What Strange Corruption

The Racist Venezuelan Bourgeoisie’s Accusations Against Chavistas Are Pure Projection

Social media truly is the great democratizer. Where else can Twitter trolls and bot armies create a web of baseless rumors that make their way into the empire’s leading publications? For example:

“Maduro is a murdering criminal starving Venezuelan children while he loots the country like Chavez did. When supposed socialist Chavez died the richest Venezuelan in the world was his daughter w billions. Same w Maduro. Looting Venezuelan wealth. Giving it to himself & Cuba!” (source)

So much to unpack, but this is a template used throughout social media in various forms. Make unsourced allegations of mass murder, purposeful starvation (especially of The Children), corruption, and looting. This is a more sophisticated version (really!) in which Chávez is separated from socialism with the word “supposed,” meant to give the accuser some leverage on the left. You see, corruption is what ails Venezuela, not socialism necessarily. Much of the rest has been thoroughly debunked — there is a crime problem but no death squads, there have been a few dozen deaths in years of violent right-wing riots but no campaign of official slaughter of “protesters,” and frankly Cuba has paid for its oil many times over with solidarity and other material support to poor Venezuelans. What persists — in right-wing AND left narratives — is the corruption boogeyman. The tweet above is truly tapping into a rich vein of existing ultraleftism, in which the Bolivarian revolution isn’t socialist at all, but merely an emerging, competing bourgeoisie. I hope here to discuss and counter just some of this bullshit.

First, the claims about the Chávez family are based on the thinnest, most laughable evidence. For Hugo himself, the British tabloid Daily Mail cites a “respected analyst” from a fake “criminal justice” outfit run by a guy with 300 followers. Twitter user Bernardo Canto did the research on this lie and traced it back to a Scribd post devoid of citation or source material. Apart from that, there is absolutely zero evidence that Chávez “died rich,” as they say — which is a pretty idiotic way to do massive corruption.

As for María Gabriela Chávez, why, there must be reams of evidence against her. Well. Get a load of this.

Canto delved into these accusations uncritically published all over corporate media, including Forbes. The claim in Forbes is credited to known CIA front Diario Las Americas, based in Miami, which, “as it happens,” is now owned since 2013 by the Venezuelan backers of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, himself accused of corruption by the Maduro administration.

It all literally boils down to a receipt shown on a tabloidy TV news show whose host is a Cuban-American Republican who ran for Congress to represent Miami. That receipt? Look for yourself:

If you think that, within the United States, ATM receipts say at the bottom “United States,” well, charitably, you’ve never used an ATM here. And the address is that of the Venezuelan consulate, not any bank. Another mistake made on this truly pathetic fabrication, is that in the US we use commas, not periods, to denote whole numbers. Of course there is no way to verify if this is Amb. Chávez’s card number, and the scammer who made this knows at least that. Aporrea already debunked this — there is no “Frabz Federal Bank,” as any US resident or a quick Google search will tell you. Frabz is literally a fake ATM receipt generator. Nevertheless, Diario Las Americas claims that the reporting of supermarket-tabloid caliber blog Maduradas.com is “precise and trustworthy,” which of course makes any claim of journalistic rigor in that entire operation a preposterous notion.

Endless insinuations of impropriety against Venezuelan officials litter the internet from troll comments on up to The New York Times. The Atlantic published a particularly nasty set of libels against María Gabriela Chávez, all caged in careful transitions and caveats so as not to actually be required to provide proof. Everything from how much public money she spends (even though she’s a billionaire!) to alleged import corruption (again with no evidence provided) to comments on her musical ability. It even gives credence to a conspiracy theory that her ambassadorship was given so that Cuba would have a trojan-horse advocate at the UN. This is pure smear, a series of fevered speculations, and yet there it is in a leading light of the liberal media.

