What do you make of Roberta Jacobson’s remarks before US legislators last week, a reader queried.
MUD is flat, I wrote in January 2013. The only change within the MUD since that comment 15 months ago has been for the worse.
The US congressional hearings on Venezuela last week were disastrous for the MUD.
The US government won’t impose broad sanctions against Venezuela’s regime for the time being, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said.
Jacobson also disclosed that some in MUD reached out to the US State department explicitly pleading that the US not impose any sanctions on Venezuela’s gangster regime. But Jacobson did not disclose the names of these MUD officials.
Then Jacobson opened another can of worms when she subsequently tried to clarify her remarks to Congress, adding that the outreach had come from MUD officials engaged in “dialogue” with the regime in Caracas.
Jose Guillermo Aveledo, MUD’s executive secretary and thus THE authorized authority (at least he thinks of himself as such), muddled initially but finally owned up to to the MUD’s officially opposing sanctions because they would hurt Venezuelan people and economy.
Aveledo didn’t explain why or how the MUD believes that US sanctions would hurt Venezuelan populace more than it’s suffering now.
Aveledo also didn’t name names, even to disclose who in the MUD supports his official MUD position of not imposing any sanctions.
Then Carlos Ortega, a co-conspirator in the events that culminated with the slaughter of 11 April 2002 claimed the State Department was approached by three MUD figures, two of which reside in Caracas and the third in Washington, DC.
But Ortega didn’t name names either – because Ortega doesn’t really know their identities. Ortega, a political dinosaur stuck in a tar pit of his own lifelong corrupt manufacture, is clueless.
There are only four individuals in the MUD with direct access to the Jacobson in the State Department, a Washington-based friend tells the Gringo.
This quartet includes Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, Ramon Jose Medina, career diplomat Edmundo Gonzalez (Aveledo’s bagman, it’s said), and Leopoldo Martinez – though this last personality may not have as much access as the first three.
Why did one, or all of these individuals ask the State Department not to impose sanctions on Venezuela? Very likely, because the Maduro regime pressured the MUD to reject US sanctions or ele the dialogue would be terminated immediately.
The MUD cannot afford a suspension of its “dialogue” with the regime. If the “dialogue” stops, the MUD loses its last shred of circumstantial evidence that it actually represents some kind of united and organized opposition that speaks for a majority of the pueblo.
But it’s not clear if Aveledo, as executive director of the MUD, was speaking for the entire MUD when he reached out to Jacobson, or only part of the MUD or possibly none of the MUD except himself and a handful of associates and some of the moneyed Venezuelans funding the MUD – like dirt-bag banker Victor Vargas.
The MUD has cracked like Humpty Dumpty – there’s no putting it back together again. But that won’t stop its various wannabes from continuing to beat the drum of (fictional) MUD unity as they posture for the public.
Aveledo was the senior MUD spokesman for the Capriles presidential campaign for the 2013 elections to replace Hugo Chavez. But since the elections it appears everyone has gone his or her own way in the MUD.
Henrique Capriles is doing his own thing. Capriles opposes the violent street protests and counsels peace and dialogue, but recently it feels like every time that Capriles speaks he proves yet again that he was good municipal mayor but is only a so-so governor, which hints he would have been an ineffectual president.
Other MUD leaders have adopted confrontational positions against the regime, urging permanent nonviolent street activism to force regime change. So far it hasn’t worked, but almost 50 people have died violently, hundreds have been injured and at least 1,500 have been arrested, by some approximations.
Leopoldo Lopez is still isolated in a military prison. He’s a symbol of peaceful democratic resistance, but little else at this point.
Maria Corina Machado, who has responded with extraordinary courage, integrity and dignity to the regime’s relentless abuses and attempts at intimidation, has been stripped unconstitutionally of her elected seat in the assembly.
Antonio Ledezma is in the streets protesting.
Julio Borges of Primero Justicia continues to make boring power point presentations at press conferences called for that purpose.
It’s also said that Henry Ramos Allup of AD still “confronts” the regime with the interests of his banker suegro always in mind, because suegro’s cash butters Henry’s bread. But that’s another tale.
