Venezuela, Crime and Punishment?

During the past couple of weeks, Venezuelans have witnessed something unheard of before in their country: many people in high-ranking government positions have been arrested for corruption. An entire network was discovered of public officials and private businessmen who have allegedly robbed the nation of billions of dollars centred around three key government enterprises, the public oil company PDVSA, the entity supervising the cryptocurrency (SUNACRIP), and the public steel industry.

In a heartfelt address to the nation, an indignant President Nicolás Maduro called them a mafia, and it was obvious he feels deeply betrayed by people who up to now had his full confidence. He vowed that no stone will be left unturned to catch all the criminals and to regain the people’s stolen funds.  The citizens have been very attentive to the proceedings, giving much support to the government against criminals deemed also as traitors and demanding no impunity.

It all started last October with the discovery that government accounts were missing $US 3 billion that should have been transferred there from PDVSA. That was the little breadcrumb that investigators started to follow leading to the oil company, the cryptocurrency agency, the important steel state industry, to private businessmen, one former deputy of the National Assembly (who had at some point been a minister), a former governor, a mayor, and even a few judges. Up to now, near one hundred people have been arrested awaiting trial.[1]

Money laundering operations have been discovered and illicit goods shown on TV: warehouses full of hundreds of brand-new automobiles, several buildings under construction in an upper-class section of the capital, half a dozen aeroplanes (one found stuffed with dollars) and several mansions in the most exclusive Caracas neighbourhood where,  allegedly, orgies were held and a prostitution network maintained. Many of the accused are now confessing and giving information to obtain leniency in their sentencing.

The National Assembly speedily passed (by unanimity) an anti-corruption law that mirrors the Assets Forfeiture Law model promoted by the United Nations, whereby the assets of those who have been sentenced for corruption are returned to the state. This is important because up to now, said assets had been auctioned off allowing lackeys of the corrupt to buy them to safeguard them for later use or sale by the criminals. [2] As well, the Penal Code was modified allowing the maximum sentencing for corruption and treason to be extended from 30 to 50 years. (Venezuela does not have a death penalty.)

These well-placed individuals are not the first to steal from the people, but it is the first time that in Venezuela that an operation of this magnitude against corruption within the government files has been attempted.

Corruption has existed since the Europeans arrived at those shores, robbing, killing, enslaving, taking all that was not theirs under grandiose pretexts to cover their sins. But also, in later years government officials and politicians have stolen a great deal from their own people. This is why, with frequent corruption in the political and economic culture, it is necessary to exert constant vigilance. To have honest judges, a nation needs honest lawyers. To have honest politicians and officers one needs honest citizens. As Simón Bolívar famously stated that “morals and enlightenment” are our greatest needs”. However, this is all predicated on an infrastructure of just laws and impartiality in their enforcement. No one, whatever their position can be above the law.

The Bolivarian Revolution started by Hugo Chávez obtained landslide victories at the polls because it stood against the two-party system that ruled in Venezuela for 40 years which allowed corruption to thrive. And yet how little this is understood outside the country. For example, a writer in The Times Higher Education Supplement, recently stated that   “…  back to the 1980s. Venezuela is by the definitions of the time among the most prosperous countries in Latin America, and certainly one of the most Democratic.”[3]   This is wishful thinking on the part of those who are adverse to the socialist Bolivarian government  The  demographic data on inequality and poverty of that time shows that prior to the Bolivarian Revolution , Venezuela was anything but an idyllic place as revisionist opposition people like to think, but a veritable swamp of corruption “which was not being confronted by the state; instead it was being encouraged and justified…Thus, one of the main priorities of the Bolivarian Revolution, of its constituent process, as well as of all the initiatives of the Chavista forces, was aimed at eradicating corruption.”

[4] The supposed “capitalist” economic system of Venezuela was reduced to a bacchanal, not real useful production, but of individual sacking and enrichment at the expense of the public welfare. This supposedly prosperous nation in 1999 had a poverty rate of up to 80%, despite the immense petroleum income of the government.[5]

Not only did economic corruption flourish, but violations of human rights were commonplace under previous governments: from 1960 to 1998 constitutional human rights were suspended 21 times.[6] The Bolivarian government, in contrast, has never once suspended human rights guarantees, despite tremendous US sponsored terrorism, mercenary invasions, cyber-attacks, and numerous coup d’etat attempts.

