The favorite daughter of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been implicated in a corruption scandal involving Argentina’s rice industry.
María Gabriela Chávez, 33, is said to be involved in a scheme that favored an Argentinean rice company, Bioart, by importing 37,000 tons of greatly overpriced rice to Venezuela.
According to a report by the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarín that was posted this week, the case touches the Argentine Minister of Federal Planning Julio De Vido and other high political figures. Bioart owners, the paper claims, had direct dealings with De Vido, the Argentinean ambassador to Venezuela, Carlos Cheppi, and Ms. Chávez, who was treated much like a first lady by her divorced father between 2004 and his death in 2012.
Argentina's National Federation of Rice Entities (Fedenar) has complained about the situation, but so far the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has remained mum on the topic.
In May of 2013, Argentina and Venezuela signed a bilateral agreement for the purchase of 80,000 tons of rice. The governor of Entre Ríos province, Sergio Urribarri, made the announcement with much fanfare at Government House in Buenos Aires during a visit by President Maduro. Urribarri said the sale would be conducted by the rice farmers themselves, without intermediaries.
However, Bioart was the only entity that received permits to export the grain, according to research by Clarín. In all, so far the company has done $23 million of business with Venezuela – and reportedly, the sales were made with almost 30 percent markups.
“These businesses benefit a few entrepreneurs and hurt many Argentineans," the Chamber of Industrial Rice Growers of Entre Ríos Province said in a statement issued a few days ago.
One of Bioart's owners, Roberto Vignati, hasn’t been shy in the social media about showing his admiration for Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband, the former president Nestor Kirchner, as well as Hugo Chávez, and he travels often to Venezuela.
In February, a month before the rice shipments started, according to Clarín, he was seen with Cheppi and Ms. Chávez, who is said to have ambitions to succeed Maduro as Venezuelan president.
When she visited Cuba in April, she wrote about it in her Instagram account. "On my return to La Isla del Gigante, I had the honor of sharing three hours with my dear Fidel [Castro], commander of all time. Together relived the experiences and moments we shared with my beloved father," she wrote.
“Neither [Chavista Congressman] Diosdado Cabello nor Chancellor Elias Jaua nor vice president Jorge Arreaza are strategic pieces in the country’s leadership anymore," wrote Juan Reynaldo Sánchez, a Cuban exile who was a personal bodyguard of Castro's from 1968 to 1994 before being sent to prison, in the Miami Spanish-language website, Café Fuerte.
In his mind, there is no doubt Ms. Chávez is.
"[She is] the best student of his father in terms of ideological formation and a faithful admirer of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution," Sánchez said.
“For the welfare of Venezuela, there is nothing I would like more than to be proved wrong,” he concluded.