Photo: Panam Post retrieved.

“So I’d get a call, with the name of a motel. Usually it was a love hotel, one of those mataderos on the Panamericana. I’d be given a time, a room number, and specific instructions on which entrance to use. I’d be warned not to bring a phone. I’d drive there at the appointed time, let myself into the room, sit, and wait. 45 minutes, or an hour later, the guy would arrive, using a different entrance. We’d have our meeting, then to leave we’d have to go through the whole thing again: different exits, at least 45 minutes apart. It was madness.”

I heard the story about a decade ago, from an opposition politician whose name you’d recognize. He wasn’t having an affair. He was fundraising, from a leading Venezuelan businessman.

Tightening the financial noose around opposition political groups was part of the chavista game plan from the start.

The precautions were necessary because both knew that SEBIN was carefully monitoring who was meeting with whom, and who was financing whom. It was the era of ¡Exprópiese! and being identified as an opposition financier painted a fat target on your business. Opposition leaders had to jump through insane hoops to raise the cash they needed to run their organizations.

It was hard. And getting harder. In time, it became impossible.

Back in 1999, when the new Constitution was approved, public funding for political parties was banned. The main way political parties had been financing their operations since 1961 was cut off overnight. Tightening the financial noose around opposition political groups was part of the chavista game plan from the start.

I thought about the story about the Panamericana motel a lot last week, as the drama of Raúl Gorrín’s downfall played out.

Although the vast bulk of the money Raúl Gorrín had stolen and of the politicians he’d bought were clearly on the government side, it’s long been rumored that Gorrín was careful to spread his bets. In this, he was far from alone. Having shut down public funding and put unbearable pressure on traditional, opposition-linked financiers, the government succeeded in starving opposition parties almost entirely of funding. Into this breach stepped the Raúl Gorríns of this world: regime-connected businessmen with (stolen) money to spend, and a pressing need to hedge in case of regime change.

If you were a party leader, chances are that—unless you were independently wealthy—you’d have little choice but to accept some of these offers. Politics costs money, running a political organization costs money, and with normal sources of funding entirely shut down you really didn’t have a choice.

From SEBIN’s point of view, letting those relationships develop was all upside. On one level, having the Gorríns of this world served as kompromat: you could always air out the allegation if you needed to put pressure on that leader. On another level it was leverage: control a party’s funding stream and you have outsized say in its political line. And even if the likes of Gorrín weren’t quite regime officials, they were under enough influence from the regime that they could be pushed around if need be.

From SEBIN’s point of view, letting those relationships develop was all upside.

If the rumors are right, Henry Ramos Allup and Acción Democrática may be the most exposed to the downfall of Raúl Gorrín, though likely not the only ones. Henry’s detractors in the opposition had a grand old time teasing him about AD’s total silence on the Gorrín scandal, but this is enormously shortsided. Aside from a handful of leaders of independent means, virtually everyone in the opposition is likely entangled in unspeakable financial relationships with Gorrín-style cronies.

This is no accident. And it’s not because they’re all corrupt. It’s because the regime set out to create conditions where it was impossible to participate in political life unless you were willing to establish those kinds of relationships.

So laugh at Henry Ramos all you want—it’s fun!—but try to remember: you could probably fit the Venezuelan politicos not similarly compromised in a VW bug.

Gorrín was just one player in a game designed to make sure no one who opposes the regime is clean. That’s how chavismo rolls: a machine for ensuring everybody in the country is, to some degree, complicit in its crimes. Ensuring no one is entirely blameless is how they keep power.  

The rage you feel when you think about Gorrín’s stolen money flowing into the organizations who speak for the opposition is no accident. That rage has been engineered. Your rage against the opposition is part of the government’s plan.

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  1. You are exactly right about everyone being complicit and guilty. But, that guilt is not designed for only the highest levels. The system is designed so that EVERYONE, down to ordinary people bachequeando or matando tigres, is guilty of something! The person that the regime fears most is the truly innocent man. That is why the protesters are mostly the young. They haven’t yet been compromised by the system, and still have the moral foundation from which to express their rage at the injustice. But, that never lasts long…

  2. “Back in 1999, when the new Constitution was approved, public funding for political parties was banned.” I would love to see a piece on the financing of political parties in Venezuela, both pre and post 1999 and hope vs reality.

  3. Youur article conflates two issues. Bribibg officials for favorable foreign exchange privileges is a crime. Donating funds to a political party especially where there is no punlic support cannot be a crime. You do your readers,a disservice by not making these distinctions. If I missed something I apologize.

