Did members of Juan Guaidó’s administration in Venezuela misuse funds intended to help hundreds of Venezuelan military officials who defected to Colombia?
That’s what both the Guaidó administration and the Nicolás Maduro regime are trying to find out, as they launched dueling investigations that threaten to embarrass the opposition at a time when it’s struggling to seize control of the government.
On Tuesday, Guaidó’s ambassador to Colombia, Humberto Calderon, asked Colombian prosecutors to open up an investigation into two Guaidó representatives who were accused in the media of embezzling funds intended for Venezuelan military officials who defected to Colombia.
At the same time, in Caracas, Prosecutor General William Saab said he was launching a criminal investigation into the case, accusing Guaidó of being the “intellectual author” behind the alleged corruption.
At issue is money that was intended to provide food and lodging for Venezuelan military officials who crossed the border into Colombia in February to support Guaidó, often at great personal risk.
According to an article published last week by the PanAm Post, two people whom Guaidó had tasked with caring for the officials had stolen money, faking receipts to make it appear that they were handling bills that were sometimes paid by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
What’s clear is that military officials have been threatened with eviction from their hotels on multiple occasions due to unpaid bills.
The Maduro regime has seized on the report as proof that international humanitarian aid destined for Venezuela is being stolen. But on Tuesday, Guaidó’s representatives insisted that the regime was conflating issues to undermine their attempts to seize power and call for new elections.
Lester Toledo, who was tasked by Guaidó with coordinating international aid efforts, said that none of the 300 tons of food and medical supplies stockpiled on the Colombian border with Venezuela has been wasted or gone bad, as the article claims, and that none of the $274 million pledged by the international community to help Venezuela has been disbursed — and therefore couldn’t have been misused.
However, he said if money earmarked for housing the military was stolen, those responsible would have to pay.
“We want these allegations cleared up without any obstacles,” he told reporters in Bogotá, Colombia. “The corrupt should go to jail regardless of who they are.
“But if these allegations are false, we also want those responsible [for making them] to pay,” he added.
The accusations come as delegates of the Guaidó and Maduro camps have been meeting in Europe in hope of finding a negotiated solution to the political stalemate that began in January, when Guaidó said it was his constitutional duty, as head of congress, to assume the presidency.
Despite having the backing of Washington and more than 50 other nations, Guaidó has no real power in a country where the military and other branches of government have stood behind Maduro.
Maduro, 57, argues that elections in 2018 — decried as fraudulent by much of the international community — give him the right to rule through 2025 and that Guaidó is illicitly trying to seize power.
Wracked by hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine, Venezuelans have been fleeing in droves as the number of preventable deaths has skyrocketed. The United Nations has said that between 7 million to 9 million Venezuelans lives are at risk due to lack of basic goods. And Venezuelan nonprofit organizations estimate that almost 1,600 people have died in the last three months due to the lack of medical supplies.
In a series of tweets, Guaidó said he’d asked Transparency International, along with Colombian authorities, to investigate the case.
The issue of the misuse of aid — even if it was within the limited context of housing the military in the Colombian city of Cúcuta on the border with Venezuela — could be an additional threat to Guaidó and his supporters, who draw power from occupying the moral high ground.