Chavista groups fight over money and power

June 11, 2006

By now,
maybe Hugo Chavez wishes he had kept some institutional checks and balances in
place, as corruption and corruption scandals mount. Whatever the connection
between the various scandals, it is clear that there are some serious struggles
taking place within the Government and it is a struggle mostly over money and
power, in that order.

What lies
behind these fights is beyond me, but I can’t dismiss the removal of Justice
Velasquez Alvaray and the death of his right hand man that easily. To see it
significance, it is important to recall who Velasquez Alvaray was. He was a
Chavez friend and confidant, from his own state of Barinas who participated in all stages
of the Chavez Government, elected to Congress, the Constituent Assembly and the
National Assembly before being promoted to Justice of the Supreme Court.

Alvaray was very powerful, in charge of the much hailed “cleaning up” of the Venezuelan
Judicial system, single handedly removing more than 400 judges from their
positions, leaving some questionable ones in place, including recent law
graduates and even convicted murderers. (Some of those fired reportedly will now ask to be rehired) And then, one day out of the blue, he is
accused of corruption in the purchase of land for the a judicial compound in Caracas, in a
country where there have been clear cut cases of similar overpaying during the robolution (The Nobrega
case with the Citibank building, for example) with not even an investigation.

Velasquez Alvaray claims to have taped most telephone conversation and accuses
the Vice-President and the Minister of the Interior or getting rid of him. He
does not show up to defend himself at the National Assembly, leaves the country
and his right hand man, dies under confusing circumstances. (The police has not
confirmed it was a suicide). It is almost like something out of a John Grisham movie.

And his
right hand man was no slouch either. A good friend of Chavez since they were
young, Antonio Bazarate also worked closely with Chavez’ father in the Barinas
Governorship up to the day his friend Velasquez Alvaray called him to work for
him. Barinas is not only Chavez’ state, but also the one in which there seems
to have been the biggest corruption scandals in the last three months,
including the sugar processing plant that never was, the tomato plant that does
not even exist and now this.

And the
conflict over the issue is larger than many think. More than sixty Chavista
Deputies did not even show up for the vote in protest, including most of the
Barinas clan. Not one of them explaiend hisor her absence.

the sudden wealth of the Minister of the Interior’ brother is not investigated
(Velasquez Alvaray had long ago denounced him for asking him to deposit Supreme
Court funds in his bank). Few Governors (or the CNE!) do not follow the open public
bidding law, including Chavez’ father, but it is only an opposition ex-Governor who
is charged for it, a Chavista Deputy tells the world what we already knew that
the coop initiative has become simply a way of evading taxes and not paying
workers well (Makarem’s Petrozulia is one such coop), Fondafa has become a
source of corruption and commissions financing areas larger than Yaracuy state
while farmers there say they can’t get loans and anyone and everyone
surrounding the financial part of the state exhibits such wealth that we are no
longer talking about millions of dollars, but billions of them. You have read
here all of the schemes these members of the Government’s organized crime units use
to make money. Certainly not a pretty picture.

the trusted head of the foreign exchange control office CADIVI resigns, saying
that she is doing it because she “disagrees with the rest of the Board”. Rumors
have it that empty containers arrive regularly at Venezuela’s ports, simply empty as
part of massive fraud via CADIVI, while Chavez tells the new Head of CADIVI
that he wants fewer imports of old Scotch, since the “people” don’t drink it.
Of course, Venezuela imported US$ 24 billion of stuff, including not only old
Scotch, but also BMW’s and Mercedes Benz’, which are imported at the official
rate of exchange. After all, the new nouveau rich revolutionaries need to
satisfy their tastes too.

But right
hand men seem to be dropping dead all over the place. What started with the
right man of the General Prosecutor, Danilo Anderson, was followed up with the
right hand person of Francisco Ameliach and now Velázquez Alvaray’s second. I
guess nobody wants to be called Chavez’ right hand at this time, just in case.

In the
end, this putrefied picture of graft, corruption and murder can simply be
traced to the disappearance of checks and balances. Chavez controls everything,
but does not get involved in the details. He has allowed others to set up their
own fiefdoms of power and corruption, as long as they do what he wants and when
he wants it. But he let’s them be in between and they do not check on each
other unless they step over each other’s territory of graft or power. And that
is exactly what is happening today. Feudal lords encroached in their
positions are fighting over territory all over the place.Just this week, a suposedly close confidant of a Governor was reported by two newspapers to have been robbed from his apartment 18 million euros and 2 million dollars, all in cash.  And there are exchange controls! Ugly and suspicious indeed!

In the end
it is the absence of checks and balances that is haunting Chavez. He removed
them to do whatever he wanted, but he failed to understand that dictators and
autocrats need efficient control and his Government is anything but efficient
or even controlling of its own people. Power groups, both political and economical,
have sprung up all over the place and they seem to be enjoying the good life
and are willing to fight and apparently even to die for it. It is not only
Chavez that exhibits luxury in his surroundings and on him, it is all over the
place by now. Private airports are full of new jets and the owners are mostly
members of the new oligarchy, even if once in a while they let an old one buy
one too. Fancy cars are selling like hotcakes, but the old oligarchs don’t want
them for fear for their lives. Even suit salesmen are now carrying unheard of
top of the line $1,500 Italian suits in order to please the revolutionaries. This
had not happened since the days of ta’barato (In the 70’s the cheapest thing in
Venezuela was a buck and
Venezuelans would invade Miami
to shop, saying “ta’barato” (it is cheap), give me two)

Chavez faces some tough choices, but he is unlikely to do anything before December.
Whether the Chavistas without Chavez exist or not, or the midgets gang really exist, is hard to
tell, but Chavez needs at this time their support to get elected, as he spends
his time projecting himself abroad. For
now, the carnage is likely to continue, gangland style.

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