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Venezuelan Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó Faces A Corruption Scandal Of His Own


It's been nearly five months since Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó launched his campaign to oust Nicolas Maduro and take over as interim president - all with U.S. support. Throughout this campaign, Guaidó has called attention to corruption in the Maduro government that's been going on for years. Now Guaidó faces a corruption scandal of his own. To tell us about it, we're joined by NPR's Philip Reeves. He was recently in Venezuela and is now back at his base in Rio de Janeiro.

Hi, Phil.


SHAPIRO: So this corruption scandal involves allegations not against Guaidó himself but against two of his party officials. Tell us about them.

REEVES: Yes, they've been unearthed by the PanAm Post. It's a website based in Miami that offers news and commentary from the Americas. And it actually supports Guaidó. It's published a story about two named officials from Guaidó's party. This alleges that these two officials misappropriated funds and squandered many thousands of dollars on hotels, nightclubs, clothes and other luxuries. The story says that these two did this in Colombia, where they were in charge of managing some of the funds sent to support the hundreds of Venezuelan security forces who've abandoned Maduro and crossed over from Venezuela into the border city of Cucuta. The deserters started - I'm sure you remember because you were there, I think...

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I met with some of those deserters, yeah.

REEVES: Right. And they they started arriving in February. They've been living in hotels. There've been difficulties over who pays their bills. And one of the PanAm Post allegations is that one of these two officials was claiming back money from Guaidó's administration for hotels that were actually being paid for by the Colombian government or by the U.N. Refugee Agency.

SHAPIRO: How damaging is this to Guaidó who, as we mentioned, has waged this campaign based on the fact that his opponent is corrupt, he alleges?

REEVES: Yeah. I mean, the amount of money involved is, you know, tiny in comparison with the massive sums that officials from the Maduro government are widely known to have purloined over the years. But, you know, this is damaging. I mean, Guaidó and the U.S., who supported his bid to take power throughout, lay great emphasis on the fact that he's - you know, he's a newcomer to Venezuelan politics, you know, a young man untarnished by Venezuela's endemic corruption who's there to clean the place up. This also, I think, undermined (unintelligible) Guaidó's efforts to persuade the military to switch sides, which is critical if Maduro's eventually to fall.

So right now, Guaidó's doing, you know, a lot of damage control. He says he's asked the Colombian prosecutors to investigate, and he's talking about full transparency. His officials are saying that this allegedly misappropriated money wasn't, in fact, humanitarian aid to Venezuelans but came from private donations. Interestingly, though, his envoy in Colombia - in Colombia - Guiado's envoy there says he began looking into this two months ago after being tipped off by Colombian intelligence. So there is speculation that Guaidó may actually have known about this for a while.

SHAPIRO: Those Venezuelan military defectors are always vocal. What have they said about the revelations that money that was supposed to support them was instead used to buy luxuries for the people who are overseeing them?

REEVES: Yeah, we've been in touch with one of them today who's clearly upset. He's highlighted the risks taken by Venezuela's military and security personnel who've been mostly junior. When they decide to switch sides, for instance, you know, relatives back home who are being persecuted and sometimes imprisoned and tortured. However, this particular man does continue to support Guaidó. I should say that, too.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Phil Reeves speaking with us from Rio de Janeiro.

Thank you, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.