The main newspaper of the center of Venezuela and second of the country, 'Notitarde', was the setting for an experiment, a unique even for the Chavista era, with a clear military imprint. An Army colonel took over the company. It was part of the nervous media acquisition spree by capital close to the revolution from 2013 to 2015. The results, journalistic and business-wise, fall short of the expectations. However, the graduation classmate of Carlos Osorio and Pedro Carreño still wants to learn from the reporters at his service.
colonel has arrived in the newsroom," was the message circulating between
journalists and employees of the newspaper Notitarde when army officer Ramón
José Carrasco Oropeza arrived that first half of 2015 and took over the reins to
lead the newspaper based in Valencia , capital of the state of Carabobo, to the
center of the country. Never before had a military man been seen - in all the
years of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution - at the helm of an information
The two years following the death of President Chávez in March of 2013 were marked by the change of owners in some media, both in the Venezuelan capital and in the interior of the country. Buying-selling processes that were mostly opaque, showing evident changes in editorial lines, efforts to censor journalists, reduction of investigative units, resignations, unjustified dismissals and self-censorship. The case of Notitarde was no different, with symptoms of the socialism of the 21st century, praised by Chavismo, and military men holding from political to business positions.
While owned by the Carabobo businessman Ricardo Degwitz, Notitarde became the second newspaper with the highest circulation in Venezuela, according to the Media Certifying Committee (Ccmaf) of the National Association of Advertisers (Anda) and the Venezuelan Federation of Advertising Agencies (Fevap). It is a double merit if taking into account that it was achieved in a city of provinces, although important and with great economic activity until not long ago. Whatever has been the formula for that success, it was lost in the hands of Carrasco. The newspaper circulates less and less and journalistically speaking, it has become a little more than a propaganda media of the management of Francisco Ameliach, also a former military officer, who recently left his position as governor of Carabobo to join the National Constituent Assembly.
The name of Ramón Carrasco comes out three times when checking the list of companies in the National Register of Contractors —a database that has been downloaded by the team of Armando.info for a series of reports, including this one— against the names of the military men in the public administration provided by Vendata, a project to release information from the Official Gazette of Venezuela.
His three companies have as business purpose the administration of media: Inversiones La Ría, where he appears as director; Publicaciones Degal, C.A., where he is vice president, and Editorial Notitarde, C.A., where he appears as vice president from the purchase in 2015, until he assumed the position of president at the shareholders’ meeting held on December 9, 2016. The last two companies are based in the same building in Valencia. While the military man manages a newspaper in the first stories, ha has a printing company of magazines in glossy or matte paper in the last stories.
None of these companies has contracts with government companies but they do contract with each other and with private companies. For example, Editorial Notitarde, C.A. is a customer of Publicaciones Degal. In these companies, the names of entrepreneurs Juan Manuel Tome Fernandéz, José Rodríguez and Fabián González Vásquez are common.
In the first meetings that Carrasco had with the editorial team of Notitarde, he said that, although his work experience was limited to the administrative and military areas - or perhaps for that reason -, his desire was to learn from the journalists. However, two years after his arrival, it seems that the workers of the medium were the ones who learned: orders follow-up, no right to dissent, linear hierarchy, strict compliance of schedules and fast resolutions regardless of reason and consequences. “‘See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil’” seems to be the new standard of the newspaper,” says one of the former editors of the newspaper.
"We want to work with our own people," Carrasco said in July 2015, shortly after his arrival, when he asked chief editor of the correspondent in Caracas Lucy Gómez to relinquish her position. The phrase was repeated over time, until the correspondent was virtually dismantled and the number of workers at the headquarters in Valencia was considerably reduced.
The order was simple: everyone who did not follow the new policy of the newspaper was given a golden parachute (a dismissal plan with incentives) —enough compensation to go without problems. And Carrasco Oropeza, as a good military man, was the ideal manager to implement this plan.