The rest of the Chávez and Maduro clans’ children are targets as well. Check out this nutty Daily Mail post published presumably to contribute wind to the sails of the ongoing coup attempt. All the María Gabriela claims are breezily restated with no attempt to corroborate, but the “accusations” against her youngest sister Rosinés are uh… well she held up “a fistful of dollar bills” — yes, ONE-dollar bills — and well, goes to school in Paris where, we are assured, she is “care free.” And then of course there’s the time Maduro stopped in Turkey to eat a steak, which is outrageous for the president of a country on his way home from trade talks in China. Diosdado Cabello, a leading PSUV member and one of Chavismo’s most efficacious orators, is mentioned for being accused by the US government of drug running but even this is admitted to be unproven. (More on narco allegations in a future post.) Cabello’s daughter Daniela is mentioned because she is pretty. Yes really. The first lady Celia Flores’s children are said to have spent $45,000 at a hotel in Paris, though the claim seems to originate with a Spanish tabloid that did some paper napkin math and has absolutely no sources whatsoever to confirm any of it — assuming the stay itself even happened.

If Maduro has a billion dollars, if Chávez had two to four — depending on whom you ask — billion fucking dollars, why would they stick around Venezuela suffering endless ridicule, threats and even attempts on their lives, and the general stresses of being responsible for the running of an entire country? Is it just megalomania against all odds? Do you think Maduro feels powerful against all that he has to deal with right now? The prospect is risible, they could buy an entire country with that amount of money and yet there they stay, ready to go down with the ship if the empire torpedoes it. What strange corruption! Something isn’t adding up, probably because it’s all lies. We should apply a high level of skepticism to any claim we see about the empire’s targets, especially if they’re at the top of the news cycle.

There’s also the matter of the so-called Bolibourgeoisie, nouveau-riche types who are said to have leveraged the revolution for personal gain. It’s no secret that — especially after the 2002 coup — the Bolivarian project created a tactical alliance with certain business interests in the country. But reports detailing the purported gluttony and profligacy rarely name anyone and make it clear that this “plugged in” wealthy set is just a consequence of 70% of the Venezuelan economy remaining in private hands. Companies that contract with the state are, of course, compensated, as they are anywhere in the world. These private companies are for profit and these profits are, of course and unfortunately, distributed to the owners and as in any capitalist society, they are free to use this wealth for any idiotic frivolous thing they please.

From personal experience living in Miami, an old-guard Venezuelan typically makes a judgement on the “legitimacy” of the wealth of say, someone exiting an expensive car based on their complexion and features. Darker and more native-featured people are assumed to be Bolibourgeois. They’ve done nothing different from a typical businessman — the white expats are just mad that black and indigenous people may have muscled their way into what should be a purely European- or Arab-descended endeavor.

There’s no evidence that these “plugged-ins” are responsible for the economic problems in Venezuela. After all, some of the most famous episodes of Latin American corruption and economic upheaval happened during the IMF-obedient regimes of the 1990s in which populist polices were rolled back, privatization ran rampant, and austerity reigned.

Real corruption is when you warehouse food to create artificial scarcities and deliberately provoke hunger. The parties who are purposely starving the Venezuelan people are the same types as in Chile who stoked privation and misery in the campaign to overthrow Allende. In Chile we know they were kept solvent by CIA money, and we can assume the same sorts of economic support exists in the case of Venezuela. In addition to smaller importers and producers being able, through whatever means, to create very telegenic scarcities of certain products, there are conglomerates whose resources are deeper, and in whose interests an overthrow is even more intensely represented, than what is available from US intel schemes.

Empresas Polar, makers of the ubiquitous harina PAN used in every single household to make arepas, has had it out for the Revolution from day one. Despite state and communal efforts to break their strangehold on the corn flour market, their generations-deep imprint on the Venezuelan household rich and poor has persisted. If anyone “retains the ability to keep its products off the shelves just as readily as its ability to keep them on,” it’s La Polar. This is due to their still-gigantic home market share and, ironically, their being a major beneficiary of Venezuelan state subsidies for food importation. In addition, Polar’s various corporate vehicles in the US benefit from United States subsidies on corn for their many products which are sold in a growing market of quite affluent Venezuelans in the US. With all these resources at its disposal, creating artificial scarcities in a comparatively low-revenue market would be a minor line-item on Polar’s books.

