Why Alex Saab Matters

 We’ll get to our Down The Rabbit Hole segment in a sec but first…The Good Men Project tells us that the story of Alex Saab’s business empire as President (Dictator) Nicolas Maduro’s financial operator is essential to understanding corruption, abuse of power, and the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela. However, Alex Saab is also an excellent example to understand disinformation and the dynamics behind Maduro’s propaganda machine , which includes attacks and persecution against journalists and the blocking of digital media.

 Recap : Alex Saab is a Colombian businessman who has been involved in corruption schemes (and/or the architect of those schemes) in housing projects in Venezuela and Nicolas Maduro’s totally fraudulent CLAP government food program. He was arrested in Cape Verde, Africa in June,2020, accused of being the financial figurehead for Nicolas Maduro, and was extradited to the US on money laundering charges despite Maduro’s efforts to stop it claiming he had diplomatic immunity.

 Journalists with Armando.info uncovered both the housing scheme (Only four of every 100 houses promised were delivered. That’s $3 million in houses for the $159 million paid.) and the fraudulent CLAP food program (Providing expired products and/or overpaying for them)

 The attacks by the Maduro regime on Armando.info began in 2017. The legal action against them for “continued aggravated defamation” led to a conviction (despite everything being true, documented, and verified) and the four journalists named in the action were forced to flee the country.

 In response to the overwhelming amount of evidence pertaining to Alex Saab’s (hence Maduro’s) fraudulent schemes the Maduro regime mounted a coordinated propaganda campaign to lend legitimacy to Saab. Government officials made numerous public statements in defense of Saab and hashtags about him were trending constantly.

 According to the director of Probox, a social media watchdog organization, over 55% of these are inorganic (that means automated…you know…fake) This activity is expected to continue every time there is an update on Saab or his case. You can also expect more Chavista- paid graffiti campaigns in Caracas and more Chavista- paid protests in the US.

 Then we have Reuters telling us that PDVSA (Venezuela government-owned oil company) has allocated an oil shipment to Eni (Italy) for loading this month, the first to Eni this year following PDVSA’s shipment suspension for contract review by new management. There was no comment specifically on the Eni financial terms of the November shipments, partially delivered to Repsol (Spain) other than Eni’s statement that they are operating in compliance with sanctions. Repsol and PDVSA did not respond to requests for comment.

 I guess I’m just skeptical by nature. Due to the fact that PDVSA halted shipments to Europe for over four months, demanding cash payment and not debt reduction, as specified in the sanctions-easing deal, and then sent two shipments in November, someone should answer the question directly (Is anyone even asking?)… Cash or no cash? It’s a simple question that deserves a simple, direct answer. Until that happens I’m inclined to think there’s something going on.

 The Chavistas want cash, the Europeans desperately want oil, and the Biden administration doesn’t want anything to screw up their PDVSA/Chevron deal, the same one they made with PDVSA/Eni. It’s in all their interests if nobody asks or answers the “Cash or no cash?” question.

 Now, let’s go Down The Rabbit Hole…

 Chapter 16 continued…

 …As 2017 wore on we saw the unconstitutional creation of Maduro’s parallel National Assembly, the ANC (Constituent Assembly). Although created to rewrite the constitution (years passed and they never did) their first move was to pass an anti-hate law called the “Anti-Hate Law for Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence”. As I’ve said before, nobody calls for peace more that those who foster violence. Nobody calls for tolerance more than the intolerant. Nobody is less democratic than those constantly calling for the protection of democracy. Again, I buy this stuff as much as I believe in the names of countries using “The People’s” … or “The Democratic Republic Of…”

 The new anti-hate law carried (and still carries) a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for anyone that instigates hate or violence using Radio, TV, Print, or Social Media if the government views it as promoting hate or intolerance (Key words being “if the government views it as…”). The anti-hate law can be used against anyone, big or small. Take, for example, the Caracas subway worker fired for  a Facebook post in which he complained that his salary was so small that he couldn’t afford to buy detergent to wash his uniform. The Caracas Metro is owned by the government and the takeaway is : no criticism of the government, no matter how minor it may seem, is permitted…by anyone.

 The information and speech stranglehold continued to tighten. Over the period from 2013-2018 fifty print media organizations closed their paper-based dailies with only a few opting for weekly publication. In December, 2018 the last opposition-friendly newspaper went out of print. This left digital media as the only method of dissent, and in reality, to tell people the truth. Real-time reporting on important issues became almost nonexistent leaving only the government version of events and even that wasn’t reported in a timely manner.

 Fact checking became a huge challenge without any independent media. When the government, in an attempt to prove that not all economic news was bad, reported that coffee production at 126,270 tons it was way after the fact that the real number of 39,000 tons came out. On a personal note, I always like to keep track of oil production figures since it’s 94-96% of revenue for the government (legal revenue anyway…). It took me a while but I finally found a way to get verifiable numbers, not believing the government production numbers. There’s a satellite tracking service that monitors the tanker shipments and you can’t falsify actual tankers leaving ports so that gives you real export numbers. To nobody’s surprise, their numbers are always substantially lower than what the government puts out there. If I have that much trouble getting real oil export numbers I can’t imagine what journalists go through trying to get the truth out there. In 2018 Armando.info reported on businessman Alex Saab (good timing huh?) and his ties to Nicolas Maduro and his family regarding the CLAP government food program as well as the government housing program. The government banned further publication by them of stories regarding Alex Saab and began harassment tactics causing four of their journalists to leave the country.It was subsequently reported that their information was accurate and the corruption of the CLAP food program (as well as the corruption in the housing program) became a huge scandal…over a year later.

 More tomorrow….

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