Mafias and politics in the surroundings
The clash among political sectors and union members from Orinoco Steel and Iron Industry Sidor puts in evidence that the so-called mafias of rebars continue to operate in the region. As for now, it seems only the small fishes are behind bars
Lieutenant colonel Miguel Angel Urrieta was unlucky to have his phone number on Tatiana Orozco's cell phone; who was labeled as "The Queen of the Rebar." That fact and some text messages exchanged with Orozco were enough for public prosecutors to consider him a party to the shady deals with rebar which spread over a scandal from the steel plants of Sidor.
Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) officer Urrieta Manrique accused of taking part in the so called "Mafia of the Rebar"- was arrested by the Military Intelligence Division (DIM) in June 2011. Since then, he was held at Ramo Verde jail located in Los Teques (the capital city of central-northern Miranda state) and since a few days ago, he has been awaiting his transfer to a prison in Táchira where his two little daughters and relatives currently reside.
It is worth noting that the rebar shortage occurred in Venezuela following the nationalization of Sidor and other private steelworks, obliged the DIM to open an investigation into the product considered by then as "strategic material." In the middle of raids and seizures, several rebar traders ended up behind bars, including a high-ranking executive officer of Sidor and three service men. Other two people who were once senior managers of the nationalized industry reside abroad.
Behind the severe clash between sectors from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the Venezuela's Communist Party (PCV) at Sidor, Orinoco Iron and other companies in Guayana; lies the business control that is still operating through the rebar sell. "Buying rebars is like buying preferential dollars" comment some people who have witnessed how the rebar smuggling is run at Sidor. The regulated sales price is USD 437 per ton and its international value is up to USD 1,000 per ton, besides the exchange rate differential. Add to such business the sale of the quota of US dollars apportioned through the Foreign Exchange Management Committee (Cadivi) in order to buy rebars sold at Sidor to private parties.
In spite of the intervention made by the DIM, everything points out that the so-called "mafias of the rebar" are still on track; and it seems that those behind bars with stuck trials, no formal accusation and without even entering the preliminary hearing stage- have turned out to be the light-weights or the red herrings, just as pro-government deputy -Adel El Zabayar- reasserts.
Confessions from an arrested
Deputy of the National Assembly for Un Nuevo Tiempo party (A New Time, UNT), Andrés Avelino Álvarez, who has been tracing the case of rebars, affirms that there exist several groups at different levels that have benefited from this business since the nationalization of Sidor and other steel producing industries. To his mind, the mafia has reached high management levels at Sidor.
He refers to a testimony given by one of the victims. Javier Palma Martínez. Palma explained at the courthouse how he managed to acquire some rebar shipments which he had to overpay to workers of Sidor.
The witness, who was arrested during the DIM operations on August 12, 2011, accepted to stick to the denunciation procedure contemplated in article 39 of the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure (COPP), which states that the denouncer shall obtain criminal procedure benefits in exchange for valuable information for the investigation into the case.
In his statements, he describes the way he was defrauded through a lot of rebars he was offered, for which he paid a first installment worth USD 9,250. He made the deal -in his own words- with Ricardo Antony, who operated allied with Néstor Astudillo and Rioximar Antony (both workers at Sidor). In order to receive the two rebar shipments, he made a deposit amounting to USD 20,370 in one of Sidor's bank accounts. Nevertheless, despite having two letters confirming the material delivery: one signed by Rioximar Antony and the other one by Entio Báez, marketing manager; at the moment of proceeding to pick up the material with the letters in his own hands, he was told that those letters were fake. As a response to such situation, Palma then proceeded to lodge a complaint at the Scientific, Criminal and Criminology Investigation Agency (Cicpc).
While he was trying to get his money back, he met Entio Báez, another high-ranking manager, who let him know there was still chance that he could get his money back. Since Palma was in need of rebars, Báez offered him that he could dispatch him the material from another company allied with Sidor, Hierros San Félix, also under investigation. There, Carmen Gamarra contacted him and promised him that some semi-trailer trucks dispatched to Hierros San Félix belonged to Báez. This time, he managed to receive two trucks for which he had to pay USD 19,814 on May 21, 2011.
The deponent indicates that Ricardo Antony, the father of Rioxiomar Antony, acted as an external agent to contact potential clients. His son-in-law, Néstor Astudillo and wife Rioximar, acted as well. The business, he elaborates, was that if a company needed 60 tons (two trucks), they would request a quota for a larger amount; they would deliver the two trucks to the buying company and take care of the rest.
With respect to Hierros San Félix, explains the deponent, if they were asked 250 semi-trailer trucks loaded with rebars, they dispatched 350. The other 100 semi-trailers were charged by Hierros San Félix at sale price to public while Entio Báez got the fee from Caracas.
It is worth noting Javier Palma's claims are currently under investigation by the trial courts and must be corroborated in order to proceed to conviction.
Entio Báez, who acted as trading manager of long-sized products, currently resides abroad. According to some information leaked in some news portals, Báez had been arrested in Panama in December 2011 and later released after a phone call made by a high-ranking officer from the Venezuelan Government.
Out of the gang fingered by Palma, the only detention recorded was that of Ricardo Antony, in March 2011. Astudillo, Sidor maintenance manager, puts blames top manager Luis Velásquez Rosas, for the action against his father-in-law. He continues performing his functions at Sidor and has counted on the PSUV support in the face of the charges made against him.
Luis Velásquez's case
On June 9, 2011, Luis Velásquez Rosas was arrested; he was in charge of several management tasks at Sidor and the creator of the "socialist hardware" network Ferresidor and the distribution plan of rebars directly into the communities. His case focused on an accusation against him because of the dispatch of 12 semi-trailers with destination to communes in Delta Amacuro, as part of the social program labeled "Habitat de las Comunas" (Communes Habitat) . Since then, Velásquez has remained at the DIM. From there, he has denied the accusations made against him. Concerning the twelve semi-trailers, Velásquez submitted to the courts the documents that demonstrate the existence of bills and written evidence of each dispatch signed by him.
In his defense, the convicted has attributed these accusations to the clashes that have been spread inside Sidor.
Before joining Sidor top management in 2008, he worked for several years with Sidor private management under Argentinean Ternium. During a graduate course in Spain in the field of iron and steel works, he met Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez. He accepted to come back to the country to work with Sidor. There, in Guayana, he joined the PSUV and became a major local activist. Since then, he deems himself an "apostle" of the president who "has been executed."
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
José Vicente Rangel clearly said: "We are not conducting negotiations threatened with a gun in the head." He warned behind closed doors in the midst of the social upheaval occurred during the oil strike in 2002 and 2003. Dissenting Timoteo Zambrano answered back that no other option was available: "The thing is that otherwise, you do not negotiate."