Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Corruption, Revolutions within Revolutions

Venezuela officially rejected the Peruvian government’s decision to grant amnesty to Manuel Rosales yesterday by recalling its ambassador to Lima and “reconsidering its relationship” with the government of Alan García. Rosales, governor of Maracaibo and longtime fixture of the Venezuelan opposition, fled his post earlier this month when he was indicted on charges of corruption.

Last Friday, Maracaibo’s city council named its president, Daniel Ponne (also a member of Rosales’ A New Era party) as temporary mayor given the ‘permanent absence’ of the mayor. Rosales has long been a fixture in the politics of Zulia. He served in the Legislative Assembly from 1983-1994, Mayor of Maracaibo from 1996-2000, and Governor of the state of Zulia for two terms (2000-2008). During the short lived April 2002 coup, Rosales signed the so-called ‘Carmona Decrees’ which named then head of the National Chamber of Commerce president of Venezuela and subsequently abrogated the constitution of 1999. In 2006, Rosales was the first figure of the opposition to recognize Chávez’s democratic credentials, when he conceded defeat in the presidential election. When term limits prevented him from extending his tenure as governor, Rosales hand-picked his successor, Pablo Perez, and ran for the lesser office of city mayor of Maracaibo (again), but this time on a campaign that hailed him as “the leader of Zulia.”

Zulia is Venezuela’s richest state, and the site of a nascent separatist movment.

Peru has been one of the few allies of the United States in the region, and Rosales joins Carlos Ortega (union boss behind the 2002 coup and the lock-out bosses strike of the oil industry in 2002-3), the ex-governor of Yaracuy, Eduardo Lapi (who broke out of prison while being held on charges of embezzlement and corruption – widely believed with the help of state officials – in 2007), as well as two participants in the 2002 mock insurrection/occupation of Plaza Altamira (in Eastern Caracas) by officers in the Venezuela National Armed Force. There are also rumors that Nixon Moreno, long a resident of the Vatican embassy in Caracas, wanted on (among others) sexual assault charges, has resided in Lima since his disappearance last year.

While the Venezuelan opposition (as well as the international media, and it would seem the Peruvian government) claims that the charges against Rosales are political in nature, that Rosales is being persecuted for publicly opposing the government of Hugo Chávez, there is scant mention of other high-profile corruption cases currently underway. Eduardo Manuitt, former Chavista governor of the state of Guarico (and former member of the PSUV) is being investigated for financial irregularities during his tenure, as is Juan Barreto, Chavista stalwart and former Mayor of the Municipality of Caracas (Barreto’s tenure was so lackluster that he was explicitly instructed by the PSUV directorate not to run for reelection in 2008. It is widely held that his poor performance was the direct cause of Caracas falling to Antonio Ledezma in the regional and local elections of that year). Final, Raul Baduel, Chávez’s former minister of defense is being investigated by the military over the disappearance of at least $14 million dollars from the defense budget during his time at the helm. Baduel, a long time supporter of Chávez, was associated with the ‘internal rightwing’ of Chavismo, an accusation bore out when he very publicly broke with the government in the lead up to the 2007 constitutional reform.


The most often levied criticisms of the Bolivarian government have to do with corruption and violent crime. Indeed, most people I have interviewed view corruption as a (regrettable) fact of life. I’ve often heard the refrain “they’re corrupt just like everyone, but we get good things accomplished in spite of them.”

A supervisor skims money from the top of a budget for a nice bottle of whiskey here, hires an underqualified relative there, attempts to turn his or her agency into a private fiefdom… What is more, Zulia is seen by many as the epicenter of the most egregious examples of corruption; Casinos along Maracaibo’s Malecón; kidnappings; the porous border with Colombia (and the lurking paramilitaries); the center of PDVSA, that ‘state within a state.’ Holding officials – elected or appointed – is long overdue, and needs to be accelerated. That is to say, according to radical strains within Chavismo, these sorts of investigations (and prosecutions) need to take place when officials are still in power, the long promised ‘revolution within the revolution’ cannot be put off any longer.

While these accountability measures are no doubt welcome to many, they are nonetheless tempered by the expulsion from the PSUV of Vilma Vivas, a Tachirense union director and tireless anti-corruption campaigner. In a statement released by Marea Socialista (MS) – a radical tendency within the PSUV – last week, the arbitrary expulsion of Vivas is described as a dangerous precedent and a roadblock to the formation of the PSUV as a democratic organ of revolutionary transformation. Given the lack of evidence or due process in her case – she was booted by Freddy Bernal almost out of nowhere – MS is forced to conclude that Vivas had become irksome to the directorate of the party.

Of course, these sorts of battles are evidence that the revolution remains alive, if indeterminate. The current context of global financial crisis and a more smiling-faced foreign policy in Washington do not bode well the Bolivarian project. In the near future, I will be posting a few thoughts on the emerging economic policy. While sober (certainly more so than those seen thus far in the US), the trajectory of the plans is ultimately conservative, shoring up the ample social gains the Bolivarian government has made in the past 10 years. In times like these, the ‘forces of right and order’ – the derecha endogena – find their hands strengthened, as are those of the corrupt. It will of course be the task of radicals like Vivas and MS to push through this potentially fatal contradiction on the path to 21st century socialism.

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