Venezuela's Maduro Seeks Enabling Law to Combat Corruption, Assures PSUV "Will Never Be Homophobic"

After making over a hundred arrests related to corruption in a month, Venezuelan authorities are now investigating the offices of the opposition leader Henrique Capriles as the government continues its nationwide anti-corruption campaign.

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
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Speaking in the Petare neighbourhood of Caracas yesterday, Maduro said the PSUV “will never be homophobic”, after one of his legislators made comments that LGBT groups have said are discriminatory (Prensa MIJ)
Speaking in the Petare neighbourhood of Caracas yesterday, Maduro said the PSUV “will never be homophobic”, after one of his legislators made comments that LGBT groups have said are discriminatory (Prensa MIJ)

Mérida, 16th August 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – After making over a hundred arrests related to corruption in a month, Venezuelan authorities are now investigating the offices of the opposition leader Henrique Capriles as the government continues its nationwide anti-corruption campaign.

According to Venezuela's attorney general, Luisa Ortega, 64 of the arrests were made in a period of 12 days between 26 July and 7 August. 20 of these detainees have yet to be formally charged.

She also stated that since the post election violence in April, 30 people had been detained in connection to nationwide protests that turned deadly. Following the 14 April presidential elections, Capriles called on his supporters to rally nationwide. According to authorities, opposition protesters were involved in attacks targeting the nation's electoral commission, government missions, including food markets and medical centres, and public media outlets. On 15 April, Venezuelanalysis.com observed both pro-government and opposition protesters engage in violence in the streets of Merida.

The offices of Capriles himself are now the subject of an investigation. On 12 August, President Nicolas Maduro stated he had information showing the “total putrefaction of those who direct the Venezuelan right wing”. The following day, at the National Assembly (AN) United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislators presented footage that they claimed showed evidence of corruption in Capriles' party, Primero Justicia.

The footage allegedly shows Oscar Lopez, the director of the offices of Capriles, who is Miranda state governor, speaking with businessman Eligio Cedeño in a conversation which appears to indicate that around US$2 million could have been sent via the US State Department to fund a television channel for Capriles. (Capriles’ regular internet show is www.capriles.tv.) Lopez is reportedly one of Capriles' top aides, and has been wanted by Venezuelan authorities since an arrest warrant was issued for him on 7 August for alleged money laundering.

During the AN session on 13 August, PSUV legislators accused the opposition of not only engaging in money laundering, but also narcotics trafficking and prostitution, which they say are sources of funding for Primero Justicia. Legislator Pedro Carreno also showed the assembly photographs that he asserted proved Lopez was involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. The photos appear to show Lopez and other men dressed in women's clothing. Carreno didn't elaborate on how the photographs prove the allegations. He also didn't disclose the source of the photographs, though authorities reportedly searched Lopez's apartment and confiscated some items after they issued his arrest warrant.

During his speech Carreno labelled Capriles a “faggot”. “Respond, you homosexual,” he stated.

The AN has since launched an investigation into allegations of corruption in Primero Justicia, as proposed in a resolution put forth by PSUV legislator Andres Eloy Mendez. However, Carreno's comments have drawn criticism from LGBT rights advocacy groups. Head of the opposition-aligned Proinclusion de Voluntad Popular, Tamara Adrian, described Carreno's statement as a “homophobic speech”, and “one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Republic of Venezuela”.

“Venezuela is the only country in Latin America where the National Assembly has never discussed issues such as same-sex marriage. And if anyone asks why, the answer was clear yesterday,” Adrian stated the following day. Adrian further argued that there is “widespread” institutional “homophobic and transphobic” discrimination in the Venezuelan government and society.

Consulting group Visor 360's political analyst Nicmer Evans wrote on Twitter that both sides of Venezuelan politics need to “improve their language”.

Capriles himself has also criticised the comments, calling the AN session a “circus”, and issuing his own accusations of corruption against the government on Caprilestv, where he claimed he had evidence proving the PSUV has used state funds in a campaign to discredit him. He also criticised Maduro's anti-corruption drive of recent months, stating “the corrupt are already in government”.

Carreno Apologises

Yesterday, Carreno issued an apology for his choice of wording.

“If my vocabulary was excessive yesterday, I apologise,” he stated during an interview with Globovision. However, he stated that he thought carefully before choosing his words, and argued that his position on the corruption allegations “is the reaction of thousands of Venezuelans who are voiced by me”.

“This revolution is a revolution of inclusion, equity, equality and social justice,” Carreno responded when asked if he considers himself homophobic. He argued that his main concern with the opposition leader is that he allegedly “has a hidden life”, before reiterating his accusations that Capriles is “linked to prostitution and drug trafficking”.

However, when asked if he supports marriage rights for same sex couples, he refused to answer, arguing that as a member of the PSUV he would refer to the party line.

