Navigating Corruption: Implications for Venezuela’s Future

This post is also available in: Español 

Photo of Panelists Corruption in Venezuela Event Featured Image: dreckwuor / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Venezuela's presidential elections are taking place on July 28, 2024. While focusing on electoral conditions is essential, whoever governs the country in the next term will do so in a nation plagued by corruption. Addressing both is crucial for the country's future. This was the focus of an event organized by the Dialogue’s Rule of Law Program in collaboration with NTN24.

Last year, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted María Corina Machado for her first appearance of this sort after the opposition primaries in October. It was a time of great uncertainty regarding whether and when presidential elections would take place in Venezuela, the opposition's electoral strategy, the unity of opposition parties, and the presence of independent electoral monitoring. “A presidential election is now scheduled and against all odds, the opposition remains united behind one candidate, Edmundo Gonzalez," noted Rebecca Bill Chavez, president and CEO of the Inter-American Dialogue.

While it is critical to continue focusing on electoral conditions, other crucial issues for Venezuela's future, such as addressing widespread corruption, must not be ignored. Corruption in Venezuela didn't start with Hugo Chavez; it's deeply rooted in the country's financial system. “It stretches back to the country’s own dependence on oil. There’s only one export, oil, and there’s only one entity that controls it, the government. The way to get rich quick is to bribe officials and get a contract," stated Josh Goodman, investigative reporter for The Associated Press. Transparency Venezuela reports 255 corruption cases involving 509 individuals under investigation in 30 countries, with public funds allegedly compromised in excess of US$ 69 billion. “Venezuelan corruption involves high-level government leaders, has a transnational impact, affects large population groups, violates human rights, and enjoys impunity,” said Mercedes De Freitas, founder and executive director of Transparency Venezuela.

Some major challenges to investigate corruption and dismantle cross-border corruption networks have been the lack of international cooperation with information exchange, as well as the lack of judicial independence, noted Vladimir Aras, federal circuit prosecutor of Brasilia, Brazil. This was evident in the case of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman involved in corruption schemes with the Maduro regime and recently pardoned by President Biden, linked to challenges in extraditing him from Cabo Verde and later prosecuting him in the US, mentioned Kurt Lunkenheimer, member of Cozen O’Connor and former assistant US attorney in the Southern District of Florida. “That extradition process took a very long time and involved a lot of work. The regime fought tooth and nail to stop him from coming to the US,” he added.

Although all eyes are on the July 28 presidential elections, it is crucial to discuss the post-election scenario and the role of corruption investigations as a driving force. “Those clinging to power will not willingly step down if it means all would face imprisonment for all their crimes,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Dialogue’s Rule of Law Program director. "A transition must include political viability for Chavismo and offer a golden bridge for some who can lead Venezuela from the current regime to democracy," she concluded. While impunity for crimes against humanity is not permissible under international law, there are legal options that should be explored to provide benefits to those implicated in other crimes, even if they are morally disgusting. 

Watch the event coverage on NTN24 (in Spanish) here and the event recording here

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