Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Customers flood the store, as the National Guard controls sales
The Government of Venezuela, claiming that it charges exorbitant prices to its customers, has seized all the electronic appliance stores of a major retail chain. Once it gained physical control, using armed National Guard troops, electronic goods in those stores were sold, to a massive amount of consumers, at seriously discounted prices. Venezuela's inflation rate, which could exceed 100 percent this year, and the increasing sixty to one unofficial Bolivars/dollars exchange rate, has resulted in prices for imported goods that are out of the reach of most Venezuelans, who have no access to dollars. The fact that municipal elections are coming up in December has been considered as the motivation for the seizures, to win over a population that has largely had to do without, due to the collapsing economy.

The President of Venezuela has warned that there will be governmental takeovers of other retail stores, an announcement that will send Country Risk levels skyrocketing. The stated grounds for the seizure, price gouging by retailers somehow linked to the United States, has definite political overtones. President Maduro appears to be trying to distract Venezuelans from the economic chaos, by offering them a target for their anger.

The backstory, however, is much more interesting; though government-controlled Venezuelan media has proclaimed that the owners lived in Miami, they are based in the Republic of Panama, where they have a huge store, allegedly containing more than $500m in merchandise and other assets. One wonders how they acquired so much capital, given the ailing Venezuelan economy. Their original store was in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, and the owners reportedly had links there to Walid Makled, one of Venezuela's most powerful drug kingpins, before his arrest in Colombia, and extradition to Venezuela. Their reputed relationship with Makled, who did business with the FARC and the Cartel of the Suns, is reportedly under investigation.

Sr. Makled in custody

The Panama City store is reportedly connected to Panama's principal  organized crime group, which regular readers of this blog know is operated by Panamanians of Middle Eastern descent, and who are mainly Syrians and Lebanese. The company that owns the appliance stores uses a bank in Panama City, which is a wholly-owned affiliate of its Venezuelan parent, and is believed by many Panamanians in the local financial industry to be engaged in drug money laundering.

The questions that are being asked in Panama: have the owners of the electronic appliance chain made so much money in their "parallel" business, that they can absorb the total loss of the inventory in their Venezuelan stores ? Did they actually encourage the Government of Venezuela to take over their stores, and was there some unwritten agreement to aid the Maduro government ?


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