Spanish— Resignation, weariness and frustration. That is the connotation that what used to be a date of celebration has acquired for Venezuelans. On January 23 —63 years ago— a new chapter in the history of Venezuela was opened with the fall of the dictatorship of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez. The so-called Punto Fijo Pact initiated a democratic process that was an example for the region. But the illusion was short-lived.
That rich and booming oil country soon became infected with the worst of evils: corruption. Longing for the iron fist of the last dictator, Venezuelans once again bet on a military caudillo. The remedy turned out to be worse than the disease. Two decades later, with an inept heir at the helm, corruption has not stopped. But now, it has not come alone. It brought with it acute shortages, extreme poverty, malnutrition, and even the destruction of the so-called “goose that lays the golden eggs:” the oil industry.
It was another January 23 —but two years ago— when a disappointed civil society regained hope. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó was the new messiah. Emboldened by enormous international backing, the new leader challenged with admirable courage the ferocious regime of Nicolás Maduro, and with the constitution in hand, he invoked a power vacuum generated by an illegitimate election and was sworn in as interim president of Venezuela. Once again, the illusion was short-lived. Hugo Chávez’s heir found the competition to his ineptitude. And the corruption that he pledged to fight ended up being common currency on both sides.
Like a mantra, the interim government repeated over and over again that it would return democracy to Venezuela in three steps: “Cessation of usurpation, transitional government, and free elections.” None of that happened. The term of the National Assembly (NA) expired, and the regime took control of the parliament again. On the other hand, the opposition deputies agreed to extend the mandate of the National Assembly elected in 2015 through a Delegate Commission. Now there are not only two presidents and two supreme courts but also two Assemblies and the same corruption.
The scandals begin
The reason to celebrate this January 23 is still absent. Resignation, weariness and frustration are the feelings that Venezuelans feel when faced with the scarcity of democracy and the abundance of corruption. The long list of irregularities of Chavismo, such as the cases of the briefcase of Antonini Wilson, PDVAL, and Bariven, compete with the scandals of the interim government such as the Cucutazo, Monómeros, and the millionaire commissions with the Paraguayan government.
The entry of the humanitarian aid managed by Guaidó was the greatest illusion and, at the same time, a great disappointment. The stated objective was not achieved. And to make matters worse, the initiative that was presented as a solution to the crisis ended up becoming the first known case of corruption of the interim government.
The organization Transparency International Venezuela detected irregularities in the management of resources intended to assist military personnel and family members who defected from the Chavista regime and took refuge in the Colombian city of Cúcuta, heeding Guaidó’s call. An investigation was initiated as a result of a report published by PanAm Post. In its conclusions, the NGO confirmed that there were inconsistencies in the handling of funds by the special envoys of the interim president.
A corrupt environment
Thanks to international recognition, Juan Guaidó managed to take control of a good part of the country’s assets abroad. In the United States, he took the reins of Citgo, the largest subsidiary of the state-owned oil company PDVSA abroad. Also, in Colombia, he took over the management of Monómeros, an agrochemical supplier. In the United Kingdom, there is a dispute between the dictatorship and the interim government over the nation’s gold deposited in the Bank of England.
This access to the nation’s goods and assets abroad was accompanied by administrative irregularities. According to an investigation by journalist Patricia Poleo, the ad hoc board of directors of the Colombian-Venezuelan company Monómeros mismanaged funds, which was evidenced in a rather ambiguous and unrealistic rendering of accounts that showed inconsistencies regarding the company’s profits.
Another scandal involving the opposition led by Guaidó came out of the Comptroller’s Commission of the National Assembly from which letters of good conduct were issued in favor of several businessmen linked to the Maduro regime, including his alleged frontman, Álex Saab, who is detained in Cape Verde at the request of the United States. In this case, involving several deputies, the main culprit was Freddy Superlano, a member of Guaidó’s party, Popular Will.
The most recent irregularity crosses borders. An investigation published by the Washington Post reveals that Javier Troconis, an oil executive appointed by Guaidó as special commissioner, proposed that the Paraguayan government lower its debt with PDVSA in exchange for a 26 million USD commission for the management.
To the disastrous balance plagued with corruption, we can add the failed attempts to achieve the promised cessation of the usurpation, which only increased the disenchantment of the population. The so-called Operation Gideon supposedly intended to overthrow Maduro in May 2020, involved the payment of 50,000 USD to two former members of the US Special Forces hired by Jordan Goudreau, as revealed by Juan José Rondón, who until then served as a strategist of the interim government.
In April 2019, the hopes of ousting the Chavista dictatorship had already hit rock bottom after the failure of the so-called Operation Liberty, which ended with Leopoldo López taking refuge in the Spanish Embassy in Caracas until he left the country at the end of October last year for the Spanish capital, where the founder of Popular Will lives today in a luxurious residential complex in Madrid, paying a rent of 10,000 euros.
Corruption, failures, and differences have led many officials of the interim government to resign from their positions. Among these resignations are those of the special prosecutor, José Ignacio Hernández, the ambassador to the Czech Republic, Tamara Sujú, the ambassador to Colombia, Humberto Calderón Berti, the representative to the Inter-American Development Bank, Ricardo Hausmann, the political advisor Juan José Rendón, the president of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), Ricardo Villasmil, the president of PDVSA, Luis Pacheco, and the president of the board of directors of Citgo, Luisa Palacios.
The balance of these two years of the interim government of Juan Guaidó has not been positive. Venezuela celebrates another January 23 without having achieved the promised return to democracy. Corruption cases have been the order of the day in both administrations: the one led by Maduro and the one headed by Guaidó. Meanwhile, Venezuelans continue to be submerged in misery seeing how two fractions of power that are supposed to be opposing each other have more, and more similarities and have done nothing but multiply corruption without offering solutions, walking on both sides on a thin line of constitutionality.