World

Venezuela's top officials sport luxury watches while the rest of country starves

In Spanish there is an old saying that goes something like this: “Tell me what you brag about, and I'll tell you what you lack." In today’s Venezuela, the folksy saying seems confirmed.

While the socialist government officials often rant about “equality,” “austerity” and “anti-imperialism,” the expensive watches Chavistas flaunt, along with their travels, tell a whole different story about what their priorities are after hours.

Launched in 2014, the blog Relojes del Chavismo (Chavismo's Watches) has posted more than 150 pictures of high-ranking officials wearing all sorts of expensive watches, mostly Swiss made.

The list of watch aficionados includes President Nicolas Maduro, Assemblyman Diosdado Cabello and Army General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who was recently appointed financial czar to try and rescue the country’s collapsing economy.

All together, the watches on the blog add up to more than $500,000, according to the site administrator.

“I decided to create the blog after reading an article published on The Telegraph about bloggers protesting in China,” said the site administrator, who wouldn’t reveal his name for fear of government retaliation.

“Their way of protesting was genius. They just exposed the dubious wealth of public officials by posting pictures,” the blogger told Fox News Latino.

Something very similar is what the Venezuelan group is trying to accomplish in the South American country – they hunt for pictures of recognizable Chavistas wearing noticeable watches and then go search those brands online and find out their retail prices.

One of the watches on the website is an IWC Pilots watch valued at $12,700 worn by Padrino Lopez. Two other photos show President Nicolas Maduro wearing different Tissots, one valued at $975 and the other at $595.

“We have already identified 175 pieces in different pictures and we have 400 [photographs] more in which the watch hasn’t been identified yet,” the blogger told FNL.

The list of expensive-watch wearers extends to the officials’ relatives too.

Enmanuel Andrade, the son of Army Lt. Alejandro Andrade, a former National Treasurer and close friend of late president Chavez, has the most expensive watch registered to date by the blog: a $33,900 Rolex Day Date President.

At the current official exchange rate, a minimum wage Venezuelan worker would have to put in more than 120 years of labor to afford one.

And Gen. Miguel Rodriguez Torres, a former Minister of Interior, is the official with the most diverse line of watches – so far the blog has discovered 14 watches owned by him. One, an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, has a $25,700 price tag.

“The members of the military are the least modest when it comes to show off the wealth amassed in the last 17 years,” the blogger said.

Chavista officials also seem quite extravagant in terms of travel destinations.

Opposition lawmaker Carlos Berrizbeitia, a member on the National Assembly’s Controllership Commission, is keeping a record.

“Just for this year, the presidency has $5 million allocated to spend on airplanes fares and expenditures for President Maduro during his travels. Every year the [budget] amount rises,” Berrizbeitia told FNL.

President Maduro usually takes with him a delegation of dozens officials and family members when he travels abroad.

“In a moment of crisis it’s not necessary to spend money like this. His retinues include 70 persons on average and they stay in five-star hotels, sometimes renting complete floors,” Berrizbeitia said.

Plus, he noted, every trip requires a security team and expenditures for the president’s delegation, which raises the expenses considerably.

Since taking office in 2013, Maduro has traveled to 35 countries in 132 days, around 11 percent of his total time in office, according to an FNL count.

He seems to have inherited the fondness of travel from his predecessor, who spent more than 300 days and $55 million traveling during his 14-year term, Berrizbeitia said.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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