Chinese government requests protection for citizens in Venezuela

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry shared on 19 December 2016 that the Chinese Government requested protection for its citizens residing in Venezuela, following recent episodes of violence and looting due to cash shortages. According to Fernando Cepeda, the President of the Bolívar state Chamber of Commerce, hundreds of businesses were looted in Ciudad Bolívar, and many were Chinese-owned (Efecto Cocuyo). Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated the Chinese Embassy in Caracas activated an emergency mechanism to issue security warnings to Chinese residents in Venezuela and urged the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to take measures to protect Chinese citizens (La Patilla).

Venezuela-Colombia border to gradually reopen

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on 19 December 2016 agreed to gradually reopen the frontier beginning on 20 December. Maduro first shut down the border on 13 December for a 72-hour period to prevent alleged economic attacks from Colombia, and had stated the border would be closed until 2 January 2017. However, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López announced via Twitter that the pedestrian crossing, the Simón Bolívar International Bridge between San Antonio del Táchira in Venezuela and Cúcuta, Norte de Santander province, would reopen, followed by the eventual normalization of all border crossings (Efecto Cocuyo). Colombian Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas also took to Twitter to report that the president instructed the Banco Central de Venezuela and Colombia's Banco de la República to discuss a solution to the problem of instability in Venezuela's money supply (Panorama). 

The border reopened after the Colombian Foreign Relations Ministry announced on 19 December it summoned Iván Rincón, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, to Bogotá to hand Rincón a statement. The declaration expressed the Colombian Government's disagreement with Venezuela's accusations that Colombia has caused economic instability in Venezuela (El Nacional). Santos commented on 19 December that Venezuela's economic problems are not on the Colombian border, and stated he would travel to Cúcuta on 20 December to speak with local authorities (El Nacional). Maduro's decision to blame "cash mafias" and currency exchange houses in Colombian border cities such as Cúcuta for soaring inflation and currency hoarding have led to strained relations with Colombia since 11 December, when Maduro announced that all 100-bolivar notes would be removed from circulation. Maduro has since reversed the policy, and the decision to gradually reopen Venezuela's border with Colombia could help to repair relations with its neighbor and ensure Venezuelans can cross into Colombia for much-needed supplies of food and medicine. 

Turkish Airlines inaugurates Istanbul-Havana-Caracas route

Turkish Airlines began running its new Istanbul-Havana-Caracas route on 20 December 2016. The route is set to operate three times per week, with additional flights planned for the near future (Globovisión). During the inauguration ceremony in Caracas, Venezuelan Industry and Commerce Secretary Jesús Faría noted the rapid launch of the route following an accord signed at a 10 October summit between the Venezuelan and Turkish presidents. According to Sule Oztunc, the Turkish Ambassador to Venezuela, the route is part of Turkey's plans to expand its presence in Latin America (El Nacional).

UN gives Venezuela and Guyana one year to resolve border dispute

United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujaric announced on 16 December 2016 that the U.N. has given Venezuela and Guyana a one-year deadline to resolve their border dispute. If significant progress is not made by the end of 2017, the new Secretary General António Guterres will send the case to the U.N.'s International Court of Justice (El Universal). Current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decided to continue the Good Offices process, which began in 1990, for another year, and Guterres is set to elect a new Good Offices envoy to mediate in the dispute shortly after taking office in 2017. Tal Cual noted the territorial dispute intensified in 2015 after ExxonMobil discovered oil fields in the waters off the coast of Guyana.

Ford suspends auto production in Venezuela until April 2017

Ford Motor Company announced on 20 December 2016 it suspended its automobile production in Venezuela and will not resume operations until April 2017. Lyle Watters, Ford's President for South America, stated the measure would adjust production to demand in the country, and added the shutdown of Ford's plant would affect 2,000 employees (La Patilla). Ford is the only auto company that still mass produces cars in Venezuela, albeit at the rate of fewer than eight vehicles per day, according to figures from the Venezuelan auto producers' association Cavenez. Panorama noted Ford produced 2,253 of the national total of 2,758 cars between January 2016 and November 2016.

