This Friday, I couldn’t write a briefing due to poor internet connection, and today I woke up late, so I arrived late to social networks blazing with an accusation of alleged corruption, but reported by Venezolana de Televisión and TeleSUR! And oddity! (Not to say a miracle,) since corruption has been taboo in official outlets for years, considering that the corrupt are regime members. The complaint is against two people appointed by caretaker President Juan Guaidó to work in Colombia with humanitarian aid and the military deserters, of course! Well, I started reading.
A questionable hybrid
“It’s the system that’s the problem, not the regime,” says Orlando Avendaño at the start of his op-ed passing as an investigative piece, which PanAm Post uses to denounce irregularities in the management of resources to pay for hotel rooms for military deserters in Cúcuta, after the failed operation to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela on February 23rd. For the author, the operation’s failure can be explained with a “cocktail” of improvisation, poor information handling, mediocrity and naiveté, and he describes how the desertion meant to cause a military breakdown within Nicolás’ regime became a political problem for Guaidó’s team and for the Colombian government, because keeping hundreds of soldiers and their families in Cúcuta required many resources.
Avendaño mentions exiled lawmakers José Manuel Olivares and Gaby Arellano, only to claim that they were “unexpectedly removed from a key task” and Juan Guaidó authorized Voluntad Popular militants Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas to handle the situation of Venezuelans entering Colombian territory. In his version, it was Colombian intelligence that set out the alarms when Barrera and Rojas started spending too much and developed “an entire scheme to embezzle the funds related to humanitarian aid and the upkeep of soldiers in Cucuta.” How does Avedaño say they did it? Basically, by inflating the number of deserters from 700 to 1,450 officers, submitting suspicious bills and exaggerating the bills’ amounts.
An early investigation
A Colombian intelligence source told Avendaño that they shared all that information with the Venezuelan embassy and with President Iván Dique, and that ambassador Humberto Calderón Berti got in touch with Caracas, after which point Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas were removed from their posts, but additionally, Barrera attended on May 27th a meeting with embassy members to present her expenses in Cucuta before an auditor and apparently her evidence was weak. Avendaño finishes the article claiming that 60% of the food donated for humanitarian aid is spoiled, but: “It’s the system (…) It’s not the regime. It’s the damn system.”
The final phase
Yesterday, Juan Guaidó wrote on Twitter that the delegation in Colombia has handled the matter of the Venezuelan soldiers in that country with economic constraints and, in view of the complaints, he asked ambassador Calderón Berti to formally request Colombian intelligence forces to carry out the necessary investigation.
Delegación en Colombia ha manejado con austeridad y limitaciones económicas situación de militares en ese país. Ante denuncias, pido al Embajador @calderonberti solicitar formalmente a organismos de inteligencia colombiana la investigación necesaria. ¡Transparencia ante todo!
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) June 15, 2019
The ambassador replied that his commitment and career force him to get to the bottom “of this regrettable case,” and added that they’re working on the audit’s final phase. Calderón Berti even replied on Twitter to some disgruntled citizens and said that they weren’t investigating because the article was published, but rather that they’re concluding an audit that began when they received “the complaint and the respective information” and that they had to collect more information, because these issues “must be handled seriously and professionally. Concealing nothing.”
No es cierto. La auditoría se viene realizando hace varias semanas. https://t.co/dtyCaZtbCi
— Humberto Calderón B. (@calderonberti) June 15, 2019
OAS chief Luis Almagro demanded transparency and asked the authorities to clarify the accusations.
Solicitamos a jurisdicción competente investigación esclarecedora de graves cargos aquí formulados, determinar responsabilidades y exigir rendición de cuentas. No hay democratización posible bajo la opacidad de actos de corrupción. https://t.co/3P9y5G75lI
— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) June 14, 2019
Lester Toledo, international Humanitarian Aid coordinator, denied that 60% of food donations had rotted, saying that all perishable supplies had been donated to various NGOs, just like the Colombian government had said.
But regime communications minister Jorge Rodríguez said that all the stolen money is part of a scheme to hire thugs and mentioned phone conversations between Rossana Barrero and Roberto Marrero, who’s been under regime custody for 84 days. Journalist Federico Black mentioned a screenshot of a chat between Marrero and Barrera, an image we saw in the accusation Jorge Rodríguez made in March, when he showed a printed version of it during his statement. If Marrero’s cell phone has been under regime control since his arrest, Black wonders, how could Avendaño have gotten that screenshot? Voluntad Popular issued a statement saying that the caretaker government hasn’t managed humanitarian aid resources and that they’ll perform a full investigation.
— Federico Black B. (@FedericoBlackB) June 15, 2019
Ambassador Calderón Berti makes this accusation more credible when he says this case is “regrettable and shameful,” especially if he mentions the audit that they’re concluding. An investigation must be opened and responsibilities must be established, if any, but as for me, I’m quite shocked by the reactions to this accusation, by how quickly despair takes hold in some and cynicism in others, with the latter group being so well represented by the chavistas, cheerfully promoting this story. It makes sense, diminishing trust in the opposition leadership not only strengthens them but also reduces the international community’s support. Corruption has beaten us down, and impunity has created the necessary foundations for any accusation to be believable. Corruption is a scourge and that’s precisely why we need solid institutions to monitor authorities and the system, because nobody’s immaculate, because anyone can mess up.
By the way: the text of this accusation is terrible and the author makes no effort to hide his intentions; in fact, the opinion beginning and closing the article reduces every politician to a corrupt crook, blaming the “damn system” for everything. It’s quite odd for an investigation article to be written in first person; it doesn’t support what it claims and leaves any evidence for the end, claiming to have others it neither shows nor classifies. It’s strange to see this lack of regurosity in treating sources, all of whom conveniently chose to remain anonymous. If this is investigative journalism, we must review the information, see if it can be verified and whether the moralistic tint of the opinions in the text was necessary. Also, Juan Guaidó’s government must urgently set up mechanisms for accountabilit and transparency to increase the trust of citizens.