Disrupting the Illicit Economy that Sustains the Maduro Regime

first_imgBy Celina B. Realuyo* October 19, 2020 Nicolás Maduro and his cronies remain in control in Venezuela despite intense diplomatic pressure to move to a democratic transition, economic sanctions, and international recognition of Juan Guaidó as the acting president of Venezuela since January 23, 2019. The Maduro regime oppresses the population, destroyed the legitimate economy, engages in massive corruption, and increasingly depends on the illicit economy to survive. Hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, insecurity and economic ruin have created a humanitarian crisis that has forced over five million Venezuelans to flee the country. The United Nations estimates that 90 percent of Venezuelans are living in poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the human tragedy in Venezuela, once the richest country in South America.The Maduro regime engages in various illicit activities including narcotics trafficking, illegal oil sales, and gold shipments. The regime also relies on Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, and Colombian guerrilla members of the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) and former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) to keep itself in power. The U.S. government’s “maximum pressure” campaign seeks to impede access to the illicit economy that the Maduro regime depends on. It includes extensive sanctions on the oil and gold sectors, the public indictment of Maduro and his associates on narcoterrorism charges, a $15 million bounty reward for Maduro’s arrest and conviction, and U.S. enhanced counternarcotics operations, with international support, in the Caribbean and Central America that began April 1, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns, paralysis of global trade, and collapse of global oil prices are further aggravating the crisis in Venezuela. It is unclear how long the Maduro regime can cling to power given increased U.S. and international pressure and this challenging operating environment for Venezuela.Promoting the cocaine tradeA wanted poster for Tareck El Aissami that was released on March 26, 2020. The U.S. Justice Department has indicted Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolás Maduro, and several key aides, on charges of narcoterrorism. (Photo: Associated Press)With cocaine production in Colombia at record levels, Venezuela has become an increasingly important transshipment point for international cocaine trafficking. The Maduro regime is enriching itself from the illicit drug trade. On November 14, 2019, U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), stated that “Maduro’s regime has facilitated narcotrafficking with over a 50 percent increase of narcotrafficking in and through Venezuela, and Maduro and his cronies are lining their pockets, in cahoots with the narcotrafficking.”The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that in 2018, 240 tons of cocaine crossed into Venezuela from Colombia to be flown out of the country with a potential value of around $39 billion on the streets. According to CNN, the cocaine crosses the porous Colombian-Venezuelan border through illegal routes, is then moved by sea to Europe or via small airplanes to Honduras, and transported through Mexico to the United States.The Maduro regime has been implicated in drug trafficking for years in partnership with the FARC and the ELN, which have helped keep Maduro in power. As far back as 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department designated senior Venezuelan officials such as Hugo Carvajal, then director of Venezuela’s military intelligence (DGCIM, in Spanish); and Henry Rangel Silva, then director of intelligence, as major drug traffickers under the Kingpin Act. In February 2017, Treasury added then Vice President Tareck El Aissami, to the “kingpin” list, and accused him of facilitating shipments of narcotics from Venezuela by air and by sea, and of protecting other narcotraffickers operating in Venezuela, (including the Mexican cartel Los Zetas, and Colombian drug lord Daniel “El Loco” Barrera). Two of Maduro’s nephews were convicted in U.S. court and sentenced to 18 years in prison for trying to transport 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. in 2017.Maduro charged with drug traffickingIn a historic move on March 26, 2020, U.S. Attorney General William Barr charged Maduro and 14 members of his inner circle with drug trafficking, money laundering, and narcoterrorism. This criminal indictment is only the second the U.S. has brought against a foreign head of state since the 1998 indictment against Panama’s Manuel Noriega. U.S. officials alleged a detailed conspiracy headed by Maduro that worked with Colombian guerrillas to transform Venezuela into a transshipment point for moving massive amounts of cocaine to the United States. At the same time, the U.S. State Department announced a reward of up to $15 million for information related to Maduro and up to $10 million each for information related to Diosdado Cabello Rondón, president of the illegitimate National Constituent Assembly; Army Major General (ret.) Clíver Alcalá Cordones; as well as Carvajal and El Aissami. While holding key positions in the Maduro regime, these individuals violated the public trust by facilitating shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, and by controlCans with diverse products to make cocaine base paste sit in a clandestine lab next to the Inirida River, Guaviare department, Colombia, on September 25, 2017. According to experts and NGOs, neighboring Venezuela has moved from being a drug transit country to being involved in the first phases of production. (Photo: Raul Arboleda/AFP)ling planes departing from Venezuelan air bases and drug routes through Venezuelan ports, among others.On April 1, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the launch of enhanced counternarcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere. “In cooperation with the 22 partner nations, U.S. Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption, and seizures of drug shipments and provide additional support for eradication efforts, which are going on right now at a record pace. We’re deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft, and helicopters; Coast Guard cutters; and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region,” he said.U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper drew a link between the pandemic and the new military operation, saying that criminal organizations are trying to capitalize on the fact that governments are distracted by the COVID-19 outbreak. He said, “transnational criminal organizations continue to threaten our security and destroy lives and furthermore, corrupt actors like the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela rely on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power. The Venezuelan people continue to suffer due to Maduro’s criminal control of the country.” SOUTHCOM has reported five significant cocaine interdiction operations from April 1–May 15, 2020.Evading U.S. oil sanctions Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, with a total of 303.3 billion barrels in 2019, and its oil revenues account for over 95 percent of export earnings. Venezuela nationalized the oil industry and created the Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) in 1976. It turned to international oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Total, and