According to an explosive new report in the Miami-based PanAm Post, funds raised by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó‘s Popular Will party have been used in a massive fraud and embezzlement scheme.
On 22 February, a smaller-than-expected crowd on the Colombian-Venezuelan border fell victim to an unexpected rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine by Richard Branson. The scene was the culmination of Venezuela Aid Live: an open-air concert bankrolled by Branson in an alleged attempt to raise money for suffering Venezuelans.
The event was strategically organised the day before USAID ‘humanitarian aid‘ trucks planned to cross the border into Venezuelan territory. One million Venezuelan volunteers would assist in the aid’s crossing, the plan claimed, and the Venezuelan opposition would secure mass military defections.
But the plan ultimately failed in various areas. The ‘aid’ trucks never made it into Venezuelan territory; military defections were in the hundreds rather than thousands. And the US later suffered a painful propaganda blow when the New York Times revealed opposition-aligned thugs had set much of the aid alight with Molotov cocktails.
The Venezuelan opposition’s management of events that followed has now resulted in an embarrassing corruption scandal.
Two officials connected to Guaidó, Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas, were in charge of organising the military defectors’ expenses in Colombia. But as the leak revealed, they “started to live well outside their means”. As Alexander Rubinstein reported for Mint Press News:
Rojas and Barrera were spending nearly a thousand dollars at a time in the hotels and nightclubs. Similar amounts were spent at times on luxurious dinners and fancy drinks. They went on clothes shopping sprees at high-end retail outlets in the capital. They reportedly overcharged the fund on vehicle rentals and the hotels, making off with the extra cash.
And while they spent recklessly, the defected soldiers – who were promised amnesty and shelter – were evicted from hotels as funds dried up.
Rojas and Barrera are also accused of having falsified payments, and “inflating the number of soldiers under their responsibility” to collect more funding. And quite remarkably, it appears likely that Guaidó knew what was going on the whole time.
The full amount of money embezzled by Guaidó’s party is not yet known. It is also unclear where all of the money originally came from. Though there are major question marks over Venezuela Aid Live’s appropriation of funds raised, a representative told The Canary that none were used in the embezzlement racket.
Much of the food donated by foreign governments, meanwhile, was reportedly left to rot on the Colombian side of the border. And not knowing what to do with it, Popular Will associates discussed eventually burning it.
Venezuelan authorities have now opened a criminal investigation into Guaidó for his role in the scandal, on top of an ongoing investigation in Colombia. Even OAS general secretary Luis Almagro, who has generally backed the coup attempt, has called for an investigation into the “serious charges”.
In what looks like a damage control operation, Guaidó took to Twitter to claim: “It is dictatorships that hide corruption. Not us.” Notably, this was only after the information became public.
This scandal, at the time of writing, has barely received any coverage in the UK corporate press. Given the UK media’s fawning coverage of Guaidó after he declared himself Venezuelan president, this is quite remarkable. (The Telegraph appears to be the only UK corporate media outlet covering this.)
And as of writing, Guaidó’s party appears to be tied to yet another developing corruption scandal involving Citgo, the subsidiary company of Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA). The story relates to an alleged accounting fraud of US$70m.
Perhaps not just the food is rotten, but also Guaidó’s political project.
Featured image via Flickr/The White House
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?