    • If you are donating stolen money, the political recipient is in possession of stolen property. That’s a crime in most places. The only exception is if you bona fide thought that the money was honestly earned.

    • “Donating funds to a political party especially where there is no public support cannot be a crime.”

      Precisely the point made in the article. Otherwise why would a respectable businessman have to meet in a no tell motel to make a contribution?

      From my limited experience of the subject, I can say that donations to political parties pre 1999 were by necessity also hidden from sight as they were considered illegal then since public financing was the only approved source of funds. They occurred, for sure, but were usually well hidden enough to avoid denunciation (everyone knew who gave how much to whom, but everyone also made believe it wasn’t happening). There were “dinners” with candidates and pols, with the usual rubber chicken for food, in public spaces such as hotel ballrooms where everyone knew where the money was going, yet no one was accused. Or “in kind” contributions with the quid and the quo separated by an election.

      Our business did contribute back then, to both sides, though AD got more than COPEI ever did. How it was handled from an accounting perspective by political parties is anyone’s guess but they sure couldn’t have survived then without them. Even less so now. And yes, we did it because that is how you did business. Didn’t like it but that was the game, then.

      I can say this: Back in 2012-2013 I was in touch with the Capriles campaign about raising money overseas for both runs, plus looking at 2015’s legislative elections.

      At first, great interest. Soon however, it was made clear somebody big had stepped up and I was told the effort would not be needed. They had, in their words:”Taken care of the need to raise money outside for the effort.”

      No doubt somebody “Brique’d” it…………

  4. The article brings to light and explains a mechanism I was unaware of. (I think I go with Crispin that much of Gorrin’s “distributions” didn’t have a lot to do with political party funding, but an example is an example, and those are always imperfect, intended only as examples.) In the article, the old saying that one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel is brought to a living example of how that works. It adds insight.

  5. “That’s how chavismo rolls: a machine for ensuring everybody in the country is, to some degree, complicit in its crimes. Ensuring no one is entirely blameless is how they keep power. ”

    Exactly, this is what I’ve been writing here for months. Part of the integral Castro-Chavista Master Plan, designed with special care in Havana. You strangle private business (‘expropiese’, exchange controls), force millions of professionals or malcontents overseas, impoverish the entire population, and force them to Enchufarse somehow, participate in some Guiso, becoming complicit, cupable, more docile, totally dependent. When there was money around, some of the stolen money would trickle-down to the countless ‘ministries’ and alcaldias, freebies were distributed. People knew this, but accepted it.

    As Roy commented here, it’s not just the opposition that was tricked into becoming dependent and complicit, and yes, corrupt, culpable. Not just the military and all ‘authorities’. Not just Chavista politicians and followers and Enchafados. Almost EVERYONE, as Roy says and I’be been saying for months. Thus the name “Kleptozuela”, corruption is literally everywhere, including among the paralyzed ‘opposition’. Part of the Castro-Chavista sinister plan.

  6. I didn’t know that public funding of political campaigns was outlawed in 1999. How can that be? And the people thought this was a good thing?

  7. Easy to see how Ramos Allup, Capriles and other weasels were infiltrated by the narco-regime, became complicit, divided and virtually disappeared. I bet many among this bogus opposition actually became personally rich, ultimately using Chavista filthy ‘political contributions’ for themselves. Ramos Allup and Capriles are probably living the good life, with plenty of properties in the Caribbean under other names for resale in years to come. That, Mr Toro, is called theft and Corruption, make no mistake about it.

    Oh, and the entire Asamblea Nacional from the ‘opposition’, how to they make a living? Bachaqueando or with Chavista “contributions”? Borges apparently lives very well in Colombia, where does his income come from? Venezuelan Tax payers? A good salary from President Duque? A sudden inheritance from his wealthy family? I doubt it.. He was probably also bribed by the regime, to silence him a bit and extradite him.

    Maria Corina Machado, however, how does she make a living? She has an entire political party with dozens of employees. She travels a lot in Vzla. Who pays for all of that? Another inheritance or the CIA? I’d like to know what her monthly party expenses are, plus personal expenses, and where does the money come from.

