What's In Your Wallet?

 We’ll head Down The Rabbit Hole in a few but first…Latin Times reports that credit cards (issued by Venezuelan banks) have become virtually useless in Venezuela.

 Cards accounted for just 2% of banks credit portfolios in December, 2022. In 2012 that figure was 12%. An administrator interviewed in the city of Valencia said she had two credit cards but the total credit limit between the two was only $2. Some cards have higher limits ranging from $30 – $100 but that doesn’t go far when the VOF (Venezuela Observatory of Finance) reports the “food basket” (enough to feed a family of four for a month) for December,2022 was $370. So…what’s in your wallet? Uhh, that would be a debit card.

 Then we have Tech Crunch telling us that digital rights group EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has discovered traces of a new ongoing hacking campaign in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic by a cyber mercenary group called Dark Caracal.

 By utilizing a mechanism called “sink holing” in cyber security lingo, they were able to monitor the hackers activities, more importantly their targets. Since March of last year the hackers have targeted more than 700 computers, mostly in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. They appear to be “hackers for hire” by governments not willing or able to perform the hacking themselves.

 Then we have g Captain telling us that PDVSA (Venezuela government-owned oil company) will contract with SADRA (Iran Marine Industrial Company) to build two new Aframax oil tankers. SADRA has already built two tankers for PDVSA under an agreement bedeviled by payment delays and difficulties with certifications needed for maritime operations and insurance issues.

 One of the first two vessels originally set sail in 2017 but was later seized by a vessel operator over unpaid bills and then returned to PDVSA in 2019 after the dispute was resolved. After the issue the tanker stayed primarily in Venezuela waters. This is the common practice for most of Venezuela’s tanker fleet. They’re wary of seizures by creditors and, due to lack of maintenance and certifications, are not allowed in most international ports.

 The agreement for the original two tankers was initiated by Hugo Chavez in 2006 with much fanfare by Tehran and Caracas and by the end of the contract (four vessels) PDVSA will have paid (if/when they pay) 157 million euros to Iran, mostly in fuel shipments (they have no cash). The document did not detail delivery dates for the latest two tankers. That’s probably a good idea since the original two were agreed-upon in 2006 and not delivered until 2017.

 Let’s head Down The Rabbit Hole…

 Chapter 16 continued…

 …The only real-time reporting available to those without internet access (I’m talking about the truth here, not government media) these days is on the bus system (currently running at 10% capacity). Yes, to find out the truth in Venezuela you take the bus and there, if you’re lucky, you’ll be exposed to BUSTV. A group of young people, realizing that many Venezuelans had no access to real news, began putting on impromptu pseudo-newscasts on buses utilizing cardboard cut-out TV screens. So far they haven’t been thrown in jail but we’ll see…

 In 2019 Venezuela entered a new phase of free speech repression. On numerous occasions the National Guard would block access to the parliamentary chamber for the National Assembly so they could debate real issues while allowing Maduro’s ANC (the Chavista assembly) access to meet in the same building. (This is no longer necessary as the ANC has been dissolved and the 2015 National Assembly has been replaced with a new National Assembly through, once again, fraudulent elections) At least 32 journalists were arrested and illegally detained in 2019. (It continues today) The regime also has an alternative strategy when they don’t actually arrest and deport journalists. When journalists periodically have to return to their home countries for one reason or another, as happened to Nick Casey of the New York Times, they are denied re-entry into Venezuela.

 The judicial system is, as you might expect, complicit in repression of journalists. After National Assembly members were allowed into the parliamentary chamber journalists wanted to cover the proceedings but the National Guard wouldn’t allow them access. They petitioned the TSJ for relief but the TSJ wouldn’t hear the case. When some of the same journalists filed a motion to reopen the investigation of attacked journalists the motion was denied. These are but two examples of what happens all the time.

 However, every now and then the Maduro regime makes a miscalculation and we get a glimpse of reality. Maduro, surprisingly, granted Jorge Ramos of Univision an interview at Miraflores, the presidential palace. The prevailing rationale behind the granting of the interview seemed to be that Jorge Ramos was widely known as an outspoken critic of then president, Donald Trump, so maybe he thought he would look upon Maduro favorably and lob up some softball questions…wrong!

 About 17 minutes into the scheduled one hour interview Ramos asked Maduro how he could deny there was a food crisis in light “proof like this” and he showed a video on his i-pad of people digging for food out of the back of a garbage truck. A furious Maduro stormed out and security stormed in. Ramos and his crew were detained, their devices and equipment confiscated, and they were deported. Normally, only well-scripted interviews by regime officials are aired so Ramos said he doubted the interview would be seen, even referring to it as “my best interview nobody will ever see”. Eventually, after passing through four different countries, the recording was recovered and the world got a glimpse of the real Nicolas Maduro. Ramos doesn’t believe he will be allowed back into Venezuela.

 With the appearance of Juan Guaido on the political scene in January, 2019 the level of media repression, including issues like the Univision interview, reached new highs (or lows depending on how you look at it). Whenever Guaido spoke at a rally or led demonstrators the government blocked Twitter, You Tube, Google, etc. At times they shut down the internet altogether unless, like yours truly, you had satellite internet.

 More tomorrow….

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