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Venezuela's Hugo Chavez & Patton Boggs LLP

By Gustavo Coronel, April 14, 2004


Patton Boggs LLP is an important Washington, DC based firm of legal and lobbying services. It acts and is duly registered as an agent of several foreign governments. It is also retained by dozens of U.S. corporations to defend their interests in the capital of the country, where the main branches of government are located. The firm has almost 400 lawyers and several of their partners sit on the Boards of important private corporations. In 1999 Patton Boggs took in some $18 million in lobbying fees from their clients, in addition to their considerable income from legal services. In 2002 it obtained an attractive contract from the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide, the now deposed President of Haiti, to help expedite the disbursement of monies from the Interamerican Development Bank to that country, although these disbursements from IDB to countries should not normally need the brokerage services of a third party. In January 2001 Patton Boggs threw a big party at the Hotel St. Regis, to celebrate the presidential inauguration of G. W. Bush but the corporation seems to cultivate a bi-partisan stance, not a bad idea considering the business they are in. Sometimes they seem to have taken unpopular clients like Alaska oil companies drilling in wildlife refuges or Guatemalan landlords reported by the press to be associated with the tragic killing of peasants. By and large, however, their clients seem to be legitimate corporations and organizations such as the African Coalition for Trade, the Beauty and Barber Supply Institute, the Cherokee Nation or the government of Oman. The law firm also advises or has ties with other companies in the same type of activity. Among these is Corporate Diagnostics LLC, led by Jack Kemp, the good friend of Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez and a main actor in the recent, unsuccessful, attempt by a little known U.S. based company to act as a go-between for the sale of an enormous volume of Venezuelan oil to the U.S. Strategic Reserve. This deal fell through due to its murky aspects and the lack of transparency prevailing at all levels, both in the Venezuelan and U.S. sides. However, the close friendship between Alvarez and Kemp and the relation of Kemp’s company with Patton Boggs might have been instrumental in the signing of the agreement between the Venezuelan government and this law firm. The agreement calls for a payment from the Venezuelan government of some $1.2 million per year in exchange for the services of said law firm to improve the image of the Chávez government in the U.S., specially before the eyes of the U.S. government. Coincidentally, this is a similar amount to the contributions made by the U.S. non-governmental organization National Endowment for Democracy to Venezuelan non-governmental organizations during the last three years, an amount that has been the object of much scandal by the Chávez financed media.

Having said that, I do not envy the task of Patton Boggs. Burnishing the image of Hugo Chávez in the U.S. without ordering Chávez to shut his mouth will be as difficult as trying to make a pigsty smell good by drenching it with a truck load of Chanel #5. You cannot change the underlying problem by covering it up. You would have to remove the roots of the problem.

I am sure that this is not what Patton Boggs can do. Their terms of reference will not include telling the supreme leader of the "revolution" how to talk and how to act. All they can do is damage control since Chávez will keep using his obscene language and bedside manners. In fact he just did it again today, during the "celebration" of the palace countercoup, which brought him back to power two years ago. He accused the U.S. government of neglecting racial minorities. It is apparent that his strategy to try to survive politically includes, more and more, the verbal abuse of the U.S. government. He already lost the first round when he thought Kerry would support his cause but Kerry proved to be even tougher than Bush in his assessment of the Venezuelan regime. Right now Chávez has no allies in the U.S., with the temporary exception of a few but well paid pressure groups and some individual hired guns. I say temporary because these groups and hired guns will abandon him as soon as the money stops flowing.

The image of Chávez in the U.S. will keep deteriorating, just as the picture of Dorian Gray kept getting more and more hideous as time went by. But, who cares in the Chávez camp? As long as the money that used to belong to us, the citizens of Venezuela, keeps going into sophisticated and willing foreign hands, there will be happiness in those circles, happiness directly proportional to the misery of the Venezuelan people.

$1.2 million per year could sure be useful to alleviate the plight of the 200,000 street children who roam aimlessly the cities of Venezuela, abandoned by their parents and by a State in the hands of a charlatan.

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