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Is $29 billion missing from Hugo Chavez's Fonden development fund?

Our guest blogger and his colleague look into why money in a massive fund in Venezuela is unaccounted for. Their efforts also shine light on a day of Venezuelan bureaucracy.

By Miguel OctavioGuest blogger / August 30, 2011

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez talks during a television broadcast about Ciudad Caribia 'Caribia City' located outside Caracas, in this Aug. 27 photo.

Miraflores Palace/Reuters

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About two weeks ago, I told the story of Deputy Carlos Ramos of the National Assembly who provided us with an Excel spreadsheet of the projects financed by Fonden – the “development” fund that President Hugo Chávez created and uses as his sort of petty cash fund for immediate needs – after I wrote to him.

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The sequence of how this spreadsheet came about was somewhat unclear, the congressman saying that there was some $29 billion, give or take a billion, simply missing.

He made this discovery when he added all of the numbers provided by Minister of Finance Jorge Giordani and realizing the total was different, the minister saying $69 billion had been approved for projects, but the addition of the numbers totaling only about $40 billion.

Blogger Quico at Caracas Chronicles then decided to call the deputy’s assistant to see if we could obtain the original information. But it just so happens that 21st Century Socialism uses 19th or 20th century tools.

There isn’t a scanner to turn the 30 or so pages turned in by Minister Giordani to the National Assembly into digital form. Thus, unless Quico, who lives 2,448 miles away from Caracas, could drop by and pick them up, he (and we) were out of luck.

Fortunately, I had to go to Caracas and could go get the papers.

Thus began my trek to the Pajaritos building. The building (pictured at original post) is actually called the Jose Maria Vargas building, but nobody calls it that, everybody calls it Pajaritos, the name of the “Esquina” (corner) where the building is.

I made the mistake of showing up five minutes past noon, which meant that I could not enter the building. (The building is shared by the administrative offices of the Judiciary and the National Assembly. Each has its own reception, which opens into the same hall, but while you can get into the Judiciary at any time, not to the Assembly between noon and 1:30 PM)

I called Deputy Ramos's office and they told me they would come down and give me the info we had requested.

Waiting there was an experience in itself. I could not go in, but the guy in the mortuary suit that controlled the people allowed a few ladies, buddies, and officials to go through. While I waited (he asked me three times what I was doing standing around there), I studied the dozens of people who showed up looking for help. Quite an experience, from Guajiro Indians to students wanting to talk to their deputy, mostly to see if they could get some money (preferably cash).

Finally, the extremely efficient assistant of the deputy came down and gave me a folder with a copy of all the material. You can find the projects all here.

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