The month-old “dialogue” between the regime and the MUD is a two-faced farce. Neither side is serious. The “dialogue” is bad Bolivarian Kabuki theatrics, devoid of any significance, relevance or authority.
Maduro so far has not made any concessions or compromises whatsoever.
The MUD characters “participating” in the “dialogue” are trying desperately, above all other considerations including the wellbeing of Venezuela, simply to project themselves as individuals who are relevant, that they are real, true, legitimate political leaders speaking on behalf of the “pueblo que reclama un cambio.” But it’s bullshit, of course.
The presence of Jose Vicente Rangel at the “dialogue” also reveals the Unasur foreign ministers brokering the talks to be fools, or worse hypocrites depending on the angle of view.
Speaking of hypocrites… Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is actively lobbying regionally and in Washington, DC for the Maduro regime.
Colombia’s foreign minister and ambassador in Washington, DC have asked the State Department and White House repeatedly through back channels not to impose any sanctions on Venezuela.
Perhaps the decision by Santos to quietly cover Maduro’s ass in Washington is based on practical geopolitics: Colombian exports sell a lot of goods to Venezuela, which no longer makes much of anything thanks to 15 years of State gangsterism.
Alternatively, perhaps Santos could be running interference for the Maduro regime because the Colombian leader’s balls have been floating in a jar by Fidel Castro’s bed for quite some years now, my Colombian suegro opines.
Back to the MUD…
It’s clear that the various personalities and groups presently clustered around the MUD like flies on cow pie – including some who in the past clustered around the regime until their personal ambitions or chances for amassing fortunes were deraile – are very upset that the three-month-old street protests have been a self-sustaining popular event spearheaded by the country’s students.
They’re upset because the protests have proven beyond any doubt that the MUD characters and groups now engaged in the “dialogue” claiming to represent the pueblo actually don’t at all.
The students dismiss MUD’s efforts to project “leadership” anyway – knowing after 15 years that the “organized opposition” is light years removed from the affections and respect of the “pueblo” and particularly from the country’s youth.
Where are things going? Downhill, evidently, but don’t expect a glimmer of light soon. Countries can go downhill indefinitely, without ever hitting bottom. Ask Zimbabwe.
What are the odds of a peaceful regime change in the foreseeable future? Precisely ZERO.
Venezuela is broken, but it has incredible reserves of oil, gas, bauxite, iron, coal, gold and much more. There’s lots of $$$ to be won.
Corrupt business elites entrenched in Venezuela for generations backed this or that presidential candidate for many long years before Chavez was first elected at end-1998.
In fact, many of these same elites backed Chavez when Carlos Andres Perez was sacrificed politically among other reasons to cover the collective corrupt keisters of some folks associated with gangster banks (Latino, Progreso, Consolidado, Union) and various prominent names (Tinoco, Alvarez Stelling, Vargas, Gil, Castro).
Alek Boyd at Infodio has relentlessly exposed the gargantuan corruption of the Chavez-Maduro era in which many of the most active and thieving players either are descended from “auld names and money” or are themselves longtime players who always have profited hugely regardless of who was in power.
Take Victor Vargas, who amassed a huge fortune before Chavez and a bigger one during Chavez, and now also helps fund the MUD. Or Gustavo Cisneros, who reportedly now pays American policy experts to promote strategies and plans to rescue the Venezuelan democracy he did so much to undermine during the 1970’s-early ‘90s when the banking system finally drowned in its own corruption.
How about the pueblo? The ongoing protests prove that a lot of Venezuelans, particularly the youths who are coming of age with nothing in their short personal histories but Bolivarian gangsterism, are sick and tired of the misery the regime continues to inflict every day.
Yet at the same time there appears to be a terrible passivity across the population.
“I don’t understand why people are so passive with everything that’s happening…the food shortages, violence, repression, shortages of everything, inflation, the abuses….everyone’s angry, but no one does anything…they stand in line with resentful eyes like cattle being led to slaughter,” my dad-in-law remarked.
