Sun, 28 Nov 2021

Guayaquil, Ecuador, October 14, 2021 ( Colombia-based agrochemical producer Monmeros remains at risk as Venezuelan hardline opposition factions clash over the running of the corruption-mired company.

The latest round of infighting was sparked by self-proclaimed "Interim President" Juan Guaid, who issued a decree ordering Monmeros' restructuring, with current general manager Guillermo Rodrguez Laprea being removed immediately. The statement published on October 5 announced a commission charged with finding qualified candidates to replace the firm's board in less than a month.

In June, the company's labor union accused Laprea of fixing contracts, bulking the payroll with unnecessary advisors and raising selected employees' salaries without justification. The outgoing general manager is the fifth in the post since May 2019, when Monmeros and a number of other foreign assets were handed to Guaid following recognition from Washington and allies of his administration.

The four-page text published by Guaid on Twitter was allegedly subjected to a vote during the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) most recent Zoom session. Although the body's term ended in January 2021, it continues operating as part of the US-backed "interim government."

However, the decree was voted down by the opposition political parties and denied by the current Monmeros ad hoc board. On October 12, the Justice First party blasted the Guaid faction for publishing the non-approved restructuring proposal and released a parallel agreement that was approved instead, naming a five-member commission to investigate Monmeros' irregularities. The company filed for bankruptcy protection on September 23 after being intervened by Colombia's Corporation Superintendency.

"The commission has to travel to Colombia immediately and issue recommendations to solve the company's crisis," the text reads. The five-person team will have a member each from the main four opposition forces and one from minority factions.

The firm's board likewise issued a communique on October 13 welcoming the opposition commission and reassuring that "there is no decree for the company's restructuring". The managers also announced "legal actions" against an unnamed company and people who aimed to "destabilize" the agrochemical producer through "ill-intended mechanisms."

A spokesperson for Guaid's office did not reply to a request for comment on the dueling resolutions.

Monmeros, one of Venezuela's most prized foreign assets, is a subsidiary of state petrochemical company Pequiven with over 53 years of operation in the Colombian cities of Barranquilla and Buenaventura. In 2006, the Venezuelan state became its sole shareholder during the government of Hugo Chvez.

The agrochemical facilities have a reported capacity to produce 1.3 million tonnes of chemical products per year. According to local media, Monmeros supplies 46 percent of fertilizers in Colombia and 70 percent of the agrochemicals used by coffee, potato and palm oil production.

Before Washington levied wide-reaching sanctions against Venezuela in 2017, Monmeros provided as much as US $500 million in yearly revenues to Caracas.

After output was reduced as a consequence of US measures, the company reportedly recovered after coming under opposition control. Nonetheless, the positive results were undermined by internal corruption that led to the firm getting in the crosshairs of Colombian regulators.

While no one in the hardline opposition sector has clarified the actual procedure for Monmeros' purported rescue plan, the scandals surrounding the enterprise have exposed the growing fractures within Guaid's camp and the newly formed Unitary Platform.

Justice First co-founder Julio Borges has been an active critic of the handling of Venezuela's assets abroad, claiming Guaid's "inertia and incapacity" has endangered them. "He should have the assertiveness to plan and propose, which in the end we have been doing on our own," stated the anti-Chavista politician in a recent interview.

Additionally, former Guaid "ambassador" to Colombia, Humberto Caldern Berti, blamed the lawmaker and his mentor Leopoldo Lpez for Monmeros' decline. The former oil minister said in an interview that Monmeros' board has been at the mercy of opposition politicians looking for profitable business deals. "No person with knowledge on petrochemicals was named" in the administration, he criticized.

The opposition infighting has more than meets the eye, according to political analyst Ociel Lpez. Speaking to Venezuelanalysis, the Venezuelan researcher explained that the current struggle within the "interim government" has its roots in the regional and local elections set for November 21.

"By criticizing the mishandling of Monmeros, Julio Borges and Justice First are cutting off the problematic member of the opposition, Leopoldo Lpez. At the same time, they are searing the Guaid project," he stated.

Lpez added that this political move "makes it easier for the opposition to enter the electoral lane," in contrast to the US-backed politician and his mentor's lukewarm approach to the upcoming electoral process.

The recovery of Monmeros and other Venezuelan assets seized by Washington is one of the main priorities for the Nicols Maduro government in the ongoing dialogue process in Mexico. The talks are due to resume on October 17.

Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Mrida.

Andrena Chvez Alava | source: venezuelanalysis

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