Photo: Noticia Actual

Last month (April 12, to be exact), something triggered the series of abuses called “Manos de Papel”: the criminal apprehension of Carlos Marrón, owner of webdolarpro.com, a webpage dedicated to the black market price of the exchange rate Bs-USD. Who is he and why, out of the blue, did he appear as a high profile criminal in chavismo’s radar, when he was just another face in the crowd before this financial mess?

Lawyer and resident of the United States for some years now, his website was one of 12 that became popular between February and March this year, when the economic decline of Venezuela took a leap forward and the popular exchange rate went from 200.000 BsF to 600.000 BsF and more. Apparently, the regime could no longer blame everything on the intangible “economic war”, and with DolarToday failing, there had to be other culprits.

Tarek William Saab appeared on VTV and screamed to high heavens that the ones to blame for the widespread impoverishment were the owners of black-market dollar pages, and they had to be jailed.

Just a detail: they were not in Venezuela.

Apparently, the regime could no longer blame everything on the intangible “economic war”, and with DolarToday failing, there had to be other culprits.

This is where kidnapping became a government strategy. It began when, “allegedly” (and I use this word lightly), on Tuesday, April 10, members of the DGCIM forcibly pushed Carlos’ father inside a car in Valle Arriba when he was having a morning walk. Communications between him and his family immediately stopped. Imagine for a second how it is to have a loved one vanishing from the face of the Earth until you get a call from somebody acting as a common criminal, extorting you for your father’s life. That’s what happened to Carlos, who had to come to Venezuela to pay in person. He took a flight to Caracas the next day.

Now, when he mentioned this to his family back home, Irene Colmenares, his mother and wife of the kidnapped, went to the Anti Extortion and Kidnapping Division of the CICPC, asking for help. They instead kept her locked for eight hours.

Once Carlos reached Maiquetía, a group of DGCIM officers were waiting for him with an arrest warrant signed by Maikel Moreno. First, he was labeled a “financial terrorist” (because the information he offered through his page was illegal), then Tarek William Saab publicly said that the crimes he was guilty of (because you are guilty until proven innocent) were “spreading false information” (according to the Law of Currency Exchange), money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime and financing terrorism. Cynicism came not long after, when Saab threatened that “whoever does any action to raise the price of the unofficial exchange rate as they see fit, will get the full weight of the law”, when it’s no secret that the biggest winner from this is the regime itself.

Imagine to have a loved one vanishing from the face of the Earth until you get a call from somebody acting as a common criminal, extorting you for their life.

Not only was the “capture” quick, the trial was fast, according to a relative’s statement, and Marrón was thrown in jail. There’s no official statement on the matter and there probably won’t be one, since in Venezuela, more than sentences, political prisoners have owners. Marrón is considered Saab’s property, and Saab decides the sentence, the fine and the place of reclusion. What Marrón did, he says, is no different than being a kidnapper or a serial murderer, since folks like him are responsible for the costs of medicines, food, air tickets and clothing, and the vow is to follow up on those who shared these exchange rates on their social networks anywhere. It’s funny, though, how Saab says Marrón is an international criminal requested by Venezuela to the Interpol, yet, if you introduce his full name in their webpage, no results are found.

This was not an isolated case, and its repercussions rippled both internally and externally. Several pages ceased their operations, while many others continue to work. Thing is, many Venezuelans outside our borders work with exchange offices that depend on these companies to do their job and send money to family members inside the nation, Giros del Sur and Remesas Activas are a couple of examples. As soon as Saab mentioned his measures, they started returning whatever they received to their original owners. Two weeks later, after the government moved to other targets, these exchange offices began operating anew but many Venezuelans failed to receive their small breath of fresh air to ease their financial troubles.

Today, we face a government who’s using the SEBIN and DGCIM to take people from their beds at three in the morning, execute insurgents on live TV and kidnap innocent bystanders with the sole purpose of shifting blame and attention from the issues that really plague Venezuela. The international community has to realize that they are dealing with a regime that’s not above hurting innocents to get what they want, and now, any Venezuelan deemed a target of chavismo can be reached through something sacred: your family.

We can’t allow them to taint this for us.

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