Douglas Farah and Caitlyn Yates*
Venezuela’s Survival Through the Bolivarian Joint Criminal Enterprise
In 1998, the Venezuelan people elected Hugo Chávez, initiating a regional movement known as the Bolivarian Revolution. In an effort to isolate the United States and promote his “Socialism for the 21st Century” political project, Chávez systematically consolidated power in the executive branch. He in turn transformed PDVSA – the Venezuelan national oil company – into a multibillion dollar regional enterprise operating in concert with sympathetic political leaders, economic elites and criminal organizations. While Chávez led the project, he was aided by the political leadership in Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Suriname and El Salvador. Over the past 20 years, this criminal network grew to encompass several dozen individuals and hundreds of front companies. Nicolas Maduro then warmly inherited this criminal regime in 2013 after Chávez’s death. Twenty years after the political project’s inception, the network spans the globe, from El Salvador to the United States, from Russia to Hong Kong, and across several offshore financial havens in between.
Yet even after the United States’ sanctioned hundreds of individuals and entities on charges like drug trafficking and money laundering, Maduro continues to serve as Venezuela’s de facto leader. The results of this criminal regime culminated in a Venezuelan economy that shrunk by more than 50 percent while at least 10.5 percent of the Venezuelan population now live as refugees. This increasingly visible crisis imposes enormous costs on regional neighbors. Meanwhile, the illicitly laundered funds undermine the rule of law and democracy, wreak havoc on the legal economies, strengthen corrupt autocratic regimes, and create spaces where transnational organized criminal networks thrive. While the dynamics of joint criminal activities in Venezuela remain largely unchanged, the Maduro regime is increasingly feeling the domestic and international pressure for regime change.
This report highlights the scale of what we call the Bolivarian Joint Criminal Enterprise. Here we highlight some of the criminal typologies used by the network and explore the wider impact of this network’s actions. The brief compiles fieldwork conducted over five years in 11 countries and augments this qualitative analysis with open source research and data analysis. Ultimately, we argue that the Bolivarian Joint Criminal Enterprise is not a single entity, but rather a network of allied companies, regional structures, and historically linked individuals operating across the globe. Unless the network is attacked from multiple points simultaneously, the alliance will survive and morph into a more dispersed and sophisticated operation.
*IBI Consultants, LLC and National Defense University (INSS) May 2019.
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