The speed demonstrated by the team of Juan Guaidó, the self-appointed, to seize State resources, is the most notable characteristic of these almost six months of the parallel government’s adventure, according to Victor Hugo Majano, a journalist specializing in investigative and data journalism.
Majano reviewed the Cucutazo (Guaido-Gate) and put it in the context of significantly larger ones, such as the virtual confiscation of Citgo in the United States, of Monomers in Colombia, and the creation of a financial and legal structure to transfer resources from frozen state assets in Europe.
In the conversation with the journalist Clodovaldo Hernández, from La IguanaTV, Majano also addressed the issue of the cliques of corruption that appear equally in relations with the revolutionary government and in these new formations.
The situation of peasant struggles and investigative journalism were other issues touched on in this interview. Next, the interview:
– How is the case of Cúcuta (Cucutazo) located in the context of the corruption generated in five months of the so-called “government in charge” of deputy Juan Guaidó?
-I believe that the Cucutazo is simply the lowest-level concrete derivative of the whole process. This was a “government”, if you can call it that, destined to appropriate the resources of the State, as any sector of the bourgeoisie does in any country. What this imitation of government allowed them was at the least to have access to a minimum of resources, which in absolute terms are of a very important order. We are talking about companies that generate permanent movements of money, both in the United States and in Colombia; we are talking about funds that are frozen, some of which we do not even know; we are talking about oil assets, in the case of the Caribbean, which they are also looking for ways to get their hands on… Obviously, then, what happened in Cúcuta is just the most concrete, most practical episode, of an operation of funds appropriation by those circumstantial managers.
– Is it a case of damage to public property? The question arises because the defense that the sector of the right is attempting is that it was a kind of theft only involving private money.
-Of course, what you have to ask yourself is on account of what was delivered that supposed humanitarian aid. These funds, obviously are not for free, but at some point will be returned or compensated, in gratitude to the donor. Then, it will end up being an element that affects the public patrimony because, whether the government of President Maduro is maintained or whether there is a modification in the structure of the government, the use of these funds will have an impact on the fiscal dynamics of the nation. In addition, if donors are not paid directly, it is known that there will be some mechanism of appropriation as compensation for the contribution.
-It seems that the Cucutazo is a distraction in the face of much more important situations, such as the virtual confiscation of Citgo in the United States, the situation in Monómeros, in Colombia, the freezing of bank assets and gold in Europe. Is it like that?
-Of course. It was probably designed as a distraction because even the warning comes from the same opposition sectors. The public positioning that was given to this scandal was thanks to a tweet from Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the OAS. It seems to be something designed, on the one hand, to detach itself in an inescapable form from Guaidó, to make it clear that he no longer interests them and that they sentence him to a political death for being corrupt, while trying to control the damage, as it is said in war terms. Additionally, they shift the focus of attention to Cúcuta, to an anecdotal topic, of liquor consumption, hotels and prostitutes, so that people forget the big deals that are taking place around Citgo; around Monomenos; to the operations associated with the assets of PDV-Caribe under the program of sale of fuel at a better price to the countries of the region that the government of President Chávez launched at the time. This also allows them to position their financial and legal structures in Europe that guarantees them to receive transfers of commissions, interest or dividends on assets that are frozen there, such as the deposits found in Euroclear. That type of structure was already used in the case of Libya, when that country also froze funds in 2011. It is not something that is being invented by the Guaidó team, it was already pre-designed and there is already a specific experience on how to do it.
– Is it a model of looting?
- Yes, with the participation of important Venezuelan bankers, linked to the banking frauds of 1994 and 2009-2010, when the two major banking crises took place in Venezuela.
-If you compare the amounts involved, Cúcuta ends up being a trifle because there they appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe a few million, while in the cases of Citgo, of Monomers, of the gold retained in England it is about billions of dollars stolen in public property. It is important to clarify that difference.
