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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