Corruption in Venezuela

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Corruption in Venezuela is high by world standards and is prevalent throughout many levels of Venezuela's society.[1] In the case of Venezuela, the discovery of oil in the early twentieth century has worsened political corruption.[2] While corruption is difficult to measure reliably, Transparency International (TNI) currently ranks Venezuela among the top 20 most corrupt countries.[3] A 2014 Gallup poll found that 75% of Venezuelans believed that corruption was widespread throughout the Venezuelan government.[4] Discontent with corruption was cited by opposition-aligned groups as one of the reasons for the 2014 Venezuelan protests.[5]


During the Venezuelan War of Independence in 1813, Simón Bolívar made a decree that any corruption was punishable by death. During his presidency in the 1820s, he made two more decrees stating corruption was “the violation of the public interest” and reinforced his edict that it was punishable by death. Since then, the past 180 years of Venezuela have been defined by the "persistent and intense presence of corruption".[6] In 1991, author Ruth Capriles wrote The history of corruption in Venezuela is the history of our democracy depicting the many instances of corruption in the country.[7] In 1997, Pro Calidad de Vida, a Venezuelan NGO claimed that some $100 billion from oil revenue has been misused during the last 25 years.[6]

Joaquín Crespo (1884 -1898)[edit]

Joaquín Crespo was renowned for establishing the "ring of iron" by making connections with officials before the end of his first term in 1886, and placing his friends on congressional seats to help guarantee his reelection.[8]

Antonio Guzmán Blanco (1870-1887)[edit]

In 1888, Antonio Guzmán Blanco led a fairly steady Venezuelan government that was allegedly ripe with corruption.[9] Guzmán Blanco reportedly stole money from the treasury, abused his power, and, after a disagreement with a bishop, expelled any clergy who disagreed with him and seized property belonging to the Catholic Church.[10][11]

Cipriano Castro (1899-1908)[edit]

After a successful coup in 1899, the dictatorship of Cipriano Castro was one of the most corrupt periods in Venezuela's history. Once in charge, Castro began plundering the treasury and modifying the constitution to convenience his administration. He had political opponents murdered or exiled, lived extravagantly and broke down diplomacy with foreign countries. He provoked numerous foreign actions, including the blockades and bombardments by British, German, and Italian naval vessels seeking to enforce the claims of their citizens against Castro's government.[12]

Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935)[edit]

From 1908 to 1935, the dictator Juan Vincente Gomez held power, with his acts of corruption only committed with "immediate collaborators".[6] By the time he died, he was by far the richest man in the country. He did little for public education and held basic democratic principles in disdain. His allegedly ruthless crushing of opponents through his secret police earned him the reputation of a tyrant. He was also accused by opponents of trying to turn the country into a personal fiefdom.

Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1952–1958)[edit]

Marcos Pérez Jiménez seized power through a coup in 1952 and declared himself provisional president until being formally elected in 1953. The government's National Security (Seguridad Nacional, secret police) was extremely repressive against critics of the regime and ruthlessly hunted down and imprisoned those who opposed the dictatorship. In 1957 during the time of reelection, voters had only the choice between voting "yes" or "no" to another term for Jiménez. Pérez Jiménez won by a large margin, though by numerous accounts the count was blatantly rigged.

Raúl Leoni (1964-1969)[edit]

President Raúl Leoni spent $10 million of public funds to pave a road to his house, to build guest houses near his home, and to add air-conditioning to the local airport.[7]

Jaime Lusinchi (1984-1989)[edit]

During the presidency from 1984-1989 of Jaime Lusinchi, US$36 billion were misused by the foreign exchange program RECADI.[6]

Carlos Andrés Pérez (1989-1993)[edit]

