What Is Behind Venezuela’s Pursuit of Former Officials?

Venezuelan authorities are targeting Rafael Ramírez, who formerly headed state oil company PDVSA and was the country’s ambassador to the United Nations until last week, in a corruption probe. // File Photo: Venezuelan Government.

Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, Rafael Ramírez, resigned Dec. 5 on what he said were orders from President Nicolás Maduro. The two men have reportedly been rivals for years, and Ramírez’s resignation came amid a wide-reaching purge at PDVSA, which has resulted in the jailing of dozens of the state oil company’s officials. What is behind the crackdown at PDVSA, which Ramírez formerly led? How will Ramírez’s departure and the arrests affect next year’s planned presidential race in Venezuela? What chance does the opposition have of defeating Maduro at the ballot box, and who will emerge as the most likely candidate to square off against him?

Gustavo Coronel, a founding board member of PDVSA: “The reasons for President Maduro’s dismissal of Ramírez at the United Nations are based on corruption charges that are both well justified and politically motivated. Ramírez is now a fugitive of the Venezuelan regime, and his former PDVSA associates and contractors Diego Salazar, José E. Luongo, Nervis Villalobos and Rafael Reiter, are already in jail in Caracas and Madrid. Ramírez ran PDVSA and Venezuela’s oil ministry for 10 years without transparency or accountability. During his tenure, numerous corrupt transactions were made, while production collapsed and the company went deeply into debt. A report by The Wall Street Journal, essentially unchallenged by Ramírez, accused him and Salazar of asking foreign contractors for kickbacks. Ramírez, in the habit of drinking $3,000 bottles of whiskey or champagne, was planning to use some of his money to finance his presidential candidacy, in which he would portray himself as Chávez’s legitimate heir, but Maduro has no intention…”

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