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AT&T leaves Venezuela, state takes over assets

Christian Fernsby ▼ | May 26, 2020
The Venezuelan government has begun seizing AT&T’s assets after the firm decided to abandon the country to reduce exposure to U.S. sanctions.
Venezuela soldiers
Caracas   Venezuela soldiers
At least three Caracas installations belonging to the US telecommunications multinational have reportedly been occupied by the state regulator CONATEL and the Bolivarian Armed Forces over the weekend, including its transmissions centre in Los Caobos, main administrative headquarters in El Rosal and principal commercial office in Las Mercedes.

Topics: Venezuela

The actions came on the heels of a Friday ruling by the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber in favour of the “Customer Front in Defence of Communications Rights” consumer rights group.

As part of the verdict, CONATEL was authorised to take control of the Texas-based firm’s “property and goods, commercial offices, administrative headquarters, operational and transmission centres, antennas and any other equipment or installations.”

The judgement likewise ordered the body to re-establish the cable TV service immediately, as well as “protect workers’ rights.”

Similarly, a new ad-hoc board is to be named and presided over by CONATEL Director General Jorge Marquez. The Bolivarian National Guard brigadier-general also serves as minister for the presidential dispatch and was sanctioned by Washington in 2017.

In addition, the Supreme Court imposed a travel ban on the former directors of AT&T’s subsidiary in Venezuela, DirecTV, as well as the freezing of all personal assets. Banking regulators SUDEBAN were also instructed to halt all customer payments processed since the service was interrupted.

AT&T announced it was closing its DirecTV cable TV service in the country last Tuesday, citing a legal contradiction generated by the “impossibility to comply” with both Venezuelan law and US sanctions.

Venezuelan law dictates that cable and satellite providers are obligated to dedicate eight percent of their total programming to nationally broadcast channels, including state-run PDVSA TV and privately-held Globovision, both of which have been sanctioned by Washington. AT&T announced it was withdrawing from Venezuela of immediate effect, a decision which was taken without consulting local management, to avoid exposure to US Treasury Department punitive measures.

The closure of DirecTV has reportedly impacted over two million Venezuelan households and 600 employees. The firm, which had been operating in Venezuela for 24 years, held a 45 percent share of the local market and offered 300 channels.