Venezuela’s biggest robberies are carried out by Chavez and his supporters, under the color of law. In 2008, the Venezuelan legislature opened investigations into claims that two of Chavez’s brothers acquired at least 17 ranches at knock-down prices, using front men and concealed names. The investigation was soon abandoned, however: The 2010 elections were boycotted by opposition parties to protest new rigged rules, and Chavez’s own party gained a super-majority that put an end to all awkward questioning.
Yet people around Chavez continued to amass fortunes from confiscated lands and enterprises — and from the opportunities for fees and other benefits in the state-controlled oil sector that sustains Venezuela’s otherwise dilapidated economy. It is this enriched inner circle that will attempt to sustain Chavez-style rule after Chavez’s demise.
For all the talk about Chavez’s “socialist revolution,” his regime rests, caudillo-style, on the backing of corrupt, drug-dealing generals. Henry Silva Rangel, appointed minister of defense in January 2012, was one of four senior Chavez associates named by the U.S. government in 2008 as Foreign Narcotics Kingpins (yes, that’s the actual title). In a 2010 interview, Rangel warned that the army would not allow the Chavez “revolution” to be voted out of office. Rangel maintains a tight working relationship with another Chavez brother, Adnan, who succeeded Chavez’s father as governor of the family’s home state of Barinas.
Despite vast oil wealth, the Venezuelan economy has tumbled into terrible straits.