ConocoPhillips for expertise to help develop its extra-heavy crude reserves. The oil industry has deteriorated dramatically over the past 20 years due to mismanagement, underinvestment, expropriations, and the exploitation of oil revenues to fund generous social programs, as well as the regime under Hugo Chávez, then Maduro. Venezuela’s oil production fell to 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018, a decrease of more than 50 percent below 2006 levels, and further declined to 796,000 bpd by the end of 2019.To pressure the Maduro regime after Guaidó was declared interim president of Venezuela, the U.S. targeted the lucrative oil sector and sanctioned PDVSA on January 28, 2019 to block all PDVSA property and interests subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in transactions with them. The sanctions were intended to prevent the Maduro regime from further looting the assets of the Venezuelan people.Russia’s state-run energy company Rosneft has been very involved with Venezuela’s nationalized oil industry, providing significant capital investment and equipment since the time of Chávez. Moscow and Beijing own a massive amount of Venezuela’s prospective oil output and revenue as payment on debt. By August 2019, Rosneft took more than 66 percent of Venezuela’s oil shipments that was then resold to Asian buyers. According to Bloomberg, “invisible” tankers that turned off their transponders in Venezuelan waters to avoid GPS detection secretly exported Venezuelan oil reserves to circumvent U.S. sanctions and resurrect the oil industry. Of 10.86 million barrels of oil exported by Venezuela in the first 11 days of November 2019, around half were transported by this method, and most were delivered to China or India.On April 22, 2020, the Trump administration ordered Chevron, the last U.S. oil company operating in Venezuela, to halt oil production by December 1. This wind down order also applied to four oil service providers: Halliburton, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, and Weatherford International. This is the latest U.S. measure to further starve the Maduro regime of its cash. As a result of U.S. sanctions, oil exports must be sold at a large discount, and the country heavily depends on imports of gasoline. In an apparent attempt to skirt U.S. sanctions, five Iranian tankers sailed to Venezuela in late May, carrying at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products. The collapse of global oil prices to historic lows prompted by oversupply and decreasing demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic will translate into even more of a cash crunch for the Maduro regime as Venezuela sells each barrel of oil at a significant loss.Going for the goldMen work at Nacupay gold mine on the bank of a river in El Callao, Bolívar state, Southeastern Venezuela, on February 24, 2017. (Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP)The Maduro regime is increasingly dependent on gold for its survival. Venezuela has one of the world’s largest in-ground gold reserves and also had one of the largest reserves of monetary gold until just recently. Only a few years ago, Venezuela ranked 16th in the world in terms of monetary gold with more than 360 tons of gold. The increasingly isolated regime has turned to sales of Venezuela’s gold reserves as one of the only sources of foreign currency. The Central Bank’s reserves have fallen to their lowest levels with just 102 tons of gold reserves, worth some $4 billion, but a third of the total is being held by the Bank of England, which has refused to repatriate it back to Venezuela under Maduro. There have been recent reports of “gold for gasoline” schemes between Venezuela and Iran that involved invisible tankers and suspicious direct flights from Tehran to Caracas from Iran state-owned Mahan Air (under U.S. sanctions), as well as “gold for food” deals with Turkey.Besides the actual sale of gold reserves overseas, the Maduro regime has exploited Venezuela’s gold mining sector to enrich itself. The gold sector has become Maduro’s newfound revenue generator, compensating for the oil industry’s collapse. Maduro uses cash and gold from illegal mining to keep Venezuela’s military loyal. While only Venezuela’s state-owned gold company Minerven is legally entitled to process gold, metal from illegal mining has fallen into the hands of Maduro’s inner circle that took over Venezuela’s rogue gold industry in 2017 — it was previously dominated by criminal gangs. First lady Cilia Flores and her family; Rafael Hernández Dala, DGCIM director; and El Aissami — all of whom have been sanctioned by the U.S — lead the government mafia group known as the Team.Operating at least six gold extraction plants, the consortium is capable of producing more than 16 tons of gold per year, but is also forcing the smaller independent operators to sell them their output under the threat of violence, detention, or loss of their access to fuel in the remote mining area. The purchase of this gold, extracted illegally by the small miners, nets another 12 tons per year, worth more than $1.5 billion per year.These gold mining operations sell one part of the extracted gold to the Central Bank and the other part is taken out of the country without any kind of control. In 2018, Venezuela sold almost 24 tons of “unrefined” gold valued at more than $900 million to Turkey, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. It was exchanged for supplies later included in government subsidized food boxes for poor Venezuelans. In March 2019, a Russian cargo plane made two trips from Caracas to Entebbe, Uganda. Ugandan authorities were investigating the country’s biggest gold refinery, African Gold Refinery, over imports of an estimated 7.4 tons of gold, valued at around $300 million, after state-run media reported it could have originated from Venezuela. U.S. economic sanctions have seen Caracas turn increasingly toward gold transactions to evade international financial barriers and make payments for vital imports, including food and medicine. As a result, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sectoral sanctions on Minerven and Venezuela’s gold mining industry to curb the revenues funding the Maduro regime.The illegitimate Maduro regime relies on the illicit economy through narcotics trafficking, illegal oil sales, and illicit gold mining to sustain itself. The U.S. and partner nations have engaged in an aggressive diplomatic, economic, and law enforcement campaign to isolate, sanction, and indict Maduro and his inner circle in the hopes of moving toward a democratic transition in Venezuela. As the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the health and economy of the Western Hemisphere, the operating environment for the Maduro regime is increasingly difficult. There is hope that the enhanced counternarcotics operations, collapse of global oil prices, and increased oversight of illegal gold mining will curtail these revenue-generating activities that prop up the regime and eventually bring democracy and relief to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. *Celina B. Realuyo is professor of Practice at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric and Defense Studies at the National Defense University, in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this chapter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the National Defense University, or the U.S. Department of Defense.last_img read more

