Venezuela News Review | November 8 - 13

This week’s headlines are dominated by the government-opposition talks and their preliminary agreements, demonstrations held by students in several locations to demand results, the deepening of the crisis reflected by the unaffordability of goods by most Venezuelans, the unjustified deferred hearing of Josh Holt, and the beginning of the trial of President Maduro’s nephews in New York.

Venezuela’s government, opposition agree to road map on economy 

Representatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition parties, following a second round of talks brokered by the Vatican, agreed on a tentative road map to address a political and economic impasse that’s driven the oil-rich nation to its knees.

The Vatican delegate, Claudio Maria Celli, discussed developments at a press conference that followed four hours of talks in Caracas on Saturday. A third meeting has been set for Dec. 6 to further discuss points of agreement.

Representatives of the government and opposition read a joint statement at the press briefing on their commitment to “a peaceful and constructive co-existence” and to resolve differences within a “constitutional and electoral framework.” 

Certain demands made by the opposition, including a recall referendum against Maduro’s rule, an early presidential election and the release of prisoners, weren’t addressed in Celli’s comments.

“Peace is succeeding,” Maduro said on Twitter after the meeting.

Progress cited by the opposition include respect for National Assembly’s autonomy, election of three lawmakers in dispute, election of new Electoral Board members, freedom for prisoners and government authorization for medication to be delivered into Venezuela, opposition representative Carlos Ocariz said.

Students march in Venezuela demanding government and opposition achieve results

About 500 Venezuelan students marched in Caracas on Thursday demanding that government and opposition negotiators achieve "results" and provide "solutions." They want an electoral schedule that includes an election for president.

The head of the FCU-UCV university federation of Venezuela, Hasler Iglesias, led the march that began in eastern Caracas and made its way toward one of the election authorities' headquarters in the Libertador district. 

"We're demanding elections now, demanding an electoral schedule and demanding results. We don't want to see an agreement among politicians, we want results. That's why today we're out on the street," Iglesias  told reporters.

The student leader said that on Thursday similar marches were being held in at least seven locations in the country's interior, all of them with the same destination: regional offices of the National Election Council, or CNE.

Venezuela floods shops with unaffordable goods ahead of Christmas

Topping off a year of economic crisis that left many Venezuelans hungry, the country's socialist government is flooding shops with products ahead of Christmas, at prices that most cannot afford. 

Thousands of containers of festive food and toys are on their way, say authorities, and while supermarket shelves appear fuller, prices are ludicrously high for people earning just tens of dollars a month at the black market exchange rate.

"If you've got money, then of course you're happy," said Geronimo Perez, selling newspapers in the center of Caracas. "But if not, you're left empty-handed."

A 1.8-kilogram (4 lbs) carton of powdered milk costs the equivalent of $20 in Caracas at the black market exchange rate. That's more than two weeks' work at Venezuela's minimum wage.

The country is undergoing major economic and social problems, as a decade and a half of currency controls, price controls and now low oil prices have left the government and businesses without sufficient hard currency to import goods. 

Another court delay and 'denial of justice' for Utah held in Venezuela, attorney says. 

Riverton native Josh Holt attended court Tuesday in Caracas, Venezuela, but his hearing was pushed back yet again, this time until Dec. 6, his attorney said.

After two previous no-shows, the judge overseeing Holt's case was also present, but Holt's hearing was postponed anyway. No official explanation was given, said Holt's attorney, Jeannette Prieto.

“It is evident that this is a totally unjustified procedural delay,” Prieto said to Fox News Latino. “They are undue delays and the politicization of this case becomes evident when they refuse to hold the hearing.”

Holt was arrested June 30 amid allegations that he was hoarding weapons at an apartment in Caracas where he lived with his newlywed wife, Theresa Caleno. The two had married after meeting online.

NY drug trial starts for two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady

The drug trafficking trial of two nephews of Cilia Flores, Venezuela's first lady, got under way in Manhattan Tuesday, with the leftist government in Caracas saying they were essentially framed. 

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 30, and Francisco Flores de Freitas, 31, were arrested in Haiti in November and flown to New York by US Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

The men have denied charges that they plotted to smuggle 800 kilos (1,764 pounds) of cocaine into the United States and are also being accused of taking part in meetings to plan a shipment of cocaine to the United States via Honduras.

Prosecutor Emil Bove argued that the men believed they were powerful because they are close to Maduro. If convicted they face up to life in prison.

Additional headlines

- Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday that the China-Venezuela Joint High Level Commission will meet on December in Caracas to “review what we have achieved so far and strengthen the strategic partnerships between both countries.” The agreement has allowed the development of 672 economic and social projects in both countries.

- The Venezuelan Society of Infectious Diseases, or SVI, warned that the lives of HIV patients are in danger due to shortages of medicine and unscheduled treatment changes that make HIV/AIDS impossible to control, exacerbating and threatening the lives of Venezuela's HIV-positive population and making it difficult to control the transmission of the virus from the mother to her children and in the general population," SVI wrote in a public statement released Monday.

- Major League Baseball informed on Friday that it has cancelled its Venezuelan national showcase, which was scheduled for Nov. 16-17 in Panama. The showcase typically features many of the top 15-year-old and 16-year-old Venezuelan prospects who are eligible to sign beginning on July 2 the following year. In their statement, MLB cited “lack of cooperation from the independent trainers” as the reason for the cancellation and clarified that their action had nothing to do with a boycott or retaliation.