado de prensa, “todos los activos de Nicolás Maduro sujetos a la jurisdicción de los Estados Unidos se congelan, y se prohibe a los estadounidenses tratar con él”.

Desde que fue elegido, la Asamblea Constituyente despojó a la Asamblea Nacional de su autoridad legislativa y permitió que el Presidente Maduro gobernara por decreto.

Apoye a El Hemisferio donando aquí