Which Way Will They Go?

 First up today we have Caracas Chronicles asking the question,”Where are Colombia-Venezuela Relations Heading?” This was one of those ‘things aren’t always as they seem’ articles. While Colombia President, Gustavo Petro did as expected and re-established diplomatic relations with Venezuela his choice for an ambassador in Caracas was not as expected.

 Petro, a Marxist, did not pick a Marxist to represent Colombia’s interests with Nicolas Maduro, also a Marxist, and he had plenty of Marxists to choose from. Instead he chose Armando Benedetti, a man from the “old world” that Petro claimed he was fighting.

Over Benedetti’s chameleonic history he has changed parties a couple of times, when it was to his advantage, to remain close to power. Benedetti did as expected, going to Miraflores (Venezuela presidential palace) to meet with the Maduro regime’s highest ranking leaders including Delcy and Jorge Rodriguez, Diosdado Cabello, and Defense Minister Padrino Lopez along with Maduro. What wasn’t expected was how this reception played out and it’s counterpoint in Bogota.

 Again as expected, the Chavista propaganda machine played up the Caracas meeting as proof of legitimacy for the Maduro regime and a new international ally. To the Chavistas it was a big deal. In Bogota, however, it was barely noticed and the Petro government hardly registered the presence of Maduro’s new Ambassador to Colombia, Felix Plasencia.

 In another point- counterpoint situation we have one of the main national security debates in Colombia centering around an eventual peace process with paramilitary group ELN and what role Venezuela would play. The Maduro regime is almost completely disengaged from the issue. (Perhaps because there are a lot of ties between ELN and Chavista officials?)

 Then you have the border reopening itself. A group of Colombian businessmen, anxious to get the estimated $10 million in commerce flowing, gathered in the Colombia border city of Cucuta for a “border agreement”. Felix Plasencia (Ambassador to Colombia) and Freddy Bernal (Governor of Tachira state, across the Venezuela border from Cucuta) were both invited. They declined to attend. From the Colombian perspective, they’re anxious to do business. From the Venezuelan perspective, they’re afraid cheaper Colombian products will hurt business.

 Also at issue is, and will be, the relationship between the two militaries, which has been, to say the least, contentious and ELN will factor into this. On the Colombia side you have new Defense Minister, Ivan Velasquez, a former lawyer with a reputation as a corruption fighter. He can be expected to battle corruption and will be involved in the ELN peace process.

 On the Venezuela side you have Defense Minister Padrino Lopez, who would like to see the ELN situation resolved ie; ELN out of Venezuela. With Chavismo’s ties to ELN his approach probably won’t be as straight forward. As far as Lopez’s stand on corruption it’s a mixed bag. In some areas corruption undermines the authority of the military but allowing military officers to profit from corruption is a key element of the Chavistas retaining control. FYI, year in and year out, the Maduro regime is ranked as one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

 Another interesting twist going forward may be the relationship between the two countries on drug interdiction, although it wasn’t covered in the article. In his early years in power Hugo Chavez ceased all Venezuelan cooperation with the US-DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Administration) saying Venezuela would handle it themselves. As you might expect, this led to Venezuela becoming the key drug transportation hub for Latin America. Colombian drug shipments were now routed through Venezuela to avoid detection by the DEA knowing they had little to fear from the Chavistas. In recent years the drug business in Venezuela has progressed from primarily transporting drugs to production as well and the Chavistas are active participants, especially now that there is very little oil revenue. Will the new Petro government continue to cooperate with the DEA and if so will Venezuela cooperate with them in their anti-drug efforts? Maduro and Petro are supposed to be Marxist “comrades-in-arms” but the Chavistas make a lot of money from cocaine. At this point it’s anybody’s guess which way they will go.

 Then we have this from Mail Online…Remember that group of people that followed Rosa Garcia into the Andes of Venezuela after she had a revelation from the Virgin Mary and were declared missing? Well, we can all relax. They’ve been located, safe and sound, on a farm that opened up the use of their land to the group for prayer. No one had heard from them because Rosa Garcia wouldn’t allow cellphones. Now we just need to find out what happened to that Venezuelan woman in New Mexico that went missing. She was located safe and sound as well but we still have no idea where she was or what she was doing when the search crews, the helicopter, and the K-9 unit were called into action.

 Then we have JD Supra telling us that the US Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security may send an “is informed” letter to chip producer NVIDIA imposing licensing requirements for certain exports to a list of countries including Venezuela.

 And CGTN tells us that organizers of the Cafe Petare Blu Project are promoting roof top coffee growing in the Caracas slum of Petare, one of the city’s largest slums. They give away free seeds and provide training in the care of roof top growing of coffee trees (bushes). Although much of Venezuela has climate perfect for growing coffee, production is not enough to meet domestic demand (as is the case with most agriculture in Venezuela) so a large portion of coffee consumed in Venezuela is imported. I hope this fares better than the roof top agricultural initiatives that were attempted by the Chavistas, trying to replace the millions of acres of expropriated farm land that now produces nothing.

 And we have Mehr News reporting that the Venezuela Ministry of Communication announced that the Iran-Venezuela Scientific, Technological, and Industrial Expo Fair will be held in Caracas September 14-18 to showcase a number of Iran-made products. This comes after Nicolas Maduro ordered his economic cabinet to “immediately design,start, and install a technological industrial park” in June. We haven’t heard anything since the June announcement.

 Then we have ABC News telling us that the Venezuela government is defending the detention of US citizens the State Department says are wrongfully detained. The US contends the charges are “specious” and that Venezuela has no independent judiciary. Venezuela maintains the detentions are justified citing (as usual) the “sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples”….Whenever they have nothing else the Chavistas play the “sovereignty and self-determination” card.

 And Interfax tells us that Venezuela now intends to import Russian peas according to the Venezuela Institute of Comprehensive Plant Protection. Now we can add another product (agricultural and otherwise) to the list of items Venezuela can’t produce itself.

 More tomorrow….

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