At 11:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 19, I received a call: “They have agreed on a payment of 5,000 dollars to each deputy, each ambassador, and each magistrate. We added to that call another person, an official of the interim government of Juan Guaidó, who told us: “Indeed. In fact, they passed a payroll that supposedly goes to OFAC for the release of those resources. I don’t believe them.”
Five thousand dollars per deputy. Shortly before, Juan Guaidó himself had announced a 100 dollar gift to each doctor under the slogan of #HéroesDeLaSalud. The calculations arise naturally: one deputy is worth fifty doctors, a deputy would be charging I don’t know how many times what the average Venezuelan earns, a deputy gets that money, which is not some insignificant amount, amid a humanitarian crisis and in the most miserable country in the region. These are resources that have just been released and approved. It is a scandal.
On April 15, the National Assembly approved, in a virtual session, access to some funds that had recently been released by the U.S. government. Some 80 million dollars, which will be distributed in this way: 4.529 million for security and defense of democracy, 5.547 million for the free press (?), 8.803 million for international relations (the embassies), 35.930 million for social assistance, 9.203 million for budget implementation costs, 1.986 million for the functions of the Comptroller’s Office, and 14 million for the National Assembly and the deputies.
This was approved, and the question was what exactly would be the amount that would end up in the hands of officials. According to the two people I was talking to at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 19, 5,000 dollars.
I asked both of them for a document to corroborate the amount, and they assured me that the figure had been agreed upon in secret. I insisted that I wanted to make the information public, but I was afraid that without a document what finally happened would happen: the interim government would rectify the scandal, alter the figure, and accuse the media that published the information of being fake news and of colluding with the regime.
By that Sunday, I was already working on a small journalistic investigation about some alleged efforts by some opposition parties to hinder the efforts of Justice First to initiate an investigation against banker Victor Vargas, who is close to Chavismo and is accused of corruption. Since I was focused on that work, I spoke with our journalist Sabrina Martín to tell her about the alleged figure agreed upon by the deputies and to ask her to help me investigate a little.
Between that Sunday and the morning of April 23, we both spoke to a total of nine deputies. I, to put together the story about Victor Vargas, and Sabrina, to corroborate what people had told me on Sunday. Although I asked the deputies I spoke to about the investigation against Vargas, at the end of the conversations, I referred to the alleged payment. None of them denied the figure of 5,000 dollars. Three justified the payment; and one, from Justice First, told me: “I can’t give you a figure, but I assure you that the amount is large.”
Meanwhile, Sabrina put together a piece that she published on April 22. The article, titled Venezuela: Deputies to Begin Receiving “Financial Support” after Five Years Without Pay, provided some of the information that would later explode in the controversy of this April 23. For example, Larissa González, a member of the Venezuelan parliament, told Sabrina that “so far there is nothing concrete, and it wouldn’t be a salary, but rather support for parliamentary activities.” Likewise, Sabrina writes: “Deputies from the Popular Will and the July 16 Fraction confirmed the existence of the economic fund and both agreed on its necessity.” Sabrina also asked about the 5,000 dollars and neither denied the amount.
Finally, at 2:33 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, a PanAm Post editor shared in our virtual office the story written by Associated Press reporter Joshua Goodman titled, Sources: Guaido allies take slice of first Venezuela budget. Our editor said AP confirms what we knew.
The Associated Press article by Goodman meets the conditions of good journalistic practice. I am annoyed to see some people who have read a whole newspaper article in their lives go around giving out lessons. In this case, there were hundreds of efforts to try to discredit Goodman’s work by using an age-old resource in journalism: the anonymous source. “Anonymous sources are sometimes the only key to unlocking that big story, throwing back the curtain on corruption, fulfilling the journalistic missions of watchdog on the government and informant to the citizens,” reads the website of the prestigious Society of Professional Journalists. And that’s precisely what Goodman accomplished. But he did so, moreover, without giving in to the inherent risks in using the swamped resource of the anonymous source: he triangulated the information, as the article makes explicit.
The Venezuelan opposition deputies agreed to pay themselves 5,000 dollars a month, retroactively from January to December. That is 60 thousand this year. They did it secretly, moreover, out of fear of public backlash. All of the above was revealed by Goodman thanks to his courageous journalistic efforts.
Accordingly, we covered the issue and added additional information. I myself contacted a senior OAS official and asked him whether it was true that, as Guaidó said, these resources were going to be audited by the Organization. He said no. Sabrina wrote about it. We also added the information we had previously discussed with other deputies. Click on the publish button, and… the controversy is served.
For some reason, part of the social media troop charged at us, the PanAm Post, as if the Associated Press story had never existed – as if we had become to the opposition what the empire was to Chávez. The other side did charge Joshua Goodman in the same way it has charged us for months of telling the truth. “Palangristas,” “mercenaries,” “Chavistas.” One of the most sympathetic messages was written by the old-fashioned television presenter, now a bit less prominent, Carolina Gómez Ávila: “I don’t care about the pasquines- rags, talking about us, I guess – I care about the international news agencies. If the long arm of the dictatorship has already bought journalists from Reuters or the Associated Press, we are in a whole different kind of trouble.”
It is the very worn-out synchronized maneuver to kill the messenger when the message is irksome. And since the message is again uncomfortable for those who supposedly face the bad guys, then naturally, the messenger is also one of the bad guys. Which is pretty mediocre, by the way, especially this week when the interim government already declared a fight against two of the most important international agencies in the world: AP, over Goodman; and Reuters, for revealing that the opposition and Chavismo are not as far apart as they would like to portray themselves. Very clumsy and unwise to beat the war drums against the Fourth Estate, as Edmund Burke would say.
At around 9:00 p.m., after several hours during which no deputy had contested the story, the interim government issued a statement which, in my view, was more of a correction than a denial. They confirm that millions of dollars were approved for the Assembly, and they say that money will come out of those resources to pay “the personal income of the deputies as well as their operation, and that of the Parliament.” Furthermore, the communiqué ends with a gem that will live on forever as a sign of the relations between the Venezuelan opposition and the press: “We remind the population of the importance of consulting the official sources of the legitimate government and the National Assembly to avoid being victims of disinformation.” Worthy of the Orwellian Ministry of Truth. And, to top it all, Freddy Guevara of the People’s Will, when he shared the communiqué, wrote on Twitter: “It is important to read and disseminate so that you are not deceived by the same people as always.” Now, AP, which until two days ago was a half-friend, has just joined the club of the same old people.
The most absurd thing about the whole issue of the press release and the scandal is that as soon as the interim government published the official response, the horde, now with its chest swollen, shouted: “Come, the panampossssss does lie!”
If only Nixon had known the formula. He could have resolved Watergate with an “official statement denying it.” And so, the interim government of Juan Guaidó, that of the scandal of February 23, April 30, Oslo, Cúcuta, the purchased deputies, the Bono 2020, the reincorporation of Chavistas into the Assembly, more and more dialogues, relations with parties linked to corruption, opacity in the management of funds, the one who lied about the OAS supposedly auditing its funds, beat AP, the American agency that can only boast of 52 Pulitzer Prizes. Oh, and the PanAm Post, which we have built up, little by little, with pride and commitment to freedom.