On December 6, 1963, barely two weeks after President John F. Kennedy assassination, his widow Jacqueline Kennedy and his two children moved out of the White House. “Despite having no home to go to just yet, Jacqueline Kennedy wanted to vacate the White House as quickly as was humanly possible”, wrote historian and author Carl Anthony.
Some presidential families seem to find it harder to go. In Venezuela, it's been 15 months since president Hugo Chávez passed away but his eldest daughters Rosa Virginia, 35, and María Gabriela, 34, are still living in the official residence of La Casona in Caracas. “Now we have two presidential families: Chávez and Maduro, and we are paying for both,” said Soledad Morillo Belloso, a newspaper columnist and fiction writer who was the first who dared complain about what's happening with the official residence.
“The law is very clear: La Casona is for the exclusive use of the Head of State, his wife and his descendants. Right now, President Nicolás Maduro is not living there because it is occupied by Chávez's daughters,” Carlos Berrizbeitia, an opposition lawmaker, told Fox News Latino. “There's not a single reason for the Chávez family to live there.”
This has caused an unexpected rift between two families that once were very close. Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, were part of Hugo Chávez’s inner circle from early 1990s until his death last year, and they both occupied high posts in his government. Though Maduro likes to call himself “a son of Chávez,” the real progeny is preventing him to move to the presidential house and, according to Berrizbeitia, he has to be content living in Fuerte Tiuna, a military facility.
But family dramas aside, the issue is highly controversial because it might involve misappropriation of funds. “When people who are not direct relatives of the current president occupy La Casona there's an improper use of resources, as money is being spent on purposes other than those they were originally allocated for,” Berrizbeitia told Fox News Latino.
According to the legislator, the presidential residence has had an exorbitant budget ever since Chávez came to power. “Only on event management and catering agencies and general maintenance it costs the Treasury around $300,000 a month,” he said. “La Casona has a swimming pool, a gym, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a dance hall; and it is being used as a private club by the family of former president Chavez.”
On February, Spanish newspaper ABC reported that neighbors had started to complain about the noise coming out from parties in La Casona. Concert producers also were bemoaning that they had to give away dozens of tickets when they bring a foreign artist to Venezuela so the “presidential princesses,” as the international media have labeled Chávez's daughters, could invite their friends.
Berrizbeitia added that Chavez's daughters are still flying on government airplanes and they use the presidential guard, an armed corp of 5,000 people in charge of the custody and protection of the president and his family. “That's completely illegal,” he said.
The concerns about the use of the presidential residence go well beyond the misuse of public money. Author Morillo points out that the house and the many precious objects it contains are part of Venezuela's national heritage. "It’s not a palace. It's a beautiful colonial house. It has many collections of silverware, priceless items, all of which have their own history. There are many important paintings and an excellent collection of porcelains, among many other valuable things,” she said. “We don't know what happened to all that, but there are frightening rumors about broken or 'lost' pieces of incalculable artistic and historical value," she told Fox News Latino.
Throughout her life, Morillo has had the chance to visit La Casona for personal reasons (since she was a teenager she has been friend of former president Caldera’s family) and for professional reasons as well. "Since I began asking publicly about what's going on there I've received many threatening calls and emails, but all I want is an official answer", she explained. "Maduro is responsible for what may be happening there."
To date President Maduro has spoken publicly about the presidential residence issue just once, in a TV interview last December. “I explicitly ordered vice president Jorge Arreaza (husband of Rosa Virginia Chávez) to stay in La Casona with the family of president Chávez as a way to protect them,” he said then. However, this did not stop gossip about a conflict between the First Lady, Cilia Flores, and Chávez's daughters for the use of La Casona.
“[The feud] has been a strongly rumored inside the government. You get the impression that Maduro is sharing his power with the Chávez family,” said Berrizbeitia.
And the extent of the Chavezes wrongdoing allegations transcends the walls of La Casona. Last week, opposition lawmakers Abelardo Díaz and Homero Ruiz asked the General Attorney’s office to look into an alleged fraud of $15.5 million in the purchase of rice and corn from Argentina. They claim that María Gabriela Chávez took part on the deal.
She was quick to answer through her Instagram account, gabychvz: “They talk about millions, about inheritance, about wealth ... and think that they can offend with insults (…) They keep attacking you. They still fear you. And that still fills me every day with more love, strength and pride for you. Thanks for so much, giant,” she wrote with a picture of her father.
When he passed in March of 2013, Chávez was survived by four grown children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela and Hugo, from his first marriage; and Rosinés, from his second marriage.
After his second divorce, María Gabriela played the role of First Lady for several years. She has more than 72,000 followers on Instagram and 959,000 on Twitter, where she publishes pictures with her friends, including celebrities like government-sponsored Formula 1 pilot Pastor Maldonado and pop singer Hany Kauam.
As for the other daughters, Rosinés has made some noise in social media with a compromising picture that shows her smiling to the camera while holding a bunch of dollars in her hands, others show her sisters traveling and shopping around the world or having a great time with friends on yachts in paradisiacal beaches.
Meanwhile, many Venezuelans are starting to ask themselves, in whispers, if their country inadvertently has become a stunted monarchy.
Ángel Bermúdez is a reporter living in Caracas, Venezuela.