- Yes, those of Cúcuta perhaps were expenses of an operational character. But, in any case, they were very ostentatious. In the conversations intercepted on Mr. (Roberto) Marrero’s cell phone (Guaidó’s chief of staff), they talk about fabulous amounts of 75 thousand dollars per day. They say “I have 70 thousand today and tomorrow” … If someone spends 70 thousand dollars in a day, we must see what things they are consuming. In the case of Cúcuta there were notable aspects, such as the leasing of airplanes for the South American tour, which covered Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, with sections in which two planes were used, a 13-person delegation, including people who do not have anything to do with political activity. In any case, the manner in which that episode was handled was evidently a very big waste. It is obvious that the difference between the amounts committed is very large compared to the other cases, which have required greater financial and legal engineering to appropriate the funds. That’s what they’re doing. We have several samples of it. For example, there is a character that was part of the South American tour, a cousin of Mr. Guaidó named Juan Víctor Salcedo Márquez, who went from being a tour guide at the Red Sox stadium in Boston to having a seemingly gigantic company, with immense capital, in London. There he is hiring nothing more and nothing less than two outstanding lawyers linked to the banking sector. One of them is related to the son of David Brillembourg, the same one of the famous Tower of David, that ruin, that dispossession of the bank failure, people who managed at the time to take funds out of the country, and maintain operations in banks in the Caribbean and in Europe. One of its main executives, a kind of vice president, was incorporated into the board of directors of this company called Fivendes Ltd, which was opened by Guaidó’s cousin in London. What is the purpose of that company? We do not know, but it seems to be a kind of positioning to transfer or receive assets from the Venezuelan funds that they are managing in Europe and through Citgo.
-You have journalistically investigated cases like this one, in which the opposition appears to be involved, but also other cases, from the government of President Chávez and the government of President Maduro. Now there is a kind of competition, especially as part of the right’s defense attempt: something like saying that what has happened is nothing compared to the corruption cases of the last 20 years. How do you see it as an investigator?
-Undoubtly, the amounts that have been handled in cases of corruption during these twenty years of chavismo are very important. The impact of this appropriation of funds is also very important, because we are talking about a very long time. But the big difference in this case is the speed of appropriation of resources. These people (Guaidó and those who accompany him) came for that. They came specifically for that. In fact, it gives the impression that they had armed the operators to locate the assets, assembled the legal and financial experts in each of the countries … Everything was designed some time ago, because setting up companies, setting up financial structures for money laundering is not simple. If one, personally, has trouble doing administrative procedures, imagine how difficult it is to build an organization to appropriate that amount of money.
-It is an unprecedented model in Venezuela in the sense that it is applied by a parallel government, equivalent to that Transition Board that was invented in Libya …
- Sure, that’s why this transitional scheme has been applied. Before the inauguration of Guaidó as president of the National Assembly, which was on January 10, things such as the Transition Statute, funds to collect assets recovered from corruption, were being approved … they were assembling the entire transitional structure that would allow them to operate in terms of there being two governments. That is a little bit like what continues to happen in Libya, where there are effectively two governments: one recognized by international authorities, and another in fact, led by a general who took control of the armed forces. In that process of two governments, there have been funds that have been transferred to one or another faction. What is sought is to take advantage of that duality, that instability, to appropriate assets. There are even cases in which the argument for appropriation (by other governments or individuals) is to say that they do not know whom to pay. That’s what the Dominican Republic is claiming. The refinery that Pdvsa built with the Dominican government, which was jointly operated with a 49% Venezuelan participation. Now a Dominican is selling the plant and says she does not know who to pay. For the same reason they have retained funds that are part of the profits obtained in 2017 and 2018. In these cases of the Caribbean, by the way, it is observed what the true interest of the Guaidó team is. If money is available, the action is immediate. In the case of Jamaica, there is a refinery in the same situation as in the Dominican Republic, only that the Jamaican government decided to make a forced acquisition of PDVSA’s shares, to avoid US sanctions. PDVSA did not object, but asked for a payment close to 100 million dollars, to which Jamaica agreed. The funds are in a bank, waiting for the transfer. That motivated the immediate action of the Guaidó team, to try to stop the process and avoid the expropriation because they need to look for a negotiation scheme in which they can take control of those funds.
-It seems that, in the end, the factors of corruption are the same, which are independent of the political origin they may have had.
-That is an interesting fact to analyze. It seems that the conflict, in the end, is not political, but is linked to the economic interests of the same sectors that have always seized the resources of the State or have always tried to do so. That is why we see cases like the one that occurs, for example, with the Troconis Calderón family. They were operators in the Jose Cryogenic complex, handling the waste from the processing of heavy oil, and now one of its members, Javier Troconis Calderón, is one of the members of the current Citgo board. That is to say that contractors of the PDVSA roja-rojita (Chavista), as they say, are now directors of the Citgo that has been taken under the control of the “government” of Guaidó. So, it does seem that they are the same actors, that know what key to play in order to appropriate public resources, of all Venezuelans, at any cost.