On 20 March 1993, Attorney General Ramón Escovar Salom introduced action against President Carlos Andrés Pérez for the embezzlement of 250 million bolivars belonging to a presidential discretionary fund, or partida secreta. The issue had originally been brought to public scrutiny in November 1992 by journalist José Vicente Rangel. Pérez and his supporters claim the money was used to support the electoral process in Nicaragua. On 20 May 1993, the Supreme Court considered the accusation valid, and the following day the Senate voted to strip Pérez of his immunity. Pérez refused to resign, but after the maximum 90 days temporary leave available to the President under Article 188 of the 1961 constitution, the National Congress removed Pérez from office permanently on 31 August.[13]

Bolivarian Revolution[edit]

Venezuela's perception of corruption scores between 2004 and 2013.
* Score was averaged according to Transparency International's method. Source: Transparency International

The government in place following the Bolivarian Revolution has been frequently accused of corruption, abuse of the economy for personal gain, spreading "Bolivarian propaganda", buying the loyalty of the military, officials involved in drug trade, assisting terrorists, intimidation of the media, and human rights abuses of its citizens.[14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23] Though the Venezuelan government states that they have implemented strict guidelines to deter corruption, enforcement of such anti-corruption laws had been weak with the action of centralizing powers in the government creating less accountability for corruption and kept corruption prevalent throughout Venezuela.[1]

In Gallup Poll's 2006 Corruption Index, Venezuela ranks 31st out of 101 countries according to how widespread the population perceive corruption as being in the government and in business. The index lists Venezuela as the second least corrupt nation in Latin America, behind Chile.[24] In August 2006, following assaults on a squatter and a National Assembly member, El Universal says that Chávez called on the latest Minister, Jesse Chacón to quit if he could not do the job, demanding more effort in the fight against corruption, and affirming the need to clean up and reform the local police forces. He questioned the impunity that exists in the country, and challenged authorities, like Chacón, to resign if they could not make progress against crime. He also called for greater protection of squatters settling on landed estates.[25] Some criticism came from Chávez's supporters. Chávez's own political party, Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), had been criticized as being riddled with the same cronyism, political patronage, and corruption that Chávez alleged were characteristic of the old "Fourth Republic" political parties. Venezuela's trade unionists and indigenous communities have participated in peaceful demonstrations intended to impel the government to facilitate labor and land reforms. These communities, while largely expressing their sympathy and support for Chávez, criticize what they see as Chávez's slow progress in protecting their interests against managers and mining concerns, respectively.[26][27][28]

The Corruption Perceptions Index, produced annually by Berlin-based NGO Transparency International (TNI) ranked Venezuela 158 out of 180 countries in 2008, and 165 out of 176th in 2012 (tied with Burundi, Chad, and Haiti).[29] TNI has deemed Venezuela's judicial system the most corrupt in the world. A 2013 survey by TNI in 2013 found that 68% of those believed that the government's efforts to fight corruption were ineffective; a majority of those surveyed said the government's effort against corruption were ineffective, that corruption had increased from 2007 to 2010, and perceived political parties, the judiciary, the parliament and the police to be the institutions most affected by corruption.[30] TNI's credibility was challenged by Calvin Tucker, who, in a 2008 article from The Guardian, pointed to alleged inaccuracies in TNI's reporting on Venezuela, and to what he saw as TNI's own less than transparent behaviour; Tucker accused TNI of political bias as a result of its bureau in Caracas being staffed by several prominent political opponents.[31]

In 2014, the World Justice Project ranked Venezuela's government in 99th place worldwide and gave it the worst ranking of countries in Latin America according to the Rule of Law Index 2014. The report says, "Venezuela is the country with the poorest performance of all countries analysed, showing decreasing trends in the performance of many areas in relation to last year. The country ranks last in the surrender of accounts by the government due to an increasing concentration of executive power and a weakened checks and balances" and that, "administrative bodies suffer inefficiencies and lack of transparency in its activity, and the judicial system, although relatively accessible, lost positions due to increasing political interference. Another area of concern is the increase in crime and violence, and violations of fundamental rights; particularly the right to freedom of opinion and expression".[22]

