Legal Market Overview
The situation in Venezuela continues to be extremely difficult, with the country suffering economic depression, hyperinflation and a humanitarian crisis. Presidential elections in the country were held several months earlier than scheduled in May 2018 with Nicolás Maduro re-elected for another six-year term, in what many observers have described as a show trial – significant pressure was placed on voters and the opposition’s participation was hindered considerably. Maduro’s presidency has been acknowledged by countries including China, Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey; however, Western nations condemned the outcome, and further sanctions have been imposed against Venezuela. The presidential crisis reached its peak when social-democratic Popular Will politician Juan Guaidó was sworn in to serve as acting president on January 23, 2019, with multiple countries recognising him as the legitimate president of Venezuela. However, Maduro, who has accused the US or organising a coup d’etat to remove him, has the support of the military and remains in power. Maduro is further backed by irregular, leftist paramilitary groups or colectivos, which harass and intimidate opponents to his regime in the streets.
On top of the political turmoil, the country faced severe blackouts throughout early 2019, leaving parts of Venezuela, including its capital Caracas, without any water or electricity for days. The hyperinflation rose to even worse levels, and the food and medicine shortage in the country compounds the economic and social situation further. All of the above has caused millions of Venezuelans to leave the country, continuing the “brain drain” in the country.
The challenges in the legal market remain the same as in previous years. The Supreme Court judges appointed by the opposition-led National Assembly have left Venezuela out of fear of facing charges of treason. Companies try to avoid having to engage in disputes with state entities as proceedings tend to be extremely lengthy and prosecutions in the competition, IP and labour space are rare. On the other hand, there have been considerable changes in both the energy and tax space, requiring lawyers to keep up-to-date with the legislative amendments.
One change of note in the legal landscape was Norton Rose Fulbright’s exit from the country in early 2019; the team was absorbed by Dentons, which, as a result of this, established operations in Venezuela for the first time. Together with Baker & McKenzie, S.C., the firm represents international corporations still active in Venezuela. Key local players include full-service law firms D’Empaire and Leĝa Abogados; the latter consolidated its position further by merging with Imery Urdaneta Calleja Itriago & Flamarique in April 2019. Other noted firms with a similar offering are ARAQUEREYNA and InterJuris Abogados. All of the aforementioned have particular noteworthy experience in the energy, financing and corporate sphere. Firms with notable tax and public law capabilities, including Torres, Plaz & Araujo and PALACIOS, TORRES & KORODY, are also in demand. Bolet & Terrero, Hoet Pelaez Castillo & Duque and Antequera Parilli & Rodríguez are key contacts in the IP space.