Venezuelan “presidential princesses” stir up controversy

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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 and María Gabriela 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 writer who was the first person who dared to publicly 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,” denounced Carlos Berrizbeitia, a National Assembly lawmaker. “There's not a single reason for the Chávez family to live there.”

The issue is highly controversial because it might involve the commission of 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,” he warned.

Berrizbeitia highlighted that Venezuela's presidential residence has had an exorbitant budget since Chávez came to power. “Only on event management and catering agencies and general maintenance it cost 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.”

Last February, spanish daily ABC reported that neighbors were complaining 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 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 emphasized.

The worries about the use of the presidential residence go well beyond the misuse of public money. 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."

Throughout her life, Morillo had the chance to visit La Casona since she was a teenager for personal reasons (she is a friend of former president Caldera family) and professional reasons. "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."

The Head of State has made only one official statement about the use of the presidential residence. “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 during a TV interview last December. Since then there has been a lot of gossip about a conflict between the First Lady, Cilia Flores, and Chávez's daughters for the use of La Casona. “It's been a strong rumor inside of the government. In any case, you get the impression that Maduro is sharing his power with the Chávez family,” said Berrizbeitia.

But the controversy transcends the debate about the use of La Casona. Last week, opposition lawmakers Abelardo Díaz and Homero Ruiz asked General Attorney to look into an alleged defraud of 15.5 million dollars on the purchase of rice and corn from Argentina. They claim that supposedly María Gabriela Chávez took part on the deal.

Chávez's second daughter answered through her account on Instagram, 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.

María Gabriela played the role of First Lady for several years, since Chávez second divorce. She has more than 72,000 followers on Instagram and 959,000 on Twitter, where she publishes pictures with her friends, including celebrities like Venezuelan state sponsored Formula 1 pilot Pastor Maldonado; and musicians like Hany Kauam.

Chávez left four grown children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela and Hugo (from his first marriage); and Rosinés (from his second marriage). On social media, some compromising pictures of them can be found like one showing Rosinés with a bunch of dollars in her hands. Other images show them traveling and shopping around the world or having a great time with friends on yachts in paradisiacal beaches. Not the expected image of the descendants of someone who used to attack U.S. capitalism as the major threat to human kind.