Friday, February 1, 2019

Inside Venezuela

WASHINGTON, DC —  On Tuesday
Joseph Humire, the executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society (CFS), told a hearing by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance:
  Whether it’s [Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy] Hezbollah, Chinese Triads, the Russian Mafia or the FARC--the Venezuelan government has proven to be complicit in providing a haven for criminal and terrorist networks.  This is a complex challenge for U.S. national security and one that requires thinking outside the box.  Increasing evidence indicates that the Venezuelan regime is using its state apparatus to provide cover and concealment for terrorists and traffickers alike.  It’s time we consider designating their government as a state sponsor of terrorism and transnational organized crime.
  Humire testified, among various other experts, warning lawmakers:  The convergence of criminals, drug traffickers, terrorists, insurgents, and organized crime has increased and evolved. …No other organization on [the U.S. State Department’s] FTO [foreign terrorist organization] list embodies the crime-terror convergence than Lebanese Hezbollah.  Of the close to 2,000 actors designated by our government as Foreign Narcotics Kingpins, several are affiliated or connected to Hezbollah.
  By 2014 the Combating Terrorism Center, using a sample of 2,700 known criminals and terrorists in more than 122 countries, determined that nearly all (98%) were linked to one another across various illicit sectors including money laundering, drug trafficking and generating funds to carry out their objectives, which for some involve terrorist attacks.  That revelation prompted Humire to note:  No longer do illicit actors work independently in time and space. … More importantly these crime-terror networks are now sharing operating areas, intelligence, tactics, training and protocols to undermine nation-states and challenge Westphalian state sovereignty.
  The long-time accepted dogma among national security authorities has been that criminal groups were not interested in increasing their profile and bringing law enforcement heat by working with sought-after terrorists.  If authorities accepted some sort of crime-terrorism relationship, they dismissed it as a business-oriented only transaction, rather than some sort close relationship.
  With the help of its benefactor Iran, Hezbollah has expanded its criminal operations in Latin America, prompting a bipartisan House task force to acknowledged that the Shiite terrorist group is operating a “virtually unopposed drug trafficking operation” in South America with links to its fellow U.S.-designated terrorist group the FARC, the top cocaine producer in Colombia.  The Shitte militia uses its roots in Lebanon to attract supporters and funding from the large Lebanese community in Latin America.
  Hezbollah terrorists are reportedly providing their services in moving illicit contraband into Europe and the Middle East to other drug trafficking groups in Latin America, including Los Zetas in Mexico.  The U.S. military has expressed concern that jihadi groups operating in Latin America, namely the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and Hezbollah, could exploit the knowledge of their new criminal partners to infiltrate the United States and bringing in weapons and operatives.
ISIS has expressed an interest in using existing smuggling routes used to move contraband out of Latin America into Europe through Africa in reverse—to traffic potential supporters and even weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
  Humire acknowledged:  Regional cooperation with allied Latin American governments is sorely needed to counter the financial nexus of the crime-terror convergence.  I pay special attention to Hezbollah as the gold standard of this convergence. … For several years Hezbollah has operated in a state of legal grace in Latin America. Of the countries that do have anti-terrorism laws in Latin America, none recognize Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization.
  In Venezuela, which maintains close relations with Russia since the beginning of the 2000s, an attempted coup d'état took place:  Speaker Juan Guaido proclaimed himself the new president, almost all Latin American countries, except Mexico, Bolivia and Cuba, recognized him as this status.  As the interim leader, Guaido was recognized by the United States, and the European Union called for re-election of the president of Venezuela.
Nicolas Maduro remains in power--his loyalty to the army and the security services.  Russia has invested billions of dollars in loans and investments in Venezuela; how much their return is now under threat - RBC understood.
  According to calculations by Reuters made in August 2017,  since 2006 the Russian government and the state-owned company Rosneft have provided loans or credit lines to Venezuela for a total amount of at least $17 billion.
  Venezuela has never published all the information about its debts to Russia, and the amount counted by Reuters was based only on pledged loans and lines of credit.  It included an advance of $6 billion, which Rosneft paid to the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA for deliveries (Rosneft pays in advance, PDVSA supplies oil later).  As of September 30, 2018 - the last reporting date of Rosneft - the unpaid part of prepayments was $3.1 billion excluding interest that Rosneft does not disclose, follows from the company's presentation (.pdf).
  In December 2018 Maduro came to Russia and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Following the talks Maduro announced that he had signed contracts with Russian partners guaranteeing investments of $5 billion in oil production in Venezuela and $1 billion in gold mining.  But there was no confirmation from the Russian authorities, and Maduro did not provide any details regarding the timing of investments and the share of Russian companies in them.  Most likely no new investments were made.
