Back in November, I introduced anyone who might not know any (alleged) blow kingpins to OFAC-designated drug trafficker Tareck El Aissami.
According to the U.S. Treasury, El Aissami is, much like Ron Burgundy, "kind of a big deal." Specifically, the sanctions action taken against him last year contains the following highly amusing account of his various activities and connections:
He facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela. In his previous positions, he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States.
He also facilitated, coordinated, and protected other narcotics traffickers operating in Venezuela. Specifically, El Aissami received payment for the facilitation of drug shipments belonging to Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia. El Aissami also is linked to coordinating drug shipments to Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel, as well as providing protection to Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco. Los Zetas, Daniel Barrera Barrera, and Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco were previously named as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers by the President or the Secretary of the Treasury under the Kingpin Act in April 2009, March 2010, and May 2008, respectively.
Naturally, all of that makes him a great fit for a high level government position in Venezuela. In the first post linked above, I took you on a fun journey through El Aissami's political career, which culminated in his appointment as Executive Vice President in January, 2017.
El Aissami ended up being put in charge of Nicolás Maduro's efforts to restructure the nation's massive debt load and that, in turn, put all of the country's creditors in the decidedly awkward position of having to choose between negotiating for some kind of payment and running afoul of the U.S. Treasury department which, in the same order linked above, indicated that dealing with El Aissami could land a corporate officer in prison for 30 years and that’s after paying up to $5 million in “I talked to a notorious drug lord” fines.
As if that needed to get any more absurd, Venezuela ended up inviting creditors to a literal pancake brunch in Caracas on November 13.
That didn't go well for a variety of reasons including, but certainly not limited to, the fact that El Aissami was in fact there, which technically meant that everyone in attendance was in violation of the U.S. Treasury's sanctions order.
No one but El Aissami spoke and based on the accounts I read, no one but El Aissami was even allowed to speak, including (and probably especially) the creditors. According to multiple accounts, El Aissami stayed for all of 30 minutes (one assumes he had more pressing “business” matters to attend to) and apparently spent the entire time lambasting everyone from Citi, to Deutsche Bank, to Euroclear, to U.S. financial authorities, with the latter’s actions being – according to the accused drug lord – “worse than the Holy Inquisition.”
Well about three weeks after Venezuela sent creditors home with what Reuters described as “colorful gift-bags made out of recycled materials and containing Venezuelan chocolates and coffee", Maduro declared that he intended to launch his own cryptocurrency called "the petro" which was to be backed by the country's vast oil reserves and also by diamonds.
It was (and still is) difficult to find the right combination of words to convey how fall-in-the-floor funny that is and to be clear, exactly no one thinks this is going to work. It's a blatant effort to circumvent U.S. sanctions and a laughably transparent attempt to rescue the economy from hyperinflation.
Fast forward to Monday evening and Maduro showed up on television sporting one of his signature Paulie from the Sopranos-style track suits to announce that the official "manual" for the petro was set to be released at midnight. Here's a screengrab from the video:
So among that colorful cast of characters is El Aissami (seated directly to Maduro's left) and wouldn't you know it, he was put in charge of publishing the petro manual.
And let me tell you what, he's fired up about it. This is from his official Twitter account:
Yes, according to a notorious cocaine cowboy, Venezuela is "at the forefront of future time!" and you need to "watch out!"
As FT dryly notes, "Venezuela has vowed that it will accept petros as a form of payment of national taxes, fees, contributions and public services."
Be that as it may, something tells me El Aissami will still only be accepting dollars when it comes to that $750,000 you owe him for those 30 kilos he air-dropped into your backyard.
Trying to pay that debt in "petros" might well leave you a little short on "future time".