An Agitated Day

For Wednesday, August 22, 2018. Translated by Javier Liendo.

Photo: USGS

This Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., an earthquake shook northern Venezuela, with the epicenter 5 km away to the east of Yaguaraparo (Sucre State) and a magnitude calculated with important differences (between 6.3 and 7.3).  Since Richter’s scale is logarithmic, the energy release gap between one magnitude and the other is enormous, but there were also differences in depth estimates (from 1 km to 123 kms): this government is ineffective to produce and report crucial data, but in a natural disaster this carries more weight.

Sucre experiences tremors with medium frequency and apparently this came closer to the intensity experienced in July 1997 with the Cariaco earthquake, one of the most devastating in our history. The earthquake was also felt in Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada and Barbuda. According to Interior Minister Néstor Reverol, there were no victims and they’re assessing the damage, including in Caracas where the so-called Torre de David suffered a 25% inclination.

The opposition cosmos

In the National Assembly’s (AN) session, lawmakers unanimously approved the agreement supporting the TSJ in exile’s sentence against Nicolás for acts of corruption and money laundering related to Odebrecht, ratifying the vacancy of the post of President of the Republic, approved in January, 2017; ordering State security bodies to comply with Parliament’s agreements, adding that this is an “authoritarian regime that has sought to derogate the Constitution.”

Strangely, the fight between lawmakers Carlos Paparoni and Omar González before this agreement got more attention; as much as Omar Barboza’s response to the Luis Almagro’s controversial letter. The AN also approved an agreement rejecting the economic measures imposed by Nicolás, holding him responsible for the negative effect they’ll have on the purchasing power of Venezuelans. According to Andrés Velázquez, 60% of the country complied with the call to strike, deeming it a positive balance, taking the opportunity to develop his own criticism against Nicolás’s economic measures and promising new actions, asking the business sector to join in.

Without discussion, as usual

The ANC approved Nicolás’s economic measures package without a discussion: “Tomorrow’s already late. I ask that we approve these law you brought right now and then we get into the discussions,” said Diosdado Cabello to Economic Vice-President Tareck El Aissami, who took the list of decrees and announced that the wage subsidy will apply to the entire economically active population: “Informal sectors can also apply by registering for the carnet de la patria,” said El Aissami. With this bold possibility, supposedly nobody can justify price increases to “steal the salary of workers.” El Aissami said that business owners are responsible for attacking the economic policies and made a threat: “If we have to go after someone, we’ll go after Fedecámaras.”

Against Farmatodo

The National Bureau for the Defense of Socio-economic Rights (Sundde), opened an administrative procedure and ordered the pharmacy chain Farmatodo, amidst hyperinflation, to immediately roll prices back to those of July in all 170 stores across the country, claiming that the store chain committed the crimes of speculation and price retagging established in the Framework Law of Fair Prices: “Due to the aforementioned considerations, Sundee once again summoned the company for questioning and they must supply the verification documents and certain requirements regarding the previously described complaints.”

Infamous superintendent William Contreras cautioned that he won’t allow unjustified price increases, while he urged business and store owners to comply with regulations to avoid sanctions, isn’t he cute? Yesterday afternoon, the government took over the facilities of the company Smurfit Kappa in Valencia, Carabobo State, to “reactivate production,” adding an immediate price adjustment.

Protecting transparency

After 15 years of unyielding exchange controls and their considerable consequences, Finance Minister Simón Zerpa said that the new exchange agreement establishes, among other adjustments, the setting of an official exchange rate according to the average of foreign currency purchases and sales in weekly auctions: “So that everyone can bring their foreign currency, in a scheme with a single fluctuating rate, so the currency exchanged will come from the private sector. The government scraps currency allocations,” said Zerpa. They won’t restrict the offer but they will restrict the demand: legal persons will be able to request up to $400,000 per month and natural persons, up to $500; adding that the banking sector will be able to get foreign currency but not sell it, inspiring! ANC member Andrés Eloy Méndez explained that the “half a petro” of the minimum wage will fluctuate according to increasing currency prices, cuationing shop owners that if they increase prices, they’ll import the products “because it’s cheaper” (ask Saab.) He said that now the dollars will come from the private sector and the State will only protect the process’s transparency, hahaha! Minister Jorge Rodríguez announced that workers will be able to register individually in case their employer doesn’t send the payroll to the State: “We cross the data with social security, no problem,” he said, adding that food bonus hasn’t been scrapped. He mentioned the signing of an agreement between the agro-food sector and the government to establish the prices of 25 essential products, but he didn’t show them. Weird, eh?

Tensions and distensions

The Colombian Foreign Ministry expressed its protest for the alleged breach of its sovereignty by Venezuela, after two military helicopters flew through their airspace on August 19 in the Vetas de Oriente sector in Northern Santander. As a response to the arrival of American hospital ship (USNS Comfort) that, in Colombian waters, will assist health authorities in that country to attend the mass exodus of Venezuelans, a Chinese hospital ship will arrive to Venezuela, but to “beat down sabotage” instead. Colombia’s Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said that his country won’t demand passports to Venezuelan migrants who want to enter the country and that they hope to regularize the situation of 442,462 Venezuelans registered in the Administrative Records of Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia (RAMV) to issue their Special Stay Permite (PEP) for two years.

In Venezuela, several states remain flooded, most of them with interrupted electricity and water supply services, a serious shortage of food and medicines and a healthcare crisis that increases our vulnerability before a natural tragedy even more. An earthquake is terrible news for a country experiencing a complex humanitarian crisis.

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