Photo: The Treasury Department

The Campaign to Protect Venezuelan Assets in the U.S.

NGO INRAV is working on convincing Congress to create a fund and freeze the Venezuelan resources obtained through corruption and embezzlement, using the VERDAD Act

Amid the things we don’t know, and we may never know, is the magnitude of our country’s looting: how much has been stolen from the Venezuelan State, using the State itself or keeping it from the income it needs to solve the myriad of needs our people have. We know the looting has been colossal, historical in magnitude, to the point where even people who took part in it have come to decry it: former Chávez ministers Jorge Giordani and Héctor Navarro have said that some 300 billion dollars were lost; former PDVSA boss Rafael Ramírez talks about 220 billion. 

“In Corruptómetro, they try to homologate all the cases related to Venezuela and the documents that could help quantify it,” explains journalist and scholar María Alejandra Márquez, “and counted 52 billion that could be documented, which could have served to build almost 200,000 elementary schools (there are no more than 30,000 in Venezuela right now), or almost 600 type-1 hospitals, or 21 hydroelectric dams. And that’s only the stolen money that’s traceable. Inter American Dialogue counts some 20 corruption accusations against officers and contractors only in the U.S., which froze about 1.5 billion dollars. In Peru, the country in Latin America with the strongest experience in recovering money from corruption, the biggest trials are for 80 million dollars. The trials of Venezuelan corrupt officers are for, at least, 400 million. The damage to the nation is devastating.”

And that devastated nation is also besieged by creditors and suitors. Besides all the trials caused by the expropriations and broken contracts of the Chávez era, from La Cristinas mine to CITGO, Venezuela is also the object of civil suits: for instance, some victims of FARC alleged that PDVSA was financing the Colombian guerrilla and a judge in the U.S. decided the state-owned company must pay them 318 million dollars in damages. “Just like that case, there are about 70 more trials,” says Márquez. “If the Venezuelan assets in the U.S. aren’t protected, they’ll be lost amid the bureaucracy and the suitors. And the country will have nothing to start with, when the time comes.”

If the Venezuelan assets in the U.S. aren’t protected, they’ll be lost amid the bureaucracy and the suitors. And the country will have nothing to start with, when the time comes.

That’s why Márquez founded, one year ago, with Gregorio Riera, Tom Wells and Gloria Salazar, an NGO: INRAV, Iniciativa para la Recuperación de Activos Venezolanos. INRAV is neither part of an international body, nor has it any links with the Venezuelan opposition or the National Assembly elected in 2015. It has no liaison with American political parties, and its goal is quite specific: to pressure for the reform of existing laws in the U.S. to protect, in an special fund, the resources taken from corruption, guaranteeing that money will be available to rebuild the country.

Convincing Lawmakers… in the U.S.

In December 2019, the U.S. passed the VERDAD Act to establish the guidelines of the policy on Venezuela. That Act commits the U.S. to provide 400 million dollars in humanitarian assistance, and also to return the confiscated money to the country. The VERDAD Act recommends the creation of a multilateral fund, which was opposed by the American government; INRAV proposes to create, instead, a fund administered by the U.S. 

“To my knowledge,” Márquez says, “no other country has committed to do that, or to create a multinational fund. But we also want to promote the creation of that special fund in the U.S. to manage the confiscated money, given the bipartisan support to the Venezuelan cause in the Congress through the Venezuelan Caucus. This fund must be managed by the U.S., following the right transparency rules, and eventually be open to public accountability and scrutiny.”  

INRAV started by sharing the content of the VERDAD Act, once they noticed the Venezuelan media understood little of it, and later found that within American bureaucracy there was little political will to create the fund. This was critical, because the instances created by the National Assembly elected in 2015 had no capacities to dedicate to this. “We realized that we had to become activists of this issue, and became the only Venezuelan NGO talking about it, I think,” Márquez says. “If no one’s making a fuss about this fund, it won’t ever come to be.” 

Those claims are legit and right, Márquez says, but we need that money to reactivate the country, or to use it as a guarantee for international loans.

This is the idea behind the campaign INRAV launched on March 15th, making Venezuelans in the U.S., whether they’re American citizens or not, access unFondoPorVenezuela.org and follow the instructions to ask representatives and senators for the approval of a law that creates a fund to protect the Venezuelan assets recovered from corruption, and enforce the publication of an inventory. On that site, you can find congresspeople for every constituency by entering their ZIP code, and how to leave them a voice message or a request on Twitter. 

INRAV also expects that fund to be free from paying indemnizations to victims of terrorism, expropriations, crimes against the humanity, etc. Those claims are legit and right, Márquez says, but we need that money to reactivate the country, or to use it as a guarantee for international loans. 

So far, the recovered assets are frozen; the resources allocated to humanitarian assistance or for the use of the caretaker government come from other sources. “The U.S. established those assets can be returned to Venezuela if there’s certainty they won’t be stolen again, invested instead in development. There are experiences on returning confiscated money via multilateral projects or support to NGOs that could have a positive impact on the country, even before political change comes. It may look impossible now, but this won’t be forever so. This is not the time to discuss how and to whom that money will be returned to, but to protect it.”