There’s also the phenomenon of the “raspao,” or scrape. I don’t pretend to understand all the ways that currency can be manipulated, but merely printing too much money isn’t responsible for a one-million-percent unofficial inflation rate. For many years the Venezuelan state offered USD at an official exchange rate, for imports and travel, etc. People could buy dollars at this official rate with credit cards and then immediately convert these dollars back into bolivares in the black market — instant profit. On a trip to Mexico City last year I had a Mexican tell me with great excitement about how local Venezuelan friends of his who were involved in the scam used the profits to live well in the most exclusive neighborhoods. While the practice seems to have been curbed in recent years, the damage to the currency rate is done and the tightening sanctions compound it. I can only speculate, but with probably more certainty than a Eurotrash tabloid, that some of my Venezuelan neighbors themselves started their own nest eggs by ripping off their country. This truly is corruption, and though official currency policy is what facilitates it, it’s private criminals who take advantage, destroying their country’s economy while they live it up in exile.

The ultimate corruption is when you make millions through inheritance and other people’s labor. The accusations of the elites of Venezuela are a form of projection: they are the corrupt parasites who for generations have fed off the productive people of Venezuela, as in all nations. The same author as the Atlantic Chávez smear list — proud putchist! — has an entire post about the watches worn by some Venezuelan politicians, potentially the most news-unworthy subject of all time. The charge, of course, is “hypocrisy”: lol look at the socialists having quality timepieces! Yet when the idle scions of the Venezuelan elite themselves own safes full of jewels, several luxury cars, houses across the world, this is fine because there’s no hypocrisy involved — they never pretended to care about another soul on this planet but their own. There has never been a cynicism so toxic, so deep.

When “opposition” supporters, in between #SOS posts on Instagram, post stories of themselves on their yachts in Aruba, or their family farm in the mountains, or their beach house in Isla Margarita, or flaneuring around Barcelona and Madrid, are we meant to consider this a life of suffering? If they’re doing this, who is “earning” the money they draw to pay for these extravagances most people on earth — let alone Venezuela — can’t afford? This is corruption in every sense of the word: an indolent, lazy, entitled, racist caste of princes and princesses living off interest in foreign banks made from exploiting generations of poor workers going back into the times of chattel slavery and primitive accumulation. What is “nepotism” if not passing immense ill-gotten fortunes and estates to your children? What makes a country-club brat particularly adept at guiding such large agglomerations of the national wealth?

And even if it’s not strictly corruption, there is a certain moral emptiness to receiving a free education in Venezuela and then immediately going abroad to use your degree for personal gain, as many have done. These people are true leeches, not those demanding a fairer share of the national produce they helped create.

We also know that they consider “corruption” — or at least the even more vague “waste” — to include the building of 2.5 million homes, universities, collective farms, markets, food programs, medical facilities. To the bruised egos of the waning nobles, it’s unconscionable to give literal peasants a boost up from the dirt floor.

All this is why we hear so much about “corruption” in Venezuela: an utterly worthless class of human beings is angry that some small share of the wealth they used to skim exclusively for themselves is now being distributed with just a bit more equity across social lines.

Local issues of corruption, whatever they consist of, are for Venezuelans to solve. It is a completely internal matter. Imagine making the case for the bombing and invasion of a country based on the fact that it has economic problems. Now imagine those problems are mostly caused by the party who is meant to “liberate” this country. That is literally what the argument boils down to. It’s bonkers on the surface, without even so much investigation. As Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza quipped, on the subject of the farcical “humanitarian aid”: “I’m choking you, I’m killing you — and then I’m giving you a cookie.” The US is not now and has never been in the business of securing liberty for anyone other than the financial interests of its wealthy owners. If you believe otherwise, it’s your brain that’s corrupted.

