Geopolitics

Maduro And Uribe, Latin America’s Look-Alike Enemies

Colombia's former conservative president and Venezuela's socialist leader fight in public, but they love the same, bombastic style of politics. And both countries suffer for it.

Maduro And Uribe, Latin America’s Look-Alike Enemies
Cecilia Orozco Tascón

-OpEd-

BOGOTA â€" They may lambast each other at every opportunity, but what if Nicolás Maduro and Álvaro Uribe were actually kindred spirits? On one side, Venezuela's combative, at times comical, socialist President Maduro, and on the other, Colombia's arch-conservative former President and current Senator Uribe.

Already famed for his verbal spats with Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chávez, Uribe has become a bête noire for leftists across the continent. Yet the political nemeses are practically two sides of the same coin (though their supporters would hate to hear it) of that crass brand of populism, which we keep hoping is a thing of the past.

Their methods are similar, as is their conduct. With their irresponsible declarations, they spread hate and fan their partisans' most primitive feelings. Seen through their fanatical ideological prisms, their opponents become mortal enemies, dismissed in turn as paramilitaries or "terrorists."

The expulsion of thousands of Colombians from western Venezuela, seen recently wading across the river into Colombia like the refugees we see on the news, apparently so distant from us, is the work of a desperate and crazy leader trying to hold onto power in Venezuela. And it suits him just fine to receive an incendiary response from another crazy on this side, one desperate to recover the presidential "throne" he had to abandon and without which his life has no meaning.

It is no surprise that Maduro should invoke nationalism to throw out the poorest among his Colombian "brothers," when people in Venezuela are starting to go hungry and his government faces an unprecedented economic crisis. And more to the point, it all comes in the run-up to the December elections for the National Assembly, where independent polls are currently forecasting an opposition victory â€" if there is actually nationwide voting. Such a defeat could make life much more difficult for this rather uncharismatic successor to the late Bolivarian icon.

Finger pointing

No one is surprised either by Uribe breaking the tradition of Colombian leaders giving unconditional support to the sitting president, especially when Colombia is to hold municipal and regional elections in October. His Democratic Center party is not doing well, particularly in the country's bigger cities. In smaller districts, he has had to ally himself with people who are presumably his opponents, that is the parties backing the moderately conservative President Juan Manuel Santos. Yet he was swift to arrive these days in the frontier town of Cúcuta, with his shameless opportunism, to make political capital out of the human misery of the border dispute with Venezuela.

Maduro talks as if the cross-border problems (of trafficking and gang activity) began yesterday and were entirely the work of Colombians, and not a single Venezuelan: "We are discovering the frightening reality of how crime, the criminal economy and paramilitarism have settled" in the area, he declared.

Uribe responds in Cúcuta: "Just as (Cuba's) Castro used a thick wall to murder dissidents, the Venezuelan dictatorship is abolishing liberties to mistreat the democratic opposition."

Maduro calls Uribe a "cynic" and the "king of false positives" â€" a reference to the innocent people killed by Colombian troops and falsely identified as FARC guerrillas â€" and accuses him of involvement in unspecified "massacres in Colombia."

Uribe shoots back: "How much longer will the Venezuelan dictatorship last? What they have is the rule of the Castro-Chávez dictatorship mistreating and trampling on humble workers."

And on and on it goes ...

They say something good comes out of every misfortune. Perhaps the mirror-image of extremism of the Uribe-Maduro epoch is destined to give way to leadership of common sense on both sides of the border.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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