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ⓘ Operacion Alacran




Operacion Alacran
                                     

ⓘ Operacion Alacran

Operacion Alacran, also known as CLAP affair or PSUV-CLAP faction, is the name given to an alleged corruption plot which was denounced in 2019 by the members of the National Assembly of Venezuela. It would have sought to avoid the re-election of Juan Guaido on 5 January 2020 as President of the Assembly, by obtaining the support of opposing legislators in exchange for millions of dollars. Legislators would have been asked to vote against Guaido, or to not attend the election and thereby break the necessary quorum.

                                     

1. Background

In November 2019, deputy Jose Guerra denounced a strategy to "bribe" opposition lawmakers in what he called "Maletin Verde" English: Green Suitcase, with the aim of breaking the qualified majority that the opposition had in the National Assembly after the 2015 elections.

                                     

1.1. Background Armando.info investigation

On 1 December, the website Armando.info published an investigation reporting that nine members of the opposition National Assembly mediated in favor of two businessmen linked with the government and the controversial Local Committees for Supply and Production CLAP program. The investigation reported that the implicated lawmakers had written letters of support to the United States Treasury and others to a Colombian man named Carlos Lizcano, who authorities were investigating over his possible links to Alex Saab, another Colombian associated with the food distribution program and under United States sanctions. According to Armando.info, the lawmakers wrote the letters despite being aware of evidence that tied Lizcano to Saab. In addition, the portal pointed to Brito as one of those implicated in alleged acts of corruption to "cleanse the reputation" of Colombian businessmen linked to the government of Nicolas Maduro and the network of embezzlement of social assistance funds of the Local Committees for Supply and Production CLAP.

After the investigation was published, Juan Guaido condemned the actions of the nine members stating that it was "unacceptable to use a state institution to attempt to whitewash the reputation of thieves". Moreover, the scandal damaged Guaidos reputation among his supporters in Venezuela, with some members of the opposition beginning to call for new leadership, according to analysts and those involved. On 20 December, Deputies Luis Parra, Jose Brito, Conrado Perez and Jose Gregorio "Goyo" Noriega were suspended and expelled from their respective parties, Justice First and Popular Will.

                                     

2. Denouncements

On CNN Radio Argentina, Deputy Delsa Solorzano accused disputed President Nicolas Maduro of directing the operation. According to her, the government resorted to this method after failing to incarcerate or suspend the parliamentary immunity of the deputies, denouncing a considerable increase of political persecution as 5 January National Assembly Delegated Committee election approached, explaining that security forces had gone to the houses of many deputies without alternates, and, according to Solorzano, bribed the one deputy with an alternate.

The Venezuelan opposition alleged that they were targeted by what they described as a "campaign of bribery and intimidation" by Nicolas Maduros government in December 2019. Venezuelan lawmakers and the US State Department said that opposition deputies, in parties led or allied with Guaido, were being offered up to US$1 million to not vote for him. Parra and other opposition deputies were removed from their parties following allegations that they were being bribed by Maduro. Deputies Ismael Leon and Luis Stefanelli directly accused Parra in December 2019 of attempting to bribe deputies to vote against Guaido. Parra denied the allegations and said that he was open to being investigated for corruption. Weeks prior to his investigation, Parra openly shared support for Guaido and promoted his protest movement.

Following the accusation, some parties conducted internal investigations, such as the Popular Will Conflict Committee. On 20 December 2019, the National Assembly indicated that the legislators involved were the principal deputies Parra, Jose Gregorio Noriega, Jose Brito, Adolfo Superlano and Conrado Perez, and the deputies Leandro Dominguez and Jesus Gabriel Peña, a former member of Democratic Action. Deputy Arkiely Perfecto was expelled from Democracy and Inclusion Movement for allegedly receiving bribes, as denounced by party head Nicmer Evans. Other deputies implicated in bribery are Jose Antonio España and Jose Gregorio Aparicio, both members of the parliamentary section of Superlano, and Dominguez, an independent for Renewal and Change.

In response to these reports, Brito said that 70 deputies demanded that Juan Guaido provide the status of resources received from the humanitarian aid. Guaido said he did not know of any letter signed by 70 deputies. The same day, the United States Agency for International Development USAID clarified that the interim government chaired by Guaido does not administer money from humanitarian aid.

A partial reform of the Rules of Interior and Debates of the National Assembly had been approved on 17 December but was annulled by the Supreme Court of Justice TSJ. The reform was intended to allow the virtual vote of deputies who had left the country. The National Communication Center of the National Assembly condemned the courts ruling, stating that the decision went hand-in-hand with "buying consciences of some deputies who have betrayed their constituents". A number of deputies went to the TSJ to request an appeal of the decision.

On 3 January 2020, Nicmer Evans, a Caracas-based analyst, alleged that Maduro had managed to cause 14 deputies to not cast a vote for Guaido through these tactics. Guaido theoretically controlled 112 seats in the Assembly at the time, needing 84 votes to win.



                                     

3. Responses

On 3 December 2019, Conrado Perez acknowledged having signed a contract with the Colombia-based Salva Foods company, but said that he does not know the businessman Alex Saab and that the only relationship he had with him was when they summoned him to the Comptrollers Committee, where his lawyers attended in his place, emphasizing that "we are not giving letters of good conduct to the citizen Alex Saab", putting his position to the order to investigate his management.

Adolfo Superlano rejected the accusations, stating that they were being accused for saying that they were not going to re-elect Guaido.

Deputies Parra and Guillermo Luces denied the accusations against them. Parra said that the Armando.Info research article is part of a "dirty war" and alleged that the website was functioning as an extortion network. Luces stated that his signature mentioned on the documents is false.

In a press conference held on 20 December 2019, Jose Gregorio Noriega rejected the expulsion of his Popular Will party, stating that the allegations of corruption against him are false and criticizing the behavior of other party members. Noriega challenged his accusers to provide proof and threatened legal action. Through a press release, Popular Will said that Noriega was excpelled from their ranks for refusing to respond to allegations of corruption. The deputy refused to accept questions from journalists during the press conference.

Jose Brito said on 2 December 2019 that "there is a rebellion in the Assembly" against the president of parliament, Juan Guaido, and that he will abstain from voting for a new legislative president on 5 January 2020.

                                     

3.1. Responses US sanctions

The United States Department of the Treasury sanctioned seven individuals in relation to Operacion Alacran, "who, at the bidding of Maduro, attempted to block the democratic process in Venezuela", according to US Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin on 13 January 2020. Those sanctioned have had their US assets frozen and have been banned from doing business with US financial markets and US citizens. The list includes the members of Parras appointed board of directors and his supporters: Franklyn Duarte, Jose Gregorio Noriega, Negal Morales, Jose Brito, Conrado Perez, and Adolfo Superlano, and Parra himself.

Maduros Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded to these sanctions by stating that the US Treasury sought to "interfere and undermine the proper functioning of democratic institutions, with the unusual intention to designate from Washington the authorities of the legislative power". The statement also argues that these tactics are "contrary to international law and undermine the stability, peace and self-determination of the Venezuelan people".

                                     

3.2. Responses Denouncements after 5 January

On 27 January, Rafael Requesens denounced that Parra, through an intermidiary from Yaracuy, asked her to not criticize him so strongly in social media, promising that if she complied "he would personally speak with Maduro" to release her brother Juan Requesens and Gilber Caro.

After the correspondent of the digital outlet Cronica Uno Monica Salazar did a public denouncement, on 30 January the National Journalists Association confirmed bribe attempts to journalists with large sums of money to publicly express support to Parra and his directive board.

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