‘Nobody Wants Venezuelan Oil’

Just as people scoffed at the very idea of war for oil as Bush’s death machine revved to demolish Iraq, today the same conceit now rules in the discussion of Venezuela, where the United States is focusing its efforts on finally uprooting and death-squadding a genuine socialist movement.

The US has absolutely no interest in securing democracy or freedom in Venezuela or anywhere else. This comically transparent lie is aimed at the armies of TV news-consuming mental defectives; barely anyone else could keep a straight face at the very idea. One only need take one minute to see that the likes of Elliott Abrams is in charge of “restoring democracy” — yes, the same one who oversaw the butchering of hundreds of thousands of peasants and revolutionaries across Central America, not to mention involvement in the short-lived 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t require that much background, but just in case: In the aftermath of the inauguration of President Nicolás Maduro, certain US political figures began to ramp up the destabilization campaign against Venezuela. Led primarily by VP Mike Pence and Congressman Marco Rubio, the public effort included coercing Juan Guaidó, CIA-manufactured leader of the rival National Assembly, into proclaiming himself president in a speech he made on a highway overpass in Caracas. Dueling marches were held across the country but only the smaller, less frequent anti-Maduro protests were magnified in the imperial press. Several false news items surfaced to stoke global outrage at the chavista government, including a claim that the security services attempted to “kidnap” Guaidó and that Maduro barricaded an international highway from Colombia to prevent humanitarian food aid from reaching starving Venezuelans. This long con seems to have worked, in part: most Latin American and nearly all European governments have recognized Guaidó as president, along with US poodle Canada. Most Global North media consumers believe the sordid tales of Maduro’s mendacity.

My goal in this and hopefully subsequent posts will be to tackle some of the more persistent lies and exaggerations used to derail Western lefts’ solidarity with anti-imperialist states and movements, using Venezuela as a lens. In a social media landscape riddled with cops and bots, it can be difficult to keep your head above the sewage.

One common claim is that the US can’t be in it for oil because the US is oil independent. Below an example of how this plays out:

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This is a perfect example of a collection of some popularly disseminated points and counterpoints on this theme. It starts with someone simply saying “they’re coming to take the oil.” Someone replies “Actually Russia and Cuba steal it.” The response is “Americans don’t do anything but shoot bullets and pillage wealth.”

-“And why do the Russians help Venezuela? They’re nice?”
“Do the Russians steal it for buy it for a good price?”
-“Until now the US has bought most of it.”
“Well they’ve tired of buying it, they want it as a gift.”
-Then when they realize facts aren’t in their favor, the evergreen: “Whatever you say. Live in Venezuela and then express an opinion.”
“The US is not going to bring you more wealth, but to take it.”
-And then someone else (a Colombian supporter of that country’s own CIA-agent president) comes to finish with “Obama started fracking in the US, so the gringos produce enough for themselves.”

The absurdity of this is that US foreign policy isn’t run for the interests of the mass of US citizens and consumers, but for those of international corporations who own the levers of power in Washington. “War for oil” isn’t about running our cars, as if a military organization larger and more expensive than all others on earth combined by orders of magnitude was just waiting to be triggered into action by dwindling stocks of the gasoline that powers our Amazon deliveries. No, the US military is simply a tool used to scare and compel other countries into complete integration in our global neocolonial economy. Part of this is not just making sure they allow their oil to be pumped into the global market, but that the specific conduit through which this happens is Western oil corporations, preferably US ones, so that they capture more of the revenues than the country where the oil actually is. They overthrew Iran’s Mossadegh expressly for this reason. It’s about the profit rate of a small group of people and has nothing at all to do with the lives of the end users of the oil.

An even hotter corollary take to the above is that, actually, nobody even wants Venezuelan oil. Yeah. You spend long enough on Twitter and you’ll see everything. The argument is that the country’s heavier crude is more difficult to process than Saudi or North American oil and is “more trouble than it’s worth.”