  In December 2011 Russia provided Caracas with a state loan of up to $4 billion to finance deliveries of Russian military products to Venezuela.  Venezuela used at least $3.6 billion of this loan for the purchase of Russian weapons.
  But the republic was unable to regularly service this loan, allowing at least two overdue interest payments in 2016-2017.  In November 2017 Russia restructured this loan for the third time:  the total debt of Venezuela was fixed at $3.15 billion, the final repayment period was shifted to 2027.  At the same time in 2018–2023 the volume of loan payments will be minimal, the Russian Ministry of Finance reported, without revealing the details of the agreement.
  The attempted coup in Venezuela raises concerns about a possible change in the order and timing of debt repayment to the Russian government, said RBC partner at Westside law firm Sergei Vodolagin. Given the difficult economic situation in the country, it cannot be excluded that Venezuela will ask for a new debt restructuring.  This is possible both on the part of the current Maduro regime and on the part of the new government in the event of a change of power.
Venezuela will ask for a new restructuring with a probability of 100%, said Ilya Rachkov, a partner of the law firm Nektorov, Saveliev & Partners.   “Because Venezuela has nothing to pay its debts,”  he explained.
  Negotiations in the case of a regime change will be held within the framework of the Paris Club of creditors, indicates Rachkov. According to the Paris Club, at the end of 2017, Venezuela owed  $5.77 billion to club members in non-official development assistance loans; it could just be Russian or Chinese bilateral loans.  For 2017 the amount of such loans for Venezuela has almost doubled.
  “Russian, Chinese (China lent Venezuela more than $50 billion through oil-for-loans agreements  - RBC) and publicly traded debts of Venezuela are likely to be faced with the need to restructure / extend repayments because Venezuela is not able to pay these debts” , Rachel Zimba, senior research officer at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), told RBC.  Venezuela’s private creditors, who are no longer receiving payments (bonds are in default), “are likely to be very disappointed.”  And Russia may demand more assets in exchange for Venezuela’s debt relief, Zimba said.
  The situation is now very mobile, it will take time until economic and political clarity comes, she stipulates.  The situation with the debt is complicated by the US sanctions against Venezuela and the fact that the true amount of Venezuelan debt remains unknown.
  However the source of RBC in the financial and economic bloc of the Russian government says that there are no fears that in the event of a regime change Venezuela will stop servicing the Russian state credit.  Russia provided a loan to the state, and not to a specific leader, the source stressed.  "By and large, the issue of loans is very premature," - concluded the interlocutor of RBC.
   By 2017 the Venezuelan state-owned company PDVSA collected in the form of advances from Rosneft $6 billion and gives this debt in oil.  However, its deliveries are delayed, and in November 2018, the head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, even flew to Venezuela, met with Nicolas Maduro and raised this issue, Reuters reported, citing sources.  In April 2018 Rosneft and PDVSA signed an agreement on debt refinancing, under which the Venezuelan company pledged to supply Rosneft with more oil on account of overdue deliveries - at the rate of about 380 thousand barrels. per day instead of the previous 310 thousand barrels., according to Reuters.
  In addition Rosneft has security rights to 49.9% of the shares of the American oil refinery operator CITGO owned by PDVSA.  Rosneft's Swiss trading subsidiary Rosneft Trading received pledge rights in November 2016 as security for a loan issued by PDVSA for approximately $ 1.5 billion.  American politicians repeatedly expressed fears that Rosneft could exercise the rights to pledge and take currently, almost half of the American refinery, but Rosneft said it was not going to manage CITGO and, as a last resort, would sell the pledge.  The representative of Rosneft declined to comment on the possible risks due to the change of power in the country….
  In Venezuela the Canadian company Rusoro Mining, controlled by Russian businessmen Vladimir and Andrei Agapov, also worked.  In September 2011 Venezuela nationalized its gold mining assets; in 2016 Rusoro obtained compensation in international arbitration - $1.28 billion, but it never received it.  In 2018 Venezuela transferred the first tranche to the company - about $100 million, but they still remain in the accounts of a Canadian bank that does not transfer them to Rusoro due to US sanctions.
  The Venezuelan army is almost fully equipped with Russian equipment, according to Rosoboronexport.  But there is practically no trade between the countries, and there is no Russian investment in the Venezuelan economy.  In the first nine months of 2018, trade between Russia and Venezuela amounted to only $79 million (99% of this is Russian exports).  Data on direct investment from Russia to Venezuela by the Central Bank is not disclosed, since it is probably a single investment:  the Central Bank does not publish the amount of investment in the country, if this is the only investment from which you can remove statistical anonymity.
  In October 2018 Russia sent a delegation of financial and economic officials to Venezuela to work out a plan to save the Venezuelan economy.  In mid-January Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told RIA Novosti that Moscow is waiting for a reaction to informal proposals to improve the Venezuelan economy.

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