Those cursed to live in a country where leaders are stealing the nation’s resources wholesale are rarely able to stop them. Calling the police, complaining to the prosecutor, or appealing to the legislature is pointless: in a kleptocracy the thieves control the machinery of the state. Speaking out is futile. Those who do are quickly silenced — imprisoned if they not become the victim of state-sponsored assassination.
So it is particularly welcome to report that the citizens of Venezuela, the latest nation to become victim of massive, “grand” corruption by its leaders, recently hit upon a way to strike back. Even better is how they are doing it: using the social media posts of the kleptocrats’ kids. The Twitter account VVsincensura (“Venezuelans uncensored”) scours the internet collecting posts by the children of Venezuela’s kleptocrats showing them living the high life in Paris, Hong Kong, Sydney, and the like while the nation sinks ever deeper into a state of penury. From videos of the Caracas mayor’s daughter surfing in Australia to pictures of a former state official’s offspring helicoptering around the Middle East, VVsincensura regularly, indeed sometimes hourly, tweets out evidence of how well one’s kids can vacation, dine, and tour when the government picks up the tab. Particularly galling are photos of an ex-Minister of Health’s children sightseeing in China while the country experiences a medical emergency because it has no money to pay for basic medicines and hospital supplies.
Venezuela’s kleptocrats are yelping over the outing of their kids (example here). More significantly, the steady stream of snapshots showing them, drink in hand, languishing by a fancy pool or on white sands beach while the mass of Venezuelans scrounge for life’s basic necessities is starting to have an impact — both in Venezuela and abroad.
Within in Venezuela VVsincensura has stripped the last shred of legitimacy from the thieves ruling the country. Their claim to power is that they speak for Venezuela’s poor. But as more and more pictures of their kids in private jets, on luxurious beaches, or in five star restaurants circulate, that claim has become a dark national joke. It has also pumped new life to Venezuela’s beleaguered domestic opposition. The only thing now keeping the kleptocrats in power is the security forces, and one has to ask how many pictures of generals’ sons and daughters living it up in Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo will it take before front-line soldiers begin deserting en masse.
Outside Venezuela the vulgar display of wealth by kids of kleptocrats has become so revolting that it has begun to spark action. At this writing some 30,000 Australians have signed a petition demanding that their government revoke the student visa of Lucía Rodríguez, daughter of Caracas’ mayor and niece of the Foreign Minister. Rodríguez, ostensibly a student at a pricey Sydney University (tuition $18,000), is shown riding the waves off a Sydney beach in one VVSincensura post and enjoying a lifestyle far removed from that of an ordinary student in others. In the meantime, her father earns less than a $1,000 a year as mayor while preaching the virtues of an austere life to his constituents.
The Australian government should heed its citizens’ plea and send Rodríguez home, and that civil society in other nations hosting the kids of Venezuela’s kleptocrats should file similar petitions. Denying kleptocrats the ability to send their kids abroad would remove one incentive for them to rob their nation blind. More importantly, perhaps if the kids are penned up in Venezuela they will begin to realize just how hard life is for the great majority and how much responsibility their parents bear for making it so. Who knows, a few uncomfortable conversations around the family dinner table might prompt some of the thieves to go straight? For if a parent craves anything, it is their child’s love and respect.
While a single Twitter account might seem a feeble weapon to fight kleptocracy, VVSincensura shows that this is not so. That when aimed at the right target, it can be a powerful weapon for combatting grand corruption. The ostentatious, revolting display of wealth by kleptocrats’ kids VVSincensura features reveals in a dramatic way the evil of grand corruption. It is a tactic deserves widespread emulation — by citizens of other kleptocracies and anticorruption activists everywhere.