The Fortress

In a government marked by opacity, CADIVI stands alone for its total data impenetrability.

Even when set against other opaque government agencies, Cadivi stands alone and cloaked in shadow.

I’ve spent much of the past five years entreating various Venezuelan bureaucrats to share data for research purposes—sometimes successfully, other times laughed out of the room. Either way, at ministry after ministry, and even at the Central Bank, I’ve always had a shot, a chance, a foot in the door.

Always, that is, except at Cadivi.

Last February I traveled to Caracas expressly to speak with an actual human being inside the agency. I started with the caminos verdes, asking friends to put me in touch with any Cadivi employee they knew: even a security guard, I told them, a janitor, an IT guy. This failed, so I turned to the caminos not-so-verdes. I scoured old newspaper articles for names of Cadivi officials and then looked up those names in the CANTV whitepages. I cold-called. Most people who answered thought that I was crazy. Then, at one house, a friendly voice told me that I had the right number—but that I was looking for his son, a former Cadivi employee who had moved to Colombia. So I called Colombia. No dice. In short, I pulled out all the stops, including this one: if you have ever worked at Cadivi, I would love to hear from you.

Without inside information, my coauthor Bobby Gulotty and I are currently using Cadivi’s public data (this, for example)—together with data and interviews from less-impenetrable parts of the government—to try to understand who really profited from the dollar giveaway. 

It’s better than nothing, and on good days I feel that we’ve learned something, that we’ve found a window onto the story of Chavismo. Other days, I feel that we have only a keyhole, and catch flashes of the scene without the full picture. That’s when I want a hammer to break down the door.