General Vladimir Padrino, the Venezuelan minister of Defense, is worth millions of dollars according to a new report published on April 10, 2020, by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
Hernan Akhnanton Noguera, another high-ranking general in the Nicolás Maduro regime, is also reported to make millions. Yet both of these generals “officially” make no more than $8 to $9 a month. And they’re not the only ones.
According to the OCCRP, there are at least 84 generals in the Venezuelan Army who work with private or public companies that are listed in the National Contractor Registry. This registry is a database with information about Venezuelan government contractors. Of the 84 generals mentioned in the OCCRP report, 35 of them sit on the boards of private companies throughout Venezuela and other countries, including the United States.
Through their investigation, the OCCRP has revealed that Maduro has been doling out lucrative state contracts to these generals in return for their loyalty as the country itself continues to deteriorate politically and economically.
These contracts are in the construction, food, transportation and oil sectors, in addition to other areas such as advertising, healthcare equipment, and tourism. Yet the report states that “under the Venezuelan Constitution and the country’s anti-corruption law, it is illegal for public officials to use their office for personal benefit, either directly or through a third party. That includes capitalizing on personal connections to win state contracts.”
Origins of civil-military alliance
The military’s involvement in Venezuela’s economy began more than 20 years ago when Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998.
Upon his election, Chávez instituted a new “civil-military” alliance called the “Plan Bolívar”, which according to the U.S. Department of State, involved around 40,000 Venezuelan soldiers taking part in several public projects in poverty stricken areas to provide mass vaccinations, food distribution, education, and infrastructure repair.
In 2002, the program was cancelled following reports of corruption against generals involved in the $114 million plan, alleging that significant amounts of money had been diverted.
When Maduro took over in 2013 after Chávez’s death, the OCCRP report states that he expanded the military’s role in civilian life even further. According to the report, “as of 2018, active or retired officers comprise seven out of 23 state governors, along with nine heads of government ministries. Officers also ran at least 60 state companies.”
Because of the sanctions placed by the United States, along with the economic collapse and hyperinflation of the Venezuelan economy, the meager salaries for military officers across the board have forced them to seek alternate revenue streams, says a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Another revenue stream that officers and military hierarchy have been linked to includes the more lucrative business of drug trafficking, so much so that the U.S. has labeled Venezuela as a “narco-state” with the upper echelons of the Maduro regime, including Maduro himself — accused of running a narcotrafficking ring known as the “Cartel of the Suns.”
On March 26, U.S. officials indicted Maduro and 14 members of his inner circle, including Padrino, with several charges including narco-terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, and corruption.
U.S officials, along with government and private sector analysts alike, believe that one of the primary reasons that the Venezuelan military and top government officials have not challenged or undermined the regime is because they continue to reap financial rewards, even as the country has spiraled into endemic corruption and extreme poverty.