Julio (in) de Vido: The Kirchners' Man in Caracas

Today we have a Guest Post from CaracasChronicle’s Senior Buenos Aires Correspondent, Kim White:

So, wondering who Ramirito Valdés’s Argentinian doppelgänger is? It’s Planning Minister Julio Miguel De Vido, who’s just been appointed to head a special Argentinian technical mission to help fix Venezuela’s electric crisis (insert how-many-argentinos-does-it-take-to-change-a-lightbulb joke here). Despite the dozen-and-a-half Federal investigations for various alleged misdeeds he’s facing, De Vido remains one of the most trusted and loyal members of the ever diminishing Presidential couple’s “moustachioed” inner circle: the lynchpin to the Kirchner fundraising machine and, notoriously, the guy who invited one Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson to Argentina’s presidential palace for nibbles.

These days, his official title is Minister of Federal Planning, Services and Public Investment, but he’s so much more than that. He’s been with the K-couple since Néstor became Governor of Santa Cruz in 1991. His wife, Alessandra “Lali” Minnicelli, is also no stranger to public service: she was appointed in 2003 by Néstor as Síndaca Adjunta de la Sindicatura General de la Nación (SIGEN), in charge of the accountability of the Executive Power. After some mild political turmoil, she resigned in 2007, due to a more-than-obvious conflict of interests.

De Vido’s nickname, “el hombre de la caja”, was bestowed upon him by Elisa Carrió, one of this administration’s most ardent opponents. In 2004, De Vido sued Carrió for libel and slander. However, at Néstor’s insistence, he withdrew the charges a few months later. He is known to be the man in charge of the fundraising efforts for Néstor Kirchner presidential election, as well as the mastermind behind the expatriation of USD532 million of Santa Cruz public funds in 1993. Even though the government assures the money has been returned to the province, there are some serious doubts about it.

De Vido’s first claim to fame came with the Skanska corruption case became public in 2006. This scandal began with a bidding process for the construction of two gas pipelines. The project was given to Transportadora Gas del Norte, which took notice of the fact that Skanska, a Swedish energy firm, was paying some 152% of the normal price for such a project. To this day, De Vido maintains his innocence and deemed the scandal as a “corruption affair among private parties”. If I’m not mistaken, De Vido has 19 separate investigations pending in Argentina’s Federal Justice System.

His second moment in the spotlight was, of course, the “valija-gate”. According to Antonini Wison’s statements, it was De Vido himself who invited him to the Casa Rosada the day after Antonini entered the country with the infamous suitcase. Needless to say, De Vido denies any kind of involvement in the “valijagate” scandal and has stated that Antonini Wilson “es un chanta” (meaning, roughly, a douchebag). The opposition, has been asking for his resignation ever since. The official scapegoat for the scandal was Claudio Uberti, former Director of OCCOVI (Organo de Control de Concesiones Viales), who invited Antonini Wilson to board the charter flight.

All in all, De Vido is one of the most influential members of the current, and past, administration. The budget of MINPLAN is one of the most significant of the National Government and is in charge of several public trust funds. Yet, he cultivates a low profile and rarely gives public interviews or press conferences.

So why shove him off to Venezuela now?!

For the past weeks, the Argentine media has been focused on the remotion/resignation of Martin Redrado, former President of the Central Bank, and the subsequent designation of Mercedes Marcó del Pont, so De Vido’s assignment wasn’t given that much attention. Today La Nación published a very short commentary on the trip and considered it as another show of support towards Chávez. So this isn’t huge news in Argentina, other than as another show of Cristina’s government’s intentions to maintain a strong relation with Esteban’s regime.

If rumors about Ramiro Valdés are true, maybe it will be De Vido the one who will actually provide advisory on the energy crisis. In fact, the recent energy saving measures Chávez announced are not at all unlike some de Vido has implemented here.

Reporting from Buenos Aires, Kim White