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Column 100713 Brewer

Monday, October 7, 2013

Venezuela and its Legacy of Corruption and Drug Trafficking

By Jerry Brewer

As President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela tries so desperately to fit into the vacant tattered shoes of the late President Hugo Chavez, he is struggling to live up to the Chavez legacy. However, Maduro may want to take a serious look at that façade, as the smoke and mirrors continue to simply reveal an old and tired magic show that has run its course.

Yet, Maduro, 50, who previously worked as a bus driver in Caracas and a union activist, appeared to Chavez to be the answer for Venezuela to replace him in death. Common sense appeared to prevail somewhat when the Venezuelan people gave him the nod with a razor thin 1.5 point victory in the special presidential election on April 14, 2013, when all polls had incorrectly pointed to a much larger win.

Many of the poor in Caracas were often placated and misled by Hugo Chavez, who frequently paraded as a martyr for the poor during campaign and election times.  Chavez routinely touted his devotion to the poor with his Bolivarian Revolution, and he spoke of a mass movement to implement popular democracy, economic independence, an equitable distribution of revenues, and an end to political corruption.  Too, he vowed to “move forward even more aggressively” to create his version of socialism.

Still, after his death and under Maduro the poor continue to live below the poverty line, in squalor and unsafe homes, with little food and rolling blackouts of electricity, among other issues -- that even include toilet paper shortages. 

In Ciudad Caribia, six miles northwest of Caracas, Chavez’s dream of a utopian city that would graphically display his socialist mandate for Venezuela's indigenous Carib people is merely a hotbed of pro-Socialist Party government sentiment,” in which even “Cuban instructors were organizing games” for the children.

Mostly refugees from floods and mudslides around Caracas, 1,600 families were given homes adorned in blocks of Chavez imagery. The utopian Chavez Socialist city was intended to house 20,000 families, but critics complain and point out the slow pace of construction and poor design and construction that has resulted in the collapse of “shoddily-built walls.” 

Hugo Chávez probably inflicted more lasting structural damage on Venezuela’s political institutions, economy and people than any other president in the history of the nation. Even in death a vast world media negatively exploited the Chávez legacy, describing a systematically corrupt administration that squandered billions of dollars of Venezuelan revenues, much of it still unaccounted for.

President Maduro, apparently still believing in this macabre Chavez mystique, has contributed to it by admitting that he sometimes sleeps in the mausoleum where his mentor's remains are housed. Too, Maduro has claimed that Chavez came to him in the form of a little bird that flew around his head.

Maduro's dilemma is that, as heir and beneficiary to the presidency, he owes everything to Chavez. However, with that prize he inherits the spoils, and he is being and will be judged by his own actions.

Chavez’s death brought the world media to question the acquired wealth of the past president and his family over his 14 year Socialist rule, especially since Venezuela had not been seeing the benefits of its once vast oil wealth and revenues. This author estimated Chavez’s wealth in 2010 at a minimum of US$1.8 billion - with current reports from the international media, after his death, far exceeding those numbers.

Venezuela’s state run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), was essentially destroyed by the Chavez regime. This to an oil company that generated over 90 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, while providing jobs to around 100,000 employees. Under Chavez’s lengthy tenure, deliberate indifference, corruption and considerable incompetence led to an apparent US$50-plus billion in financial debt to PDVSA. 

The Chavez family reportedly owns 17 country estates, totalling more than 100,000 acres, in addition to liquid assets of US$550 million (£360 million) stored in various international banks, this according to the Venezuelan news website Noticias Centro. “While ordinary Venezuelans suffer growing food shortages and 23 percent inflation, the Chavez family trades in US dollars that now fetch four times the official bank rate on the black market,” states the British daily The Telegraph

Maduro’s introduction to reality is just beginning. Once again there are weighty accusations of endemic corruption and deep official involvement in drug trafficking via the Venezuelan homeland, as there were under Chavez.

In a recent interview with El Universal, the Venezuelan ex-President of the National Anti-drugs Commission, Bayardo Ramirez, criticized the lack of a clear policy to rid Venezuela of drug trafficking, which he said is “deeply ingrained into certain corrupt sectors of the government.” Ramirez stated that only regime change could effectively address the problem.

As well, Hernan Matute, director of the Anti-Drugs Free Professorship at the Pedagogical Institute of Caracas (IPC), recently branded Venezuela as "the most corrupt" country in Latin America.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.


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