Venezuelan legislature to investigate Maduro and Merentes over paper money shortage

Venezuela's Asamblea Nacional (AN) on 19 December 2016 agreed to investigate President Nicolás Maduro and Central Bank President Nelson Merentes to determine their responsibility for violence that broke out following the paper money shortages since 16 December. Opposition Deputy Freddy Guevara noted Article 294 of the Constitution provides for jail sentences in connection with destruction and looting, and stated Maduro should be imprisoned (Tal Cual). The legislative accord demanded the Government to extend the validity of the current money supply, and to take an inventory of damages caused to businesses and residents and send humanitarian aid to Bolívar state, the area of the country that experienced the highest level of looting and violence related to cash shortages (Efecto Cocuyo).

Currency shortage in Venezuela causes protests, looting and violence

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets on 16 December 2016 to protest cash shortages after the government announced the 100-bolívar bill would no longer serve as legal tender. Although President Nicolás Maduro on 17 December postponed the date by which the 100-bolívar note would be valid until 2 January 2017, citizens have already deposited or exchanged the notes and a new set higher-denomination bills had not yet arrived in Venezuela. Maduro stated on 18 December that his government had arrested over 300 people for causing violence in recent days (Panorama). The southern state of Bolívar experienced a high level of violent incidents, and the city of El Callao Mayor Coromoto Lugo reported 40 injuries and one firearm-related death (La Patilla). In Ciudad Bolívar, approximately 600 businesses were looted, 90 percent of food purveyors were robbed or destroyed, and over 3,000 state security officials were deployed (Efecto Cocuyo).

Brazil sends committee to assist 37 citizens trapped at Venezuelan border

A delegation from the Brazilian state of Roraima was sent to the Venezuelan border on 19 December 2016 to assist 37 Brazilian citizens who were trapped in Venezuela. The Brazilians, the majority of whom hailed from Roraima and Amazonas states, were stuck at the border city of Santa Elena de Uiarén following President Nicolás Maduro's extension of the border closure between Venezuela and Brazil until 2 January 2017 (El Nacional). According to Claudio Bezerra, Brazilian Vice Consul in Santa Elena de Uiarén, the Brazilians requested help due to cash and food shortages after Maduro ordered the 100-bolívar bill taken out of circulation (El Universal). The Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry announced later on 19 December that the Venezuela-Brazil border will be opened once per day for Brazilians to cross back into Brazil, but did not state how long the border would stay open per day (O Globo).

Mercosur coordinators meet in Montevideo over Venezuela impasse

Representatives from Mercosur are set to meet in Montevideo on 16 December 2016 to discuss Venezuela's invocation of the Olivos Protocol, a conflict resolution mechanism, as Venezuela refuses to accept its 2 December suspension from the bloc. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez stated on 15 December that Venezuela does not recognize the 14 December handover of the Mercosur rotating presidency to Argentina, and claimed she was physically assaulted upon arrival at the Argentine Foreign Ministry on 14 December to attend a summit to which Venezuela was not invited (Tal Cual). Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa weighed in on the incident and said that entering the Ministry by force was a serious action from a diplomatic perspective (Globovisión). Nin Novoa confirmed Venezuela is suspended from Mercosur and stated Venezuela had four years to incorporate 1,159 Mercosur regulations, but still has 200 rules left to adopt into Venezuelan law (Panorama). 

PDVSA President: Venezuelan oil could reach US$60 per barrel after crude production cuts

Eulogio del Pino, President of state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), said on 10 December 2016 that due to global crude oil production cuts, the price of Venezuelan oil could reach from US$50 to US$60 per barrel within six to nine months (La Patilla). Del Pino made the statement following the 10 December meeting of non-OPEC members in Vienna, at which eleven oil-producing nations agreed to cut their crude production by 558,000 barrels per day to stabilize global oil prices (Globovisión). The majority of OPEC members agreed to cut production of crude oil by 1.2 million barrels per day on 30 November, and the cuts from OPEC members and non-members are set to begin on 1 January 2017. Del Pino also noted Venezuela, along with Russia, Azerbaijan, Oman, and Kuwait, will form part of a monitoring committee to supervise the implementation of the agreement (El Nacional).