In the incorporation papers of Editorial Notitarde, C.A., the sale was formalized at the shareholders' meeting held on February 10, 2015, where Corporación Noti-libre C.A. sold all its shares to La Ría Comunicaciones, a company registered on December 12, 2014, just two months before the purchase, and represented by José Rodríguez Álvarez, an entrepreneur known in Valencia for owning the Hesperia, one of the most renowned hotels in the city. According to the incorporation papers of the publishing company, Carrasco began as a director, then went to the Vice Presidency, and finally assumed the presidency in late 2016.
However, regardless of his role defined in the incorporation papers, Carrasco has always been the visible face of the new administration of the newspaper business. Rodríguez only appeared at the beginning, as the new owner, but his presence was limited. During 2017, there have been rumors in the newsroom of a new sale without even a paper confirmation.
Although Carrasco Oropeza has held different positions during Chavismo, he has not been in the spotlight and has not held great political positions. His work has been limited to the administrative area. The military man, now in retirement, graduated in 1985 as a member of the General Brigade Lucas Carvajal promotion. Some of his classmates that year were Carlos Osorio, former Minister of Food and current Minister of the Cabinet of the Presidency; Pedro Carreño, a constituent and former deputy for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV); and Jesús García Toussaintt, current Minister of the People’s Power for Transport.
One of the first positions of Carrasco in the military administration of Chavismo was the alternate presidency of the land command of logistics of the General Command of the Army. Thus, he was appointed on June 17, 2007, as evidenced in Official Gazette No. 38.695. Months later, in Official Gazette No. 38.737 of August 1, 2007, he assumed the General Division Authority of Administration of the Ministry of People’s Power for Defense.
Carrasco became acknowledged by being part of the government of General Jorge Luis García Carneiro in the state of Vargas, central coast of the country. By 2012, he was the president of the state-owned Socialist Urban Transport Company of Vargas (Transurvar) and was also Division Secretary of Health of the government of that state until July 2014, when he was dismissed and General Moisés Montero Ferrer was appointed in his place.
Unlike other figures of the barracks chavismo, Carrasco has no presence in social media. There is a Twitter account that seems to have belonged to him, which has not been updated since May 2014, where he describes himself as "revolutionary", and there are only a couple of twits referring to his management in Vargas. Nor does he seem to be a fan of photographs. Employees of Notitarde say that he stand in front of a camera in very few occasions.
One of those rare occasions in which the camera captured him was on August 17, 2016, in the celebration of the four decades of the newspaper. There, he expressed pride in the work of the employees. He said that "with the brotherly love of family" they would do their best to keep the newspaper going. "When facing uncertainty, we always have to be optimistic, hence, we should not faint," he said to the employees of the newspaper. However, in the conversations with workers and former editors of the newspaper, that fraternal love is not reciprocated. When we asked a former editor of the medium how she would describe Carrasco, she said, "It is not a person who inspires the same respect as Degwitz, the previous owner." Others describe him as a polite, distant person, interested in learning how the journalistic environment works. Beyond his personal attributes, his experience is unique. The military boot managed to stomp even in an editorial office. The results of such management may give an opportunity to paraphrase the proverb and prove that military journalism is to journalism what military music to music.
Adrián Perdomo Mata has just entered the list of sanctioned entities of the US Department of the Treasury, as president of Minerven, the state company in charge of exploring, exporting and processing precious metals, particularly gold from the Guayana mines. His arrival in office coincided with the boom in exports of Venezuelan gold to new destinations, like Turkey, to finance food imports. Behind these secretive operations is the shadow of Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido, the main beneficiaries of the sales of food for the Local Supply and Production Committee (Clap). Perdomo worked with them before Nicolás Maduro placed him in charge of the Venezuelan gold.
