Legal market overview in Venezuela

As a nation, Venezuela has been overwhelmed by a political and economic crisis, including a lengthy recession, high inflation, shortages of basic goods and a drop in value in the country’s exports, which has led to a large disbursement of its civilian population since 2015. A significant burden has been the economic sanctions imposed by the US on the government of Nicolás Maduro (who is not recognised as the country’s legitimate leader by the US and the majority of Western and Latin American nations), targeting Venezuela’s ability to sell oil, attract foreign investment and have access to foreign currency.

However, Venezuela has recently seen some positive economic developments, with GDP growing in 2022 at a faster pace than was seen over the last 15 years. There is also hope among opposition parties that, after years of talks with the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), fair and free presidential elections will be held in 2024.

There has also recently been an increase in interest in the region from international investors, especially in the cryptocurrency and fintech space. Firms have seen their workloads limited by the US sanctions, as clients have reduced their operations and companies in other jurisdictions have been wary of being involved in transactions in the country, but there has been an uptick in work in relation to advising international clients on how to approach these sanctions.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas sector – which sits at the centre of the country’s economic structure – is also a focal point of legal practice in Venezuela. Within the energy sphere, the renewal of oil giant Chevron’s operations in the Venezuelan market, after acquiring a US licence allowing it to expand its production in the country, has led to hopes that more international oil companies will return to the market and increase work in this area. In the banking and finance space, many of the country’s largest financings relate to crude oil and energy. Japanese and Chinese banks in particular have been active in regulatory and transactional matters linked to the oil and gas space.

In another energy-related development, the country is starting to look towards renewable energy, although this is still very much in its infancy.

In the dispute resolution sphere, the PSUV’s control over institutions including the National Electoral Council and the Supreme Court has meant international companies face significant obstacles to bringing claims against the government, meaning litigation is frequently not financially viable. As a result, many firms have strong practices in international arbitration, particularly investment-related claims.

In the real estate sector, there has been an increase in international companies acquiring large plots of land and there is a growing focus on the construction of public infrastructure, such as bridges, highways and airports, as well as the expansion of energy facilities.

Reflecting on the legal market in Venezuela, the landscape is divided into full-service local firms, international firms and boutiques. Lega and D'Empaire are leaders among the full-service domestic practices, while other established local firms include Altum Abogados, S.C., Araquereyna, Mendoza, Palacios, Acedo, Borjas, Paez Pumar & Cia. (which saw a number of significant new hires in 2023) and Rodríguez & Mendoza. Notable international firms with a presence in the Venezuelan market include Dentons and Baker & McKenzie, S.C., while InterJuris Abogados operates from offices in Caracas, Miami and Madrid. Leading boutiques include IP specialist Hoet & Partners.

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