Venezuelan government confiscates almost four million toys

The Venezuelan government's Bureau of Fair Prices (SUNDDE) announced on 9 December 2016 it confiscated almost four million Christmas toys from toy company Kreisel, which the SUNDDE accused of hoarding and marking up prices. SUNDDE President William Contreras stated the toys had been hoarded for over three years at three Kriesel warehouses (La Patilla). Contreras also announced that two Kreisel executives were arrested and that the Venezuelan government will distribute the Christmas toys to poor children (El Nacional).

Venezuela closes border with Colombia for 72 hours

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on 12 December 2016 the border with Colombia will be closed for 72 hours. According to Maduro, the measure is intended to prevent "cash mafias" from transporting 100-bolívar bills from Colombia to Venezuela (Tal Cual). Maduro stated government officials already seized 64 million bolívares along the border, and said Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López and Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas were coordinating their respective armies to combat cash mafias on both sides of the border (Panorama). The President added the Right in Venezuela is behind the cash mafias, and Interior Minister Néstor Reverol claimed an NGO hired by the U.S. Treasury Department was responsible for the outflow of 300 billion bolívares from Venezuela (Panorama). 

Maduro's announcement of the temporary border closure is adding to the daily chaos in the country, as Venezuelans are facing long lines at banks to exchange or deposit their 100-bolívar bills in compliance with a presidential decree on 11 December. The President ordered Venezuelans to turn in six billion notes, which represent 47.55 percent of the nation's money supply, within a 72-hour period beginning on 13 December (Efecto Cocuyo). Maduro last decreed a closure of the border on 28 August 2015, citing paramilitary activity in the region, and the border was reopened partially on 8 July 2016, allowing thousands of Venezuelans to cross into Colombia to seek food and medicine, which are scarce in Venezuela (Globovisión). Maduro is again militarizing the border area and contributing to tensions with Colombia with his call for involvement from the Venezuelan and Colombian armies. Furthermore, by accusing alleged cash mafias of manipulating the bolívar, Maduro is attempting to foist the blame for rampant inflation and fiscal mismanagement onto unknown criminals, NGOs, the Venezuelan opposition, and the U.S. government, exposing his government's desperation and lack of control over the economy.

Venezuela and China strengthen industrial relations

The China-Venezuela industrial, scientific, and aerospace sub-committee, led by the China-Venezuela High-Level Commission, met in Caracas on 14 December 2016 to strengthen bilateral industrial relations. Vice President for Social Development Jorge Arreaza stressed the importance of maintaining strong bilateral relations and highlighted China's support for the production of automobiles, housing materials, telephones, and computers in Venezuela (Globovisión). During the meeting, Venezuela and China agreed to 672 new projects, 131 of which are linked to President Nicolás Maduro's Bolivarian Economic Agenda. The nations also signed an agreement for China to provide Venezuela with a heavy cargo transport fleet to increase the government-run Grand Supply Mission's logistical capacity to distribute food by one third (El Universal).

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Venezuelans face long lines at banks as central bank releases new bills and coins

The Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) is set to release new, higher denominations of bills and coins on 15 December 2016, as Venezuelans wait in long lines to turn in 100-bolívar notes in compliance with a presidential decree. On 11 December President Nicolás Maduro ordered Venezuelans to deposit or exchange their 100-bolívar notes, which will no longer be valid after 15 December (Panorama). Those who still have 100-bolívar notes after that date will only be able to exchange their bills for lower-denomination notes at the external offices of the BCV in Caracas and Maracaibo from 16 to 25 December. According to El Nacional, public and private banks have not been supplied with the new higher-value bills, they have run out of lower-value bills to exchange 100-bolívar notes, and can only accept deposits.

