In a recent interview with Andrew Neil, Ken Livingstone confessed that Venezuela’s ambassador to London, Rocio Maneiro, was his only source of information on Venezuela. Last week she was back in the news for her ongoing corruption case in which she is accused of hiding in Andorra 3.5 million euros received as bribes from Chinese businesses. This highlights the phenomenon of the kleptocratic Chavista elite who have stolen millions from their country while leaving the rest of the population to flee or starve.
This elite, known as the Boliburgueses or Bolivarian bourgeoisie, go around Caracas in armoured vehicles with two or three armed guards. They eat at the few remaining very expensive restaurants where every morning there are small queues of people waiting for the trash to come out so they can feed off the leftovers. They own private jets and travel throughout the Caribbean on their yachts. Strangely enough, Venezuela is the seventh country in the world in terms of quantity of private jets, just behind the United Kingdom. As the British economy is 34 times larger than the Venezuelan one, this shows the extent to which wealth in Venezuela is concentrated in that small Chavista elite.
Most of the Boliburgueses are not based in Venezuela anymore; they would not endure the hardships of lacking basic services and are now living in one of their comfortable homes in Miami, Paris, Madrid or London. For example, former head of the Industrial Bank of Venezuela, Leonardo Gonzalez Dellan, sanctioned by the US for corruption, now enjoys his fortune in London.
Now you may consider this as just another example of corruption, and indeed this is an endemic problem in many countries. However, the scale of the Venezuelan plunder is truly unprecedented. Venezuela’s oil revenues between 1999 and 2014 yearly averaged $56bn, compared to oil revenues of only $15bn received by the pre-Chavez government in 1997. Yet the country’s debt increased 10-fold under Chavista rule.
Not all the funds were stolen — a great deal of mismanagement and unsustainable government spending took place too. The exact quantity of the theft is unknown and a thorough investigation needs to take place. However, one former Chavez planning Minister, Jorge Giordani, estimates corruption at about $300bn. To put this in perspective, in 2018 Venezuela’s GDP only reached $87bn.
A simple comparison can be made with Odebrecht, the Brazilian company that in 2017 was found guilty of bribing officials around Latin America to the tune of $980m. This scandal led to the toppling of governments in Brazil and Peru and shocked many others. In contrast, a single Venezuelan official, Alejandro Andrade, has admitted to a US court that he received bribes of $1,200m, more than all Odebrecht hand-outs in 12 countries of the region combined. He was Chavez’s bodyguard and later his Minister of Finance.
The geographical spread of Venezuelan corruption reaches every continent. An Argentinian official declared to an Argentinian judge how Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner and Chavez personally split between $50m in bribes relating to Argentinian bonds. The Panama papers revealed the tentacles of Venezuelan corruption through shell companies in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles and US states of Nevada and Delaware. Recently the US confiscated at least 24 properties in Florida and New York from Raul Gorrin, a businessman linked to Maduro and the Spanish government has similarly confiscated properties from corrupt Chavista ex-Ministers.
The magnitude of this plunder explains why despite the very stark consequences for the Venezuelan population, subdued by a humanitarian crisis, there are still some lasting regime supporters. The Venezuelan military have benefited greatly from this corruption as well as from drug trafficking and illegal gold mining in the Amazonian basin.
Venezuelan oil money was also used to buy political loyalties across the region and finance the revolution’s propaganda abroad. So next time you read some Maduro disinformation, consider that it is financed with oil-money that could — and should — have been used to buy food and medicines for those Venezuelans who now suffer the double standards of the self-called revolutionary government.
As the cases of Ambassador Rocio Maneiro and Leonardo Gonzalez Dellan demonstrate, London as a financial hub is also closely involved in these illegal flows. The National Crime Agency should now take seriously the task of tracking down the Bolivarian bourgeoise’s money and properties in the UK. A democratic Venezuelan Government will need to recoup all that corrupt money in order to finance the reconstruction of the country.
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