Gassan Salama, a Palestinian-cause activist, born in Colombia and naturalized Panamanian, frequently posts messages supporting the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions on his social media accounts. But that leaning is not the main sign to doubt his impartiality as an observer of the elections in Venezuela, a role he played in the contested elections whereby Nicolás Maduro ratified himself as president. In fact, Salama, an entrepreneur and politician who has carried out controversial searches for submarine wrecks in Caribbean waters, found his true treasure in the main social aid and control program of Chavismo, the Clap, for which he receives millions of euros.
While the key role of Colombian entrepreneurs Alex Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas in the import scheme of Nicolás Maduro’s Government program has come to light, almost nothing has been said about the participation of the traders who act as suppliers from Mexico. These are economic groups that, even before doing business with Venezuela, were not alien to public controversy.
Even though there are new brands, a new physical-chemical analysis requested by Armando.Info to UCV researchers shows that the milk powder currently distributed through the Venezuelan Government's food aid program, still has poor nutritional performance that jeopardizes the health of those who consume it. In the meantime, a mysterious supplier manages to monopolize the increasing imports and sales from Mexico to Venezuela.
Turkey and the coastal emirates of the Arabian Peninsula are now the homes of companies that supply the main social -and clientelist- program of the Government of Venezuela. Although the move from Mexico and Hong Kong, seems geographically epic, the companies has not changed hands. They are still owned by Colombian entrepreneurs Alex Nain Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas, who control since 2016 a good part of the Import of food financed with public funds. Around the world for a business.
Since the borders to Colombia and Brazil are packed and there is minimal access to foreign currency to reach other desirable destinations, crossing to Trinidad and Tobago is one of the most accessible routes for those in distress seeking to flee Venezuela. Relocating them is the business of the 'coyotes' who are based in the states of Sucre or Delta Amacuro, while cheating them is that of the boatmen, fishermen, smugglers and security forces that haunt them.
When Vice President Delcy Rodríguez turned to a group of Mexican friends and partners to lessen the new electricity emergency in Venezuela, she laid the foundation stone of a shortcut through which Chavismo and its commercial allies have dodged the sanctions imposed by Washington on PDVSA’s exports of crude oil. Since then, with Alex Saab, Joaquín Leal and Alessandro Bazzoni as key figures, the circuit has spread to some thirty countries to trade other Venezuelan commodities. This is part of the revelations of this joint investigative series between the newspaper El País and Armando.info, developed from a leak of thousands of documents.
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The business structure that Alex Saab had registered in Turkey—revealed in 2018 in an article by Armando.info—was merely a false start for his plans to export Venezuelan coal. Almost simultaneously, the Colombian merchant made contact with his Mexican counterpart, Joaquín Leal, to plot a network that would not only market crude oil from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, as part of a maneuver to bypass the sanctions imposed by Washington, but would also take charge of a scheme to export coal from the mines of Zulia, in western Venezuela. The dirty play allowed that thousands of tons, valued in millions of dollars, ended up in ports in Mexico and Central America.
As part of their business network based in Mexico, with one foot in Dubai, the two traders devised a way to replace the operation of the large international credit card franchises if they were to abandon the Venezuelan market because of Washington’s sanctions. The developed electronic payment system, “Paquete Alcance,” aimed to get hundreds of millions of dollars in remittances sent by expatriates and use them to finance purchases at CLAP stores.
Scions of different lineages of tycoons in Venezuela, Francisco D’Agostino and Eduardo Cisneros are non-blood relatives. They were also partners for a short time in Elemento Oil & Gas Ltd, a Malta-based company, over which the young Cisneros eventually took full ownership. Elemento was a protagonist in the secret network of Venezuelan crude oil marketing that Joaquín Leal activated from Mexico. However, when it came to imposing sanctions, Washington penalized D’Agostino only… Why?
Through a company registered in Mexico – Consorcio Panamericano de Exportación – with no known trajectory or experience, Joaquín Leal made a daring proposal to the Venezuelan Guyana Corporation to “reactivate” the aluminum industry, paralyzed after March 2019 blackout. The business proposed to pay the power supply of state-owned companies in exchange for payment-in-kind with the metal.