The economic ignorance and deliberate lies of Rafael Ramirez, energy minister, vice president for economic affairs and president of PdV, are dissected in detail by a 20-year-old first-year economics student in Argentina.
So it is with Venezuela and this blog, which basically always has been a part-time hobby back when spare time was in surplus to write about Venezuela-related stuff my real-world editors aren’t interested in.
But I put Gringo to sleep for a year because writing about Venezuela had become by the start of 2013 about as interesting as kicking a long-dead horse, then revived it briefly last February when the student protests started.
Couldn’t help myself, got caught up in the general excitement over the outside chance that perhaps, maybe, possibly after 15 interminable years there might still be a bit of Bravo Pueblo somewhere deep inside the collective soul of the Venezuelan people.
But I have too much work, too little time and I’ve been too long engaged in Venezuela, since 1973 or almost 41 years now, which makes me substantially older than over half of today’s Venezuelan population and skeptical about superficial appearances.
As one reader noted recently, in Venezuela there are never any coincidences, only arrangements… indeed, “una sociedad de complices,” as Jose Antonio Gil Yepes put it way back when he was still teaching at IESA.
So I paused again to watch things take their course as Venezuela burned from Carnival to Holy Week. But some 84 days after the protests started, their daily intensity and associated violence appear to have eased somewhat.
After 84 days the anti-government protests and simmering conflict between the regime and the growing numbers of Venezuelans who want to be rid of Maduro and hope/pray that their country will rebound quickly après Maduro is very old/stale news even if the Venezuela-centric social media continues to boil.
A “dialogue” of sorts is under way between some opposition figures and the regime. The dialogue isn’t going anywhere, but it does buy more time for Nicolas Maduro’s regime and lends credence to his lying claim that he only wants peace while his goons continue to gas, beat and detain the regime’s critics.
The opposition MUD coalition figures at the “dialogue” are definitely more knowledgeable and coherent in their arguments than the regime’s goons. That much was clear from the televised public dialogue that the regime now wants to continue in private. But Maduro isn’t making any concessions and has made it clear the MUD can leave the “dialogue” whenever it wishes because the regime won’t make even millimetric concessions.
It’s also clear the MUD is fractured. The fracture fault lines can be perceived by comparing the MUD’s united membership in 2012 before the presidential elections that year to the list of oppo figures presently participating (or not) in the so-called “dialogue” with the regime.
What’s the purpose of the regime-MUD “dialogue” anyway?
Polls show a majority of Venezuelans oppose violent protests and repression and want to be rid of Maduro democratically, which won’t happen until April 2019 at the earliest because it’s guaranteed the Supreme Court and CNE will make it so.
Forget about a presidential recall referendum. The Maduro regime will cheat successfully to guarantee his continuity in power. It happened in August 2004 with Chavez and it will happen again.
So for now there’s a “dialogue” – or at least there is the outward appearance of a dialogue between mortal enemies. The regime’s mouthpieces talk about “deepening successful models” and the oppo is demanding (fruitlessly so far) a political amnesty law to free all political prisoners.
But Maduro refuses to make any concessions/reforms whatsoever and the MUD “leaders” at the table do NOT remotely represent the full spectrum of the groups, sectors, institutions, organizations and individuals that oppose the regime.
The “students,” a mass of rightfully furious youth, aren’t led by anyone in the MUD and more/less spontaneously have become a potentially potent political force in their own right – hence the regime’s vicious repression tactics at hundreds of protests over the past 84 days that have taken some 42-43 lives and injured hundreds more.
But while the “dialogue” lasts it gives Maduro political cover, making his assurances of only seeking peace more credible to a world that doesn’t give a hoot about Venezuela anyway. It also could buy more time for the Maduro regime to contain and eventually snuff out the protests; while the “dialogue” lasts it diffuses public opinion in the camps opposed to Chavez. Most Venezuelans do not support violence, so let’s give the “dialogue” some time, and maybe something good will come of it.
