Plausible Deniability

 We’ll get to this week’s Venezuela : Down The Rabbit Hole segment, “Free Gas” in just a bit but first…the Maduro regime has had it’s issues with the Catholic Church in Venezuela for some time. His repression and Human Rights violations have been widely condemned by Venezuela’s Catholic Bishops and Maduro, true to form, has condemned their “meddling.” I guess “meddling” is saying it’s not OK to shoot protesters. Anyway, The National Catholic Reporter did a piece in which the Head of Human Rights Vicariate in Caracas has some concerns. He says that although some nuns have been obstructed from ministering to the needs of Venezuela political prisoners, “We’ve found more aggression from groups of government supporters than from the government itself.”

 This is where the plausible deniability comes in. The regime’s preferred method to deal with dissenters, be it protesters or priests, is through ‘colectivos’, armed motorcycle gangs, and other groups.They operate with impunity and allow the government to claim “Hey, it wasn’t us.” The government has also quietly appointed it’s own priests and bishops as a form of parallel church since the actual church doesn’t see eye to eye with Maduro’s behavior.

 One of the problems faced by the bishops in Venezuela is the lack of outright condemnation of the Maduro regime by The Pope. He usually responds to Maduro’s repression and Human Rights violations in general terms…” We condemn Human Rights violation in all it’s forms.” etc. without actually saying who he’s referring to and the government,with it’s plausible deniability, can just send the colectivos out to harass the bishops and priests. I have to wonder if The Pope’s Argentina socialist roots are what’s causing his reluctance to call out fellow socialists?

 The Head of the Vicariate went on to say that people don’t like to talk about it but human trafficking is now a huge problem due to the humanitarian crisis. The Vatican has no recent efforts to solutions to the crisis other than to call for dialogue… “like a lot of dialogues in Venezuela, it goes nowhere.”Maduro’s response to a letter from The Vatican to a Venezuela business group can be summed up in one short quote. It was a “compendium of hatred.” And The Pope still won’t call out this guy?

 In a typical statement about the violence committed by colectivos and other gangs we have Venezuela’s Interior Minister saying “What country in the world doesn’t have crime? What country doesn’t have criminal groups?’ Sounds like plausible deniability to me.

 Then we have Telesur (government media) reporting that the Venezuela Communication Minister says “Criminal groups are linked to the Colombia government.” No mention of their links to the Venezuela government.

 We also have Herald Online telling us that any Venezuela prisoner exchange is complicated by lists of prisoners from Russia and the Taliban. Who knew?

On the Alex Saab front we have the Speaker of Maduro’s National Assembly denying that Saab was a DEA informant, as revealed in leaked court documents. He reiterated that Saab’s release is a condition of any return to the negotiating table.

 And we have the IACHR (Inter American Council on Human Rights) with their take on reform of the TSJ (Venezuela Supreme Court) by Maduro’s National Assembly. They say that reducing the number of justices on the TSJ without any real changes  except to increase the size of the nominating committee to add more Chavistas , in my words, won’t cut it.

 And the Venezuela Prosecutor General reported their latest achievement,destroying 341,000 coca plants. There was no mention of anyone being prosecuted.

 Remember the two guys being charged under the “Hate Law” for trying to put up an anti-Maduro sign? Well, they’ve been released from prison but their trial continues. Here’s the good part. Their release is conditional. They must report to the court every 15 days and their monthly pensions aren’t enough for bus fare.

 Control Ciudano reports 106 people killed by police and military in January. Most of these were extrajudicial killings.

 Then we have CGTN reporting on something we have previously mentioned here and that is that while hyperinflation in Venezuela is over the population isn’t really feeling it. Venezuela inflation for last year came in (if you believe the numbers) at 686% (100 times that of the US). One person interviewed put it like this, “We used to change prices weekly or several times a week. Now we only change them once every week or two.” Venezuelan economist,Angel Alvarado, describes it as “a fragile scenario…hyperinflation could return.”

 And on the Corona Virus front we Telesur reporting that the Venezuela Vice Minister for Multilateral Issues is meeting with a representative from PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) to promote cooperation. The January shipment was acquired through the PAHO Revolving Fund. How marvelously Chavista. One minister bashes the PAHO recently for reporting different vaccination rates than those put out by the government while another says the Chavistas want to cooperate with PAHO. Hey, has anyone heard anything about Venezuela getting it’s UN voting rights back that were suspended for lack of dues payment? I didn’t think so.

Let’s head Down The Rabbit Hole….

 Chapter 8/ Free Gas

 As an investor I always thought it was important to own some stock in a major integrated oil company. I call it my oil insurance (a term I stole from Dan Ferris). Sometimes it’s a better investment than others but it’s kind of like owning gold. I sleep better knowing I have it. Since a large percentage of the world’s oil passes through the Straight of Hormuz, which is controlled by those lunatic Iranians (a Maduro ally, by the way)they can cause the straight to be closed and the price of oil could skyrocket overnight.As such,I’ve followed the oil market for years. I thought I knew a little bit about it until I moved to Venezuela.

 We already dealt with the macro situation ie; PDVSA. This is about the micro, the lunacy of free gasoline and why it stayed free in Venezuela  for so long,and yes I said FREE, not cheap gas, free. When I would be in the US and tell people I was from Venezuela they would always mention two things, beauty queens and cheap gas. When I would tell them there are probably more beautiful women per capita in Venezuela than anywhere they were never surprised. When I would tell them that gas wasn’t cheap it was free their response was always the same, ” Come on…it can’t be free…can it?” Well, I don’t know about you but I consider one ten thousandth of a cent per liter free gas.

 Gasoline wasn’t always free in Venezuela but it was always exceptionally cheap. Politically it always made sense to mollify the population with cheap gas. Cars might be expensive but if you had one you never had to concern yourself with paying for gas. Until recently (I’ll get into the details later) the only real price increase came in 2016. Maduro was already a de facto dictator so he didn’t care about the political consequences of a gasoline price hike. In one shot he bumped up the price of 91 octane by 3,000% and 95 octane (we don’t even have 95 octane in the US) by 6,000%.

 More tomorrow….


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