    • Leopoldo López, María Corina Machado and Henrique Capriles were all born in rich families. How rich, I don’t know, but at least into the few millions of dollars. Enough that none has had to work to make ends meet, although I don’t think any of the three has enough to finance a presidential campaign on their own. Even if Capriles’ family has a lot of money, I don’t think they had enough to pay the tens of millions of dollars needed for the 2012 or 2013 campaigns (which is why I wouldn’t be surprised if Capriles’ took money from Odebretch to pay for the campaign). Machado and Lopez haven’t had to finance a full presidential campaign yet, but if and when their times comes, I’m sure they’ll need to take money from others.

      They’re not the only ones in the opposition coming from rich families. There are others, but they’re the most high-profile cases.

      • A bit more context. Capriles Radonski: remember the Radonski cinema Chain? That one. And I believe the Capriles have money too.
        Leopoldo Lopez MENDOZA. Not the same Mendozas as Polar, I believe, but the others, the family of Eugenio Mendoza.

      • “Not the same Mendozas as Polar, I believe, but the others, the family of Eugenio Mendoza.” The Cement Mendozas.

        All three come from moneyed families. We could debate endlessly over whether this one or that one’s grandparents were schemers or whatnot, but the bottom line is that as far as politicians go they are likely the “cleanest” ones around.

        Say what you will about Capriles, I still give him a passing grade on honesty in office. Pretty sure his “the times of God are perfect” passed him by a while ago, but I don’t doubt his intentions (remembering he is a pol, after all)

        Leopoldo would be the best choice, IMHO, for any kind of transition, but I ain’t holding my breath.

        MCM not only came from money, she also married into it. AFAIK, nothing to hide or be ashamed of and a lot to be proud of. I’d love to see her in the presidency.

  8. Francisco Toro says, about opposition leaders taking money from the corrupt narco-regime:
    “This is no accident. And it’s not because they’re all corrupt. It’s because the regime set out to create conditions where it was impossible to participate in political life unless you were willing to establish those kinds of relationships”
    Frankly I find this kind of reasoning totally unacceptable. What kind of a person can write this, unless forgiving of corruption for the sake of being “realistic”? Realistic, in Chavez/Maduro times, is just an euphemism for “I couldn’t care less”, if not worse.

    • Gustavo, in Venezuela, it’s always mostly been “impossible to participate in political life unless you were willing to establish those kinds of relationships (LL Jr. himself, for example, was financially backed initially by funds extracted from PDVSA while his mother was working there).

  9. Just how deluded and how much of an apologist can you be? This is the same as blaming society when el muchachito sale malandro.

    But of course, we must do mental gymnastics before even trying to conjure the words to even dare to imply that all those mealy mouthed politicians who all play at the government’s tune may in fact, just maybeeeee, be controlled opposition. But nonsense saying that wouldn’t be PC. We must ignore those silly things called facts and support the politicians the government and all the nice people from the UCV and UCAB tell us is OK to support, after all, we don’t want to be called radicals now, don’t we?

  10. There is a big difference between bribing people and extorting them , in both cases money is given and recieved but in the case of extortions either you try and survive to carry on the fight and in the other you exchange favours that allow you not just to survive but to make a profit … me having to submit to extortion is no crime while bribing someone is….

    • While I do understand your comment, but you are drawing a very fine line. The only real difference is who suggested the transaction first. Done correctly, it is like a successful seduction; when it is over, no one is really sure who made the first move.

      • Roy Im speaking from friends experience , people who could only get paid what they were owed by paying someone to allow the payment to be made or who sold certain articles as part of their business but would not get the required permits unless money changed hands , the passing of money was not a free act but an act of coercion , some companies with a lot of money woould take the high road and never pay an extortion , in Peru for example if you worked for IBM and sold govt your equipment , you would never get full payment unless the palm of some officials was greased ……, some systems are so corrupt that they only way of doing what should be for free is to pay ……have a friend who wanted to get his kids their passports and was told to go somewhere in guarico to get them and to be sure to bring their ID cards , when he got there they said everything was fine except that his kids didnt have the ID cards ( which they had just presented) because the digital platform did not say that they had been delivered ….so they couldnt be handed their passports , being a very honest person he was in a quandary , so his driver told him to leave the matter to him , that he would fix it , a few days latter he was presented with his kids passports ………the driver never told him how he did it , but he got it done , yu can guess how !!

        • Bill,

          I am speaking from personal experience in many countries. The first time I was extorted to pay a bribe, it was a hard decision. I felt like I was selling out. I could see that it was the only way to achieve my goals, but it galled me. The second time I didn’t agonize over it so much. After awhile, I just accepted that that was how to get business done in that particular place. All I was doing was playing the game by their rules.