The Maduro regime will make sure the “dialogue” drags on indefinitely, never going anywhere while the business of “consolidating the revolution” deepens quickly – witness the new education curricula aimed at brainwashing “Bolivarian revolution” into the minds of innocent children. And when the MUD finally walks out, Maduro will immediately accuse the “fascist” opposition of continuing to plot coups, wage economic war and provoke violent street clashes.
The “international community” won’t do anything to help Venezuela. Forget Washington, Brussels, OAS, UN, Unasur or whatever. US President Barack Obama has no time for Venezuela, what with bowing to robots as Russia prepares to seize all of Ukraine, snapping selfies and playing golf. It’s good to be king, yea?
But Beijing and Moscow meanwhile are quietly doubling down on their support for the Maduro regime and preserving the political status quo in Venezuela.
Putin was a tad peeved with the Venezuelan regime’s penchant for not paying its debts on time, but his annexation of the Crimea restored Venezuela’s importance to Moscow as a global strategic ally.
The importance Beijing assigns to Venezuela’s current regime likely will be confirmed soon when China’s President Xi Jinping visits Caracas during his second official tour of Latin America. PdV’s recent lease of storage and deepwater terminals facilities at nearby St Eustatius confirms the failure of PdV’s Orinoco expansion plans (fodder for another post), but also hints at potential new oil-backed loans from Beijing that PdV supposedly would pay with increased oil shipments to China.
Supposedly…because PdV desperately needs to boost its oil production and hard currency revenues very quickly, but it doesn’t have sufficient cash to invest more in raising oil production in traditional areas it has neglected deliberately for the past 15 years. Venezuela’s dollar drought since 2012 is the clearest symptom that PdV no longer generates the dollars the country needs.
A second key factor in the disappearance of Venezuela’s dollar supply was the regime’s deliberate destruction of the non-oil economy at all levels, which made the country dependent on imports for about 60-70pc of its basic needs, though some say it could be 80pc or even higher now that supplies of food and everything else are steadily disappearing.
The “dialogue’s” days are counted, but it doesn’t really matter. Venezuela is sliding deeper into a slump unlike anything its people have experienced in recent memory. The Maduro regime can’t halt the economy’s stagflation, lacking both the will and intellectual capacity to address the crisis anyway. But it’s clear that Maduro and gang will not relinquish any political power or reverse expanding efforts to control everything and everyone.
Several in-the-know readers took this Gringo to task after my recent stroll through the netherworld of Caracas-style “entrepreneurial journalism.” Yes, 6to Poder chief Leocenis Garcia is Venezuela’s reigning master of the journalistic dark arts – but this, apparently, is old news.
“Everybody knows Leocenis is a shakedown artist,” one reader chided me. “What’s interesting is that he may have a new partner in the game.”
Oh, really? And who might that be?
Figure it out for yourself, Gringo
And so I found myself getting drawn back down into the rabbit hole, the shadow realm where the real news happens in Venezuela, the world of shakedowns and set-ups where headlines are a thinly veiled threat with dollar signs attached and where good ink will cost you a lot more than a night with the models in Garcia’s new sex magazine. But I digress.
My first instinct was to look back to Garcia’s first stint behind bars, a two-year-plus bid at Tocuyito that he earned for basically throwing a public temper tantrum in the offices of narco-kingpin Walid Makled.
The alleged motive for the dust-up was that Makled was behind on payments to Garcia for a string of articles Garcia published to help prop up the rapidly crumbling façade of Makled as legitimate businessman. Garcia claimed he was simply trying to collect on a legitimate debt and throughout his two years behind bars insisted that he had been railroaded by Makled and his powerful friends in the regime.
Whatever version you believe, one could safely conclude from the incident that Garcia had more balls than brains and that he had no qualms about getting into business with the kind of characters who wind up on the blackest of black lists.
Correct, Gringo. You’re on the right track.
Back to Garcia’s time behind bars. On the outside, Garcia maintained his public image of the crusading corruption-fighter and fearless truth-teller. On the inside, Garcia became friends with Wilmer Brizuela, the ‘Pran’ or criminal kingpin of Tocuyito prison, one of the most brutal in Venezuela.
