90 Day Reprieve

 We’ll head Down The Rabbit Hole in just a few but first…Reuters reports that the US Treasury Department extended the protection for Venezuela-owned refiner, CITGO, from creditors for three months. Bondholders are seeking payment on defaulted bonds and in the PDVSA (Venezuela government-owned oil company and parent company of CITGO) 2020 bond offering repayment was guaranteed using CITGO as collateral.

 There are many other creditors besides the bondholders lining up to try and get a piece of CITGO as numerous companies already have court awards worth billions of dollars and CITGO is one of the few Venezuela overseas assets worth anything.

 The three month extension of protection for CITGO may signal a change in US policy as the last extension was for 12 months. Mark your calendars for when the 90 day reprieve expires…April 20th either the protection will be extended or the circling vultures will swoop in.

 On the lighter side, The Week reports that Miss USA was crowned the new Miss Universe but since we are all about Venezuela here at TFT we want to mention Miss Venezuela being the first runner-up. There have been more Miss Venezuelas crowned Miss Universe than from any other country and it’s good to see Venezuela beauty queens back in the news instead of Venezuela’s usual contingent of criminals an Human Rights abusers.

 Then we have, of course, Daily Star telling us that Nicolas Maduro has claimed that his country was robbed of the Miss Universe title and that the US rigged the contest. Is anybody surprised?

 And in another lighter-side piece we have NPR telling us that Cusica co-founder, Maria Fernanda Burbano, says they’re trying to rebuild Venezuela’s music industry. Cusica Fest, started in 2014 as a music-related e-commerce platform, drew over 10,000 attendees to it’s festival last month. One of the main goals is to bring to Venezuela artists who have built their careers abroad back to Venezuela to perform. Looking forward, Burbano hopes to bring non-Venezuelan international acts to perform live music again…another small step towards normalcy.

 Then we have Foreign Policy telling us that for almost a decade the Antonio Ricaurte pipeline has sat idle, a rusting symbol of relations between Colombia and Venezuela, the two countries it connects. Now, with relations between Colombia and Venezuela warming due to the election in Colombia of leftist/Marxist President, Gustavo Petro, there are plans to revive the project.

 Former Colombia Finance Minister, Juan Carlos Echeverry, says “PDVSA is not a reliable provider and any political problems will lead to problems with provision of gas to Colombia.” he referred to the situation between Europe and Russia due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine saying “Something similar could happen between Colombia and Venezuela.”

 Reopening the pipeline could pose some technical challenges according to Francisco Monaldi, director of Baker Institute’s Latin American energy program. “While the Colombian stretch is likely to have been maintained the Venezuelan side is likely to have faced the organized theft of equipment and copper wiring that has affected other PDVSA infrastructure.”

 Most energy analysts expect Nicolas Maduro to cut a sweetheart deal, providing gas at well below market rates. I think a word of caution is warranted here for  Gustavo Petro…

 I know Maduro likes to play the “Marxist Comrades” angle but this is business so remember who you’re dealing with. Nicolas Maduro and the Chavistas are the most inept and corrupt business/political people on the planet and, as we’ve said many times, they’ve screwed basically everyone on basically every deal they’ve ever made. Don’t be taken in by the possibilities and potential of Venezuela (The Chinese found this out the hard way).

 Know that from the beginning you will have to do basically everything, on your side of the border and in Venezuela. The Chavistas do not have the technical capability nor the financial capability to repair, operate, and maintain the Venezuelan stretch of this pipeline, or any other business venture…Caveat Emptor!

 Now let’s head Down The Rabbit Hole to wrap up this week’s segment…

 Chapter 12 continued…

 …In 2017 after the widely boycotted Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections Maduro had the representatives sworn in by the TSJ and not by the assembly as required by the Constitution. So… now we have an unconstitutional election for an unconstitutional ANC which was unconstitutionally sworn in. Maduro declared that the ANC was not only constitutional but all-powerful and his decision was ratified by the TSJ.

 But fear not! Venezuela still has judicial oversight. No, it’s not by the assembly or even the unconstitutional (and supposedly all-powerful) ANC. It’s the TSJ’s own Judicial Commission! Well, that should allay everyone’s concerns. The TSJ Judicial Commission consists of six judges including the president (You know, the convicted murderer with the extortion, drug trafficking, and money laundering allegations against him). It can dismiss any provisional or temporary judge in the country ( 80% of the country’s 1,732 judges) without cause or due process. Example 1 : in 2017 three judges released people detained during the mass protests and were summarily fired. One was even reinstated and fired again. Example 2 : A judges driver was arrested as he was delivering documents to a court official outside the courthouse. He was released but only after spending 35 days in jail without charges. This led to the courthouse being raided which led to five judges being charged with “inexcusable error” and dismissed. While the commission can fire judges without cause or due process it’s not like there is no recourse. They do have the right to appeal and it must be heard within 90 days. Of the five fired judges, one retired and the other four appealed. Those appeals were never heard.

 If this wasn’t crazy enough we also have a parallel TSJ known as “TSJ in exile” so we have two presidents, two assemblies, and two supreme courts (TSJs). The TSJ in exile consists of 33 judges living in the US, Colombia, Panama, and Chile. They have met every 15 days by video conference since 2017. As you might expect, they have declared the ANC illegitimate just as Moreno’s TSJ declared the constitutionally elected National Assembly illegitimate not once (2019) but twice (2017, when they bestowed the assembly’s powers upon the ANC after briefly assuming said powers themselves). OK…Got it?

 So, what does the international community think of the TSJ? Well, in 2017 and 2018 the US Treasury Department blacklisted 8 TSJ judges. In 2014 Transparency International rated TSJ the most corrupt judicial system in the world. They also annually publish a Corruption Perception Index which defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”. For 2010 – 2018 Venezuela ranked in the bottom 10 of 176 countries. For the years 2017 and 2018 the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index rated Venezuela last of 113 countries.

 And where are we now, since the failed uprising of 2019 which it is widely reported failed because Maikel Moreno backed out of a deal he had with the opposition when they didn’t give him the power he wanted? Well, the TSJ has stripped 15 members (and counting) of their parliamentary immunity and a few have been arrested while others have fled or sought asylum. When the assembly denounced these arrests by SEBIN, one of three secret police groups, TSJ judge, Carol Padilla, produced the warrant application as justification for the arrest of opposition leader, Roberto Marrero. The only problem is that it contained GOOGLE searches for news articles that occurred five days after the date of the warrant application.

 Summary : Many of the judges of the TSJ in exile have confirmed the regular practice of being summoned to Miraflores (The Presidential Palace) to discuss “sensitive cases”. And now…I’ve saved the best for last…This will tell you everything you need to know about the Venezuela Supreme Court. This is the most recent number I could find but it increases daily. As of 2019 the TSJ heard 45,474 cases over the Chavismo years. IT HAS RULED AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT ZERO TIMES!!!! (Update : The TSJ recently ruled against the government a few times so the updated number is 45,474 to 3)

 That wraps up this chapter of Venezuela : Down The Rabbit Hole. More news tomorrow….

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