An exclusive Reuters report uncovers that a community giveaway program under the government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has left billions of dollars unaccounted for, as community officials keep shoddy records and rely only on townspeople to report if they see any hint of wrongdoing.
Using state records, Reuters finds that “a network of more than 70,000 community groups has received the equivalent of at least $7.9 billion since 2006” from the Autonomous National Fund for Community Councils, or Safonacc. The federal government does not keep records of what the community groups do with this money once it gets there, and the Finance Ministry did not answer Reuters’ request for an explanation.
The federal government provides these community building groups with more money than the municipalities they opperate in, a fact experts have already decried as a constitutional violation should the intent be to deny local opposition politicians government funding for their towns. A Caracas professor tells Reuters that “the communal state lacks the fiscal controls that would apply to state and municipal governments, meaning there is no way to guarantee the appropriate use of resources.”
Communities can invest in projects independent of the municipal government, which allows the federal Maduro administration to override opposition party members. It also allows for unrecorded expenditures, many of which seem suspicious to townspeople.
Of those Reuters spoke with who believed the money was being misappropriated, however, all said the government only responded with promises to “make recommendations” or other soft solutions. Even those who alleged that the money was being used by community leaders for personal gain found that the federal government continued sending it.
The report comes at a time in which expenses by Venezuela’s socialist elite are increasingly under scrutiny internationally. After Senator Marco Rubio called for sanctions against wealthy Venezuelans who spend their money in the United States, a blockbuster report by Miami outlet América TeVe exposed the American lifestyles of the socialist oligarchy. The heads of state-run media and other allies close to Maduro spend millions on luxury homes and other items with money many believe has been filched from government coffers. The Reuters report corroborates the possibility that this money is being misspent. If it is being spent wisely, there appear to be no records of it.
As billions apparently disappear from the federal budget, the Venezuelan economy continues to struggle. Automaker Ford announced this week that they are pulling manufacturing out of the South American nation, due to currency controls imposed by the Maduro regime that have made it nearly impossible to import the parts necessary to manufacture cars in the country. American companies like Clorox, Colgate-Palmolive, and Coca-Cola have all expressed concerns that their international value has been impaired by skyrocketing inflation under Maduro.
In order to combat inflation, Maduro has launched yet another “economic offensive” against corporate and small business owners, demanding unreasonably high wages for limited workers and imposing on Venezuelans’ food rations.