Hugo Chávez (1999-2013)[edit]

In December 1998, Hugo Chávez declared three goals for the new government; "convening a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, eliminating government corruption, and fighting against social exclusion and poverty". However, during Hugo Chávez's time in power, corruption has become widespread throughout the government due to impunity towards members of the government, bribes and the lack of transparency.[6] In 2004, Hugo Chávez and his allies took over the Supreme Court, filling it with supporters of Chávez and made new measures so the government could dismiss justices from the court.[32] According to the Cato Institute, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela was under control of Chávez where he tried to "push a constitutional reform that would have allowed him unlimited opportunities for reelection".[19]

Public funds[edit]

$22.5 billion of public funds have been transferred from Venezuela to foreign accounts with half of that money being unaccounted for by anyone.[19] José Guerra, a former Central Bank executive, claims that most of that money has been used to buy political allies in countries such as Cuba and Bolivia.[19] Chávez reportedly made promises and carried out most payments of nearly $70 billion USD to foreign leaders without the consultation of the people of Venezuela and without normal legal procedures.[19]

Maletinazo scandal[edit]

Main article: Maletinazo

In August 2007, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson (es), a self-identified member of the entourage of Hugo Chávez, who was about to visit Argentina, arrived in Argentina on a private flight paid for by Argentine and Venezuelan state officials. Wilson was carrying $800,000 USD in cash, which the police seized on arrival. A few days later Wilson, a Venezuelan-American and a close friend of Chávez's, was a guest at a signing ceremony involving Cristina Kirchner and Chávez at the Casa Rosada. He was later arrested on money laundering and contraband charges. It was alleged that the cash was to have been delivered to the Kirchner's as a clandestine contribution to Cristina's campaign chest from President Chávez. Fernández, as a fellow leftist, was a political ally of Chávez. This was seen as a similar move that Chávez allegedly used to give payments to leftist candidates in presidential races for Bolivia and Mexico in order to back his anti-US allies.[33] The incident led to a scandal and what Bloomberg News called “an international imbroglio,” with the U.S. accusing five men of being secret Chávez agents whose mission was to cover up the attempt to deliver the cash.[34][35]

Nicolás Maduro and Cilia Flores[edit]

President Nicolás Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores have been accused of nepotism, with individuals claiming that several of her close relatives became employees of the National Assembly when she became elected deputy.[36][37] According to Tal Cual, 16 relatives of Flores were in an office while she was in the National Assembly.[38] In 2012, relatives of Flores were removed from office.[38] However, relatives that were removed from office found other occupations in the government a year later.[39] President Maduro's son and other relatives have also been used as examples of alleged nepotism.[39]

Diosdado Cabello[edit]

Information presented to the United States State Department by Stratfor claimed that Diosdado Cabello was "head of one of the major centers of corruption in Venezuela."[40] A Wikileaked U.S. Embassy cable from 2009 characterized Cabello as a “major pole” of corruption within the regime, describing him as “amassing great power and control over the regime’s apparatus as well as a private fortune, often through intimidation behind the scenes.” The communiqué likewise created speculation that “Chavez himself might be concerned about Cabello's growing influence but unable to diminish it.” [41][42]

He is described by a contributor to The Atlantic as the "Frank Underwood" of Venezuela under whose watch the National Assembly of Venezuela has made a habit of ignoring constitutional hurdles entirely—at various times preventing opposition members from speaking in session, suspending their salaries, stripping particularly problematic legislators of parliamentary immunity, and, on one occasion, even presiding over the physical beating of unfriendly lawmakers while the assembly was meeting.[41][43][44] There are currently at least 17 formal corruption allegations lodged against Cabello in Venezuela's prosecutors office.[45]

Drug trafficking allegations[edit]