Brizuela was the big leagues, a cold-blooded killer who had a hand in every racket operating out of Tocuyito: kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, drugs, the lot. Within the confines of that world, he had the absolute power over life and death. This was likely Garcia’s first direct experience with someone who wielded that kind of power and by all accounts Brizuela protected Garcia while he was on the inside and the two became close.
When word of his association with Brizuela surfaced in August 2011, Garcia played it down. “What’s the big deal?” Garcia twittered.
The big deal was that Garcia was under fire for his own increasingly Mafioso-style behavior, spelled out in a blistering open letter published by Roger Figueroa, the President of the Venezuelan Chamber for the Dairy Industry on Soberania.com.
Figueroa alleged that Garcia had tried to shake him down and recounted the remarkable story of Garcia’s evolution from a cheap hustler who ripped off the work of other journalists to a self-styled gangster who Figueroa called a “mercenary of the pen, an unscrupulous man at the service of the highest bidder.”
What if the real gangster Brizuela and the fake gangster Garcia are now working together? What if Brizuela currently is supplying the muscle that Garcia lacked when he took on Makled?
No, Gringo. But you are getting closer.
The period from 2011-2013 was a turbulent one for Garcia. In September 2011 he landed back in jail after publishing a tasteless (even by his standards) piece of “The Women of the Revolution,” depicting six female cabinet members as cabaret dancers.
After his release in December 2011 he got in a very public twitter war with Patricia Poleo, who acted as interim Chief Editor of 6to Poder while Garcia was in prison, with Paleo saying she was “disgusted” with Garcia’s “dirty war.”
Next came a public spats with David Osio of Davos Financial (since mended, we understand) and a lawsuit from Juan Carlos Escotet of Banesco. Garcia was everywhere at once, building his brand and his empire.
The one thing that remained consistent was Garcia’s stance against the regime. He seemed to go out of his way picking fights with regime figures. He branded General Hugo “El Pollo” Carvajal a “drug lord.” He waged a long running campaign against members of what he called the “judicial mafia.” He filed denuncias against the head of CONATEL for alleged extortion.
Finally, in late July 2013, when Garcia was reportedly about to unveil the top 15 “robolucionarios” of the regime, someone decided that enough was enough.
On July 31, 2013, Garcia was detained by uniformed agents of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCM) and confined at the entity’s headquarters in the Boleita sector of Caracas.
Garcia was accused of money laundering and racketeering and authorities produced evidence of millions of dollars in offshore accounts in Puerto Rico, Monaco and Switzerland.
Compared with GArcia’s 2011 arrest, this was serious and the media, which had flocked to his defense previously, kept a wary distance.
Garcia disappeared into the DGCM’s dungeons in Boleita, where priority political prisoners are held largely incommunicado from everyone but immediate family and lawyers.
The master of Garcia’s new world was a man considerably more dangerous than Wilmer Brizuela – arguably the most dangerous man in Bolivarian Venezuela: Hugo “El Pollo” Carvajal, the head of DGCM. The drug trafficking and dealings with the FARC that landed Carvajal on the U.S. Treasury Department’s black list back in 2008 was only the half of it. Carvajal presided over a diversified organized criminal enterprise from the bowels of the Bolivarian security establishment.
Carvajal had the means and ruthlessness to disappear Garcia while in custody, and Garcia knew it. On September 14, Garcia’s brother used Leocenis’ twitter account to declare: “I make Hugo Carvajal, Director of DIM responsible for the life of my brother Leocenis Garcia president of 6topoder.”
And then, on November 28, without any warning, Garcia was released. Other controversial figures that incurred the regime’s wrath have been kept in jail for years on trumped-up charges, but Garcia was freed after a few months. The official reason was Garcia’s health. Garcia himself credited his hunger strike, which he claims lasted over 50 days.
But DGCM sources said their prisoner was never remotely in danger of starving himself to death and it was well within Carvajal’s power to force feed him. Further, If Garcia had pancreatitis or cancer (as some claimed) he hasn’t appeared to suffer any ill effects after being freed.