Now the enemies of the Bolivarian government of Venezuela are screaming: “Look at how corrupt the Chavistas are!” But those are voices of hypocrites and liars, who have a very biased and selective memory, who never complained about human rights violations, robbery and fraud by previous governments led by Acción Democrática or COPEI, in which the criminals -high ranking as they were- were not held accountable and punished for their crimes.

Here are some alleged crimes in the pre-Chávez era that have come to light.[7]

Alleged crimes of former presidents, who supposedly governed an idyllic Venezuela before Chávez and Maduro:

Carlos Andrés Pérez, president (Acción Democrática Party): he was impeached, and prosecuted for embezzlement of public funds, but fled the country rather than serve his sentence:

Theft of funds destined for Nicaragua, $US 100 million

Theft of $US 400 million with purchase of the ship “Sierra Nevada”

Theft of $US 1.2 billion of communal accounts, along with his mistress Cecilia Matos

Theft of Bs 1.8 billion at the workers’ bank (BTV) along with Carlos Ortega president of the workers union

Theft of Bs 600 million at the Simón Bolivar Centre relating to purchase of busses, along with Diego Arria.

Theft of Bs 1 billion of cement enterprise Andino, with Williams Davila

Theft and bankruptcy of VIASA, national airline, the state lost more than Bs 65 billion

Theft of Bs 1.7 billion in privatizing the telephone company CANTV.

Luis Herrera Campins, president (COPEI Party):

Theft of $US 100 million destined for corn to Africa

Theft of Bs 90 billion in banks Progreso and Latino, along with Orlando Castro

Theft of $US 300 billion on Black Friday increase of the dollar, along with Leopoldo Díaz Bruzual

Theft of Bs 700 million, with Vinicio Carrera

Jaime Lusinchi, president, (Acción Democrática Party):

Theft of $US 180 million buying jeeps and arms for the Acción Democrática party, with Manzo González.

Theft of Bs 122 million in RECADI (foreign exchange agency)

Theft of Bs 1.5 billion of workers’ benefits institution (INH) along with his wife Blanca Ibáñez

Rafael Caldera, president (COPEI Party):

Theft of Bs 20 million in gold bars of the National Bank of Venezuela, deposited in the Chase Manhattan bank, with Pedro Tinoco

Theft of Bs 10 billion in workers’ bank (INCRET), for workers’ vacation city.

Antonio Ledezma, (Acción Democrática), presidential candidate, former parliamentarian, former mayor of Caracas, coup plotter, escaped from custody and lives in golden self-exile in Spain:

Theft of Bs 300 billion from building bus terminal La Bandera

Theft of Bs 5 billion from the Municipal Markets Institute

Fraud for Bs 1.5 billion per year for 20 years, with Hai-China company in the Main Southern Cemetery

Crime of Leopoldo Lopez, (founder Primero Justicia party), coup plotter, fugitive of justice having been sentenced for the death of 43 people in the riots he provoked, darling of the extremist opposition, in golden self-exile in Spain, stole with the help of with his mother:

Theft of Bs. 5 billion per year from PDVSA to bolster his party Primero Justicia.

The esteemed Venezuelan historian Luis Britto Garcia points out that the conquest was a colossal looting operation, and the grossly stratified colonial society that ensued, left a legacy of inequality and larceny. “With the explosion of the petroleum and mining based economy, public goods and earnings overtook the private economy, and a batch of newly  rich and newly corrupt people came out of the trafficking of concessions and the milking of the state.”[8] The previous governments, can be accurately regarded as oligarchies, governing for the benefit of an elite that had minimum public spirit, that absorbed all the individualism and consumerism obsessions of capitalism, but not the minimum work ethics or any sense of social responsibility.

