Venezuela’s Anti-Blockade Design, Russian Stylebill that allows everything to the regime (Anti-Blockade Law) thereby extending over 260 agreements with Russia and China of which almost nothing is known.
By Ana Julia Niño Gamboa
On November 12, 2020, Delcy Rodríguez, Maduro’s government vice-president, arrived in Moscow with the task of showing “the advantages and benefits” of the so-called Anti-Blockade Law. Advantages and benefits for whom is the question that remains unanswered, especially after a thrilled Maduro previously announced to Chinese investors: “The anti-blockade law allows for everything, let’s do this”. Thereby, the first ones called to do “everything” are China and Russia, which are also in turn creditors of Venezuela.
Beyond the likes and dislikes towards the Venezuelan government’s new best friends, the truth is that the negotiations, agreements, alliances, etc., entered into with other governments – especially those involving China and Russia, are sensitive public information. However, their management continues to be marked by a constant pattern of secrecy, which is constitutionally questionable. The public references made to such deals are limited to being part of a propaganda system. The purpose of this system is to pose, on the one hand, the claim that US sanctions are directly to blame for the crisis Venezuela is experiencing without even a modicum of scrutiny on the inefficiency and corruption of Chavismo; on the other hand, to create friendly spaces for the expansionist and geopolitical ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party and the Russian government. It remains to be seen what the cost of these friendships will be for Venezuela, primarily because public information in the hands of the Venezuelan government does not follow the path of transparency required from public administration in a framework of accountability, a constitutional duty.
In the context of the official euphoria for starting to enforce the Anti-Blockade Law with Russia and China, specifically after Delcy Rodríguez’s trip to Russia, it has been made known that there are over “264 strategic cooperation projects” between Russia and Venezuela, which will be boosted with this statute. They also claim to have over 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. The best antidote against disinformation is still a pending issue: Full accountability. Nevertheless, these data do not disclose much more; nothing is mentioned regarding the projects signed. Are they all cooperation projects? Are there framework and specific agreements? On what issues, within what scope, at what costs? The same occurs with the issue of vaccines. What is the procurement procedure, is it a donation or a purchase? If it is a purchase, was it tendered, is it among the cooperation agreements alluded to by the above official, etc. All these simple questions have remained unanswered. In our research, we concluded that there is no consolidated public information, nor open official sources.
This conclusion stems from the review of 27 official sources, including the web sites of the Vice President’s Office, the Ministries of Information, Foreign Affairs, and Finance; in addition, the Twitter accounts of these authorities, and those of the Russian embassy and ambassador in Venezuela, Russia’s Foreign Office and nine Venezuelan official plus two Russian media outlets. The follow-up was conducted online, in the course of one week, from November 12 to November 19, 2020. The generalized opinion talking points allude to “fair alliances” to fight US imperialism; but the propagandistic tone aims at positioning the regime with its new allies in a better place for the post-pandemic geopolitical game.
The effect of the sanctions imposed by the United States has provided the best opportunity for the government of Nicolás Maduro. Armed with them as an argument and under pressure from the lack the economic and financial resources it can no longer get its hands on, it has occurred to him to request his National Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, ANC), a constitutionally questionable parallel legislative body, originated from non-competitive elections and not recognized by the OAS and the EU, to provide him with a formidable instrument that empowers him to act without checks from anyone and in total opacity. In this vein, the obsequious ANC approved the Anti-Blockade Law (Anti-Blockade Law for National Development and the Guarantee of Human Rights [Ley Antibloqueo para el Desarrollo Nacional y la Garantía de los Derechos Humanos]), published in the Extraordinary Official Gazette No. 6583 of October 12, 2020. With this instrument in hand, his Vice President, Delcy Rodríguez, arrived in Moscow on November 12, 2020. Pro-government media have made it known that the purpose of this trip was to show the “advantages and benefits” of the law. Previously, the Venezuelan government had announced that it would send a letter to the Chinese government to explain such benefits.
In this context of messages, letters, trips, agreements, and alliances, we set out to find out detailed information that could be backed up in official sources, in this case including Russian officials. During the week of November 11-18, 2020, we worked on roughly 27 official sources, including the sites of the Vice President’s Office, the Ministries of Information, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Science and Technology; the Twitter accounts of these authorities, the Russian embassy and ambassador in Venezuela, Russia’s Foreign Office, and nine Venezuelan government media plus two Russian outlets. The research was conducted online, as itemized in the tables below.
Table 1: Venezuelan and Russian government offices studied
|AUTHORITY||URL / TWITTER HANDLE|
|VICE PRESIDENT’S OFFICE||www.vicepresidencia.gob.ve / @ViceVenezuela / @drodriven2|
|FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTRY||www.mppre.gob.ve / @CancilleriaVE|
|ECONOMY & FINANCE MINISTRY||www.mppef.gob.ve|
|SCI. & TECH. MINISTRY||www.mincyt.gob.ve|
|INFO. & COMS. MINISTRY||www.minci.gob.ve|
|RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN VENEZUELA||www.venezuela.mid.ru / @EmbajadaRusaVen|
|RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR IN CARACAS||@EmbSergio|
|RUSSIA’S FOREIGN OFFICEfirstname.lastname@example.org|
Table 2: Media outlets researched
|MEDIA OUTLET||URL / TWITTER HANDLE|
|AGENCIA VENEZOLANA DE NOTICIAS||www.avn.info / @avnve|
|TELESUR||www.telesurtv.net / @telesurtv|
|VENEZOLANA DE TELEVISIÓN||www.vtv.gob.ve / @VTVcanal8|
|LA IGUANA TV||www.laiguana.tv|
|CORREO DEL ORINOCO||www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve|
|RADIO NACIONAL DE VENEZUELA||www.rnv.gob.ve|
|MISIÓN VERDAD||www.misionverdad.com / @Mision_Verdad|
|RT ACTUALIDAD (RT’s service for LatAm.)||www.actualidad.rt.com|
This is qualitative research conducted after the selection of this key case in the relationship between Russia and Venezuela for its impact on the country. We turned to
A spurious constituent assembly enacts a official sources as a direct means to review the available data on the subject, which we deem as a public matter. The review is objective, focused on what has been disclosed and omitted by official sources, which is often more important as it allows us to detect a pattern of treatment of public information in the hands of the power elite. Of course, we are not oblivious of the government’s habit of withholding public information, even that critical for citizens to understand, collaborate with, and participate in some necessary measures. A case that makes this systemic opacity evident is that of the national emergency order issued following the arrival of the coronavirus in the country. It is in this context that the intensification and expansion of agreements with the Russian government is noticed.
Precisely with this study, we intend to document this trend. At the same time, this allows us to critically demonstrate the status of public information and how the presence of Moscow’s interests and the protection of them by Nicolas Maduro’s government weighs upon such information.
Although the alarms are sounded by the so-called Anti-Blockade Law, in fact it attempts at laying a legal foundation to the modus operandi that, with respect to the “strategic alliances” with Moscow, is already in place. This has gained greater momentum during the coronavirus-triggered pandemic. Since then, “humanitarian aid”, partnerships in security and military strategy, purchases of insulin, contribution of Venezuelan volunteers to conduct clinical trials of the Sputnik vaccine have been formed, and on none of these subjects is there any public information available. The excuse is the same: The US economic warfare and blockade; but it is known that secrecy on public affairs is really a strategy of Chavismo. As of January 2016, information was withheld under an executive order on grounds of a state of exception and economic emergency, which to date has been extended 28 times, as expressly provided for in Article 7 thereof.
It is also noteworthy that, once the law was enacted, the Government especially addressed its two main creditors. On the one hand, Nicolas Maduro meets with Chinese businesspersons and with the ambassador of that country in Venezuela, Li Baorong. On November 6, he conveyed to them his wish “for the Anti-Blockade Law to be the expression of new partnerships and the definitive recovery of Venezuela”, and vehemently claimed having “all the conditions for the development of the country’s wealth, to expand investment in oil, the crown jewel that the imperialists of the world want [bold type added], who want to get their hands on the largest proven reserves”. The crown jewel has its privileged ones: “I am saying all of this in a letter that our Executive Vice President, Delcy Rodríguez, will soon take to China, in a letter that I am writing with all my heart to my brother Xi Jinping”. On the other hand, on November 12, with a similar message, his Vice President acts accordingly in Russia, in this case, joined by state oil monopoly Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) CEO Asdrúbal Chávez, Solicitor General Reinaldo Muñoz, and Science and Technology Minister Gabriela Jiménez.
The delegation in Delcy Rodríguez’s trip to Moscow and the select entourage that accompanied her is in line with the offer prefigured by the Anti-Blockade Law and confirmed by Nicolas Maduro in his speech: “The Anti-Blockade law allows for everything, let’s do this!” Indeed, the key authorities designated in the aforementioned law are the Vice President’s Office and the Economy and Finance Ministry, both offices held simultaneously by Delcy Rodríguez. On the other hand, both the state of emergency enabling the non-enforcement of legal statutes, the conduction of business, the classification of documents as reserved, confidential, and for limited disclosure, and the System of Legal Assistance and Protection before Coercive and Unilateral Measures (Sistema de Asistencia y Protección Legal ante las Medidas Coercitivas y Unilaterales) are under the responsibility of the Solicitor General’s Office, a position held by Reinaldo Muñoz. Investment in oil –described by Maduro as the crown jewel – rests with PDVSA, today headed by Asdrúbal Chávez. Therefore, the message is clear: They went to Moscow to show that they can offer the best conditions. It goes without saying that the report of that trip was made in a rhetorical tone and with a headline-making purpose; but, in any case, it lacks a modicum of public and accessible information that, it is worth mentioning, may be released without the need to compromise sensitive provisions.
(i) On the government websites, references to Delcy Rodríguez’s trip to Moscow are found between November 11 and 15 (information detailed below in Table No. 3). It seems that the editorial guidelines are set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since its news items of November 11 and 12 are then reproduced by the websites of the Vice President’s Office and the Economy and Finance Ministry, with the same headlines. Meanwhile, the Information and Communication Ministry limits itself to reproducing a single item on Nov. 15. Upon reviewing the contents, it is clear that the news focus more on the benefits of the Anti-Blockade Law and how it consolidates strategic partnerships between Russia and Venezuela. In fact, on November 13, the Economy and Finance Ministry website shared a video, barely lasting eight minutes and twenty seconds, of Delcy Rodríguez’s meeting in Moscow. The material focuses on denouncing that the “unilateral coercive measures, and the trade wars in the global stage” to which Venezuela has been subjected are the result of the threat that cooperation projects with Russia pose for the United States.
Additionally, we detect that the government’s information puts the spotlight on the recently passed Anti-Blockade Law, but disregards its constitutional public accountability duties. It is assured that the law, in the words of Rodríguez, will “take a new turn to consolidate cooperation”. However, there is no explanation for the more than 200 projects signed with Russia. In the table below, we detail the news items featured on the websites.
Table No. 3: News items regarding the Anti-Blocking Law on government websites
|GOVERNMENT SITES||DATE AND HEADLINE|
|FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTRY||11/11/2020: Vice President Delcy Rodríguez arrives in Moscow to present the Anti-Blockade Law to the Slavic country11/12/2020: Vice President Delcy Rodríguez: Anti-blockade law will give second strategic boost to Russia-Venezuela cooperation|
|VICE PRESIDENT’S OFFICE||11/12/2020: Vice President Delcy Rodríguez arrives in Moscow to present the Anti-Blockade Law to the Slavic country11/13/2020: Delcy Rodríguez: Anti-blockade law will give second strategic boost to Russia-Venezuela cooperation11/15/2020: Anti-blockade law will boost over 200 projects of the Russia-Venezuela strategic cooperation|
|ECONOMY & FINANCE MINISTRY||11/12/2020: Vice President Delcy Rodríguez arrives in Moscow to present the Anti-Blockade Law to the Slavic country11/13/2020: Delcy Rodríguez: Anti-blockade law will give second strategic boost to Russia-Venezuela cooperation11/13/2020: (Video) Venezuela presents fundamentals of Anti-Blockade Law to Russian businessmen and institutions11/15/2020: Anti-blockade law will boost over 200 projects of the Russia-Venezuela strategic cooperation|
|SCI. & TECH. MINISTRY||NO INFORMATION PROVIDED IN REVIEW PERIOD|
|INFO. & COMS. MINISTRY||11/15/2020: Strategic alliance between Russia and Venezuela strengthened with Anti-Blockade Law.|
(ii) On the websites of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Venezuela and that its Foreign Office, it is noteworthy that there is no mention of this visit by the Vice President to Moscow, even when this Foreign Office site has an interactive map and, by clicking on Venezuela, it opens news, the last one is dated July 2020. The embassy in Venezuela does not have any data on this either, although its Twitter account shows a publication dated November 12.
