Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto
Investigative journalism outlet El Faro revealed how a group of Venezuelan advisors formed an unofficial ring of influence between President Bukele and his cabinet.
Jun 17, 2021
Last week, Salvadoran digital newspaper El Faro, one of the most respected investigative journalism media outlets in Central America, revealed there’s a group of Venezuelan advisors and political operatives who run an influential power circle in Nayib Bukele’s administration. The piece specifically mentions that this group is so powerful that its influence goes beyond the Cabinet’s and only answers to Bukele himself. In the piece republished by Armando.info, it’s revealed that these Venezuelan advisors are mainly connected to Leopoldo López’s party Voluntad Popular.
According to El Faro, President Bukele rules the country with his brothers and other close relatives, and under them, the government and Bukele’s party Nuevas Ideas. However, according to El Faro’s sources, there’s a parallel echelon in the chain of command: a group of thirty Venezuelans, ten of which are part of a privileged decision-making circle inside the government, with the work of bridging the Cabinet and the Bukele clan. The leader of this group is a woman called Sara Hanna Georges, who alongside Voluntad Popular’s Lester Toledo, took part in the Bukele campaign during 2019.
According to one of El Faro’s sources, “behind every minister, there’s a Venezuelan advisor giving orders” and “other Venezuelan advisors have specific roles in this broader cabinet and only answer to her as unofficial ministers.”
According to one of El Faro’s sources, “behind every minister, there’s a Venezuelan advisor giving orders” and “other Venezuelan advisors have specific roles in this broader cabinet and only answer to her as unofficial ministers.” These Venezuelans and their roles are mentioned by El Faro’s Jimmy Alvarado in his piece for Armando.Info: “Below Hanna there’s her right-hand man, Miguel Sabal, he takes care of logistics and recruiting in Caracas to work in El Salvador, then there’s Miguel Arvelo who supervises health; Tomás Hernández in the economic cabinet; Roddy Rodríguez supervising education and foreign relations; Ernesto Herrera in security; Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, who deals with transparency and topics regarding the OAS International Committee Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES); Santiago Rosas; and María Alejandra García and her partner Tomás Hernández advise the Casa Presidencial and are in charge of El Salvador’s Emergency Health Programme (PES).” According to Alvarado, there’s an additional second team of Venezuelans led by Lester Toledo, who is in charge of ”social media propaganda”. This team is also coordinated by Toledo’s brother Lender and Esteban Vicuña in coordination with Hanna.
Toledo’s response on Twitter said that there were no members of the Guaidó administration working with Bukele, but recognized the existence of several “honest Venezuelans” working with what he called “technical teams”. Toledo also said that while he respects Armando.info, “they should double-check the sources and the political agenda of the journalists they’re publishing.” He finished by saying that he regrets that there were Venezuelans attacking his coworkers and “happily” spreading this information, as that’s the result of resentment, jealousy, and the desire that all Venezuelans should struggle; a sentiment that’s been inherited from chavismo.
The rise of this Venezuelan team has caused concern among many Salvadorans who work in the government. “If you don’t have a direct line of communication with the President, you’re screwed, because the Venezuelans are the ones in command,” said a cabinet minister to El Faro. Additionally, according to Jorge Beltrán Luna from the newspaper elsalvador.com, a group of health professionals complained publicly on June 1st about Hanna and Arvelo giving orders to employees at the Health Ministry via WhatsApp, instructing them not to process more COVID-19 numbers and to not give the results of their tests to the patients requesting them. The group of health professionals also got access to an official memo describing the orders from Hanna and Arvelo and leaked it to the public. El Faro also said that Venezuelan consultants like Santiago Rosas and Ernesto Herrera developed strategies for the Territorial Control Plan without even consulting the Minister of Security.
A Concerning New Trend?
The popular Salvadoran president hasn’t even tried to hide his authoritarian behavior. “Now it’s clear who’s in control,” Bukele said after bursting into the Salvadoran legislature with armed men and ordering the legislators to approve his request for a loan of $109 million dollars, otherwise, he’d dissolve the legislature. As the majority of the members on Bukele’s Venezuelan team are or were close to Voluntad Popular, it’s surprising that these individuals were willing to work with a regime that employs similar tactics to those of chavismo; with the main difference being that Bukele is right-wing. In other words, it’s disquieting to think that there are members of the Venezuelan opposition who work for democracy in their home country, but support authoritarian leaders undermining democracy in other Latin American nations. A few days before the second round of presidential elections in Peru, Leopoldo López traveled to Lima to support Keiko Fujimori, who promised to pardon her father Alberto Fujimori, imprisoned for crimes against humanity and corruption during his authoritarian regime.
These revelations show that people coming from the Venezuelan opposition are working for a leader who, according to human rights organizations like the U.S Congressional Research Service, has authoritarian tendencies, a description used before when talking about Venezuela, before it was called a straight-up dictatorship.
These revelations show that people coming from the Venezuelan opposition are working for a leader who, according to human rights organizations like the U.S Congressional Research Service, has authoritarian tendencies, a description used before when talking about Venezuela, before it was called a straight-up dictatorship. We’ve been denouncing the influence that Cuban and Spanish advisors have had in our country for years. It’s hard to avoid the comparison after El Faro’s investigation, and many more questions arise. Is this just business or is there a political alliance linking the government of El Salvador to a Venezuelan political party? If so, are these the political allies that the democratic cause in Venezuela deserves?