          Did I like it? No. But, I wasn’t going to cut my throat over it either.

  11. I still do not understand why CC emphasizes Gorrin over Andrade. We now have seen two stories in re Gorrin but none about Andrade exvept gor a brief and cursory desctiption of his involvement in illicit foreign exchange transactions. Andrade was a body guard for Chavez who received, he confessed, a BILLION in bribes in a pay to play scheme whereby the bribers engorged themselves in corrupt foreign exchange transactions sufficiently to be able to pay just one government official one billion dollars. Just imagine how much money was made by Gorrin and others, many, many others who bribed their way to get favorable currency exchange rates. It may have earned them collectively billions. Isn’t this the main story that historians will document, namely that a decidely socialist political party raped the people of Venezuela while proffessing their sole purpose was to liberate them from the clutches of the rich and powerful. The Chavistas may own the Venezuelan record for the riches it stole. Instead of that story we get to read anecdotes about how a sliver of that illicit motherlode ended up in the pockets of the out of power opposition. I don’t have an explanation for this choice to cover Gortin over Andrade and perhaps one day Quico will explain that to us. Maybe there is an Andrade story on the oven renderingbthis critizm premature.

  12. Mr Toro seems to be making excuses for all Venezuelan politicians who took money from regime enchuufados just because that was the only way to get money: with the blessing of the regime.
    Well, if this is not corruption, I don’t know what is: the government keeps the tabs on who takes how much and there is political leverage to co-opt them into playing the game of “let’s pretend there is democracy in Venezuela”.
    Under the same logic its OK for Capriles to take money from that other government crony: Marcelo Odebrecht. Like Gorrin buying himself some influence with Ramos Allup (and Allup being related to the infamous Bolichicos only shows that the game was on for a very long time), Odebrecht was buying himself some leverage over Capriles.
    Capirles, Gorrin, Allup, Odebrecht…. and many many more, all excused in the eyes of Mr Toro just because, you know, we have to take money from someone.

    • Hey, I’m just explaining to you the realities of running a political party in Venezuela under dictatorship.

      Of course, you do have a choice. If you don’t want to raise money from compromised figures, you can try to run a party on a zero-budget. People have tried it. You’ve never heard of them. Because it’s impossible to get any kind of national profile with zero money. And so the fact that a national political figure has some kind of name recogntion is, in itself, suspicious.

      This is a reality chavismo created. On purpose. I hate it. It’s just one more reason to hate chavismo.

      • In every country of the world all governments/politicians are run by the Golden Rule: Those that have the gold rule. Thus it has always been and shall be forevermore.

      • You know, I agree with you for the first time in forever.

        Which is why the insistance in participating in the very own system chavismo created has always been nonsense and complicit.

        Very violent overthow of Chavismo has always been the only way out and the “opposition” has always conspired against it.

        • Well, except the guys going for violent overthrow face the exact same conundrum. You need money to organize the violent overthrow of the regime. You need weapons, logistics, communications gear, ammo. All that stuff costs money. And the regime is terrible at everything EXCEPT keeping tabs on who’s asking whom for money and material.

          Which is how the last plot fell. They tried to get the gringos to give them encrypted radios, DGCIM found out. And they’ve been beating confessions out of them for weeks.

          You think you’re a bad boy, Cle. You just have the same unworkable idea tons of people already had. It’s just that, because you’re a coward, you write anonymous blog comments about it instead of taking a risk and ending up with electrodes attached to your scrotum.

  13. I am reading a story on the BBC, link provided, claiming that Oderbrecht, acvording to a joint investigation by the US and Switzerland engaged in the largest foreign bribe in history, bribes totalling $788 million.

    Andrade eclipsed this record by receiving $1 Billion making his illegal activity historic but it has received comparatively little coverage including by this publication. Why?

    • Perhaps a bit of perspective for you, Mr. Crispín.

      The antics of Alejandro Andrade have been known about far longer than Gorrín’s; after all Andrade began with Chavez and Gorrín stated later.

      While quite a few in the know have had no wool pulled over their eyes re: Gorrín, not until the indictments has his name been formally linked to this particular washing machine.

      Andrade has been singing like a canary while his indictment and guilty plea (kept under seal until recently) provided the ammo to sink Gorrín and others. Every mention of Gorrín going forward will have Andrade’s name right above it.

