Photo: Asamblea Nacional
With the National Guard blocking dozens of journalists from working, barring them from entering the Federal Legislative Palace, this Tuesday’s session started and, after a year of absence, it was attended by two chavista lawmakers who acknowledged the importance of the National Assembly (AN) whether they wanted or not. They also ratified the condition of contempt that still weighs on Parliament and pointed out that no extraterritorial institution, such as the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in exile (TSJ-ie), has the authority to discuss the nation’s business. After a discreet debate, the AN decided with 105 votes in favor and two against (yeah, the two chavistas) that there are enough merits to continue the preliminary hearing against Nicolás for committing crimes of corruption and money laundering, a process started by the TSJ, after admitting an accusation made by exiled Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz. The lawmakers also agreed to continue with the investigations on corruption acts committed by Nicolás and other officials.
The people’s kidnapper
Luisa Ortega Díaz disseminated a video claiming that with the AN’s decision, a door opened for the end to the Venezuelan crisis. Ortega says that they’ve fulfilled their historic duty and now it’s up to the Armed Forces to do the same, with their approval and their promise of protection: “Nicolás is no longer president, from now on he’s in Miraflores illegally and arbitrarily,” so she urged the international community to disregard his authority and since “he rises as the kidnapper of the people and the nation: a dictator.” To balance expectations, Law professor José Ignacio Hernández points out: “If the hearing on merits creates a temporary vacuum in the presidency, this vacuum is filled by the vice-president, not the National Assembly,” asking people to assess yesterday’s action with moderation: it doesn’t solve everything, but it’s not irrelevant either.
The Federation of Health Workers, along with other civil society institutions, stated a national protest to denounce the shortage of medicines and medical supplies and the current precarious conditions of public hospitals, as well as the low wages and salaries of all the sector’s workers. They denounced harassment and threats for calling to this action, since protests are usually criminalized by the government because of their impact. The protest took place in 20 out of 23 states in the country and although there were hospitals, such as Maracay Central which was surrounded, or the Catia Peripheric where the National Guard engaged in repression, most carried on without problems. They invited citizens to stand with them on April 25 at the Las Tres Gracias square where they’ll gather again for the Bioanalyst Day, another sector threatened by these shortages.
Latin America recovers, Venezuela collapses
The International Monetary Fund estimates an inflation of almost 14,000% and a 15% drop of the Gross Domestic Product for this year in Venezuela, adding another 6% drop in 2019, according to their World Economic Outlook report. The report warns about the significant reduction in oil output, adding that Venezuela will have the highest inflation rate among emerging markets this year and the next, and estimates that our consumer price index for 2018 will reach 13,864.6% this year and 12.874.6% the next, the highest in the region. Supporting these estimates, we have the price of the Food Basket for March: Bs. 52,042,223, a 38.7% increase (Bs. 4,525,311) compared to February. The indicator rose by 6,636.0% between March 2017 and March 2018. Citizens need 132.5 minimum wages to pay for it! That’s over Bs. 1,700,000 per day. Cendas-FVM says that all items in the food basket increased in price and since the State is yet to publish its regulated prices, they can no longer compare the gap between official and market prices. Cendas had been making this comparison since 2003.
After the most recent inspection that Manuel Quevedo made on some extraction drills at the Orinoco Oil Strip, and on top of dwindling output, Reuters reports the drama of the mass exodus of professionals, operators and technicians, a void that’s really difficult to fill with specialized, experienced staff, a situation that has accelerated with hyperinflation, hunger and the new military bosses, more efficient to inspire fear than production. According to human resources figure reviews by union leader Iván Freites, about 25,000 employees have resigned in the last year and apparently, the records don’t show everything because many prefer to just abandon their posts, without resignation, for fear of reprisals. This accelerates the collapse of the industry, which translates in less revenues for the country, less imports and more economic contraction, ergo: more impoverishment.
The Netflix operation
Vice-President Tareck El Aissami announced the arrest of 86 people and the raids on 596 companies, an operation called “Paper Hands” in which they allegedly dismantled a criminal organization that smuggled bolivars through border areas with “the imposition of criminal rates for the speculative dollar to destabilize the Venezuelan economy,” he said. The operation involved 125 search warrants and visits to each company, resulting in the confiscation of 22 vehicles and properties. The investigations somehow link 31 people with Carlos Marrón —owner of the webpage DolarPro.com— and they also hope to capture 112 more people. 1,133 bank accounts have been blocked in 19 national banks and the amount confiscated reaches the three trillion bolívares. How did they do this? According to El Aissami with the “support of President Santos’ government” and Banesco, because 959 blocked accounts belong to this bank. We’ll see.
Brief and serious
- The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) cautioned about diphtheria outbreaks in Venezuela and Haiti, and cases imported to Brazil and Colombia. Our diphtheria outbreak started in July 2016 and remains active. So fact, Venezuela has notified 1,602 suspicious cases (324 in 2016, 1,040 in 2017 and 238 in 2018,) 976 of which were confirmed and 142 people died, with an accumulated mortality rate of 14.5%. The most affected population ranges between 5 and 19 years old, they added.
- A 9-month-old baby entered the J.M. De los Ríos Children’s Hospital with influenza H1N1, known as swine flu, with an acute and seriously contagious respiratory infection, transmitted by pigs.
- SUNDDE ordered 45 Duncan stores to lower the prices of their batteries by 70%. Once again, they’ll leave a company without merchandise by order of the State.
- The takeover of the Táchira Police was extended for 90 more days by the Interior Ministry. Aside from this, policemen of the Lara Governorship will have to obtain the carnet de la patria in order to collect the food bonus, even though nothing in the Framework Law on Labor specifies such an aberration.
- Ecuador suffered another kidnapping from the same terrorist gang that recently murdered three journalists. The Interior minister called the action a “sinister game.”
- The government handed notes of protests to the diplomatic body for the statement issued by the Lima Group about Venezuela on April 14.
- Tens of thousands of people protested in Armenia against former President Serzh Sarkisian, elected as prime minister by Parliament with reinforced powers, an office that the opposition reads as an attempt to remain in power “forever”.
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