But why is this corruption network operating now?  Although not having tangible proof, there is a plausible explanation. Based on the fact that the USA is the prime haven for Venezuelan thieves involved in the former PDVSA, RECADI, and the banking debacle, and known coup plotters, terrorists, and many fugitives of Venezuelan justice. They have  found political support in the USDA which has become the place where all sorts of conspiracies against Venezuela are plotted with US government approval. So, it is worthwhile to note what Britto García recently says, “The way to destroy socialism is to infiltrate its leadership with neoliberalists. As an example: the Soviet Unión.”[9]

Therefore, it is not too farfetched to surmise that the sinister hand of the CIA has been corrupting, tempting, offering all sorts of incentives, looking for the officials of lesser morality, honesty, and principles, to try to corrupt and bring down Venezuela’s socialist government. They have not realized, however, that the “good ones” are much more abundant than the “bad ones”, and that the Bolivarian Revolution will not be defeated by the hand of Judas.

The Dutch sociologist Rutger Bregman in his excellent book “Humankind” presents overwhelming evidence “That most people, deep down, are pretty decent.” [10] What happens is that the media (seeking always profit and sensationalism) and the elites, fearful of their positions, do not really want to understand this. Author Rebecca Solinit explains it thus: she proposes that panic and pessimism, and we may add corruption, is abundant in unscrupulous people in positions of power who consider humankind in their own image. That is, they assume that the ordinary citizen behaves only according to their own selfish interests, just as they do. They steal because they think everyone else are thieves too. And this is not so. [11]

The Venezuelan Bolivarian social and political transformation has been, in its very essence, a revolution for education, for the opening of conscience, for extending the arms of solidarity throughout society, for the quest to liberate and construct a country that is peaceful, free and sovereign.[12] And a few thieves and traitors will not destroy 20 years of this broad work of official and grassroots nation building that we have seen, time and again, is resilient having survived,  and even flourished, in the face of illegal and cruel US sanctions, numerous attempted coup d’etats, terrorism, a pandemic, and the malice of the empire.

Jorge Rodríguez, president of the National Assembly, has assured, “Maduro is the president in the history of Venezuela from 1830 to date who has most fought against administrative corruption in all of its forms.”[13]  However, through education, grass-roots actions, political participation, and community organization, the fight against corruption has not just been confined to government files, but has affected the outlook and behaviour of the citizenship itself that now has a sense of  what is owed them and what is expected of them also.

 As to the ordinary citizen’s probity today, the humble fishermen of the tiny coastal village of Chuao are a shining example. In May 2020, with only one rifle among them, they singlehandedly brought down the armed Colombian and US mercenaries that sought to kill the president and overthrow the government. When offered dollars in exchange for releasing the mercenaries, the fishermen firmly rejected the bribe saying their integrity was more important than any dollar.[14] They are proof enough of what the Bolivarian Revolution has accomplished.

The future is good for Venezuela with people like that.


[1] Orinoco Tribune, “Anti-corruption Campaign: 142 raids in last 72 hours”,

[2] Orinoco Tribune, “Venezuela’s National Assembly Approves Law to Seize Assets linked to Coruption”, 1 April 2023,

[3] Alex Usher, “Venezuelan Higher Education”, The Times Educational Supplement, 6 April 202

[4] Jesús Farías, “The Fight Against Corruption, the Banner of Chavismo”, Orinoco Tribune, 1 April 2023,

[5] “Venezuela celebra 12 años de la Revolución Bolivariana”, Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela,

[6] Priselen Martínez, “Desde 1960 hasta 1998 se suspendieron 21 veces las Garantías Constitucionales “, Panorama, 28 Oct. 2007,

[7] Correo del Orinoco, “La IV República se caracterizó por la corrupción descarada e impune”, 6 diciembre 2017, Correo del Orinoco is a Venezuelan newspaper launched in 2009 with government backing.

[8] Luis Britto Garcia, “In Order t Overcome Corruption in Venezuela”,,  3 September 2013,

[9] Luis Britto García, ‘Corrupcieon en Venezuela: caiga quien caiga”, Nodal, 10 abril 2023,

[10] Rutger Bregman, “Humankind”, Little, Bown and Company, 2019, p. 2

[11] Rebecca Solnit, “A Paradise Built in Hell”, 2009, quoted by R. Bregman, op.cit.

[12] Venezuela has created 42 new universities; and according to UNESCO is the 5th nation in the world and 2nd in the region with the highest university enrollment. Since 2005 it eliminated illiteracy. TELESUR, Dec. 2020,

[13]  El Nacional, “Jorge Rodríguez: Maduro es el presidente que más ha combatido la corrupción en Venezuela”, 21 marzo 2023,

[14] VIDEO:


María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada.