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Banditry flourishes under the Venezuelan Revolution

By Gustavo Coronel

For more than two months now, two blocks away from the Venezuelan National Assembly and a few meters from the offices of the Foreign Ministry, an office run by a group of Chávez followers who call themselves "Guardians of the Fatherland" purports to help foreign persons to legalize their stay in our country. In order to do that, they charge each hopeful a modest amount of money, some $10, and hand out to him/her an envelope containing a card of the government party suggesting that, by becoming a member of the party, he, she will improve their chances of becoming a legal resident. The "manager" of this creative venture, a Mr. Maximo Fernandez, candidly asserts that they are doing these foreigners a favor, since the official government agency takes too much time to act. He is not conscious of violating the law by running a parallel immigration office. He feels a valuable member of the revolution and says that Lina Ron, a female activist in favor of Chávez, protects them. It can easily be estimated that the income generated by this illegal office can reach significant amounts. commentarist Patrick O'Donoghue reports some 772,000 "clients" attended, a number, which seems grossly exaggerated. But even if the number were 5000 "clients," they would have paid the bandits operating the agency some USD $50,000 which in today's Venezuela is a lot of money.

The Minister of the Interior, General Lucas Rincon, who cannot speak more than two words coherently, said that the office is illegal and not authorized by the government . . . but no action is taken to put the bandits in prison. A group of detectives sent to visit the place had to retreat, after being surrounded by a hostile crowd. Mr. Fernandez also claims that the majority of the foreigners looking for legal residence documents are followers of Chávez and that the President will soon decree that all of them should become instant citizens.

Meanwhile the official Identification and Immigration offices have no materials or passports to work with. A Venezuelan desiring to travel is given a piece of pink paper that serves as a temporary passport. The head (in every way) of the agency, Mr. Hugo Cabezas, says that they have given residence papers to 950 persons during this year but forecasts that, by December, some 10,000 foreigners will get their papers. It sounds rather optimistic of Mr. Cabezas to assume that, in two months, they will do ten times as much work as they have done since January. Mr. Cabezas, by the way, has been the head of the office for all of a month.

This is just one example of how the "bolivarian" revolution has become a hotbed of bandits. The military officers loyal to Chávez are being given control over food and gasoline distribution agencies, in which millions of bolivars find their way into the wrong pockets. Only those who become too greedy or suspect of political disloyalty are punished. A report by journalist Marianella Salazar (El Nacional, 05-11-2003, page A5) describes how General Ernesto Rodriguez, separated from his job for corruption, has involved other officers such as General Wilfredo Silva in the murky management of MERCAL, the food distribution chain of Chávez.

The different "Missions" created by the government to give high school diplomas to about 400,000 Venezuelans in two years, to allow all High School graduates to enter college (a practical impossibility due to lack of infrastructure) and to teach one million Venezuelans how to read and write in four months are some of the mechanisms through which the followers of Chávez are filling their pockets, since these plans have no organization, no transparency and no accountability. At the end of the day these bandits will retire to South Florida or other such paradise, leaving behind those thousands of frustrated Venezuelan youngsters who believed in empty promises.

Money going into PDVSA, from petroleum sales, is being diverted to the construction of houses or, rather, to the payment of friendly contractors who obtain the money but do not build the houses. PDVSA money is also being used to finance some of the plans above mentioned, money which will end up in the pockets of the revolutionaries.

This is probably not the revolution that Chávez envisaged. He might have had other things in mind but reality has taken over. His ignorance and his lack of administrative skills have converted the revolution into a nest of bandits. These bandits are today running our country.


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