For the first time, Varaždin County is financing tourism projects with grants

first_img“A month ago, we presented the results in the tourism of our County and in the assessment of the situation we clearly emphasized that the biggest problem in exploiting the tourist potential of our County is the lack of accommodation capacity. That is why the County, in cooperation with the Tourist Board, has designed a unique project Holiday Home with a story whose goal is to increase the number of nights, extend the season, register new accommodation and improve the tourist quality of service. On that occasion, we also presented our strategic EU projects in this regard, the Spinal Center in Varaždinske Toplice in the segment of health tourism, the renovation of Minerva and two other tourist projects Konstantinov dom and Lovrinja Kupelj. All these projects are in certain stages of implementation”, Said Martinčević. Varaždin County has announced a public call for grants in tourism for 2019, and the call was presented by Natalija Martinčević, President of the Tourist Board of Varaždin County, Miran Bojanić Morandini, Director of the Tourist Board of Varaždin County and Mladen Jakopović, Head of the Administrative Department for Economy, Finance and European affairs of Varaždin County. HRK 1.000.000,00 provided in the budget of Varaždin County The tender is open from February 26 to March 28 this year, and the County will co-finance up to a maximum of 50% of the total eligible costs, with a minimum co-financing of HRK 3.000,00, while the maximum amount is up to HRK 30.000,00, excluding VAT , with the proviso that the maximum amount will depend on the number of applications received and the number of application points earned. Miran Bojanic Morandini, Natalija Martincevic, Mladen Jakopoviccenter_img “It is important to point out that holiday homes with a story have proven to be the fastest growing part of our tourist offer. This is the first time that the County finances projects in tourism on the basis of direct grants and that according to the number of those who have already inquired and come to lectures organized by our Tourist Board, we realized that this project will be very well received. Through holiday homes, we connect and promote all our valuable family farms, we promote Varaždin pumpkin oil, which we have branded and which we present at all important events.” In his address, Miran Bojanić Morandini stated that the County is implementing a number of projects in the field of tourism and stressed the importance of increasing accommodation capacity. “It is important to point out that holiday homes with a story have proven to be the fastest growing part of our tourist offer. This is the first time that the County finances projects in tourism on the basis of direct grants and that according to the number of those who have already inquired and come to lectures organized by our Tourist Board, we realized that this project will be very well received. Through holiday homes we connect and promote all our valuable family farms, we promote Varaždin pumpkin oil, which we have branded and which we present at all important events.”, Said Bojanic to Morandini and expressed hope that the accommodation capacities will increase with this project. Mladen Jakopović explained that the financial resources for the allocation of aid of a total of one million kuna were provided in the budget of Varaždin County. “The submitted applications will be considered by the Commission for the implementation of the Public Call for Grants in Tourism and determine whether they meet the formal requirements of this Public Call. Eligible costs are minor construction and earthworks – up to 25% of the total value of the applied project, investments in the cycling offer (eg: bicycle rack, information corner, bicycle storage, tools for basic bicycle repairs, bicycle washing place and other similar investments, which have their foothold in the standard for the development of cycling tourism offer and services in Varaždin County called Cyclist Welcome Quality standard, arrangement and equipment of the facility, and printing of promotional materials – up to 10% of the total value of the applied project”, Concluded Jakopović.last_img read more

