Opinion
8:20 am
Fri May 23, 2014

Venezuela's Socialist Millionaires May Be Appalling, But Can We Sanction Them?

Globovision co-owner Raul Gorrin steps into his Ferrari in Miami.
Credit El Nuevo Herald (courtesy)

El Nuevo Herald journalist Antonio Delgado reported something pretty nauseating this week.

In his excellent May 19 article, Delgado details the opulent Coral Gables lifestyle enjoyed by the new owners of the Venezuelan television news network Globovisión.

Raúl Gorrín and Gustavo Perdomo each have homes worth more than $4 million in the posh Cocoplum neighborhood. They drive Ferrari and Maserati sports cars costing more than $100,000. And they spend, according to Delgado’s report, tens of thousands of dollars on shopping sprees at swank stores like Gucci and Carolina Herrera.

So what’s wrong with this picture? The astonishing hypocrisy. Gorrín and Perdomo claim to be “committed-for-life” allies of socialism – namely, the left-wing Bolivarian Revolution that has ruled Venezuela since 1999 and which decries the self-indulgent excesses of the wealthy.

Gorrín and Perdomo, along with a third Venezuelan entrepreneur, Juan Domingo Cordero, purchased Globovisión last year. The sale came after a relentless campaign by Venezuela’s socialist regime to squeeze the network – which had been the last major TV outlet critical of the government – with costly and arbitrary fines.

The new proprietors, who have made Globovisión more regime-friendly, are part of a Venezuelan cohort known as the “Boli-bourgeoisie.” They’re a strange-bedfellow mix of suits and berets, of capitalists and leftists, who’ve profited handsomely from their ties to and friendships with the revolution.

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Many Boli-bourgeoisie have been living it up in Miami for years, sometimes scandalously. In 2008, a half dozen got targeted by the feds after one, a Venezuelan-American, was nabbed in Argentina carrying a suitcase with $800,000 in cash. When he returned to South Florida, the others criminally threatened him to keep him mum about the money’s purported source: the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

All socialist and communist revolutions have wealthy elites. But Venezuela’s is larger and more shameless than most, thanks to oil wealth: The country has the world’s largest crude reserves.

When I did graduate work in Caracas in the 1980s, I got grilled a lot by students known as socialistas sifrinos, or preppy socialists.

They read Marx and loved to tell me how satanic the United States was. But they never missed a chance to fly up to Miami for long weekends; they always wore designer jeans; they called me niche, or low-class, for preferring rum over Scotch; and I rarely if ever saw any of them rub shoulders with the poorer Venezuelans they so loudly presumed to speak for.

The Boli-bourgeoisie have been living it up in Miami for years – sometimes scandalously.

In many ways their dishonesty left them with even less moral credibility than that of Venezuela's ruling elite, the lavishly corrupt cogollos, or chieftains, whom Chávez overthrew in the 1998 presidential election.

And now many of those leftist sifrinos are running the country – or running it into the ground, as Venezuela’s worsening economic disaster shows.

In fact, that’s what made Delgado’s article so galling: Venezuelans like Gorrín and Perdomo are buying out Gucci in Coral Gables when most of their compatriots back home – the hoi polloi to whom Gorrín recently said “humanist entrepreneurs” like him are “wedded” – can’t even find eggs or toilet paper on supermarket shelves in Caracas.

And yet, as much as Gorrín and Perdomo might appall us, I don’t think the United States should penalize them.

SOUND BITE

This week the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation to block visas and freeze assets of Venezuelan officials responsible for human rights abuses committed against anti-government protesters. During hearings, Florida Senator Marco Rubio seemed to suggest broadening the sanctions scope when he called out Gorrín and Perdomo by name.

“They laugh at us,” Rubio said, “because they know they can [live in Cocoplum] with impunity.”

Politically, that’s a good sound bite – especially for Florida’s large Venezuelan diaspora, which bitterly opposes the revolution and current President Nicolás Maduro. But diplomatically it’s not particularly sound.

It’s one thing for the U.S. to go after government officials – as we’re doing in Russia vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis – who call the policy shots. It’s another to go after civilians like Gorrín and Perdomo, no matter how much their lucrative connections might offend us.

We’ve already seen too many witch hunts lately among Venezuelans in Florida – the urge to demonize anyone rumored to be sympathetic to the revolution or to be a testaferro, a front person, for Venezuelan officials trying to hide ill-gotten gains in the U.S.

So unless someone can prove that Gorrín and Perdomo are, say, kicking back Globovisión revenues to Venezuelan Interior Ministry honchos, the U.S. risks its own hypocrisy if it goes after them.

That’s because it would smack of harassment – the kind of persecution we justifiably accuse Venezuela’s socialist government of committing against Globovisión before it was sold.

That would turn Gorrín and Perdomo into martyrs. And that’s the last thing hypocrites deserve.

Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.