Venezuela News Review | Nov 1-7

This week’s headlines are dominated by the blocking of foreign journalists to enter Venezuela and cover the crisis, the government-opposition talks with the presence of the Vatican and other former presidents, the opposition’s truce and ultimatum on the regime, and the announcement that the Venezuela military would take control over the distribution of medical and surgical supplies. 

Venezuela stops Post journalist, other correspondents from entering country

Venezuelan authorities stopped a Washington Post reporter at the Caracas airport late Monday night and denied him entry, in the latest case of blocking a foreign correspondent from covering the mounting political and economic turmoil in the South American country.

Immigration officials told Josh Partlow, 38, a dual U.S.-Canadian national, that he lacked a required work visa. Partlow and many other foreign correspondents with non-U.S. passports had routinely visited Venezuela in the past without work visas.

Venezuela is mired in its worst recession in decades, and opposition groups have organized protests in recent weeks that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people. Another demonstration had been called for Thursday, although it was postponed late Tuesday.

Carlos Lauria, program director for the Americas at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said Venezuela adopted a regulation in 2004 requiring visiting correspondents to apply in advance for authorization from the Communications Ministry. But that has rarely been enforced in recent years.

“They are enforcing this selectively now, I think, because they don’t want coverage of the protests,” Lauria said in a telephone interview.

Venezuela opposition gives Maduro until Nov. 11 to meet demand 

Venezuela's opposition exhorted President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday to set an election and start releasing jailed activists within days, while students opposed to Vatican-led talks protested in the streets.

The opposition coalition drew hundreds of thousands into the streets when authorities quashed its drive for a referendum against Maduro last month in the country of 30 million people.

But it suspended street actions out of respect for talks with the government that began at the weekend mediated by a Papal envoy and established a truce 

However, with one major party dissenting and many supporters fearful Maduro is playing for time, opposition leaders said they would wait until Nov. 11 before possibly quitting talks and returning to street tactics if demands were ignored.

Carlos Ocariz, an opposition mayor speaking on behalf of the coalition, reiterated their first demand was the “revival of the referendum or a moving forward of presidential elections to the first quarter of 2017”, and the second goal is the freedom of all political prisoners in Venezuela.

Venezuela's PDVSA reaches $1.45 billion in finance deals with oil firms

Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA on Friday announced financing deals totaling nearly $1.45 billion with local firm Delta Petroleum and India's ONGC that will be used to raise production at joint venture operations.

Venezuelan company Delta Petroleum, which holds a 40 percent stake in the Petrodelta joint venture with PDVSA, will provide $1.13 billion in financing to boost the joint venture's output, PDVSA said.

ONGC will provide $318 million to finance increased crude production at the San Cristobal field, where it holds a 40 percent stake in a joint venture with PDVSA.

U.S. sees Venezuela talks as 'last, best' hope to solve crisis

Vatican-convened talks between Venezuela's government and opposition are the last, best chance to find a peaceful solution to the country's political impasse, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon said on Friday.

In his first remarks since visiting Caracas on Monday, Shannon said Washington would support the talks "as long as it remains viable."

"From our point of view (the dialogue) really is the last best effort to try to find a negotiated, peaceful solution to this," he told reporters. "Absent this dialogue process, Venezuela will find itself in a state in which both the government and the opposition will have to measure themselves through their ability to put people on to the streets."

He said that this kind of mobilization would be "unpredictable and can be very dangerous."

 Venezuela's military to control medicine, surgical supply distribution

Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López announced that the military will take control of the distribution of "all medical and surgical supplies managed in all hospitals."

The recent move comes to “guarantee that these medicines and supplies get to the patients efficiently and are neatly distributed and assigned," López said during an address broadcast on state-owned Venezolana de Televisión on Wednesday.

"We are evaluating the health issue. We will go very strongly on the issue of health," López said. "We are going to take full control of the distribution of medicines and medical surgical supplies to all hospitals in the country."

Venezuela is facing an economic and political crisis. Basic goods such as food and toiletries are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable, while Venezuela's supply of medicine is also running out.

Additional headlines

  • Three Venezuelan political activists were released from jail Monday, including two filmmakers who were arrested in September after making this viral anti-government video. The release of the political prisoners might be a gesture of goodwill by Venezuela’s government, which recently started talks with the opposition to try to negotiate a political solution to the country’s crisis, but according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, there are still 111 political prisoners in the country, including the popular opposition leader Leopoldo López.
  • The parents of Joshua Holt, the man currently imprisoned on bogus weapons charges in Venezuela, say their son is being held hostage because he is an American and that the U.S. government hasn’t been doing much to help. “Our son is a hostage of Venezuela, and he was framed on ludicrous weapons charges so he could be leveraged as a political bargaining chip in bilateral discussions with the U.S.”

Analysis and commentary

1) Writing for Miami Herald, Carlos Marquez (VALC’s Executive Director) said: “Venezuela is collapsing. The economy is tanking. The health system has no medicine. Its democracy is dead. And there is no food. It is time for the elected representatives of Florida — where the greatest concentration of Venezuelan Americans reside — to speak out and take action.

Last week we saw our desperate brothers and sisters take to the streets to take a stand against the dictatorial edicts of President Nicolás Maduro. Hundreds were brutally detained in what were legitimate, legal and peaceful protests. Political figures continue to be locked up, media freedom is trampled upon, and food is trickled out to Maduro’s cronies while the average Venezuelan starves.”

And concludes: “Maduro’s dictatorship already blames “American imperialists” for all the ills he and his predecessor have inflicted on the country. Now his regime must actually feel the weight of American influence, to experience isolation, through regime-focused, regionally supported sanctions. Now is the time to speak up and demand action for Venezuela, because you can.”

2) An article in The Economist begins by saying: “Both the timing and the presentation were inauspicious. On October 24th Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled president, made an unscheduled call on Pope Francis. Meanwhile, in Caracas, a papal envoy announced that the Vatican had agreed to co-sponsor talks between the government and the opposition. The news came just days after the government-controlled electoral authority suspended—and perhaps cancelled—the referendum to oust Mr Maduro that the opposition seeks and the constitution allows. The opposition, which had long sought papal mediation, was at first taken aback when it came.”

And ends by explaining: “The negotiations will not be easy. The aim should be to broker a transition that would see Mr Maduro restore constitutional rule or be replaced, either through an early election or by a national-unity government. Despite public pledges of loyalty, much of the army wants a transition. And Mr Maduro is running out of cash. The government faces debt payments of $13bn over the next year, while its international reserves have sunk to just $10.9bn (mainly in gold). The constitution requires the assembly to approve increases in the debt limit. Investors are likely to insist on that. Mr Maduro’s bargaining position is less impregnable than it looks. That is why the talks offer the best hope of saving Venezuela.”

3) Writing for Foreign Policy, José Cardenas said: “Under fire both domestically and internationally for its decision to arbitrarily cancel a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan government has pirouetted out of its precarious position by yet again ensnaring opposition representatives in a spurious “dialogue.” Worse, a collection of international mediators, including the Vatican, have granted the talks a patina of legitimacy. They have also received the endorsement of the Barack Obama administration. No one should be fooled. To put it succinctly, according to the Eurasia Group, “Maduro’s administration is engaging in the Vatican-mediated talks to alleviate international pressure, divide the opposition, and buy time.

And concludes by saying: “Whoever occupies the White House in January will inherit a mess in Venezuela, made worse by the policies of its current government. We can only hope a fresh start will lead to a U.S. policy that stands for something. In the meantime, tensions will only grow as the lives of millions of Venezuelans continue to spiral into the abyss.”