In January 2015, the former security chief of both Hugo Chavez and Cabello, Leamsy Salazar, made accusations that Cabello was involved in drug trade.[46][47] Salazar was placed in witness protection, fleeing to the United States with assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Special Operations Division after cooperation with the administration and providing possible details on Cabello's involvement with international drug trade.[46] Salazar claims that Cabello is the leader of the Cartel de los Soles, an alleged military drug trafficking organization in Venezuela.[47] Salazar stated that he saw Cabello give orders on transporting tons of cocaine.[47] The shipments of drugs were reportedly sent from FARC in Colombia and sent to the United States and Europe, with the possible assistance of Cuba.[46][47] The alleged international drug operation had possibly involved senior members of Venezuela's government as well.[46][47]

Derwick Associates bribes[edit]

In 2014, Cabello was charged by a court in Miami, Florida of accepting bribes from Derwick Associates including a $50 million payment. These bribes were reportedly made so Derwick Associates could get public contracts from the Venezuelan government.[40] Derwick Associates denied the charges stating that the allegations against themselves and Cabello are untrue and that they had no financial relationship with Cabello.[48] Banesco also denied the allegations calling them a lie.[49]


According to The Atlantic, Cabello lavishly rewards friends and even helps fill government offices with members of his own family. His wife is a member of the National Assembly, his brother is in charge of the nation’s taxation authority, and his sister is a Venezuelan delegate to the United Nations.[41]

Organizing colectivos[edit]

Cabello, along with Freddy Bernal and Eliezer Otaiza, have been accused of directing colectivos by organizing and paying them with money from the funds of Petróleos de Venezuela.[50]

Hugo Carvajal[edit]

On July 22, 2014, Hugo Carvajal, former head of Venezuelan military-intelligence, was detained in Aruba, despite having been admitted on a diplomatic passport and being named consul general to Aruba in January.[51][52][53] The arrest was carried out following a formal request by the U.S. government, which accuses Carvajal of ties to drug trafficking and to the FARC guerrilla group.[54][55] On July 27, Carvajal was released after authorities decided he had diplomatic immunity, but was also considered persona non grata.[56][57][58]

Ramón Rodríguez Chacín[edit]

Ramón Rodríguez Chacín took part in the 1992 Coup d'état attempts and later became involved in Venezuelan politics under the government of Hugo Chávez.[59] The German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2008 that Rodriguez Chacín was a frequent guest at FARC camps in Colombia and that Hugo Chávez had assigned him the task of managing communications with FARC.[60] In September 2008, The U.S. Department of the Treasury accused Rodriguez Chacín of materially assisting FARC's narcotics trafficking activities.[61] The Venezuelan government responded to these allegations saying he was not guilty of those charges.[62] US intelligence officials claimed that in an email between Rodriguez Chacín and the FARC leadership, Rodriguez Chacín asked to train Venezuela's military in guerrilla tactics as preparation in case the United States invaded the area. They also claimed that regarding an alleged 250 million dollar Venezuelan loan to buy weapons, Rodriguez Chacín wrote: "don't think of it as a loan, think of it as solidarity". The source for these documents was allegedly a 2008 cross-border raid by Colombian military into Ecuador which destroyed a FARC camp. Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States Bernardo Alvarez stated, "We don't recognized [sic] the validity of any of these documents... They are false, and an attempt to discredit the Venezuelan government."[63][64]

Alleged government involvement in drug trade[edit]

In March 2012, Venezuela's National Assembly removed Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte from his post after an investigation revealed alleged ties to drug-trafficking. On the day he was to face questioning, Aponte Aponte fled the country, and has sought refuge in the U.S., where he began to cooperate with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Justice. Aponte says that, while serving as a judge, he was forced to acquit an army commander who had connections with a 2 metric ton shipment of cocaine. Aponte also claimed that Henry Rangel, former defense minister of Venezuela, and General Clíver Alcalá Cordones were involved in the drug trade.[16] Anti-drug authorities have accused some Venezuelan officials of working with Mexican drug cartels.[16] In September 2013, an incident involving men from the Venezuelan National Guard placing 31 suitcases containing 1.3 tons of cocaine on a Paris flight astonished French authorities.[65] On 15 February 2014, a commander for the Guard was stopped while driving to Valencia with his family and was arrested for having 554 kilos of cocaine in his possession.[66]