ECLAC: Venezuelan economy to contract by 9.7 percent in 2016

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) updated its projections on 14 December 2016 and predicted that Venezuela will close 2016 with a 9.7 percent contraction and experience a GDP loss of 4.7 percent in 2017. Other nations with economic contractions in 2016 include Suriname at -10.4 percent, Trinidad and Tobago at -4.5 percent, Brazil at -3.6 percent, and Argentina and Ecuador at -2 percent (El Universal). The ECLAC estimated a region-wide recession of 1.1 percent in 2016, followed by a growth of 1.3 percent in 2017 (Tal Cual).

Argentina assumes Mercosur presidency despite objections from Venezuela

During a Summit in Buenos Aires on 14 December 2016, Argentina assumed the rotating presidency of Mercosur despite objections from Venezuela, which was suspended from the bloc on 2 December but refuses to recognize Mercosur's decision. Although Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga stated on 13 December that Venezuela was not invited to the Mercosur summit, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez arrived at Argentina's Foreign Ministry, accompanied by Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca (Tal Cual). Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra stated during a press conference that she met with Rodríguez, Choquehuanca, and Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa before the Mercosur Summit (Panorama). Malcorra reiterated that Venezuela has not adopted over 200 regulations required to become a full member of Mercosur, but noted she and Rodríguez will meet again on 15 December to hold a dialogue over Venezuela's relationship with the bloc (Globovisión). 

Maduro orders 72-hour closure of border with Brazil

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, on 13 December 2016, ordered a 72-hour closure of the Venezuela-Brazil border to combat smuggling of paper bills into Brazil. According to Brazil's Roraima state Venezuelan consulate representative José Martínez the border crossing from Pacaraima to Santa Elena de Uairén in southern Venezuela would close from 13 to 15 December (Globo). Maduro ordered a temporary shutdown of the border with Brazil after closing the border with Colombia for 72 hours starting on 12 December, citing activity from "cash mafias" that seek to destabilize the Venezuelan economy (Infobae). 

Maduro to speak with Santos about resale of Venezuelan currency in Colombia

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on 8 December 2016 he will speak with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on 9 December about the resale of Venezuelan currency in Colombia. During an event to commemorate former President Hugo Chávez, Maduro stated he will urge the Colombian government to punish those who smuggle bolívar bills to Colombia for later resale (El Nacional). Maduro said the lack of paper money in Venezuela led to a cyber-attack on 2 December that caused a partial shutdown of the country's electronic banking system. According to Maduro, Venezuelan bills were stolen at Cúcuta and Maicao, Colombian cities on the border with Venezuela (Globovisión).

Venezuela and Russia sign economic and military cooperation agreements

During the twelfth meeting of the Venezuela-Russia Intergovernmental Commission in Caracas on 6 December 2016, the two countries signed economic and military cooperation agreements. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro stated that after meeting in person with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rozogin and speaking over the phone with President Vladimir Putin, the leaders agreed Russia will provide Venezuela with its wheat supply in 2017 (Globovisión). Maduro reiterated wheat mafias are causing shortages, warned the Venezuelan Bakery Federation he will take legal action against the organization, and added Russian imports will end the scarcity of flour and long bakery lines (Tal Cual). Maduro also announced that in 2017, Russia will bring agricultural specialists to Venezuela, as well as modern anti-missile air defense systems, and artillery and infantry units (Efecto Cocuyo).

Argentina: Venezuela does not show signs of resuming dialogue with Mercosur

Argentina's Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Marcos Peña stated on 7 December 2016 that Venezuela has not shown signs of being able to resume a dialogue with Mercosur to revoke its 2 December suspension from the trade bloc (Globovisión). Peña stressed the importance of the dialogue between the Maduro administration and the opposition, and said once the country resolves its internal problems, Mercosur can resume talks with Venezuela (La Patilla). During a press conference on 7 December, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez asserted Venezuela is still a member of Mercosur and added Venezuela is acting as the bloc's rotating president. Rodríguez denounced attacks against Venezuela from what she has dubbed the Triple Alliance, or the governments of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina (Panorama).