Vice President Dimisses U.S. Claims of Drug Trafficking

February 16, 2017

Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami has dismissed US sanctions identifying him as an international drug kingpin, saying that the move by the Trump administration only deepens his commitment to the anti-imperialist revolution begun by the late Hugo Chavez.

In a raft of defiant social media posts, El Aissami said that what he described as the “miserable and defamatory aggression” by the US would not distract him from his job of rescuing Venezuela’s economy from “sabotage by its conservative opponents.”

“They’ll never be able to defeat our unbreakable resolution to be free forever,” he said on Tuesday.

The previous day, the Trump administration had frozen the US assets of El Aissami and banned him from entering the US for his alleged role in facilitating the shipment of multiple tons of cocaine from Venezuela.

As the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever to be sanctioned by the US, El Aissami’s designation as a drug kingpin is sure to escalate tensions between the two countries, which have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

The 42-year-old vice president has been the target of US law enforcement investigations for years, ever since his days as interior minister when dozens of fraudulent Venezuelan passports ended up in the hands of people from the Middle East, including alleged members of Hezbollah.

Prior to his extradition from Colombia in 2011, Walid Makled, Venezuela’s top convicted drug trafficker, told authorities that he paid bribes through El Aissami’s brother to Venezuelan officials so they would turn a blind eye to cocaine shipments that have proliferated over the past two decades.

While Monday’s move by the US made no mention of any ties to Hezbollah, it said that El Aissami had worked with prominent drug traffickers in Mexico and Colombia to oversee multiple US-bound cocaine shipments from Venezuela.

State governor blames Aruba and Curacao for food shortages

June 13, 2016

Governor of the state of Tachira, Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, has accused Curacao and Aruba of contributing to the shortage of food in Venezuela.

According to Vielma Mora, a retired general, tons of illegal products like vegetables, fruits and fish. “…are being exported to some islands in the Caribbean, particularly Curacao and Aruba.”

Vielma Mora indicated during an interview that he has instructed the Venezuelan consuls on these islands to explain to the authorities that these contraband exports are harmful for Venezuela.

The governor also informed that there are legal exports taking place from his state Tachira to the Curacaoan and Aruban markets. He spoke of products like cheese, coffee, potatoes, carrots and fruits that are being exported by 39 companies that have permits. He did not give more details about the companies with permits to export.

Venezuela's Supreme Court overturns amnesty bill

April 11, 2016

Venezuela's Supreme Court has overturned an amnesty for jailed opposition leaders approved by the opposition-controlled parliament.


About 70 activists opposed to President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government had been due for release under the law approved last month.


But the court declared the amnesty law unconstitutional.


President Maduro had condemned the law as an attempt to destabilise his leadership of the country.

The Supreme Court has consistently backed the Venezuelan government since the opposition triumphed in congressional elections in December.


In a statement, the court said the amnesty law was unconstitutional because it covered offences "that are acts of organised crime, which are not related to crimes of a political nature".

Interpol detective arrested over cocaine haul

April 04, 2016

Interpol's chief detective in Venezuela has been arrested over allegations he was involved in shipping 349kg (770lb) of cocaine to the Dominican Republic.


Eliecer Garcia Torrealba, 42, is accused of using his post to allow a plane laden with the drug to take off from Barquisimeto in western Venezuela.


Dominican police searching the Cessna plane found three suitcases and two bags filled with cocaine. Sixteen people are being held in connection with the case.


Prosecutors say Chief Detective Garcia Torrealba "co-ordinated the necessary actions inside the airport in Barquisimeto to allow the plane laden with cocaine to take off".


There was no immediate comment from Mr Garcia Torrealba himself.

Lights go out in Venezuela over Easter

March 26, 2016

The government has order three extra day of holiday over the Easter period as a means of reducing electricity usage in the country.


Infrastructure, including the electricity grid, is in such poor shape that President Nicolas Maduro extended the Easter holiday to five days this week to address a drought affecting hydroelectric dams. Malls, banks and many supermarkets have closed, or have cut hours.


"Venezuela is going through the worst crisis in its 200-year history,” said Jean Daudelin, a professor and Latin American specialist at Carleton University currently on sabbatical in South America. “The economy is in shambles and the political system is paralyzed.”


The economy contracted by 10 per cent in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund, and is expected to shrink by a similar amount again this year. Oil revenues have declined, not just because of low prices but due to years of underinvestment and declining productivity. Inflation is estimated at 200 per cent - the highest anywhere in the world.


“We had to go to a black market supplier, where the prices are higher, to find oil and white corn flour to make arepas,” Harold Schott, an industrial engineer, said after trying to shop Thursday in Maracay, a city 120 kilometres west of Caracas.


“Inflation is so bad that cheese costs 10 times what it did three months ago. My car battery died a week ago and I cannot find a replacement.”


The military continues to back Maduro, who replaced former president Hugo Chavez after he died in 2013. Venezuela has a long history of military intervention; Chavez himself led an attempted coup in 1992 before becoming president in 1999, and he survived a coup attempt in 2002.



Two-thirds of Venezuelans say Maduro presidency will end this year

March 26, 2016

Just under two-thirds of Venezuelans think Nicolas Maduro's presidency should end this year as the opposition pushes to oust him amid a grueling economic crisis, a survey by a leading pollster said.


Socialist-run Venezuela's struggling state-led economic model and a fall in the price of oil, its biggest export, have led to acute shortages of everything from rice to contraceptives, galloping three-digit inflation, and a profound recession.


Some 63.6 percent of Venezuelans say Maduro should quit this year or be removed via a recall referendum, versus some 29.3 percent of Venezuelans who want him to keep governing until 2019, when his mandate ends, according to the poll seen by Reuters on Saturday.


A whopping 90.9 percent of those surveyed by pollster Datanalisis in February viewed the country's situation as negative.


But Maduro's approval rating edged up to 33.1 percent from 32 percent in January, with negative views slipping to 63.4 percent from 66.4 percent.


The opposition's December legislative victory has re-polarized parts of the OPEC-member nation and Maduro has reaped rewards for labeling some of his political rivals as divided elitists incapable of solving the economic crisis.

Clashes on street over court ruling

March 03, 2016

Venezuelan students have clashed with police in the western city of San Cristobal.


The students were protesting against a ruling by the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The court curtailed the power of the opposition-controlled National Assembly to review government appointments of Supreme Court justices.


The clashes come at a time of rising tension between the opposition and the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.


San Cristobal was where a wave of anti-government protests started in 2014. Forty-three people from both sides of the political divide were killed during the ensuing months in some of Venezuela's main cities.


Jose Vielma Mora, the governor of Tachira state, where San Cristobal is located, said that the protesters "use violence to support a National Assembly that wants to violate the rule of law".The National Assembly was due to debate the government's nomination of 13 Supreme Court justices and 21 alternates on Tuesday.

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