In an event in Caracas yesterday, Maduro weighed in, backing some of the accusations of criminal activity within Primero Justicia, but rejecting claims the PSUV is “homophobic”. Holding a rainbow flag, Maduro stated that the PSUV “will never be homophobic”.

“The revolution claims freedom, equality and respect for human beings,” he stated.

“To you, all my respect and our support,” he said, addressing members of the LGBT community that were present.

Maduro argued that the opposition is using claims of homophobia in the PSUV to distract from the criminal allegations levelled against the Miranda offices.

“Do you recognise the manipulation?” he asked those present.

Head of the AN, the PSUV's Diosdado Cabello, also criticized the opposition, stating, “It pains us, what's happening to Venezuelan politics.”

“We want a real opposition,” he said.

Maduro Seeks Decree Powers

Along with rejecting accusations of homophobia, Maduro also restated his intention to continue tackling corruption. Yesterday, he and other senior government figures held a four-hour, closed door meeting to discuss anti-corruption strategies. The president has described the anti-corruption campaign as a “war on the old, rotten anti-values of capitalism”.

One measure that the administration has proposed is to seek decree powers from the AN. Under the Enabling Law, the president can enact laws by decree, without going through the assembly. However, Maduro can only be granted decree powers through a vote at the assembly itself. He would require a three-fifths majority of legislators to support the proposal, and it is considered that his supporters in the assembly probably have a sufficient majority to potentially approve the measure. If Maduro were to obtain the decree powers, he would be restricted to only passing laws relevant to a national emergency, and for a period of time permitted by the AN. However, the assembly is able to modify the terms of the president's decree powers, and can retract the provision, at any time. The powers can also be put to a referendum if 5% of voters sign a petition demanding it.

“I am going to call a national emergency in the fight against corruption and I am going to ask for special powers to begin a process of law reform,” Maduro stated on 12 August in a televised address.

“If it's necessary to change all the laws, we will do it,” he said.

Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, was granted the decree powers permitted under the Enabling Law four times during his presidency, in 1999, 2001, 2007 and 2010. The last time he was granted the powers was in the aftermath of major floods that devastated much of Venezuela's north, including the capital, Caracas.

In order to obtain decree powers, Maduro would likewise have to convince legislators that Venezuela's level of corruption constitutes a national emergency. According to Transparency International's (TI) 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, Venezuela ranked 165 out of 176, meaning that it had one of the highest levels of perceived corruption of countries surveyed. Although TI is widely viewed as one of the most prominent barometers of global corruption, it is not without its critics, such as the former head of the organisation's Brazil chapter, Claudio Weber Abramo. Weber has argued that perceptions of corruption do not necessarily correlate with the “actual level of corruption” within a country.

Capriles has criticised both Maduro's plan to seek decree powers, and his anti-corruption campaign. He has stated that despite supporters of the president holding a majority in the AN, Maduro lacks sufficient support to be granted the ability to rule by decree, and has questioned the president's intentions.

“They fight for the loot, not against corruption,” he has stated.

More Than One Hundred Arrests in Corruption Crackdown

Nonetheless, in a recent interview with state broadcaster VTV, Ortega stated that Maduro is currently engaged in “a full frontal struggle” with corruption. The majority of those netted in the administration's anti-corruption drive are from the government itself, including 50 out of the latest 64 arrestees cited by the attorney general.

In total, between 8 July and 13 August, 103 arrests were made in the anti-corruption campaign, according to information from the attorney general's office. The list includes officials from the consumer protection agency INDEPABIS, the civil registry service SAIME, state-owned iron company Ferrominera, a joint Sino-Venezuelan development fund and even six judicial personnel.

In July, the AN also stripped opposition legislator Richard Mardo of his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for a criminal investigation into allegations of tax fraud and money laundering. The case sparked rallies in the capital by government and opposition supporters, both calling for an end to corruption and inefficiency.

Also in July, members of an organisation called “Angels of the Revolution” were apprehended for allegedly charging up to Bs20,000 (over US$3000) in fraudulent fees to people trying to obtain benefits from the Bolivarian missions. Elderly Venezuelans applying for pensions and families looking for housing under Mision Vivienda were among those targeted by the alleged fraudsters. These are both free services.

Authorities have also pursued alleged cases of private sector corruption, such as the high-profile investigation into the owner and editor of one of Venezuela's largest newspapers, El Nacional. The owner-editor, Miguel Henrique Otero, is being investigated for possible criminal misconduct in relation to a civil dispute with the former mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Pena. His bank accounts have been frozen pending the outcome of the investigation. In July authorities also froze the accounts of the owner of another newspaper, 6to Poder's Leocenis Garcia, who is facing allegations of tax evasion, tax fraud, and money laundering. Both men have claimed the investigations are politically motivated.

“Here no one is untouchable; we are going to go at it with everything,” Maduro stated earlier this month.

“Anyone who is corrupt is a counter revolutionary, anti-Chavista and anti-Bolivarian,” he said.

A full list of arrestees from the period of 8 July to 13 August is available here.