“The US doesn’t need Venezuelan oil. You can thank fracking for that. We can get the same heavy, hard to refine crude cheaper and easier from Canada than Caracas.”

There’s a lot here. Possibly the most laughable is that a fresh fash regime in Venezuela would have the same tax rate as Canada. Or ANY tax rate that might apply to the likes of Chevron or Halliburton for that matter. But aside from that, it’s not necessary to go into the finer details of the oil business (as some of us unfortunately did in that thread) because this sort of antfuckery is part of how propaganda works. Focus on alleged mismanagement at PDVSA, politics at work, corruption, and oil infrastructure deterioration rates is the rightful concern only of the Venezuelan people. I don’t have to know ANYTHING about oil at all because I know how to read and what I read tells me, unequivocally, that actual existing US oil companies are still operating even now in Venezuela, in cooperation with the Venezuelan government. I think they know their own interests better than some amateur Twitter oil pundit.

Now. That these companies are still operating in Venezuela doesn’t mean they wouldn’t welcome a coup and regime change. More favorable conditions, free of the use of the proceeds for national development, would benefit their owners and investors. None of this has anything to do with the quality of Venezuelan oil, which has always been considered immensely profitable. In fact, their champion Sen. Marco Rubio made the argument — “saying the quiet part loud” — that refining this oil “supports great jobs in the Gulf Coast.” Rubio is also on record as being against the actual drilling of oil in that same Gulf; he’d rather reap the economic benefits of the oil industry for the US and leave the environmental problems associated with petroleum drilling for the subaltern. Nat. Security Adviser John Bolton openly admitted on Fox Business that “it will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” If you can stomach it, watch Bolton on Fox News gaslight the universe goaded on by this piece of sentient plastic — while being very frank with his plans for all that oil.

If your appetite for grotesque personalities on television hasn’t been satisfied, I recommend you watch the Bloomberg clip featuring this utter clown, who despite dressing up like a character in The Far Side is an actual expert on commodities. He confirms that The Markets are looking forward to Venezuela going back to “the way things used to be” — that is, US oil companies drinking that heavy crude and pissing out dollars while the peasantry starved.

Despite this extreme difficulty in refining that stubborn Venezuelan crude, the revolution managed to make $1.3 TRILLION dollars in revenue from 1999-2013, which finance bros consider to have “vanished” due to their utter waste on “massive social spending.” In fact so large is the proportion of revenues used to directly benefit and uplift the poor of Venezuela that economists use a different set of metrics to determine PDVSA’s productivity because to the Venezuelan government, “profits” from the country’s natural resources aren’t a driver.

And what of Russia, or China for that matter? No doubt they each have their own reasons for supporting the legitimate president and being involved in various ways with PDVSA or other Venezuelan state-owned industries. Since these relationships benefit the Venezuelan people (via those “wasteful” social programs), they are at least far less exploitative than any possible arrangements under a coup-installed right-wing regime. That said, some governments may do things for reasons outside of immediate gain for either the officials involved or corporate backers or even the benefit of their own state-owned industries. A higher aim may be to rebalance global power away from US-dominated unipolarity. The concept of Internationalism is difficult for US Americans to grasp because it is part of our national religion that man only acts according to his own immediate self-interest. This teaches us to be suspicious of people acting in solidarity with others in worse-off positions — even, in the remarkable case of Cuba, when they barely had much to give.

On the other hand we know by the very nature of the United States, capitalism, and imperialism, that there is no way the most murderous people on the face of the planet are interested in the well-being of the Venezuelan people. We don’t have to know their hearts, just witness their actions. Imperialism seeks to corral all the world, every country, every person, into its plot to vacuum wealth from the poorest up to the richest. The particular motivations for a given intervention are different each time, among which the greed for oil wealth is just one. But if you got it, they want it. This is an imperialist operation, which means it is — must be — a war for oil.

Thanks to Tarzie for research and editing, as always, encouragement!
Also thanks to George Bell for research help.