Mexico City, Mexico, September 12, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Barranquilla Chamber of Commerce suspended the registration of a new board of directors for Monómeros, named by Venezuela’s state-owned Pequiven, after an appeal from acting General Manager Guillermo Rodríguez Laprea.
The move by Rodríguez, who was tapped by the Venezuelan opposition to run the company in January 2021, is the latest chapter in a long running saga over the management of Venezuela’s second-most important foreign asset.
The Colombia-based agrochemical producer came under the control of Venezuela’s hardline opposition in May 2019—alongside a number of other foreign assets—following the recognition of Juan Guaidó as “interim president” by Washington and its allies as part of efforts to oust the Nicolás Maduro government.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro, widely seen as the country’s first leftist president, pledged to return Monómeros to state-owned Pequiven, and thus place it under the control of the Venezuelan government once more, as part of efforts to restore diplomatic and economic ties with Caracas.
Rodríguez, however, has emphatically resisted efforts to hand back the agrochemical producer to the Venezuelan government, saying that the company has legal obligations to the defunct Venezuelan opposition-controlled National Assembly, elected in 2015 and whose term expired January 2021.
Since being run by the opposition, Monómeros has been plagued by scandals and corruption allegations, which have severely impacted its productivity and has generated serious problems for Colombia’s rural producers. Rodríguez himself has been accused of allowing the company to be used as a political football, favoring political parties with ties to the board, as well as signing questionable contracts on behalf of the company, including the hiring of a lobbyist with ties to former US Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich without the knowledge or authorization of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
However, the Petro government has also been vague about its commitment to return Monómeros to the Venezuelan government. Late last month El País reported that Colombian officials floated the idea of acquiring 51 percent of shares in the company but had not yet received a reply from the Maduro government.
At issue is the impact of US sanctions, which severely limit the ability of Venezuelan state-owned businesses to operate. Presently, Monómeros operates under a sanctions waiver from the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). General Manager Guillermo Rodríguez Laprea maintains that a return to Venezuelan government control would mean the company would become “immediately paralized” as the OFAC license would be void.
Petro’s interest in normalizing the operation of the agrochemical producer is driven in part by a necessity to reduce costs for the country’s agricultural producers. Before being driven into the ground while under opposition control, Monómeros, which has two main plants, played a major role in Colombia’s food chain, previously supplying nearly half of the fertilizers and 70 percent of the agrochemicals used by coffee, potato and palm oil production, according to local sources.
The move to sell off shares in Monómeros could also serve as a trial balloon for other enterprises racked by US sanctions. The scheme would allow for the Venezuelan government to receive badly needed cash, while allowing trans-national corporations to operate despite US sanctions. The Maduro government has not publicly commented on the proposal.
The move to suspend the registration of the new board of directors by the Barranquilla Chamber of Commerce means Guillermo Rodríguez Laprea will remain in his post pending a decision by Colombia’s Corporation Superintendency, which is under the auspices of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.
The future of Monómeros is a key issue in ongoing negotiations between Venezuela and Colombia as the two neighbors work to turn back the clock on years of strained relations under previous administrations.
President Maduro of Venezuela and President Petro of Colombia recently announced that the border between the two countries would officially reopen on September 26. The move has been welcomed by business federations on both sides of the border, while Caracas estimates border trade will reach US $2 billion in the near future.
Colombian ambassador to Venezuela Armando Benedetti likewise announced “advanced talks” with several airlines to reestablish direct flights between Caracas and Bogotá.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Lisbon, Portugal.