Venezuela: Guaido Embattled as Opposition Splits over New Corruption Scandal

The latest scandal has further called into doubt Guaido’s credibility as leader of the opposition.

By Lucas Koerner and Ricardo Vaz
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Deputy Jose Brito (left) and self-proclaimed “interim president” have traded corruption accusations this week. (Archive)
Deputy Jose Brito (left) and self-proclaimed “interim president” have traded corruption accusations this week. (Archive)

Caracas, December 5, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s right-wing opposition has been beset by internecine strife in recent days following new corruption allegations involving senior anti-government figures.

On Sunday, pro-opposition website Armando.info published an investigative report alleging illicit ties between nine National Assembly (AN) deputies and a Colombian businessman reportedly involved in the Maduro government’s CLAP subsidized food distribution program.

The report named First Justice party deputies Jose Brito, Luis Parra, and Conrado Perez Linares, Richard Arteaga and Guillermo Luces of Popular Will, A New Era’s Chaim Bucaram and William Barrientos, Progressive Advance Deputy Hector Vargas, and Adolfo Superlano, recently expelled from Cambiemos. The majority of the legislators sit on the opposition-led AN’s own comptroller commission.

According to documents obtained by the news site, the lawmakers used their positions to lobby US and Colombian authorities to shield Colombian entrepreneur Carlos Lizcano from sanctions in return for kickbacks.

Lizcano is the owner of Salva Foods, which manages the network of so-called “CLAP Stores” in Venezuela. He has been linked to fellow Colombian businessmen Alex Saab and Alvaro Pulido, who have both been sanctioned by Washington for their alleged ties to the CLAP program.

The revelations have been widely regarded as an embarrassment for National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself “interim president” of Venezuela in January and is recognized by the United States, Colombia, and several dozen other countries.

Immediately responding to the allegations, Guaido denounced “corruption” on the part of his fellow lawmakers and announced an overhaul of the comptroller commission.

“I will not allow corruption to endanger all we have sacrificed for freedom,” he tweeted Sunday.

The AN head’s comments provoked a backlash, with First Justice’s Jose Brito telling reporters on Tuesday that Guaido “does not have moral, ethical or judicial capabilities, because he’s corrupt.”

He also challenged Guaido to prove any wrongdoing on his part, while alleging that people close to the “interim president” were behind the purchase of a night club in Madrid with ill-gotten funds.

“There is a rebellion inside the National Assembly against Guaido, because he’s corrupt,” Brito concluded, adding that 70 deputies have penned a letter to Guaido demanding he render accounts of the February humanitarian aid funds – another scandal implicating the opposition leadership.

On February 23, Washington and the Guaido-led opposition attempted to force “humanitarian aid” across the Venezuelan-Colombian border in a failed bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

In June, reports emerged that Guaido’s representatives in Colombia had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for soldiers who had heeded the opposition call to desert on February 23.

Months later, it was revealed that Guaido had crossed into Colombia, ahead of the “humanitarian aid” effort, with the help of infamous paramilitary outfit Los Rastrojos. The opposition leader was seen in videos and pictures with members of the group, which has been accused of drug smuggling, assassinations and extortion.

Both scandals were dragged back into the limelight last week following the announcement that Guaido’s “ambassador” to Bogota, Humberto Calderon Berti, was being replaced.

Calderon, a former minister and president of state oil company PDVSA in the 1980s and ‘90s, later gave an interview to Miami-based anti-government outlet PanamPost in which he blamed hard-right Popular Will leader Leopoldo Lopez for the opposition’s “biggest mistakes.” Lopez was serving a 14-year sentence under house arrest for his responsibility in the violent 2014 opposition protests when he was freed by rogue intelligence personnel during April 30’s failed putsch attempt. He then fled to the Spanish embassy where he has resided since.

The former minister highlighted his “ethical differences” with respect to Juan Guaido and his mentor, Lopez, while also pointing the finger at leading opposition figures for the embezzlement of humanitarian aid funds.

Calderon also commented on another scandal brewing at chemical company Monomeros, Colombian subsidiary of Venezuelan state petrochemical company Pequiven. Monomeros was taken over by the opposition earlier this year, and Calderon accused the main opposition parties of appointing ill-prepared board members and engaging in corrupt practices.

The latest opposition infighting has also garnered a reaction from Maduro government officials. Comptroller General Elvis Amoroso announced that this office is opening an investigation into Guaido and his associates over the alleged misappropriation of state funds.

Meanwhile, National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello commented that the corruption scandals evidence the opposition’s “lack of morals and ethics.”

“Nobody should be surprised that they are trading accusations of corruption, of taking bribes, they even stole humanitarian aid,” Cabello said in a press conference on Monday.

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