The landowners advance
– Another of the topics that you have dealt with in depth as a research journalist is that of peasant struggles. What is the current situation of the peasantry compared to those times when the process of rescuing land began?
-It is evident that there has been an advance, in political terms, of the actors of the regional bourgeoisies, who are basically agrarian bourgeoisies, linked to the exploitation of resources. These bourgeoisies have been advancing in the sense that their alliances with the political groups of local power have been improved. The model of Chavismo linked to the appropriation of land, which is the content of the Land Law, has been distorted and the claim is now simply to give possession of these lands to the regional bourgeoisie groups so that they, in alliance with transnational capital, can offer an alternative of food production, to which we are pressured by the problems generated by the blockade and what we have called economic war. Obviously, in that same measure, the possibility of strengthening the model of peasant and family agriculture, which was the idea of President Chávez, has been increasingly displaced. Evidently, the bureaucratic apparatus has tended to favor the interests of the landlords. To the extent that the national State, with its main source of foreign exchange income, which is oil, has been losing the strength it had, its specific weight, has strengthened the option for the regional bourgeoisie to obtain resources, either for agricultural exploitation or non-metallic minerals, which are not of a national character. The possibility that these resources mean income for the nation, but are controlled by the local power groups, which can carry out more intensive exploitation, has become more acute.
Difficulties to investigate
-You are one of the pioneers of investigative and data journalism in Venezuela. This field has had great development in recent years, but it seems to be still controlled by important national and global power factors. What is your opinion?
-I believe there are many situations that impact the possibility of knowing processes that occur in front of our eyes, but that we do not realize they are happening. Perhaps it is an absolutely hostile agenda, in which people are more occupied with their own survival than in realizing who is developing some economic activity. We see things that happen in the cities or in the fields and we do not know who is behind that business. Nobody asks, nobody knows anything, and asking is looking for complications. There is a tendency to restrict access to public databases, for example, the National Registry of Contracting. It also limits vital information such as economic statistics and other branches. It has been absolutely traumatic to obtain such figures because the State has even evaded the possibility of defining a policy in this regard. The great challenge is in cognitive terms. We have to struggle not to get away from the possibility of knowing those phenomena that are constantly occurring.
-How is the data being obtained, then, by a research journalist?
-Of course that can be done because we are talking about transactions that are leaving records: public documents that support operations, exchanges that occur between the parties involved. This allows us to locate them through auditable and open information of a public nature. There is no greater threat because we have more and more resources, more expertise and more people doing it. I am more concerned about what happens on the scale of citizens because it seems that there is an absolute divorce between what is happening and the agenda of the people. We used to say “small town, big hell” because everyone knew what was going on anywhere. Right now you can ask in any small city what happened to such a crime or such a case and it turns out that many people have not even heard about what happened, they do not know who the actors are. In other countries, the press of the heart has great strength, which explores the intimate life of important people, artists or entrepreneurs, but in Venezuela that has hardly developed or stopped developing many years ago. Then we have a bourgeoisie and layers of power absolutely camouflaged, hidden, we do not know who they are. If you ask public officials or people with decision-making capacity, he doesn’tt know what you are talking about or who the actors are behind the measures that he himself id taking and that will surely have a favorable or unfavorable impact on the course of his political management, the activity of his social environment, his region, state or his country. There is a very big weakness in terms of how in our role as people, as citizens, we get involved and demand access to information on the developments that affect our day to day life.
-What can you tell us about those media that claim to be doing investigative journalism, but that are selective and only address cases that may affect the Bolivarian Revolution or other progressive governments in Latin America? In the case of the Panama Papers, for example, when they began to give their true information, which affected power groups other than these, the issue began to lose importance.
-Of course, because in the end, it is very easy to poison or debase data journalism and research in broader, generic terms. Simply by doing more or less emphasis on one or the other aspect, you are going to create the tendency of who is the corrupt one, of who is involved. You can select information in a very precise, almost surgical way, so as not to see corruption processes as they are, as a systemic phenomenon, with a coherence and industrial procedures, but as something anecdotal. Something like what is happening with the case of Cúcuta.
Translated by JRE/EF