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sábado, febrero 16, 2013

Hugo Chavez’s corrupt cronies find GOP friends

Por: Alek Boyd

A prominent Washington conservative’s law firm is representing a shady Venezuelan company that has close ties to the Chavez regime, meanwhile top conservative news sites self-censor this article.

Al Cardenas, the public figure, is a stalwart Reagan-style conservative. He is head of the American Conservative Union, former leader of the Republican Party of Florida, was chairman of CPAC, and was described recently by the New Yorker as the political mentor to presidential hopeful Marco Rubio. Al Cardenas, the businessman, allows his law firm to do the bidding for one of the most corrupt companies ever to be favored by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela: Derwick Associates.

It is quite difficult to profile side-to-side Al Cardenas the businessman and Al Cardenas the political figure. Despite numerous requests for Cardenas to comment on the baffling discrepancy involving his public and business personas, he refuses to speak with me about it. So it is up to those of us who oppose hypocrisy and aim for a modicum of consistency to keep political leaders honest. Especially when those leaders are so vociferous against “cold-hearted tyrant[s]” and yet see no problem when cronies of the very same “cold-hearted tyrant[s]” line their pockets.

My source for the tip that Al Cardenas’ firm has been retained is a Venezuelan with extensive experience in the energy sector. He claims that Cardenas’ firm represents (first cousins) Pedro Trebbau-Lopez and Alejandro Betancourt-Lopez, the owners of Derwick Associates. I was able to independently corroborate the claim with public information from Miami Dade's County Clerk. When Trebbau-Lopez and Betancourt-Lopez founded Derwick three years ago, they had no previous track record and scant experience in the energy sector. But that didn’t matter. Like Russia’s oligarchs, they became billionaires overnight thanks to questionable concessions with no oversight. In fact, Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution is known for having created its own brand of oligarchs: the Boligarchs.

Thus, Trebbau-Lopez and Betancourt-Lopez went from bored small-town boys with dead-end jobs, to traveling the world in private jets, doing helicopter tourism, spending €22.8 million on hunting farms in Europe and having a 500-guest four-day wedding celebration in Spain --- and an upcoming one in Miami this week. In sum, a true Bolivarian rags-to-riches story.

Derwick Associates obtained 12 no-bid contracts (in the space of 14 months) to build power plants in Venezuela. Conservative estimates would put the total amount of contracts beyond $3 billion. Cesar Batiz, an award-winning investigative reporter at Venezuela's largest newspaper (Ultimas Noticias), grew suspicious of Derwick’s business, partially due to the fact that he had previously worked in the electricity sector. Batiz started asking questions about Derwick Associates, questions that any competent journalist would ask: Why was this company favored over others? Why did the government grant so many contracts to a company without a track record? How come no calls for public tenders were made? Who decided what, when, where? How much public money was spent? Have the projects been completed? Who are the people behind Derwick? But Batiz's prodding had dangerous consequences: Hugo Chavez's praetorian secret police (SEBIN) started harassing his ill mother, and him.

Meanwhile, one of Chavez's closest allies, former vice president Jose Vicente Rangel, went so far as to announce on television that the Derwick boys are honest businessmen. He declared that their enemies are enemies of the revolution. So Rangel, a declared enemy of the United States is on the same side as Al Cardenas—defending Messrs. Trebbau-Lopez and Betancourt-Lopez.

Mr. Cardenas's law firm, Tew Cardenas, joined a New York litigator in a global, muzzle-all, intimidatory strategy to protect Derwick Associates and its young owners. Several renowned Venezuelan bloggers, a former Bloomberg correspondent based in Chile, and several international reporters have all received threat letters after inquiring about Derwick or expressing an interest in writing a story. Those in Venezuela have received visits from the feared SEBIN.

Ironically, neither journalist Batiz nor Ultimas Noticias, which has published extensively on the topic, have been sued. Instead, Venezuela's top banker, Oscar Garcia-Mendoza, a prominent opponent of the Chavez regime, is the target of the Tew Cardenas lawsuit. Mr. Cardenas's firm is partnering with Hector Torres, of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, on behalf of Derwick and suing Garcia-Mendoza for $300 million for defamation in Florida. I have been personally included in their lawsuit as a “proxy” of an opposition figure. In a communiqué in Venezuela, they accused me of being "an active agent" in a "propaganda campaign" due to blog posts I have written about their corrupt activities. I look forward to testifying in that lawsuit actually. In addition to paying Tew Cardenas probably a seven-figure sum, Derwick has hired the image “gurus” at FTI Consulting, retained to harass their critics and spy on their detractors. This includes me.

While Mr. Cardenas's mouthpieces argue that he does not have any ties with the Chavez regime and that he is not personally involved in the lawsuit (impossible to believe considering his law firm has only 23 lawyers including Mr Cardenas), Derwick and its lawyers aren’t sparing expenses trying to silence its critics.

When I sent a copy of this article to a conservative website, PJ Media, they asked for an exclusive, stating “Since this is a large story with big ramifications -- we do participate in events with ACU, CPAC, etc. -- we want to make sure this is as bulletproof as possible before running. We're going to read up on all your links, the other reporters pieces, and anything else. We would like to check with Cardenas' firm for comment, and get a handle on how serious the harassment threats have been. Essentially we want the story, and want to do it right. So it will be longer than Monday, and we will trade some emails with you as we get this together.” Several days later, after a few back and forth emails, I received another note from an editor explaining that despite the “blockbuster info” contained in the article “after running it by management, we've decided that it is better for us to stay away from the story.”

Next I went to the Daily Caller, a website known for its exposure of the shenanigans of Senator Bob Menendez. Surely, if they have the courage to expose the next head of the Senate foreign relations committee they will expose Al Cardenas. Wrong again. Despite praising the article as “interesting” and informing me of the day and approximate time it would be published along with a piece from Cardenas -refuting my demonstrable claims- the Daily Caller backtracked, stating “We don't want to get pulled into a legal dispute, and we don't want to find ourselves in the middle of another country's domestic political controversy.”

Obviously, Derwick's lawyers' threat letters are quite effective at silencing critics.

Venezuela's rampant corruption isn't news to Americans, or anyone else for that matter. What's novel is the hypocrisy of the ACU head and most recent CPAC chairman, who is serving as an accessory to the persecution of Venezuela's civil society opposition while defending the worst of Chavez's cronies. Only last year Mr Cardenas was getting handsomely paid to help victims of Chavez's political persecution get political asylum in the U.S. (Mezerhane et al.). Mr. Cardenas, a Cuban who fled his native country at the age of 12 to escape the rule of a communist dictator, is now working for cronies of the biggest supporter of that communist dictator.

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posted by Aserne Venezuela @ 8:25 a.m. 

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