Photo: Centro de Comunicación Nacional

A Call for Transparency in the Venezuelan Opposition

Juan Guaidó’s project for democracy keeps facing dire hurdles; one of them is the secrecy around certain events which have undone so much of the goodwill it has struggled to get

The American revolutionary Patrick Henry once said that “the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” While that quote may have been said during the ratification of the U.S. constitution 233 years ago, it perfectly resonates with the imperative need for transparency in Juan Guaidó’s administration if he wants to remain a credible player in the Venezuelan power struggle. 

This credibility relies not only on the international recognition granted by most of the international community but on the popular support that the Venezuelan people may give them. While the erosion of popular support is due to several factors, one of the most important is the notion that there’s widespread corruption in several levels of the caretaker government. Whether this is true or not, it’s not for me to say, what can be said is that this notion is gaining traction after some alleged corruption scandals have come up, greatly damaging the image of the Guaidó camp.

A Bad Case in the Closest Ally’s Territory

Simply put, transparency prevents corruption, which is critical considering that some recent allegations have a genuine basis and need to be resolved. One of the most noteworthy cases is The Washington Post investigation from earlier this month, describing a fraud scheme involving two Miami businessmen and two senior officials of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. Apparently, the alleged suspects of the scheme wanted to use the caretaker government’s funds for the recovery of international assets to cash themselves an alarmingly high commission for the litigation work. One of the companies that—according to the article—was charging commissions, was a Florida company that, per Floridian government records, is co-owned by Magin Blasi, brother of the Venezuelan Embassy’s commercial attaché Fernando Blasi.

That same investigation explained that the other senior official allegedly involved was Javier Troconis, Guaidó’s special commissioner for asset recovery. The Washington Post said Troconis was signing million-dollar prospective contracts that far exceeded his authority, one of such even included the Paraguayan government: in exchange for assistance in asset recovery and a 26 million dollar commission to “third parties,” the caretaker government would forgive half of the 269 million dollar debt Paraguay owes to Venezuela. Guaidó’s government and the U.S. Attorney General raised serious doubts about the investigation. 

It’s worth mentioning that most scandals are small things that are severely overblown due to the lack of transparency and accountability in all levels of the caretaker government.

At the National Assembly, a commission was assigned to investigate the allegations, but apart from a really short press release, there’s no public access to the progress the committee has made. Actually, the only information we have is from an unnamed source from The Washington Post that states that the committee recommended a probe from the Comptroller’s Office.

How Lack of Clarity Degrades the Opposition’s Image

As mentioned above, there are some corruption scandals that have damaged the public’s perception of Guaidó’s administration. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that most scandals are small things that are severely overblown due to the lack of transparency and accountability in all levels of the caretaker government. 

An example of this would be the scandal concerning Stalin González and Gustavo Marcano, their appearance at an MLB playoff game in 2019. The reason why it became so controversial was because González had said that he didn’t receive any compensation for his work as a deputy in the National Assembly since 2016he was then able to assist a post-season Major Leagues game, with VIP seats in Washington D.C. While the luxury of the seats was going to create bad optics anyway, it was the lack of transparency that added more fuel to the already existing fire. That scandal was barely clarified. González said in an interview that a friend gave him the tickets, and he even called for an investigation, but no investigation was ever carried out (at least not publicly). To this day, there’s no certain way to know how those two Venezuelan lawmakers got the seats, and even if there was no wrongdoing, the reputation of the caretaker government was affected. 

But in order to comprehend why the caretaker government urgently needs more openness to the public, we need to understand how that lack of transparency is negatively impacting its work.

Secrecy Is More of an Obstacle than an Advantage

The very moment when Juan Guaidó was invested by the National Assembly as the president of the caretaker government of Venezuela, the entire institution was expected to be held to higher standards than their chavista counterparts. While I believe that Mr. Guaidó’s best efforts reflect an attempt to meet those standards, the methods of many around him have canceled out much of those efforts. There are several examples that display how these scandals might not be directly his fault, but they do damage, greatly, to the integrity and effectiveness of the opposition as a whole. One of those examples is the questionable methods of opposition parties when, according to the Associated Press, it tried to sneak in a monthly five-thousand dollar salary for its deputies in a humanitarian bill that was aimed at helping doctors and nurses battling COVID-19.

It was the secrecy and anonymity around the matter that made the measure look corrupt even when it wasn’t. The damage was done, and most of the attention from the actual humanitarian effort was diverted towards the scandal.

While at first the measure can sound like politicians abusing their power to make money, the decision to compensate the deputies is absolutely rational. According to several politicians, since chavismo stopped paying the salaries of almost every deputy of the National Assembly, many legislators financially struggle to buy food, get medical attention, and provide for their families. Adding to that, for the past five years they had to run with administrative costs and pay their trips to Caracas when the National Assembly called them to session. The measure is absolutely just in nature, and the numbers back them up. If you spread out that salary over the five years that these deputies have not received a dime, the payments amount to a thousand dollars a month. This means that a Venezuelan legislator, on average, is still making less money than the average income of a lawmaker in Latin America. 

However, apparently the National Assembly tried to approve this measure under the radar. The text approving the funds was not published in the legislative gazette. Guaidó’s communications team somewhat tried to deny the existence of a wage increase at all, and to this day we don’t know the exact amount that was allocated. It was due to the investigative journalism of the Associated Press, and leaks from members and staff of the National Assembly, that we were able to know about this whole ordeal in the first place. 

Even though no corrupt practices were performed and a bill that was helping healthcare workers fighting coronavirus was passed (and found many implementation challenges), it was the secrecy and anonymity around the matter that made the measure look corrupt even when it wasn’t. The damage was done, and most of the attention from the actual humanitarian effort was diverted towards the scandal.

There’s an Opportunity for Change

We’ve never had a tradition of transparency from our governments in Venezuela, not even during the healthiest years of Venezuelan democracy, and some opposition leaders are becoming aware of this issue, calling for greater transparency. Recently, Primero Justicia leader and Guaidó’s commissioner of foreign affairs Julio Borges, wrote on Twitter about the necessity of “providing answers to any case that has created doubts in the public,” and called for transparency in the cases of CITGO, Crystallex, and PetroParaguay, among others. Another opposition leader who has publicly made statements on the topic is the Vice President of the National Assembly, Juan Pablo Guanipa, also from Primero Justicia, who supported Borges’s statement and demanded an audit of the entirety of the caretaker government to prove they’re different from the corrupt Maduro regime. 

Transparency is one of the main pillars of democracy. In order to restore it in Venezuela, it’s not enough for the dictatorship to collapse; it’s necessary to build a democratic culture as well. If we look at any solid democracy around the world, each one of them gives plenty of access—to anyone—to the inner workings of the state. I understand that the situation of the caretaker government is quite peculiar, but their main goal was to make Venezuela transition to a healthy democracy back again, and installing a tradition of transparency plays a fundamental role in the founding of any healthy democracy.