Even stranger, 6to Poder was allowed to reopen. And although criminal charges are still pending, its assets and bank accounts were unfrozen and restored to the group’s owners and administrators. Everything, it seemed, was back to normal – everything, that is, except for Garcia himself.
Whatever happened at DGCM headquarters, Garcia emerged from his more than 120-days confinement a changed man. In early December, Garcia held a press conference to announce that henceforth 6to Poder would adopt a more moderate editorial stance with respect to the government.
More remarkable was Garcia’s new stance toward his former captor, Carvajal himself. Before his time in Boleita, Garcia had denounced Carvajal as a drug lord. Now, 6to Poder heralded El Pollo Carvajal as one of the four most important men of the revolution (along with Diosdado Cabello, Nicholas Maduro and Jorge Arreaza) and a pillar of Venezuelan democracy. The article portrayed Carvajal as the strong, silent type, one who talked little but acted decisively, snuffing out multiple coup attempts upon Chavez’ death and spearheading the arrest of many corrupt officials. Huh?
After Maduro dismissed Carvajal as head of the DIM in January 2014, it got even weirder. The issue of 6to Poder dated Sunday 12-19 January 2014 devoted its entire front page above the fold to a massive full color photo of Carvajal with a stern gaze and set jaw: this was Carvajal, a hero of the revolution, “the man who prevented over 20 coup d’etats.”
It didn’t stop there.
• On January 10, Garcia tweeted a warning to those who would celebrate Carvajal’s ouster, saying he would be back soon.
• On January 16, El Comercio ran an item noting that many Venezuelan cabinet members had penned messages in support of “El Pollo” Carvajal, thanking him for his service as head of Military Intelligence and predicting that President Maduro would appoint him to a new role soon.
• On January 20 2014, 6to Poder re-published remarks made by Congressman Jose Avila via Twitter. According to the article, Avila said that Carvajal’s work for Venezuela has been “positive and must be recognized.”
• The next day, January 21, 2014, 6to Poder tweeted that Congressman Avila Guerrero “praised the performance of Hugo ‘El Pollo’ Carvajal.”
• On February 9, 2014 6to Poder quoted Luis Vasquez, head of Venezuela’s aluminum workers, asking President Maduro to appoint Carvajal to head state-owned aluminum smelter Venalum with a mandate to root out and dismantle widespread corruption and mismanagement. Carvajal and his “teams” were the only ones able to manage and halt inherent corruption of the basic industries and the “mafias” within the state-owned companies, Vasquez said.
• On March 2, 2014, 6to Poder published an article characterizing Carvajal as one of the most trusted allies of “El Comandante Chavez” and a member of his innermost circle and among the few senior regime figures allowed access to Chavez during the last days of his life.
• A second 6to Poder article published the same day narrated the last days of President Chavez and built up Carvajal’s role, noting that he had foiled several assassination attempts against Chavez and was responsible for guaranteeing President Chavez’s physical safety during his medical trips to Cuba.
Could all this fawning coverage of Carvajal be a coincidence?
There are never any coincidences in Caracas, Gringo. Only arrangements.
Indeed. What was clear was that Garcia’s publications since last December have been providing Carvajal, a known international criminal, with a sustained campaign of brand-washing and character rehabilitation. Other than his freedom, and the return of his newspaper and other media and financial assets, what was Garcia getting in return? What happened at DGCM headquarters during Garcia’s confinement? Did Carvajal “break” Garcia and then recruit him, a theory popular in some circles? Did he make Garcia an offer he couldn’t refuse?
Or was it the other way around? Did the two men see in each other the perfect alignment of interests? Could there be a better partner for a shakedown artist like Garcia than someone like Carvajal with muscle AND access to some of the most sensitive intelligence files in the country?
To be continued . . .
One of the more interesting challenges of following current events in Venezuela is picking one’s way through the universe of local news and social media, experts and political personalities endlessly churning out information and disinformation masquerading as objective news and opinion.
Venezuelan journalism has a very rich history of extraordinarily talented and courageous investigative reporters and analysts. Bocaranda, La Bicha, Poleo and Schmidt, among others, always have been must-reads for this Gringo.
