Venezuela’s Elite: ‘Should We Stop Enjoying Ourselves Because the Country Is Burning?’

A member of the Country Club plays golf as his caddy stands by in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006. The city mayor's office has decreed the expropriation of all three major golf courses in Caracas under eminent domain. (AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch)
AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch

In an in-depth look at the lavish lifestyles of Caracas’ socialism-friendly diplomats and government-sanctioned businessmen, the Daily Mail exposes Venezuela’s exclusive country clubs, located mere miles from the lines of starved civilians awaiting their food rations that have come to define the nation.

The Mail‘s report highlights Venezuela’s Caracas Country Club in particular — where annual membership costs nearly $113,000, or 1.1 million Venezuelan bolivars — and most members claim not to be affiliated with the government, though have clearly made close enough ties to the socialists running the country to be allowed to continue living in opulence in the nation’s capital.

“Should we stop enjoying ourselves just because the country is burning?” a golfer at one of the many clubs the British newspaper visited asked rhetorically, insisting that the rich “give a lot to charity.” The golfer also claimed that “members of these clubs had nothing to do with corruption or the government, but were simply wealthy diplomats or businessmen earning foreign currency.”

The claim that these wealthy Venezuelans have little to do with the government is, at best, as suspicious one. Wealthy business owners in Venezuela who are not aligned with the government of President Nicolás Maduro have routinely become the targets of scorn, particularly on government-controlled television and other media avenues. Most prominent among these is Lorenzo Mendoza, the owner of the Polar beverage corporation, who Maduro has repeatedly insulted on television as an anti-socialist “bigwig” who does not have the best interests of the nation’s poor in mind. Insults aside, Maduro has also prohibited Polar from using foreign currencies to buy necessary imports in the production of goods like beer, which caused Polar to temporarily shut down its beer production earlier this year.

Maduro has also cracked down on diplomats he disapproves of. The Venezuelan government forced the U.S. embassy in Caracas earlier this year, for example, to reduce the number of its employees from 100 to 17, citing “gringo meddling” as a concern for the government. The result has been a significant backlog in the number of applications by Venezuelans seeking to leave for the U.S. as the embassy no long has the staff required to function properly.

Those at the Caracas Country Club appear unaffected by such discriminatory policies.

The wealthiest Venezuelans in the country, according to public records, also continue to be public supporters of Chavismo, the socialist ideology centered around idolatry of late dictator Hugo Chávez. As of August 2015, Maria Gabriela Chávez — the dictator’s favorite daughter — is believed to be the richest individual in Venezuela, believed to be worth $4.2 billion, almost double the net worth of businessman Lorenzo Mendoza.

The heads of Globovisión — a pro-Chávez network after its seizure by the government — have enough money to spare that they are hiding much of it in the United States. A 2014 report on Venezuelan oligarchs hiding money in Miami found that at least three of the company’s owners post-takeover own multiple mansion properties and yachts parked in Miami marinas.

The supermarkets in wealthy neighborhoods also do not resemble the Venezuela most Venezuelans currently live in. Basque businessman Agustín Otxotorena, who is a socialist sympathizer, sparked outrage online this week by posting photos of his local market in Caracas on Facebook, alleging that the viral images of supermarkets with empty shells and eight-hour-long cashier lines are a lie, and millionaires like himself have the luxury of purchasing food outside of Maduro’s ration system.

“The alarmism, comparing Venezuela to Syria as an opposition legislator has done, thinking that hundreds of thousands of upper-class Caracas residents are living as they did in post-Civil War Spain is a manipulation and a lie,” he wrote. “If you have money, there is 18-year-old whisky, exquisite Venezuelan rum, French champagne, Russian or Swedish vodka, Belgian bonbons, delicious meats, lobster, brand-name clothes, exclusive restaurants, spectacular night clubs, beaches with yachts…” he continues, in an argument that appears intended to make the Maduro socialist government look good.

Meanwhile, Venezuela is experiencing multiple incidents of looting supermarkets and cargo trucks a day, while many middle-class Venezuelans have to scavenge in garbage piles for anything edible to survive. A recent New York Times report estimated that nearly 90 percent of Venezuelans do not have enough money to feed themselves properly.

In response, the socialist government has arrested over 400 people and limited access to the food supply to Socialist Party members through new distribution committees.

“Chávez pretended to be this big Socialist, but he was rich himself. He was a hypocrite. He was a f*****g liar. His legacy is people like me looking for food in the garbage,” one Venezuelan told the Daily Mail while digging through a garbage pile.


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