Venezuelan authorities have announced that they are going to investigate the second-richest man in the country for allegedly holding negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about an intervention in the economy ahead of December’s parliamentary elections.
The inquiry, which was requested by lawmakers from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), will focus on billionaire businessman Lorenzo Mendoza, who oversees food and beverage company Empresas Polar. The request was referred to Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who was appointed by President Nicolás Maduro.
Mendoza accused President Maduro of trying to manipulate public opinion with the conversation
To back their allegations, state-run TV network Venezolana de Televisión broadcast a conversation between Mendoza and a a top Harvard University official, who was a former Cabinet member under the past government (1989-1993) of the late President Carlos Andrés Pérez.
“The International Monetary Fund’s director for the Western hemisphere is very worried about the situation in Venezuela and believes that they will have to intervene at any given moment,” former Planning Minister Ricardo Hausmann, who is now director at Harvard’s Center for International Development, tells Mendoza on the tape. “The situation is very bad.”
“There is no way Venezuela is going to get out of this sh*t without substantial international help. And international financing is backed by the IMF,” he added.
Venezuela’s international creditors – especially China and Russia – appear to have stopped giving money to Maduro’s government, which is grappling with a serious economic crisis, food shortages and rampant crime rates. Falling oil prices have added further woes to the petroleum-producing country.
In a statement, Mendoza confirmed that the conversation had taken place, but said that the government is skewing his chat with Hausmann to manipulate public opinion.
“There’s nothing new about the fact that international leaders and experts from different economic and political backgrounds believe that economic changes are urgently needed in this country,” Mendoza said.
Last week, National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello – who is considered the second-most-powerful man in the country – charged that the conversation was part of an international scheme to push the IMF to intervene before the December 6 elections.
According to opinion polls, the ruling PSUV stands to lose a majority in Venezuela’s Congress.
The Mendoza family controls one of the country’s biggest breweries, producing Polar beer, which has become popular in Miami and other international markets over the past decade. Empresas Polar also makes food products and other beverages.
According to Forbes, Lorenzo Mendoza is the second-richest man in Venezuela.
Maduro charged that the international community has issued a blockade against Venezuela
“Multinationals have no say in this country – only revolutionaries trained by Hugo Chávez,” said Maduro last week, referring to his late predecessor.
“What that floppy-haired big-shot has done is considered a crime and he must be put on trial,” the president said, making his usual derogatory reference to Mendoza’s long hair.
On Tuesday during his weekly television program, Maduro charged that the international community has issued a blockade against Venezuela, which prevents the country from getting more money from lenders.
His comments are seen as a further deterioration of relations between the Venezuelan government and the private sector. In recent months, Maduro has accused many business owners of provoking food shortages as part of an alleged international scheme to overthrow him.
“I would prefer to see Cabello in prison for all the crimes he has committed against Venezuelans,” Hausmann said in the conversation. “I am not going to waste my time with him.”
Cabello, a former military official who helped Chávez in his unsuccessful coup against President Pérez in 1989, is reportedly under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for heading up an international narcotics organization with army and national guard generals, known as Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns).
English version by Martin Delfín.