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Corruption Charges Shake the Venezuelan Opposition

Punto Fijo, February 7th, 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In a heated debate before the National Assembly on Tuesday, several politicians from opposition political party Primero Justicia were accused of corruption, and one opposition legislator broke ranks with the opposition coalition.

President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello had warned earlier in the week that he would be presenting evidence of corruption on the part of the right-wing party Primero Justicia (Justice First) before the Assembly.

On Tuesday, he offered various pieces of evidence that showed that Primero Justicia had received more than BsF. 491 million (US$ 114 million) in undeclared funding from private sources between 2009 and 2011.

The evidence consisted of checks from various private Venezuelan firms made out to Richard Mardo, opposition legislator and candidate for governor of Aragua in last December’s state elections, as well as a recorded telephone call of Miranda Governor Henrique Caprlies’s father discussing campaign financing.

Evidence was also given against opposition legislator Gustavo Marcano for presumably transferring funds to members of Primero Justicia during his term as mayor of the eastern city of Lecheria.

All of the accusations were against members of Primero Justicia, the party of opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

The party has a history of corruption allegations, famously accused of receiving funds from Venezuela’s oil company before Chavez took power, and recently being accused of illegal campaign financing during last year’s presidential campaign when hidden cameras caught a meeting between a party official and a private businessman.

“This party is a mafia organization that uses politics as a way of doing business. This is what they really are, but they want to present another image to the public,” said Cabello.

Pro-Chavez legislators said they would be presenting formal charges against both Richard Mardo and Gustavo Marcano of Primero Justicia, and requested that they be placed under house arrest until the investigations are carried out. Officials later added Henrique Capriles, Julio Borges and Carlos Ocariz to the list of those to be investigated.

The accusations created an uproar on the floor of the assembly, with both opposition and pro-government legislators shouting insults and accusations, and leading one legislator to break away from the opposition and join the pro-Chavez coalition.

Opposition legislator Hernán Núñez criticized the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition of parties and called for the corruption charges to be investigated.

“I’m breaking ties with a coalition that isn’t united or democratic. It’s a coalition of four parties that get together and rob the hope of the Venezuelan people,” said Núñez amidst the cheers of the pro-Chavez legislators.

Opposition leaders assured that the accusations were simply a “show” put on by the government to try to weaken the opposition, and that the politicians who have recently broken ranks with the opposition were “bought off” by the government.

At a press conference on Wednesday morning, Mardo used newspaper clippings to show the various activities to which the funds had gone, claiming they were used for charitable activities like food purchases for poor families, and the repairing of a sports facility.

However, pro-Chavez commentators pointed out that newspaper clippings were not sufficient proof for how the funds were spent, nor could they justify the fact that the funds were not declared for tax or campaign purposes.

But opposition leaders and analysts insist that the government accusations against Primero Justicia are part of a larger plan to demoralize and weaken the opposition before an imminent election later this year if Hugo Chavez is unable to return to the presidency.

Henrique Capriles, who would most likely be the opposition candidate in any presidential election, insisted the charges were actually aimed at him.

“Don’t anyone be mistaken…Here what they want is to come after me, and to demoralize you all. But we won’t kneel before anyone!” said Capriles.

Opposition analyst Luis Vicente León argued that the accusations are a way for the government to make up for a growing “power vacuum”.

“The government is trying to terrorize its adversaries in order to minimize them and send a strong message that there is no power vacuum, and that they can be even stronger and harder than before,” said León.

However, pro-Chavez analysts claim the events have more to do with ruptures within the opposition coalition as the opposition parties attempt to remain united behind Henrique Capriles.

“The events in the National Assembly show that there exists a conflictive situation inside the opposition,” said pro-Chavez analyst Farith Faija, claiming that some parties in the coalition were critical of Capriles’ “abandonment of the state governor candidates in December, the raw corruption in the core of the opposition coalition, and the fact that it isn’t unified or democratic.”

Hernán Núñez gave similar reasons for his rupture with the opposition coalition, accusing Capriles of abandoning the rest of the opposition’s state governor candidates, and not being “sincere” with the Venezuelan people.

Authorities said a legislative committee will investigate the corruption charges and present a report in less than a month. No announcement was made on whether the legislators would be placed under house arrest during this time.

Published on Feb 8th 2013 at 9.39am