A ruling has ordered to start again a lawsuit in the case of spoiled food. Between the lines though, it reasserts the claims labeled by the Venezuelan government as smear campaign against it
Warning that at least 130,000 tons of food was spoiled in the government hands is not news. Venezuela entered a new year and the Pdval case started again. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) made null and void the charges against the three defendants. However, between the lines, the ruling notes underlying details, such as USD 2,000,000 used to establish the business around which so many corruption scandals emerge.
"Total approved funds amounted to USD 2,200,000.00," the Public Prosecutor Office stated in the paper published by the TSJ in December to rule on starting the trial again. So much money would be good to buy 4,400,000 liters of milk.
Wiping the slate clean
What happened to so a lot of money? Where did the preferential exchange rate at VEB 2.15 / USD approved by the government to fill Venezuelan fridges and shelves go? The judiciary has not found an answer. At this time, it is only known that last year claims total at least 130,000 tons of spoiled food.
The last TSJ ruling wipes the slate clean. The Criminal Cassation Court ordered to repeat the proceeding. However, in the mid of such dissertation, it clarified that most of claims and explanations released on the media are true, to such an extent that the Public Prosecutor Office pointed to mismanagement in a chain of three subsidiaries of run-state oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa), namely: Pdval, Bariven and Pdvsa Services Inc.
The Cuban hand
In 2010, something called Food Balance National Center started to sound. It was a long and unknown name for an agency where documents signed by Cuban official Bárbara Castillo popped up.
From that agency attached to the Venezuelan Vice-President's Office, known nowadays as Cenbal, emerged the guidelines that the Venezuelan government followed to import food. In its offices, the diet and products that should be consumed by Venezuelans was decided. Such is the information released on the media and ratified now by the Public Prosecutor Office in the ruling published by the TSJ last December 16.
According to the proceeding, purchase orders came from Pdval in a collective data base received by Bariven and finally processed through Pdvsa Services Inc. The latter, based in Houston, USA, hired providers, shipping companies and intermediaries to bring the shipment. In this way, thousand tons of food arrived in Venezuelan ports.
News of Pdval were not given because of some internal audit or complaint of local residents, not even because of an investigation requested from the Public Prosecutor Office by Deputy for central Carabobo state Neidy Rosal. Based on the official story, a coincidence raised the alarm.
Pdval just turned three years. While young, it bears one of the largest corruption scandals in Venezuelan history, Leopoldo López said. The leader of opposition movement Voluntad Popular (People's Will) noted that the TSJ ruling shows a biased Venezuelan judiciary.
Ex Pdval President Luis Pulido; former Operations Director Mercedes Vileyska Betancourt and ex General Manager Ronald José Flores, have been charged with the crimes of boycott and culpable embezzlement. The TSJ made null and void the trial against them for considering that their defense lawyers violated the right to due process in exchange for promptness. However, they are still behind bars, waiting for a new lawsuit.
In the opinion of former Deputy Juan José Molina, one can hardly think that as few as three people fabricated the largest corruption network ever seen in Venezuela. Last year, he included this and other conclusions in a paper furnished to the Venezuelan Comptroller General Office, the Public Prosecutor Office and the National Assembly. However, silence has been the only answer.
Even the uncle of Rafael Ramírez, Minister of Energy and Petroleum and Pdvsa President, was mentioned in this story. While the Pdval board changed thrice, the name of Egli Ramírez remained as the second in command in the organization.
The information released last July would not go beyond that, but it also helped the Public Prosecutor Office to request and substantiate for moving the proceeding from Puerto Cabello, in central Carabobo state, to Caracas.
"The Public Prosecutor Office is reading and acknowledging the claims released on the media. Failure to commence an investigation against Ramírez and other involved officials make accomplices public prosecutors and all those who are somewhat in the investigation," López reasoned.
Deputy for Carabobo State Legislative Council Neidy Rosal agrees on that. She was the first to talk about rotten food stockpiled in Venezuelan ports and storehouses. Last March, she filed the first out of six complaints at the Public Prosecutor Office. Now, in view of recent swaying in the case, she thinks that legal technicalities intend to procrastinate over the case.
Nobody may be imprisoned for more than one year in the absence of a trial, Rosal remembered. The congresswoman is afraid that the rotten food scandal will end and pass away. "Hearing has been deferred eight times; judges have been changed three times, and the trial has been suspended three times. It seems that we are in the face of legal technicalities and procrastinating practices to postpone a ruling."
The opposition Unified Democratic Panel capitalized on the recent management report provided by President Hugo Chávez and sent him a communiqué whereby his government is requested to account for domestic problems, including the widely known containers stuffed with rotten food. "We want to know which actions were taken by the government in view of the serious damage caused to the nation wealth and Venezuelans in general in the case of the Pdval containers. We want an answer and want to know who are really responsible for it."
Delsa Solórzano, Deputy to the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), promised that the Pdval case will continue in and out of the country. Last year, she reported on the issue at the FAO offices both in Rome and Caracas. So far, there is just a "received" stamp. Anyhow, she will bring the case to the Parlatino's Network of Parliamentarians against Hunger based in Panama.
Translated by Conchita Delgado
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.