Lava Jato Chronicles

During her trial for corruption, the Brazilian woman behind Chávez's 2012 campaign reveals damning information about chavismo’s dark side.

We usually think of Nicolás Maduro as a comically inept doofus prone to confusing the words penises and breads in Spanish. Perhaps that’s why the picture we get from the recently released deposition of disgraced Brazilian campaign strategist Mônica Moura is so shocking.

According to Moura, like some tropical version of Tony Soprano, Maduro himself handed her suitcases full of cash at his office at the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry and at Miraflores Palace —an untraceable $11 million payment for Chávez’s 2012 reelection campaign.

Moura says she believes that Maduro was calling all the shots concerning campaign payments, and was extremely distrustful and controlling. The man described by Moura suggests a Maduro who is way cannier, more ruthless and smarter than the bumbling idiot of penes/panes fame.

In 2012, Hugo Chávez won reelection using an upbeat, polished and unquestionably superb reelection campaign that was 100% made in Brazil. Sometimes, I still hum this song unconsciously —against my better judgement. Every bit of it was devised by Moura and her husband, João Santana. The two were once star political strategists and have recently been convicted for money laundering under the now infamous Lava Jato corruption probe.

Judging by Moura’s testimony, what was happening backstage was way more interesting than anything in the videos produced by the campaign.

Moura says that, right from their first visit in 2011, they realized Chávez was already very sick with cancer.

Moura and Santana were personally asked by Lula to manage Chávez’s campaign. The headquarters of the campaign in Caracas were located in the posh Caracas Country Club neighborhood (Oh! the irony). The couple was supposed to get paid US$35 million for their work, for which the government always delayed and avoided the signing of a contract. Odebrecht paid US$7 million and Andrade Gutierrez (the Brazilian construction company carrying out several major projects in Venezuela) paid US$5 million more to Santana and Moura. This is in addition to the US$12 million in cash paid by Maduro for the campaign. Moura and Santana were never paid in full. The total sum was impossible to collect after Chávez’s death.

The key contact between Brazilian companies and Santana and Moura was the French-Venezuelan diplomat-cum-Hollywood producer Maximilian Sánchez Arveláez.

Moura says that, right from their first visit in 2011, they realized Chávez was already very sick with cancer.

An annex to the deposition includes an analysis made by Moura and Santana’s consulting firm in 2013 that describes an “ambiguous and tense” relationship between Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello. Although this is being reported as part of the testimony, by several outlets, it’ s not referenced in the deposition.

In any other country, even one with a high tolerance for corruption, this type of allegation would be explosive. But it’s become clear to everyone that Venezuela is run like a criminal organization and this goes way back to the Chávez era. When it comes to the rot at the heart of the state, nothing shocks us anymore.

I’m left to mull over Moura’s portrait of Maduro. It’s a scary reminder that the man who’s managed to survive and win the chavismo power Hunger Games, who has no qualms over the deaths of 48 protesters, or the thousands of arbitrary detentions, who would rather transform the country into a soviet republic than to negotiate a transition, will not go down without a fight.

It’s also a reminder that we have spent 18 years underestimating chavismo and it’s about time that we stopped.

César Crespo

Evil corporate lawyer. Amateur adult person. Political news junkie. Economics dilettante.