Vacation list spurs New Year political fight in Venezuela

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – Venezuela’s politicians are at each other’s throats after the government published a list of foreign trips enjoyed by opposition leaders during the Christmas and New Year holidays, saying it proved they don’t love their country.

President Nicolas Maduro accused opposition officials of being “right wing bosses” who complained about a crisis at home but had no problem jetting off to places like Aruba, Miami and Paris.

“They abandon their responsibilities where they govern, leaving them full of garbage and need. Everyone should draw their own conclusions,” said Maduro, who spent midnight on Dec. 31 dancing with his wife at a televised concert in the capital’s historic Plaza Bolivar.

“This is what brought about the revolution, as a reaction by society to the immorality of the old political class. That’s why we’re the majority,” he said late on Thursday, referring to the self-styled socialist movement of his late mentor Hugo Chavez.

Many in the opposition were outraged by the publication of the list, which named 27 people, almost all of them opposition politicians, their identity card number, where they spent the holidays, and the date on which they left Venezuela.

It said, for example, that two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles went to Aruba, setting off on Dec. 22, while others flew to locations that also included New York, Madrid and Sao Paulo.

“Definitely, they don’t love their own country,” said Robert Serra, a vocal member of the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV).

Tweeting a picture of Caracas’ Avila mountain and the display of his cellphone early on Friday to show he was now back home, Capriles mocked Maduro’s government.

“To those enjoying some well-deserved days with their families, enjoy them!” the opposition leader said.

“Our objective for 2014 is that our country finds solutions to its many problems. We won’t be distracted by the persecutorial obsessions of these fascists.”

DAY-TO-DAY PROBLEMS

The government says its list proves opposition leaders are a wealthy elite who are out of touch with the poor.

The opposition says such attacks are a strategy Maduro inherited from Chavez, of seeking to distract voters from day-to-day concerns such as slowing economic growth and annual inflation which hit 56.2 percent last year.

The opposition says Maduro, who narrowly won an election in April after Chavez died from cancer, has only made things worse with short-term, populist measures that included sending troops to occupy an electronics retailer accused of price gouging.

The economy grew by an estimated 1.6 percent in 2013, versus 5.6 percent the year before, and black market dollars now trade at about ten times the official rate of 6.3 bolivars.

“There’s no solution in demagoguery and repression,” said one senior opposition figure, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, adding that the publication of the list was “hypocritical”.

Angry opposition supporters demanded trips taken by senior “Chavista” politicians and their families also be made public.

At nationwide local elections last month, the PSUV and its allies took 10 percentage points more votes than opposition parties, although the opposition won 75 mayoralties, versus the 51 they held before, and chalked up wins in the biggest cities.

Maduro accuses his rivals of being backed by shady “speculators” and U.S.-based financiers who are conspiring to discredit his policies and bring down his government.

Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who published the list of foreign trips on Twitter, accused opposition leaders of being work-shy and of traveling abroad at every opportunity.

“Are they going on holiday, or seeking instructions?” she asked, suggesting opposition leaders take political orders from overseas. “It is someone’s right to take a vacation; the problem is the double standards of the opposition.”

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