Photo: El Salvador
By January 20, 2015, the Venezuelan oil barrel had plummeted to $39. Nicolás postponed his accountability speech before the National Assembly, seeking financing and trying to persuade “the world” to trade a more expensive barrel, as he had to accept that the $100 oil barrel wouldn’t return. That’s how the oil boom ended, leaving the country’s oil output below that of 1999, with diminished international reserves, a sizeable foreign debt and the highest inflation in the world, as well as the intense shortage of food and medicines. Long lines are the best summary for this year; and they didn’t disappear with the use of captahuellas or purchase discrimination according to the ID card number. In spite of this, the FAO acknowledged Venezuela’s progress concerning food. Desde allá, a film directed by Lorenzo Vigas, won the Golden Lion for best film in the Venice Film Festival. Likewise, the national basketball team won the FIBA Americas for the first time in our history and the U-20 female soccer team got second place in the South American Championship, qualifying for a World Cup for the first time ever. The famous artist and cartoonist Pedro León Zapata passed away.
In just one week, two ULA students were murdered; José Frías and Julio García, who were found tortured and with gunshots to the head. Later, UNET student John Ramírez was found and the authorities said that someone shot him in the head to steal his cellphone. Yamir Tovar and Luis Arianyi, members of the student movement Resistencia, were found lying on the ground in Los Flores, Catia, with gunshots to their faces and bodies. After this horrifying sequence, there was a commotion in San Cristóbal when a PNB officer shot 14-year old student Kluiverth Roa in the back of the neck. Nicolás said in a cadena that Roa was a member of “a right-wing sect,” that the police officer had been taunted and that the gun “went off.” That same day, the army killed a young wayúu native who was returning home from school. Meanwhile, criminal gangs used fragmentary grenades in common crimes and journalistic investigations revealed that 8 of every 10 bullets used by criminals came from Cavim, the Armed Forces’ ammunition factory.
After 15 years, Venezuela sent a delegation to Geneva for the assessment of the country’s performance on human rights carried out by the UN. The key message of Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz was that human rights were guaranteed because the Constitution said so. Resolution Nº 008610 was published in the Official Gazette, where the Defense Ministry authorized the Armed Forces’ intervention in protests with the use of “potentially lethal force.” With military actions in the Cota 905 to crack down on armed gangs, the government created the Operation for People’s Liberation (OLP): the accomplishments of those raids could be summed up in the number of deaths, arrests and deportations. President Barack Obama sanctioned government officials and declared that Venezuela had become an “unusual and extraordinary threat” for the U.S. Nicolás rewarded sanctioned officials and wasted enormous resources to collect signatures in condemnation of the measure.
Photo: Havana Times
In August, the Colombian-Venezuelan border was shut down and a state of emergency was declared in five municipalities of Táchira state. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, there were an average of 16 protests per day in 2015, 82% of them demanding economic and social rights.
A trumped-up trial
The case of Leopoldo López was discussed around the world. Nicolás discredited every person who worked on his defense. He took to calling López “the monster of Ramo Verde,” the military prison were he was kept isolated while his trial was postponed over and over. In a trial rigged with irregularities, he was finally sentenced to 14 years in prison. Months later, prosecutor Franklin Nieves, one of the people in charge of the investigation against López, fled the country and confessed that the accusation had been fabricated, the evidence was forged (in coordination with Nelson Mejías) and that Luisa Ortega Díaz gave the orders to act against López, even though she was aware of the flimsy evidence. Franklin Nieves was the regretful executioner. In a truthful justice system, this would’ve been enough to open and investigation, nullify the sentence, the trial and release Leopoldo López; but not in Venezuela.
Drug trafficking at port
Nicolás announced that they had frustrated a coup d’état (there had been 16 such attempts in two years) and that the plan included the use of a Tucano aircraft loaded with missiles to bomb Miraflores. Two days after this, a SEBIN commission arrested Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma and took him to Ramo Verde. Captain Leamsy Salazar turned himself into the DEA to provide information on drug trafficking in Venezuela. Diosdado Cabello denounced three media outlets for publishing the story of the Cartel de los Soles, previously published by Spanish news agency ABC, and then picked up by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as well. Nicolás, the TSJ and the Prosecutor’s Office supported Cabello. In October, the TSJ Plenary Chamber approved the early retirement of 13 justices, whose tenures were to end in December 2016. On November 11, Efraín Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, nephews of the presidential couple, were arrested in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) by the DEA, for trying to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.
Photo: The Wall Street Journal
The opposition agreed on candidacies by consensus in most of the electoral circuits and dealt with the remaining 33 circonscriptions through primaries. With public resources, violating the Anti-Corruption Law, the LOPRE and the electoral regulations, Nicolás campaigned for PSUV with the wrong pitch: he threatened everyone, urging his candidates to win, using the phrase “whatever it takes.”
The threats translated to several attacks on opposition campaigns, six with firearms and sadly, the murder of Luis Manuel Díaz, AD general secretary in Altagracia de Orituco.
On December 6, with a 74.1% turnout, MUD won the majority in Parliament with 112 lawmakers representing 65.27% of votes. In comparison, PSUV got 55 seats with 32.93% of votes. Nicolás said the famous phrase: “I asked for your support and you didn’t give it to me,” threatening to suspend social programs because of this defeat. After the various challenges and lawsuits filed by PSUV against Amazonas’ elections, the Electoral Chamber suspended the induction of the lawmakers elected in that state on December 30. The move was deemed “the judicial coup.”
And in the National Assembly
Violating the Constitution, the National Assembly appointed new authorities via simple majority, asking the TSJ to support their decision. They ratified Luisa Ortega Díaz, Manuel Galindo was appointed General Comptroller (although he was still Attorney General); former PSUV governor Tarek William Saab was named Ombudsman, and in the CNE, all of the rectoras were ratified, while Vicente Díaz was replaced by Luis Emilio Rondón. Lawmakers approved an Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law so that Nicolás could legislate by decree between March 15 to December 31. Although the period for sessions ended on December 15, the TSJ allowed the AN to hold extraordinary sessions (between December 15 and January 4), approving and modifying laws, additional credits and appointing new public officials, including 13 TSJ justices and Public Defender Susana Barreiros, the judge who sentenced Leopoldo López.
The government created the Marginal Currency System (Simadi), which would allegedly regulate free market demand. A demand that surpassed the State’s capacities, showing that the black market price wasn’t a mere fabrication. The system wasn’t recognized as a depreciation and the Cencoex rate (Bs. 6.30 per dollar) remained in place, for imports of food and medicines and corruption; restricting traveller allowances. Banca Privada D’Andorra, in the Principality of Andorra, was intervened for money laundering. The accusation included the laundering of $2 billion deposited by PDVSA. There was a leak from Swiss bank HSBC releasing a list of bank account owners and their respective balances. Venezuela ranked as the third country in the world with the most funds deposited (over $14 billion!), most of them made by the government between 2005 and 2009.
Bs. 2, 5 and 10 banknotes couldn’t pay for a black and white photocopy. The minimum wage rose by 75%. The economy contracted by 5.7% and inflation rose to 180.9%, the worse performance in America and the highest inflation in the world. The international reserves dropped to $16,3 billion, less than 2003, the lowest point during Chávez’s government, due to the impact of the oil strike. The black market dollar opened the year at Bs. 182 and closed it at Bs. 910.