Merrill Lynch retains top spot in broker survey

first_imgTo access this article REGISTER NOWWould you like print copies, app and digital replica access too? SUBSCRIBE for as little as £5 per week. Would you like to read more?Register for free to finish this article.Sign up now for the following benefits:Four FREE articles of your choice per monthBreaking news, comment and analysis from industry experts as it happensChoose from our portfolio of email newsletterslast_img

Vavic, Trojans face early Bay Area test

first_imgThe USC men’s water polo team will look to defend its national title at the annual NorCal tournament.After dominating its first four lower-division opponents by a combined score of 78-14, USC (4-0) will face its first major challenge of the season at Stanford. The 16-team, single elimination tournament is set up so USC will likely play three of its fellow Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponents over the weekend.The MPSF is historically one of the best conferences in the country. It’s top nine teams are also the top nine in the Collegiate Water Polo Assocation rankings, and every team in the conference is undefeated heading into the weekend.The games in the tournament don’t count in the conference standings, but the challenge of facing their conference rivals for the first time in 2012 is not lost on the Trojans.“It’s good to see what the rest of the competition is like,” redshirt junior driver Stephen Siri said. “[It’s] a good test to see how much we’ve learned and improved over the summer.”While double headers on the schedule are not rare, the tournament still poses the difficult task of playing four games in two days.USC coach Jovan Vavic mentioned that the players are being given more rest than usual this week in practice in order to conserve energy.“We’re going to play them all,” Vavic said when asked if he might alter the Trojans’ strategy for the tournament opener. “But they’re going to play less minutes.”The Trojans open against Pomona-Pitzer at 8 a.m. on Saturday, a team they beat 20-3 in their second game this year.If the Trojans can defeat the winner of the Long Beach State-Pepperdine game, a matchup against Stanford likely awaits. The Trojans are the top seed in the tournament, while the Cardinal is seeded fourth.The Trojans defeated Stanford in three of their four matchups in 2011, but once again the Cardinal provide a challenge the Trojans rarely encounter.“They’re a big team,” Vavic said. “They have some physical, tall and big players who can create mismatches for us.”Senior driver Michael Rosenthal agreed with Vavic. “They’re always a team that makes us have to consider our matchups” Rosenthal said. “You go in and you prepare all week for likely opponents, but what you’re really doing is just fine-tuning your defense and offense to make sure everything focuses nicely.”Though it might be difficult when the upcoming opponents are still unknown, the reason for team’s potential success will be the small adjustments made in practice.“We do all the work we can before, and then just see where we’re at once we get up there,” Siri said.As for the biggest challengers in the way of the Trojans’ third consecutive NorCal tournament title, Vavic and his players mentioned conference foes UCLA and Cal in addition to Stanford.Two of the Trojans’ three losses last season came at the hands of the Bruins, including a 9-10 sudden-death defeat in the MPSF Tourney championship match. The Trojans avenged that loss with a 7-4 victory over the Bruins in the National Championship, but UCLA looks to have little drop-off, if any, from last season.UCLA scoring duo Josh Samuels and Griffin White combined for 94 goals last season, while MPSF tourney Most Outstanding Player Matt Rapacz returns in goal. The Bruins are 8-0 after the UCLA and Princeton Invitationals, winning their matches by an average of more than 13 goals per game.The Golden Bears also went 5-0 at the Princeton Invitational last weekend. Cal returns key players in goalie Justin Parsons and top scorer Collin Smith, who has 19 goals so far in the nonconference slate.The Trojans swept Cal last season after a late goal gave the Trojans a 9-8, sudden-death victory in Berkeley.UCLA is currently ranked second in the CWPA Polls behind USC, while the Golden Bears come in third.last_img read more

