2016 was marked by violence. Lootings, kidnappings, murders and robberies that were minimized by the government, even when we reached the (unofficial) rate of 90 deaths per every 100,000 citizens and Caracas became the most dangerous city in the world. We rolled back to the time zone that should’ve never been changed (UTC -4) and electrical grid issues, blamed on the natural phenomenon El Niño, activated a new power rationing plan that lasted over four months. For the first time in 17 years, gas prices were adjusted. Thousands were down with the Zika virus and an outbreak of diphtheria (eradicated 24 years ago) began. Nicolás decreed an economic emergency to legislate, bypassing the National Assembly. He also decreed the creation of Camimpeg, granting brass concessions within oil production and the extraction of gold and diamonds. Former presidents José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Martín Torrijos and Leonel Fernández proved to be disastrous mediators of an authoritarian government. The only achievement of the dialogue that never happened, was Zapatero’s visit to Leopoldo López in Ramo Verde.
Blocking the National Assembly
After cutting the sound wiring and overcoming all the power outages and the robbery of all the equipment of the National Assembly TV station (whose operation and administrative functions were transferred to the AN’s employees by the outgoing Parliament in 2015), 163 elected lawmakers were sworn into office on January 5. Three lawmakers from Amazonas, challenged by the TSJ, were sworn in the next day before the new board and chavismo demanded what the Electoral Chamber would grant them six days later: declaring Parliament in contempt of court and nullifying all of its decisions until they unseated the three Amazonas lawmakers; an unprecedented judicial aberration which suspended the legislative body, disregarding the will of the people. Although the AN complied with the demand, the TSJ didn’t lift the contempt. On the contrary, the Constitutional Chamber took over faculties way beyond its authority to guarantee full power for the Executive Branch, on top of blocking Parliament’s capacities. Nicolás even threatened to reduce the AN’s constitutional tender and later, to dissolve it entirely.
The seven-month-long robbery
The procedure to activate a recall referendum was packed with restrictions and delays imposed by the CNE, in complete coordination with the Administration and the TSJ. The request initiative had to be backed by the signatures of 1% of registered voters (less than 200,000 people). Once those were counted, validated and accepted, it should’ve formalized the request with the collection of the signatures of at least 20% of registered voters. The opposition vastly surpassed the 1% and the CNE delayed the process for so long that a march was called to its headquarters to demand answers and was brutally attacked by chavismo.
Over a million signatures were accepted and the verification period started, requiring people to go to voting stations to validate their signatures with their fingerprints. However, CNE rectoras re-interpreted the regulation and demanded that all the country’s states required 1% signatures, and also providing only 300 captahuellas spread across 124 validation stations, without any sort of proportionality. On August 1, the CNE acknowledged that the opposition had managed to collect the required 1%. The collection of 20% of signatures would take place between October 26 and 28 and just a few days before it started, the CNE decided to “postpone” the process in compliance with the rulings of seven criminal courts which voided the 1% for alleged “signs of fraud”; a judicial barbarity, since those courts have no authority to decide on the matter. The way chavismo celebrated this proved that it was an absolutely shameless political scheme. Gubernatorial and mayoral elections were also postponed for 2017.
The Atenas mine, located in Tumeremo (Bolívar state) was the stage of a sinister episode: the murder of 28 miners; denied by governor Francisco Rangel Gómez but confirmed by lawmaker Américo De Grazia, revealing the anarchic war between armed gangs, natives and miners in an area outside the State’s control. Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz claimed that only 17 miners had been killed and they had been gunned own, not mutilated. Nicolás ordered the reactivation of the OLP which was already counting 73 murders and 931 arrests by October. The CICPC killed José Tovar Colina, alias “El Picure”, the most wanted criminal in Venezuela. Previously, someone had killed Teófilo Rodríguez, aka El Conejo, the pran of San Antonio prison. The shocking part of this case was that the prisoners took to the prison’s roof to drink, carrying their guns and shooting to the sky. There were a series of arbitrary arrests against Voluntad Popular leaders: Delson Guárate, Daniel Ceballos (who was under house arrest at the moment) and Yon Goicoechea.
A spontaneous protest against Nicolás broke out in Villa Rosa and Braulio Jatar was arrested for sharing the video, but there were also home raids and neighbors of the area were arrested, included a minor.
Así fue el cacerolazo que le dió el Pueblo a Maduro en Margarita,allí lo ven pasando! pic.twitter.com/6kMwTLzIz7
— Henrique Capriles R. (@hcapriles) September 3, 2016
Hundreds of public servants were also laid off for signing in favor of the recall referendum, with the support of regime mouthpieces like Elías Jaua, Jorge Rodríguez and Diosdado Cabello.
No food, no medicines
Shortages intensified. The gap between regulated and free prices was absurd. For instance, corn flour was set at Bs. 19 by the government, but it could only be found at Bs. 1,000. Delcy Rodríguez said at the OAS that Venezuela was importing enough food to feed three countries, mocking scarcity and the severe drop in both production and imports.
The creation of the Standard System of Public Purchases, of the Local Committees of Supply and Production (CLAP) and of the great Sovereign Supply program didn’t help fix the crisis. In addition to the shortage of medicines, estimated at 70%, most people couldn’t afford to eat three times a day, with an unbalanced diet and sans proteins. According to the Venezuelan Health Observatory, 75% of Venezuelans mostly ate carbohydrates. And it was precisely the combination of shortages of food and medicines, the long lines and the exorbitant prices which motivated the massive demonstration of September 1, but the demands made that day were ignored.
Venezuela demanded to be appointed for Mercosur’s temporary presidency and Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez was defeated when the institution suspended Venezuela after failing to fulfill its economic, immigration and human rights obligations. The Colombian-Venezuelan border was closed for over a year, under a state of emergency and with arbitrary and massive deportations of thousands of Colombian families who lived in Táchira, Zulia and Amazonas.
Nicolás went to Havana to take part in the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC, while the OAS discussed the activation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter on Venezuela.
There were four minimum wage hikes, for a total of 120% vs. a 720% inflation rate and the worst GDP drop in the last 13 years, with a 18.6% contraction. International reserves dropped to $10.9 billion, the lowest level in 21 years. New currency exchange systems were created: the Protected Exchange rate (Dipro) and the Complementary Exchange rate (Dicom), the former at Bs. 10 per dollar and the latter started at Bs. 206. The national budget for 2017 was Bs. 8.4 billion, a gap of 448% compared to the budget of 2016, five times the number. Nicolás announced the removal of the Bs. 100 banknote from circulation, extending its validity for 72 hours after its announcement, unleashing chaos and despair in the population. The riots in Bolívar state were terrible. He would later extend the bill’s validity several times, including the announcement on December 29, extending it to January 20, 2017. The black market dollar opened the year at Bs. 984 and closed at Bs. 3,164. We got a new set of banknotes, allegedly in accordance with inflation; but the bolívar’s depreciation shattered all expectations.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.