  14. When the regime falls, if the new president has been tainted by corruption he or she might hesitate in doing their best in repatriating the 400 billion dollars allegedly misappropriated during the regime for fear of being blackmailed into keeping silence: “el que tiene rabo de paja no se arrima a la candela”.

    Therefore any opposition politician who falls in this category and really wants to serve their country should refrain from seeking the presidency or any ministerial post, an enormous personal sacrifice for the greater good of Venezuela.

  15. If clean leaders fit in a VW Beetle, so be it. Better to have an honest agenda than a dozen cazadores de cambúr promoting ideas that empower Chavismo.

  16. I’m just wondering what’s the Vatican’s excuse for taking in Venezuelan blood money on their banks, and why oppo politicians couldn’t find any other foreign financial aid. If Capriles did it with Odebrecht, he could very well find -absolutely any other sponsor- who’s not waist deep.

  17. Little confused, because Andrade was sentenced to 10 years today. But they say that’s the maximum allowable for law; however, they say it was a plea deal. (He’s free until February though, when he reports to prison.)

    I guess it’s just poor writing. Not explaining the maximum allowable sentences and the relationship to plea deals.

    And where the hell is Gorrin? Cuba?

    • Ira, Andrade received the maximum ten years under the US Foreign Corruot Practices Act. Andrade agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and the deal was that the prisecutor agreed not to charge him with all of his crimes for which he could have received additional jail time. Iinstead he was sentenced inder the only count he pled guilty to. In contrast Gorrin who probably is a fugitive faces exposure under the FCPA and othercUS criminal laes and thus will likely receive a longer prision term unless of course he has valuable information for the prosecutor. In the US the first guy who cooperates with the Feds often gets the best deal. Andrade in his pkea agreement waived his right to appeal a maximum sentence of ten years so into the can he goes. Hope this is helpful.

      • Not really relevant but I’m curious:

        Are the wives and adult children who benefitted from the stolen funds subject to any prosecution, if the Feds so threatened that as a way to make someone plead and talk?

        • Only if they are material participants in the scheme.

          Spending the loot doesn’t qualify as material participation, much as I’d like it to.

          • But if they knew about it?

            Granted, it has to be proven, but think of Bernie Madoff’s wife and sons.

            The authorities ultimately believed they were unaware and didn’t go after them criminally, but the possibility was still there.

            (I saw the HBO movie with DeNiro! Fantastic film!)

  18. Ira, my sense of it is they had him on various crimes, and he probably plead that down to one charge, and while he was given the max. sentence (10 years) that too is probably flexible if he forks over all his watches (30+), ponies, dinero, properties, race cars, etc., but most of all if he sings and rats out everyone involved. ALL the insider dope on all the Chavistas. He’s got basically 2 months to ponder turning 60 in jail and my money says he sings loud and clear. And that might buy him a reduced sentence but he’s going to do some hard time and his son will be working at Subway, driving an old Dodge and wearing a Timex.

    • I also ponder whether these corruption investigations…still ongoing and of course leading to key VZ officials…

      Have anything to do with the U.K.’s refusal to return the gold?

      I haven’t read anything where anyone has connected any dots on this.

  19. Nor have I read or seen anything written about the UK’s refusal to fork over half a billion is gold. “British officials understood to have referred to “standard” anti-money laundering measures, The Times reports, citing unnamed sources.” Chances are someone holding bonds also put pressure on the Brits to keep that gold so not-so-distant claims can be levied against said gold as opposed to protracted arbitration epics. It’s sadly tragic to think that the Chavistas believed they could stiff the western financial system. With the precipitous drop in oil production, and the woeful shape of the entire petro infrastructure, now manned by clueless generals skimming their brains out, and no relief in sight, I have to believe there’s a tipping point in this whole clusterfuck that once reached, the whole shebang will quickly grind to a halt. Wonder how far that can be off. Granted the Chavistas are cockroaches who continue to live against all odds, but goddam, something big has to eventually give. You can color Conoco gone.

    And thanks, Bill, for that breakdown. Had a hunch it was something like you described, though I didn’t know Gorin was likely a fugitive. Where does a guy like that go? You know he has “valuable info for the prosecutor” but none of these guys are gonna walk. Imagine what a bind the Cubans will be in once the Venezuela bonanza dries up entirely. They’ll sell out Maduro in a minute – of that we may be sure.

  20. And it’s not because they’re all corrupt. It’s because the regime set out to create conditions where it was impossible to participate in political life unless you were willing to establish those kinds of relationships

    I strongly disagree if the report about Borges is true (see above)


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