Major League Baseball Teams Once Scouted Donald Trump

first_imgBaseball is back and the president says he will soon be throwing out the first pitch for the New York Yankees. And, the President should do a much better job from the mound than Dr. Anthony Fauci who threw out the first pitch (sort of) at last night’s Yankee’s game. Trump actually played the game.Last night, the Yankees topped the defending World Series Champion Nationals 4-1 in D.C. But, Before the game, Doctor Anthony Fauci threw the ceremonial first pitch and it went wide left and bounced then he went for the fist bump with the catcher who was winded after chasing the ball. Fauci has been the face of leading America’s efforts to combat the coronavirus. In the nightcap, Dodgers win 8-1 win at home over the rival Giants. Marlins play Philly tonight. President Donald Trump said Thursday he’s agreed to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a New York Yankees game on August 15, marking the first time he’ll take part in the longstanding presidential tradition.In 2010 he told MTV that “I was captain of the high school baseball team and I was supposed to be a professional baseball player.” He went on to say, “Fortunately, I decided to go into real estate instead. I played first base and I also played catcher. I was a good hitter. I just had a good time.”A former teacher of the future leader of the free world told Rolling Stone that Trump was once scouted by the Philadelphia Phillies and reportedly the Boston Red Sox took a peek at Trump’s prowess on the diamond as well.Thankfully Trump was too smart to play baseball professionally and instead became President of the United States.last_img read more

Get into golf gets down to business

first_img Get into golf – the national campaign to grow the game – got down to business when it teed off a taster day in the heart of London’s Canary Wharf. Businessmen in sharp suits and ties joined tourists and shoppers to take on a putting challenge or to have a quick lesson with a PGA professional. The Get into golf event, featuring brightly coloured inflatable nets and a putting green, proved a huge draw to passers-by who frequently queued to take part. The one-day event officially launched the England Golf Partnership’s campaign to inspire new golfers and support its plan to make England the world’s leading golf nation by 2020. “It’s great,” said businessman Anthony Doherty, who devoted a chunk of his lunch break to a refresher golf lesson. His colleague and regular golfer, Ross McKie, looked on approvingly. “This is a really good idea to get people swinging a club,” he said. Another businessman, Nathanael Conn, was also tempted into the nets: “This is great fun and it’s brilliant to have it here. I’d like to think golf is a much more accessible sport than it was years ago.” Birmingham teachers Kiren Rana and Kamal Nijjar both loved their taste of golf and returned home, planning to check out the many taster opportunities in their area. “I really enjoyed it,” said Kamal. “I thought I would be really awful but it was good! We both think we might have a go at golf.”   The event attracted all ages, from tiny tots to an 85-year-old enthusiast. They were encouraged by members of England’s Golf Youth Panel, volunteers who staffed the stand, and they were offered taster lessons by PGA professionals John McCartney and Paul McNulty, from the Golf Lab indoor academy in Canary Wharf. “This is a brilliant way to raise awareness,” said John.   Visitors to the event were given details of the Get into golf website, www.getintogolf.org  which features taster and coaching opportunities opportunities across the country.  These are also available via a free telephone hotline: 0800 118 2766 The Get into golf campaign is organised by the England Golf Partnership (EGP) which brings together the amateur governing body, England Golf, and the Professional Golfers’ Association to grow the game with the support of the Golf Foundation and Sport England. The EGP’s vision is to make England the world’s leading golf nation by 2020.    Get into golf is run through the network of County Golf Partnerships and is supported in some areas by radio and outdoor advertising. 16 Apr 2012 Get into golf gets down to business last_img read more