Archive for March 27th, 2008

Looking at the forest and the trees in the Barinas soap opera

March 27, 2008

The last few days, there has been a soap opera going on in the National Assembly surrounding the accusations by a little known Chavista Deputy whose name is Wilmer Azuaje, who has been presenting evidence against what in Chavez’ own Barinas State is called the Chavez royal family. The whole thing is much like a soap opera, because one needs to look at the big picture and the littel details to try to understand, if at all possible, what is going on there.

Azuaje is not very well known nationally, up to now he has been loyal to the revolution, so loyal in fact, that he has been named to the Board of the Assembly a couple of times with the unanimous support of its members. He has no known track record in any field, other than sucking up to the boss and politicking in his own Barinas State. One of his few appearances in public was the injunction he asked against a reporter for defaming him, The reporter accused him of having no known education, job, training, being an ignorant and having no qualifications despite which he had accumulated substantial wealth in the years he had been a Deputy of the National Assembly. The injunction was granted.

The Chavez royal family is referred to that way as Chavez’ father is Governor of Barinas State, the brother is Secretary of the State (Argenis) and another brother (Anibal) is Mayor of Sabaneta, a city in that same State where Chavze was born. There are others, Adeliz is President of Sofitasa a financial institution used to pay all of Barinas’ public employees, Narciso, who used to be in the Canadian Embassy and, of course, Adan, the educated one, Minister of Education). Recall that Chavez has always claimed he was poor when growing up, which is why he joined the Army. This is not strictly true, both his parents were high school teachers in a country where all teachers have the same salary, independent of where they live or are, just how many years they have taught. Moreover, Chavez has never explained how come his older brother Adan managed to enter the University of Los Andes before he joined the Army if poverty was an issue. They were not poor, but they were not rich either, just lower to middle class.

Azuaje all of a sudden got ambitious and sensing the weakness of the Chavez name in Barinas, decided he could be Governor. Thus, despite the express prohibition by Chavez for people to announce candidacies, Azuaje announced he was running in November. However, he also decided to go for the jugular and denounced the Chavez family for corruption, saying they have accumulated large pieces of land, most of which they keep in somebody else’s name.

He brought the evidence to the Comptroller’s Commission of the National Assembly and the stuff is apparently quite thorough, so much that they had to admit it as evidence and open an investigation.

But nothing is straightforward in the revolution. Despite being the accuser, the commission decided at the same session to investigate him for enrichment and there were even proposals to remove him of his parliamentary immunity. Deputies in Venezuela receive immunity agaisnt prosecution so that they can speak openly without being threatened at every step. Only the National Assembly can remove him of his immunity, mostly in criminal cases and this Assembly in particular has never gone that far.

But this is the President’s family, so Azuaje certainly has his work cut out for him.

What Azuaje charges is that the Chavez family has been accumulating land around the only farm they owned when Chavez became President in 1998, a farm by the name of La Chavera. La Chavera is not huge, a mere 30-40 Hectareas, but according to Azuaje, it had no cattle in 1998 and now has over 5,000 heads of cattle. (Except he also charges they were removed last week after he presented his first accusations).

Azuaje charges that la Chavera is now huge, as the royal family has accumulated the surrounding properties under other people’s names. More specifically, he says that La Chavera now has a person managing it, who goes by the name of Nestor Izarra. Izarra an employee of the Chavez family, with barely US$ 2,000 in the only account he has in the banking system, happens to be the new owbner of the neighboring farm La Malagueña, which happens to be almsost 600,000 Hectares in size, something like 20,000 bigger than La Chavera. Of course, everyone wonders and has wondered how the manager of the 30 Ha. farm could buy the 600,000 Ha one, a question that has been asked for a long time, but Azuaje is the first one to bring it up publicly.

Azuaje makes charges with as many as six farms surrounding La Chavera and even said Chavez daughter in law should be investigated, as she not only owns a farm but has about 5,000 heads of cattle to her name.

But let’s just focus on one aspect: The farm owned by the Manger of La Chavera, named La Malagueña, has 600,000 hectares. Well, according to Chavez’ controversial Land Bill, any farm over 5,000 Hectares is consider a large farm state and should be expropriated in revolution that has taken over a British owned farm called El Charcote, which “only” had 13,000 Hectares, but somehow, right under the eyes of the Chavez family, a neighboring farm has 600,000 Hectares and nothing has been done about it?

In fact, this weekend Chavez announced taht he was taking over a 65,000 Hectares farm in Apure state, one of the largest in the Nation, which in reality is small, because it spends four months of the year under water and barely has 10,000 heads of cattle.

But while everyone worries about Azuaje’s charges, nobody asks these bigger questions as to why these huge properties still exists next door to the Chavez family while useless properties (the one in Apure is mostly a nature preserve)

The answer is nobody cares. Today the Chavez family asked once again that Azuaje’s parliamentary immunity be removed and even Nestor Izarra claims he will prove how he acquired La Malagueña. I would bet Izarra does not even file income taxes, despite his apparent wealth.

In the end, this soap opera is about power (Chavez, his family and the Governorship) and not about fighting Latifundia (Large farm states) or social justice. It is in the end a Barinas family feud or Barinas Peyton Place. In fcat, I talked to a friend to find out who Chavez plans to run as his candidate for Governor in November and was not that surprised at the answer:

His mother Elena…

truly a Barinas family sopa opera