(iii) In the Twitter accounts, we find a similar pattern: Only five tweets are related to the trip to Moscow; but the emphasis is equally on the Anti-Blockade Law (See Table No. 4).
Table No. 4: Tweets from government offices
|Date||Handle||Tweet / Retweet|
|11/12/2020:||@EmbadaRusaVen||Vice President of Venezuela @drodriven2 arrives in Moscow to present the #Antiblockade Law|
|11/12/2020:||@ViceVenezuela||#GetTheScoop Executive Vice President of the Republic, @drodriven2 up to Moscow to present Anti-Blockade Law to the Slavic country.|
|11/12/2020:||@CancilleriaVE||#NEWS Vice President Delcy Rodríguez arrives in Moscow to present the Anti-Blockade Law to the Slavic country|
|11/13/2020:||@EmbSergio||“Today at dawn, I attended from #Caracas a brilliant high level Conference with a cross section of Russian businesspersons and authorities, where Executive VP @drodriven2, that is now in #Moscow, has successfully presented the #Antiblockade Law|
|11/13/2020:||@drodriven2||RT from @EmbSergio’s account with the tweet and adds: “We arrived in the Russian Federation with a very clear message from our President” @NicolasMaduro to expand and consolidate bilateral cooperation in all sectors. Today we take a strategic leap with the Anti-blockade Law for the protection and security of Russian investments!|
(iv) The media coverage follows the same pattern, because the official media limit themselves to reporting on the news published in the National Executive sites. Providing no further depth, aligned with the narrative according to which the trip of the vice president is appraised based on its goal of presenting the Anti-Blockade Law to Russian investors. There are some remarks that elaborate on the data, for example the meeting held by Rodríguez with Yuri Ivanovich Borisov, President of the Russia-Venezuela High Level Intergovernmental Commission, another with Kirill Dmitriev, Director of the Russian Fund for Direct Investments, and finally with the developers of anti-COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V. In said meeting, she claimed not only to have 10 million doses but also to manufacture the drug in Venezuela. No further details or data are provided on any of these statements.
For its part, Russian agency Sputnik reports regarding the trip are based on a press release which it claims to have obtained from the Venezuelan Embassy and assures to have checked with Russia’s Foreign Office. It was therein stated “that no meeting was scheduled with the Venezuelan vice president. A second news item with the headline “Venezuela lands in Russia with its antidote to neutralize the U.S. blockade” is dated on November 13, 2020. In those terms, Russians refer to the Anti-Blockade Law. It is reviewed that, at a meeting with various business representatives, “the Tatneft oil company […] offered the construction of petrochemical refineries and the production of gas and oil, and the Rushydro Group, a conglomerate that proposed to provide the Simón Bolívar hydroelectric plant with a system to monitor its technical status”. Finally, they state that the COVID-19 was also on the agenda, in allusion to the intention of the Venezuelan government to manufacture the Sputnik V vaccine in the country. On RT Actualidad, dated 11/16/2020, we find a laconic reference to the announcement by Nicolás Maduro, who claimed to have “10 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against the new coronavirus for the first quarter of next year”.
1) It seems contradictory that, in retort on the economic and financial effects of the denounced American measures, there is more opacity, less public information, and scarce accountability, all under the protection of the so-called Anti-Blockade Law. Although everything that the Nicolás Maduro administration denounces is true, the truth is that it is unjustifiable to guarantee some rights by violating others. Especially if those others are related to constitutional duties of the public administration: Accountability, access to public information, and guarantee of accurate facts.
2) In relation to this point, in practice there remains the doubt as to whether the intention is indeed to change one imperialism for another. Displacing the historical relations of Venezuela with the US and imposing renewed promises to position the presence of Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba awaken all kinds of suspicion, in turn fueled by the implementation of opacity as a policy of the government’s media system.
3) The review of the information contained on the websites, in the Twitter accounts, and on the official media reflects the debt owed to the duty to inform, a kind of atavistic complex that leads to appealing to government secrecy that, in a broad sense, also contributes to a climate of disinformation and propaganda.
4) The government media and sites speak of the benefits of this new alliance with Russia; but the citizens have the right to receive them with no strings attached.