Hugo Chavez’s economic policies did not create a socially just society in Venezuela. Under Chavista rule, mismanagement has gone hand-in-hand with corruption. Corruption is a scourge which affects many developing nations, but in Venezuela under Chavez and Maduro, it has become a professional business, with disastrous consequences for ordinary people.
We are only just finding out how this happened. The US Justice Department has been doing sterling work tracking down the perpetrators and beneficiaries of Chavista corruption. Hugo Chavez’s Minister of Finance, Alejandro Andrade, has just pleaded guilty to stealing over $1 billion of public money. Sadly, this is probably only a small fraction of the sum that has really been stolen.
Andrade, who used to be Chavez’s bodyguard, was appointed by him to be Minister of Finance in 2007 and served for four years until 2011. In 2012, he was appointed president of the state-owned bank, Bandes.
Mr Andrade didn’t want to stay in Venezuela when he left office, moving instead to the United States—supposedly Venezuela’s great enemy. In 2012 he bought a multi-million dollar 9,000 square foot house with five bedrooms, marble floors and a swimming pool a few miles from the Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre. The six-acre property in the gated Palm Beach Point development also has a large barn for some of his 60 horses. A $3.5m six-bedroom house next door was bought for Andrade’s 26-year-old daughter, Maria.
In a guilty plea Mr Andrade admitted receiving millions in bribes from Raul Gorrin, owner of television station Globovision, and other conspirators. This money was for securing the rights to carry out corrupt foreign exchange transactions at privileged rates. Gorrin has been charged with paying bribes to Andrade and others as well as helping to launder the payments. Gorrin bought the Globovision TV station in 2013 and changed its anti-regime editorial line to one of support for the Chavista Government.
Gorrin is accused of buying expensive gifts for Andrade and other Chavista officials, including private jets, yachts, homes, champion horses, luxury watches and a fashion line. That is in addition to the millions of dollars paid into accounts in Switzerland.
Andrade has already been forced to forfeit 17 show horses, with names like Tinker Bell and Bonjovi, that he kept at his Florida property. The US Government has also seized this property and his 11 vehicles, including three Mercedes Benzes, a Porsche, a Cadillac Escalade and a Bentley. His collection of more than 30 top-end watches is also forfeit. The Olympic equestrian career of his son Emmanuel (who calls Gorrin ‘uncle’) is now probably at an end.
Over one trillion US dollars was collected in oil revenues by Venezuela during the Chavista period. Little of that appears to have been spent improving the lives of Venezuela’s people. Water is in short supply, the electricity network barely functions, the phone system is breaking down, the hospitals have no money for medicines, the transport system has ceased working, schools don’t function, and the population is starving.
How much of the $1 trillion has been stolen by the likes of Andrade remains to be seen, but these Justice Department probes are only scratching the surface of this web of corruption.
It is critical that the international community, including Britain, finds as many of these stolen billions as possible. If Venezuela is ever to rebuild itself, it will need every last cent.
More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website.