But Venezuelan journalism also has a dark underbelly.
Jose Vicente Rangel calls himself an investigative journalist and objective analyst. But countless others know JVR to be a lifelong conspirator, extortionist, collector of fees and commissions, destroyer of lives and reputations, even as the alleged intellectual author of at least one murder.
Tannous “Tony” Gerges at Reporte Diario de la Economia is another example of Venezuelan journalism’s dark underbelly. This gringo met Gerges in 2005. At the time, almost a decade ago now, Reporte under Tony Gerges was editorially carpet-bombing the Chavez regime’s congenital corruption from Monday-Friday, week after week.
Tony was physically a large man of considerable girth, outwardly brash and confident, a Lebanese-born businessman with a checkered past resulting from allegations that years earlier he had a business associate killed in a money dispute. Several of this Gringo’s friends, including other journalists and businessmen, privately shared personal insights on Reporte and its owner that suggested at least some of the “corruption exposes” were, in fact, shakedowns, extortions, blackmail.
Reporte’s favorite anti-corruption targets under Tony’s direction back then included Banco Bolivar’s owners, and individuals like Eligio Cedeno and Arne Chacon, among others. He also published regular anti-corruption exposes of Rafael Ramirez, various Pdvsa board members, and the new Bolibourgeois elites profiting hugely thanks to crooked deals with the regime.
But Tony Gerges finally pushed the wrong people too hard and too often, and in 2008 Tony’s brother was murdered as a result. Tony was the intended target that day. But his brother Pierre, Reporte’s administrative manager, died instead because he borrowed Tony’s car keys and looked enough like Tony that the shooters apparently were confused.
Practically all Reporte’s exposes of corruption in Pdvsa, were written by Leocenis Garcia. Garcia wrote corruption stories that other Venezuelan and foreign news media wouldn’t touch, often including copies of what appeared to be official internal Pdvsa documents.
Garcia projected himself through Reporte as a fearless, assertive investigative journalist with a dramatic flair. It also seems that Garcia, at his young age, was learning the darker arts from Gerges.
One of Garcia’s favorite targets of corruption exposes was Wilmer Ruperti. But in June 2007 one of Reporte’s veteran reporters, Jose Rafael Ramirez, was arrested by CICPC officials during a videotaped meeting with an emissary of Wilmer Ruperti, where Ramirez was allegedly to receive $5,000 in cash as a down payment on a $400,000 bribe to stop publishing exposes of Ruperti in Reporte. Ramirez spent three years in jail on charges of attempted extortion and was finally released in 2010. Ramirez always has denied that he was to receive any payment from Ruperti’s associate, but the videotape of the meeting suggests otherwise.
That videotape caused a huge headache for Gerges and Garcia, since Ruperti accused both of being involved in the alleged extortion scheme that landed Ramirez in jail. Ramirez subsequently claimed that Tony Gerges defused tensions by negotiating an agreement with Ruperti to stop publishing corruption allegations in Reporte.
As part of the agreement with Ruperti that spared Reporte, Tony Gerges, Leocenis Garcia from further potentially criminal prosecution relating to the extortion charges against them by Ruperti, Tony revealed the identity of his chief informant on Ruperti’s allegedly corrupt Pdvsa dealings, one Francisco Morillo, who had worked with Ruperti’s shipping firm before he joined Pdvsa in 2003-04 for a brief stint in the marketing department that manages the company’s oil export operations.
Apparently Morillo had old grudges against Ruperti. Morillo also was “competing” against Ruperti in the corrupt world of Pdvsa shipping contracts and export cargoes, so he arranged through his connections inside Pdvsa’s marketing department to obtain documents that left no doubt that Ruperti was a crook.
Leocenis Garcia learned the media racket at Reporte, but he was always an entrepreneurial personality seeking a fortune. In May 2008 Garcia and a pair of bodyguards were arrested on charges of vandalizing the offices of Walid Makled’s newspaper in Carabobo state. Garcia denied the vandalism charges, but office security cameras captured images of Garcia in the throes of a physical tantrum.