Alleged government assistance of terrorist organizations[edit]


The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) accused Chavez's government of funding FARC's Caracas office and giving it access to intelligence services, and said that during the 2002 coup attempt that, "FARC also responded to requests from (Venezuela's intelligence service) to provide training in urban terrorism involving targeted killings and the use of explosives." Venezuelan diplomats denounced the IISS' findings saying that they had "basic inaccuracies".[67]

In 2007, authorities in Colombia claimed that through laptops they had seized on a raid against Raul Reyes, they found documents purporting to show that Hugo Chávez offered payments of as much as $300 million to the FARC "among other financial and political ties that date back years" and documents showing the FARC rebels sought Venezuelan assistance in acquiring surface-to-air missiles, and alleging that Chavez met personally with rebel leaders.[33][68][69] According to Interpol, the files found by Colombian forces were considered to be authentic.[70]

Independent analyses of the documents by a number of U.S. academics and journalists have challenged the Colombian interpretation of the documents, accusing the Colombian government of exaggerating their contents.[71][72] According to Greg Palast, the claim about Chavez's $300 million is based on the following (translated) sentence: "With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call 'dossier', efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the cojo [slang term for 'cripple'], which I will explain in a separate note." The separate note is allegedly speaking of a hostage exchange with the FARC that Chavez was supposedly helping to negotiate at that time. Palast suggests that the "300" is supposedly a reference to "300 prisoners" (the number involved in a FARC prisoner exchange) and not "300 million".[71]

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Treasury accused two senior Venezuelan government officials and one former official of providing material assistance for drug-trafficking operations carried out by the FARC guerrilla group in Colombia.[73] Later that year, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, testified before the U.S. Congress that "there are no evidences [sic]" that Venezuela is supporting "terrorist groups", including the FARC.[74]

Hezbollah and Al Queda[edit]

Statements by the United States on Venezuela's assistance[edit]

Members of the Venezuelan government were also accused of providing financial aid to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah by the United States Department of the Treasury.[17] According to the testimony of a former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the United States Department of State Roger Noriega, Hugo Chávez’s government gave "indispensable support" to Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere.[75] In an article by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, Noriega states that two witnesses have told him that Ghazi Atef Nassereddine, a Venezuelan diplomat in Syria, was an operative of Hezbollah who used Venezuelan entities to launder money for Hezbollah with President Maduro's personal approval.[76]

Independent research on Venezuela's assistance[edit]

In an article by the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, General Marcos Ferreira, former head of Venezuela’s Department of Immigration and Foreigners (DIEX), stated that Ramón Rodríguez Chacín asked him to allow insurgents who were from Colombia, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda to cross borders into Venezuela and that in a three year timeframe, 2,520 Colombians and 279 "Syrians" became citizens of Venezuela.[77]

In a study by the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), at least 173 people from the Middle East were caught with Venezuelan documentation. The SFS believes that the documentation was provided by the Venezuelan government, and states that 70% of the people came from Iran, Lebanon and Syria "and had some connection with Hezbollah". The majority allegedly had Venezuelan passports, IDs, visas and in some cases, even Venezuelan birth certificates. Anthony Daquin, former security advisor involved in the modernization of the Venezuelan identity system stated in the report that the Venezuelan government will "be able to issue the Venezuelan document without any problem, from the University of Computer Sciences, because they have the equipment and supplies, including polycarbonate sheets, electronic signature that goes into passports and encryption certificates, which are those that allow the chip to be read at the airports". One of the key figures of the Venezuelan government noted in the SFS report was the Lebanese born former Minister of the Interior, Tarek El Aissami, who allegedly "developed a sophisticated financial network and multi-level networks as a criminal-terrorist pipeline to bring Islamic militants to Venezuela and neighboring countries, and to send illicit funds from Latin America to the Middle East". The alleged "pipeline" consists of 40 shell companies which have bank accounts in Venezuela, Panama, Curacao, St. Lucia, Miami and Lebanon. Tarek El Aissami's father Zaidan El Amin El Aissami, who is also known as Carlos Zaidan, was also an alleged military associate of Saddam Hussein.[78][79] Former Vice President José Vicente Rangel who served under Hugo Chavez denounced the SFS study stating that it was a "combined campaign" by SFS and the Canadian government to attack Venezuela, though Ben Rowswell, the Canadian ambassador in Venezuela, denied the accusations by Rangel.[80]


