Sunday, June 8, 2008

Chavez revolution at risk

Corruption will end with "Chavez Roboilusion"

Chávez revolution at risk
By Benedict Mander in Barinas

Financial Times, 06 de junio de 2008


“There are three things you can’t hide: a cough, a pregnancy and money,” says Wilmer Azuaje, an ambitious 31-year-old politician running to be mayor of Barinas, the capital of a sprawling cattle-ranching state of the same name in Venezuela’s far west.
The issue of money in Barinas may prove crucial come November’s nationwide state and municipal elections. In running for office, Mr Azuaje is not only going against his political peers – President Hugo Chávez’s United Socialist party (PSUV), from which he was expelled last month after announcing his candidacy – but against the Chávez family, which has been the unofficial ruling clan of Barinas for a decade. The opposition has long accused the Chávez family in the state of malfeasance, and there is a current parliamentary investigation into whether members of the family used public money to accumulate a series of farms.
“Is this what they call socialism?” says Mr Azuaje. “President Chávez has to keep his family under control. They are making him look bad before the eyes of the world.”
Hugo Chávez was born in Barinas, and many of his relatives have influential positions here. His father, Hugo de Los Reyes Chávez, won the state governorship in 1998 a few months before President Chávez came to power in Caracas. Most locals believe that the president’s brother, Argenis Chávez, Barinas’s secretary of state, is also managing day-to-day affairs after the governor suffered a recent stroke. The governor’s wife, Elena, runs a state charity. Of their other sons, Aníbal Chávez is mayor of a town, Sabaneta, where the president was born; Adelis Chávez is a manager of Banco Sofitasa, which services many of the banking needs of the state government; and Narciso Chávez was once tipped to run for mayor of the state’s Bolivar municipality. The only one of the president’s brothers hitherto rarely linked to local politics is the eldest, Adán Chávez, but on Sunday he too joined the state’s political dynasty when a PSUV primary election chose him as the party’s candidate to replace his father as governor of Barinas state.
Accusations of official corruption in the state are numerous and not always directed at the Chávez family. Venezuela’s national assembly opened an investigation in March into claims that Argenis and Narciso channelled at least $3m of state funds to accumulate 17 farms through front men. The brothers have publicly denounced the accusation. Opposition parties have also launched a civil suit alleging embezzlement and kickbacks connected to a million-dollar project to build a sugar refinery in Sabaneta, although no member of the Chávez family is named in the case.
Sitting outside the radio station where he conducts a weekly programme, Argenis Chávez says the attacks against his family are politically motivated and groundless. “These accusations are doing a great deal of damage to our revolution,” he says. “They say I am the owner of shopping centres, that I have a fleet of Hummers, that I own lots of land – they want to kill me politically. But behind [Mr Azuaje’s campaign] is the opposition: it’s not my head they want but the president’s.”
There are few direct indicators of public opinion in Barinas. A recent rally against corruption and nepotism organised in Barinas city by Mr Azuaje drew about 5,000 people, although government supporters argue that many will have been drawn by the presence of famous musicians.
David Hernández, a PSUV member who is running against Aníbal Chávez to be mayor of Sabaneta, says people have lost faith with the president’s family “although we still support the president himself – for now”.
On the national level, local pollsters Datanalisis argue that corruption has become an issue of increasing concern. They suggest that in November the government could lose at least half a dozen of the 24 state and district governorships, 20 of which it currently controls. Hugo Chávez was swept to power on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, promising to clean up the crooked practices of the past. A decade on, Mr Chávez himself admitted this year that corruption remains one of the biggest problems facing his “Bolivarian revolution”. Confronting it, however, may prove difficult. “The president says we must denounce corruption, inefficiency and bureaucracy,” says Mr Azuaje. “But if you actually go ahead and do so, they accuse you of being a traitor and a CIA agent.”

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/790d0664-337a-11dd-8a25-0000779fd2ac.html?nclick_check=1

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