The alleged motive for the tantrum was that Makled was behind on payments he promised to Garcia in return for publishing stories to launder his reputation. Makled at the time still owned Aeropostal airlines, a newspaper and a range of import/export, transportation, freight forwarding and warehousing companies, but since at least 2006- was widely suspected of being an international drug trafficker with dozens of Venezuelan military officers on his payroll. Garcia’s public relations work had been intended to clean up Makled’s image and portray him as a legitimate businessman. It also ensured Garcia wouldn’t write exposes about Makled like the ones he had done on Ruperti.
Garcia was incarcerated for two years following his rampage in Makled’s offices, and finally was released in 2010 simultaneously with his former Reporte colleague Ramirez, reportedly through the intercession of (at the time) Interior and Justice Minister Tareck Al –Assaimi.
Garcia picked up where he left off and began growing his 6to Poder media group from a small tabloid daily into a diversified media group. 6to Poder was aggressively anti-chavista during this period and continued to feature punchy exposes of the Bolibourgeoisie, but Garcia’s exploits always were haunted by hints of extortion involving prominent personalities who bought advertising or paid outright for good coverage in 6o Poder, or better yet no coverage at all if one happened to be very prominent or potentially controversial. Why would a class outfit like Seguros Altamira advertise in a low-end tabloid like 6to Poder, you might ask? And indeed, the list of rumored victims of Garcia’s shakedowns included some of the biggest named in Caracas finance and industry. An expose would be threatened, an intermediary would offer to “help” – it was entrepreneurial journalism, Caracas-style.
Not everyone went for it: the banker Juan Carlos Escotet filed a defamation lawsuit against Garcia and 6to Poder, for example. But Garcia showed surprising deftness, including a talent for turning victims into allies: according to the media one of his key financial backers is a Luis Oberto, a one-time target of Garcia’s exposes.
Meanwhile, Garcia’s media empire grew to include interests ranging from online radio broadcasting to slickly packaged HD porn. When Garcia was arrested again in July 2013 he was accused of holding large amounts of undeclared national and foreign currency in both domestic and offshore accounts, totaling over US $3 million amongst several bank accounts in Puerto Rico, Monaco and Switzerland. Nice work if you can get it.
Fast forward to March 2014, and the emailed press release that landed in my inbox a few days ago announcing that Leocenis Garcia has just launched a new division of his recently resuscitated Sexto Poder media group called 6to Poder Libros. I say “recently resuscitated” because only a few short months ago in 2013 Leocenis Garcia was jailed, his assets seized, his 6to Poder group shut down, and ultimately he wound up staging a dramatic public hunger strike in defense of his allegedly abused human and economic rights.
But with one foot seemingly in the grave amid reports by his sister of critical renal failure and bloody urine, somehow Garcia was liberated from his legal tribulations and his rights and properties were fully restored, raised Lazarus-like by a hidden hand. Garcia capped his resuscitation in December 2013, and the revival of the 6to Poder group, with a press conference in which he announced a new inclusive editorial line at 6to Poder – which previously had been seemingly the scourge of Bolibourgeois corruption.
The press release announced that 6to Poder Libros has six books ready for immediate publication, including one titled “Francisco, Pope of the Poor” by Jose Visconti. Another book is titled “The Secrets of Power” – “about the interviews that paralyzed the country,” according to the PR blurb.
But the first book launched by 6to Poder Libros will be “The Night of Judas” – which the emailed press release describes as a “polemical investigation by the journalist Juan Avila with unedited documents about the case that took the media entrepreneur Leocenis Garcia to prison and provoked the cessation of his editorial group’s activities until his liberation.”
The only quibble this blogger has with the book is that it’s fiction masquerading as fact. The book narrates a story, but one man’s history can be another’s fable. Indeed, Leocenis perhaps unwittingly admits as much in the book’s prologue, stating “Los judas siempre terminan ahorcados” – roughly, “The Judas always hang in the end.”
As Don Quixote is quoted as saying in Thomas Shelton’s 1620 translation Cervantes Saavedra’s History of Don Quixote: “You are like what is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, ‘Avant, black-browes’.”