According to USA Today, the policies of Chávez's "Socialism for the 21st century" included "the bloating of state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, with patronage hires" which led to mismanagement of the petroleum industry in Venezuela according to experts.[81] Financial Times also called the PDVSA "a source of patronage" and that "the number of employees, hired on the basis of their loyalty to the 'Bolivarian Revolution', has tripled since 2003 to more than 121,000".[82]

In 2006, Rafael Ramírez, then energy minister, gave PDVSA workers a choice: Support President Hugo Chávez, or lose their jobs. The minister also said: "PDVSA is red [the color identified with Chávez's political party], red from top to bottom". Chávez defended Ramírez, saying that public workers should back the "revolution". He added that "PDVSA's workers are with this revolution, and those who aren't should go somewhere else. Go to Miami".[83]

PDVSA continues to hire only supporters of the president, and a large amount of its revenue is used to fund political projects.[84]

Legislative system[edit]

In the 2013 corruption report by Transparency International, 66% of Venezuelan respondents believed that the legislative system was corrupt in Venezuela.[85] According to a 2014 report by the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency, Venezuela's legislative branch, the National Assembly, was rated 21% transparent, the least transparent in Latin America.[86]

Judicial system[edit]

Venezuela's judicial system has been deemed the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International.[3] Human Rights Watch accuse Hugo Chávez and his allies of taking over the Supreme Court in 2004, filling it with supporters and making new measures allowing the government to dismiss justices from the court.[32] In 2010, legislators from Chávez’s political party appointed 9 permanent judges and 32 stand-ins, which included several allies.[32] HRW fears that judges may face reprisals if they rule against government interests.[32]

In December 2014, moderate left newspaper El Espectador stated in an article about the accusations against María Corina Machado saying that prosecutions in Venezuela go by a "familiar script", stating that "[t]he executive branch first publicly launches accusations at an opposition politician, state prosecutors then set about compiling formal charges, and the entire process is ultimately confirmed by the Supreme Court".[87] According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 61% of Venezuelan's lack confidence in the judicial system.[4]


According to some sources Venezuela's corruption includes widespread corruption in the police force.[88] Criminologists and experts have stated that low wages and lack of police supervision has been attributed to police corruption.[89] Many victims are afraid to report crimes to the police because many officers are involved with criminals and may bring even more harm to the victims.[90] Human Rights Watch claims that the "police commit one of every five crimes" and that thousands of people have been killed by police officers acting with impunity (only 3% of officers have been charged in cases against them).[32] The Metropolitan Police force in Caracas was so corrupt that it was disbanded and was even accused of assisting in many of the 17,000 kidnappings.[91] Medium says that the Venezuelan police are "seen as brutal and corrupt" and are "more likely to rob you than help".[92]

See also[edit]



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  • Coronel, Gustavo. "The Corruption of Democracy in Venezuela". Cato Institute. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
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  • Levin, Judith (2007). Hugo Chavez. New York: Chelsea House. p. 119. ISBN 978-0791092583. 
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  • Sibery, Brian Loughman, Richard A. (2012). Bribery and corruption : navigating the global risks. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. ISBN 978-1118011362. 

Further reading[edit]