Venezuela Combats Crisis by Fighting Corruption, Bureaucracy

Confronted by the global economic crisis
and a sharp drop in oil prices, the Venezuelan government has launched
an offensive against corruption as part of its austerity drive.

By Federico Fuentes - Green Left Weekly
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Confronted by the global economic crisis
and a sharp drop in oil prices, the Venezuelan government has launched
an offensive against corruption as part of its austerity drive.

This has included measures to cut down on superfluous expenses and bloated salaries of high-ranking public officials.

The public prosecutor has also initiated a number of court cases
against former and current elected officials for alleged corruption.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly called for a “war
against corruption”. A culture of corruption and clientalism has long
pervaded the state bureaucracy.

Despite Chavez’s words, it was widely felt little action was taken to tackle the problem.

War on corruption

However, in recent weeks a former Chavez government defence minister
has been detained, and a former pro-Chavez governor and an opposition
have had arrest warrants issued against them for failing to attend
court hearings over corruption charges.

In total, 11 former elected officials, opposition and Chavez supporters alike, have been summonsed to face trial.

Prensa YKVE reported on April 7 that Chavez said: “We have to put an
end to impunity. The courts have to convict those that are corrupt, no
matter their political colors, no matter their political position.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be blackmailed by anyone.”

Most of the international media’s attention has focused on the cases of
opposition leader and Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales, and former
defence minister Raul Baduel. Baduel publicly broke with Chavez in
2007.

These cases have been used as evidence of acts of “political persecution against Chavez opponents”.

An arrest warrant was issued for Rosales on April 21 when he failed to
appear in court to face charges for allegedly stealing nearly US$70,000
of public funds while governor of Zulia state.

Rosales, on leave of absence from his Maracaibo mayor post, fled to
Peru. Once there, he held a press conference, broadcast by Venezuelan
private media, denouncing Chavez as a “coward” and a “dictator”.

He has been granted asylum by the Peruvian government for “humanitarian reasons”.

Neither Rosales nor the right-wing private media have provided evidence
to disprove the corruption allegations. The International Criminal
Police Organization (Interpol) found the evidence convincing enough to
issue a “wanted person” red alert for Rosales.

Interpol said the Venezuelan government’s request “meets the
requirements of the Organization’s constitution which prohibits any
actions of a political, racial, religious or military character”. This
undermines the argument that the case against Rosales is simply
political persecution.

The case against Baduel relates to the disappearance of $14.4 million
from the defence ministry’s budget during his 2006-07 term as minister.
After repeatedly failing to turn up for questioning, Baduel was
detained on April 2.

An April 28 ANSA article noted that so far this year, nine ex-mayors
have been charged over corruption allegations. Five were from
pro-Chavez parties, including the United Socialist Party of Venezuela
(PSUV) — of which Chavez is president. Four are from opposition
parties.

One of those being investigated is the former mayor of Greater Caracas and long-time Chavez supporter, Juan Barreto.

The list did not include Baduel or Eduardo Manuitt, the former
pro-Chavez governor of Guarico accused in December of corruption during
his term. Manuitt is also said to have gone into hiding and a warrant
has been issued for his arrest.

Manuitt was expelled from the PSUV late last year after publicly
supporting his daughter, Lenny Manuitt, in her failed campaign to
replace him as governor. Lenny Manuitt failed to win pre-selection
elections to be the PSUV candidate and ran against the PSUV.

Slashing bureaucracy

Parallel to attacks on corruption, Chavez has announced a series of
austerity measures as part of the government’s plan to confront the
economic crisis.

Due to the drop in prices for Venezuelan oil from a high of $129.54 a
barrel last July to just over $40 in recent times, the government was
forced to readjust its 2009 budget earlier.

Reducing the budget by 6.7%, the government was emphatic that social spending would not be touched.

As part of ensuring the poor would not pay for the crisis, Chavez said
on March 22 that the minimum wage, already the highest in Latin
America, would be increased by 20% this year.

However, wages and benefits for high -ranking officials in ministries and government institutions are being cut back.

Stating that “we have to get rid of these mega-salaries, mega-bonuses”,
Chavez signed a president decree on March 25 eliminating superfluous
spending.

Venezuelanalysis.com said on March 27 that the decree “applies to all entities of the national public administration”.

“Various expenses, including the purchase or use of phones and
cars, international travel, hiring of specialized services like
engineers and architects, the renovation of headquarters and official
residences, purchasing of promotional material that doesn’t correspond
to the organization and ‘lavish celebrations’ will need approval from
the executive vice-president.

“It also orders the setting or adjusting of wage limits for workers
at high levels in the public administration and prohibits bonuses.”

Rafael Ramirez, president of the state oil company, PDVSA,
announced on April 26 that, as part of cutting back PDVSA’s 2009 budget
by 64.7%, executive salaries would be cut by 20% and executive bonuses
would be frozen.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #793 6 May 2009.