Under fire, Venezuela’s Maduro vows new graft crackdown

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – When even Venezuela’s most famous topless model complains on Twitter that the government is too soft on corruption, it could be time for President Nicolas Maduro to sit up and take action.

Already facing big economic challenges while trying to fill the shoes of his charismatic mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro is on the receiving end of a new wave of criticism that he lets graft close to home go unpunished.

The former bus driver, who narrowly won an election in April after Chavez’s death from cancer, has launched a fresh anti-corruption drive. But it has suffered from a public perception that “big fish” allied to his administration are being spared.

“I was ignored when I tried to denounce corruption,” glamour model and singer Diosa Canales, not normally known for her political interventions, tweeted to her more than 1 million followers. “Mr President, where there is no justice, there is no peace. Don’t let corruption surround you.” Her comments this week capture a sentiment in the streets. Venezuelans are increasingly focusing on graft as an outlet for their frustrations over issues ranging from food shortages and high inflation to shocking levels of violent crime.

With the growing anger denting his popularity, Maduro has said he will seek decree powers that were last used by Chavez in order to revamp his fight against corruption, and says he is ready to “change all the laws” if necessary.

His ministers were to hold a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss possible tactics. Vice President Jorge Arreaza, Chavez’s son-in-law, said the government would “analyze all the judicial and political options.”

“We won’t let the corrupt ones steal the hopes and dreams of the people of Bolivar and Chavez,” he said, referring to Venezuela’s independence hero Simon Bolivar. “We will win!”

They will have their work cut out. Venezuela has a long history of corruption and the wide range of state subsidies and complex, multi-layered currency controls allow some to rack up quick and heavy profits.

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