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The Party of Crime

If governments normalize the practice of yielding to the demands of organized crime, they’ll be legitimized as a political force.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro embraces his close associate Alex Saab at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, the official presidential residence. Photo: X Nicolas Maduro

Héctor Schamis

28 de diciembre 2023


 They weren’t going to go without the theatrics. All that obscene exhibitionism is no coincidence, but something carefully planned and rehearsed. That esthetic and language, its vulgar rituals, exuberant liturgy, and oft-repeated sermons always converge around the same idea: the normalization of crime as an expression of power.

It’s a politics that represents the antithesis of Aristotle, who understood politics as the place of virtue; or of Montaigne, who sought there a place for the beautiful souls. It’s the opposite of the austere Constitutional democracy, based on legal actions and rational decisions. And it’s even the opposite of the sober, bureaucratic and grey one-party socialism, with its arid gestures. This is the party of crime in power.

There with Maduro was a heavyweight transnational criminal: Alex Saab, money launderer and trafficker; pseudo-ambassador and contractor for chavismo, specifically indicted by the US Justice Department for bribery, but now freed on clemency. He was exchanged for 36 prisoners, Maduro’s hostages, and was received with embraces by the Venezuelan dictatorship’s top brass. They greeted him with as much emotion as if he were [Nelson] Mandela in 1990, just exiting South Africa’s Victor Verster Prison.

It’s all because Saab was (is?) Maduro’s front man, and operated for the benefit of the regime’s hierarchies, still weighed down by the high rewards offered for their capture on charges of narcoterrorism executed by the shadowy Cartel of the Suns: Maduro himself, for US $15 million; [Diosdado] Cabello, US $10 million; and El-Aissami, US $10 million, among others.

In addition, keeping Saab locked up in prison represented yet another sanction among the many that weigh on the regime, since access to the bank accounts could depend on him. Hence, the outpouring of joy at his freedom.

The presidential clemency that Biden used is a Constitutional prerogative, but it’s not exempt from controversy. On this occasion, the friction between the two branches – the executive and the judicial – was clear, given the thousands of hours of work invested by hundreds of Justice Department functionaries in building their case against Saab, as well as that agency’s work setting the rewards.

There are also political and ethical tensions and controversies. This decision will have consequences in the functioning of the international system. Organized as a system of national, subnational, and supranational entities, but all part of governments, Saab’s pardon and the previous pardons given to the Maduro’s narco-nephews who had already been found guilty and sentenced by the court, opens an uncharted space.


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If the governments normalize yielding to the demands of organized crime, it will become legitimized as a political force. Worse yet, its methods will be reaffirmed. The “revolving door” will continue existing in Venezuela, a metaphor referring to the practice of locking up a new prisoner for each one that’s released. And these are basically abductions, since many of them have no formal charges or proven crimes, while due process doesn’t exist.

The moral risk is very high. Abducting people becomes an acceptable way to act in international relations. It naturalizes impunity, so it will continue to happen. The rewards offered for bringing 14 members of the Maduro regime’s top hierarchy to justice for the grave crimes attributed to them, then make no sense whatsoever.

Legitimizing crime shrinks the ethical stature of our Western system of government, along with the Constitution, the laws and the rights and guarantees.

So, that’s why the politburo of organized crime was there, laughing and making fun of the people who released their beloved son Alex Saab from prison. The moral of this story is catastrophic. It leaves the democratic convictions in tatters, and the party of crime in power and vindicated.

Jorge Rodriguez, head of the regime’s delegation to negotiate with the opposition to find a democratic way out, accompanied Saab on his return flight. It’s a good summary of the situation, illustrating that – for now – a democratic way out can’t be clearly glimpsed, but evidently, they’re succeeding in getting the Chavista criminals out of jail.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times.


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Héctor Schamis

Héctor Schamis

Académico argentino. Actualmente es profesor en el Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos en la Universidad de Georgetown. Es autor de varios libros y articulista de opinión en diferentes medios.