Español Created in January 2014, political party Podemos (we can) has taken Spain by storm. In just its first five months of existence, it has become Spain’s fourth most popular party in the European Parliament. Party leaders have branded themselves as the new solution to the Spanish economic crisis, promising to preserve the welfare state and make companies pay.
Podemos’s strategy has been simple: take citizen indignation and turn it into a political movement. However, the party, led by university professor Pablo Iglesias, has caused quite a commotion today for a very different reason, one far from from their political achievements: Podemos has been financed by Hugo Chávez, former president of Venezuela.
“Modesty, democracy, and human rights” were the foundations for this party, which has sold itself as the new and austere Spanish political group that seeks to include all those marginalized by the economic crisis.
“This is not a new party nor a new product; it’s an initiative that put forward citizen participation,” said Podemos candidate and coordinator Miguel Urban. “We don’t seek a seat in the European Parliament, except as a method towards citizen participation.”
Nonetheless, by May, Podemos was the one of the most voter-savvy parties in Spain, gaining five seats in the European Parliament.
Back in January, Urban assured that the party was born with “zero euros.” In his own words, they would ask for “not one euro from the banks we want to expropriate, or the politicians we want to kick out.” Their whole thrust was based on asking for funds from citizens, because after all, they are the ones the party would be “loyal” to.
Nonetheless, time proved this party to be contrary of what it had promised. Podemos — self-proclaimed as independent from “hegemonic powers” — received US$5 million from the Venezuelan government through their nonprofit policy institute, the Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS), to finance their campaign.
The “donations” that the policy institute, and subsequently the party, received from Venezuela’s Chavismo date back to 2002. An extensive report released today by El País reveals the close bonds between the CEPS and Podemos, where almost all the high profile members of the party worked as academic scholars in the think tank. The report also identifies the successive contributions and the quantity of each one of them.
According to the Spanish publication, since the contributions were given to a nonprofit foundation, they received numerous financial benefits that allowed the party to basically receive the funds tax-free.
While the obvious link between the party and the think-tank had been previously identified, Iglesias has rejected these claims, stating that the organizations are not related, and that neither one of them finances the other. Regarding the accusations that scholars from the CEPS, who also work for the party, have offered consulting services to the Venezuelan government and charged exorbitant sums of money, Iglesias states:
“There are many consultants working in Venezuela for opposition parties and they may make €6,000, €7,000, €8,000 a month. No CEPS consultant has ever made anything like that.”
However, the only client the nonprofit policy institute has had in a decade has been the Venezuelan regime.
In fact, a large portion of the funds — US$1.6 million — came from a special consulting service the organization offered to former President Hugo Chávez. In addition, they charged for assessment services to other government agencies in Venezuela, that ranged from “globalization classes” to workshops to measure the “socioeconomic perception” among Venezuelans.
As soon as the report from El Pais came out, the political party released a statement denying the allegations.
“Podemos does not receive, nor has it received, a single euro from any government or foundation, foreign or domestic, and we want to denounce the deceptive nature of any information that aims to insinuate the existence of sources of financing different from the ones we receive from the citizens…”
But the financing link doesn’t end there. The party’s campaign director for the European elections, Íñigo Errejón, was research director at GIS XXI right up until 2013. That is Venezuela’s government-sponsored polling firm, headed by Jesse Chacón, current minister for Electrical Energy and former companion of Chávez during the 1992 failed military coup.
Back in 2013, during a panel on “Chavismo as a Political Identity,” Errejón affirmed, “it’s undeniable the stamp Chávez has left in Venezuela, Latin America, and the world as a political, social, and cultural event in the history of the 20th and 21st centuries.”
In the same panel, the Podemos campaign director identified Chavismo as a “story that explains to Venezuelans who they are, what their rights are, and what they can aspire to.”
EspañolFew events inspire the passion and national fervor of international sports. Every four years we see a cycle of both the Summer and Winter Olympics, and the Soccer World Cup, along with a myriad of other events such as the Commonwealth Games. Seemingly without fail, every four years we also see the same routine of massive spending on sports complexes, red carpets rolled out for sporting elites, and a mountain of debt foisted on taxpayers. The justification for these grand games has always played on the latent populist nationalism that exists in every country. The general public loves to see players from their team compete against those from other nations. Governments love the games, as they turn the world's spotlight on their nation. This is especially true of nations and cities that would otherwise never enter the world's consciousness. Would anyone have heard of Sochi had the Olympics not been played there? More worrisome is the misconception that the games will help a nation or region's sagging economy. The evidence for the economic benefits of hosting international sporting events is dubious at best. In 2009, Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson noted that the benefits of these events are often exaggerated by event supporters by using inflated economic multipliers. Montreal took 3 decades to pay off the US$990 million debt it incurred for hosting the 1976 games and was forced to raise taxes to do it. In the wake of hosting a mega event, nations are also faced with the prospect of vast venues that have no further use than the games themselves. The internet is full of pictures of the deteriorating venues from Sarajevo to Athens to Bejing. International sporting bodies, both the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, demand shiny new facilities that would otherwise make no sense to build, and have no use, or will be underused, after the games. All of this says nothing of the effects of the building of these new sports venues. In Brazil, up to 200,000 people will face eviction in the name of new venues for the World Cup and the Olympics. Step back for a second and think about that. In the name of international sports events, 200,000 people could lose their homes, forced out because their government volunteered to take on the burden of the Cup and the Games. Is it shocking that, as Yahoo's Dan Wetzel reported, chants of “[Expletive] you, Mrs. President” echoed through Arena Corinthians during Brazil's opening round match? Protesters are in the streets, and rightfully so. The good news is that the populist nationalism of these international sporting events is fading, and fast. Last month, reports surfaced that the number of contenders for the 2022 Olympics were dwindling, as voters came out in opposition to bids in Krakow, Poland, and Stockholm, Sweden. The list, once long, is down to two real candidates, Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan. More recently, the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar has been called into question amid corruption allegations. International events such as these are a loser for the people of a host nation, that is certain. While this is true, there are clear parallels between how international mega events and local sports decisions are made. Politicians often tout the economic benefits new sports stadiums will have on the local economy. They use the passion of fans for their team for support, threatening that without millions in new spending, the peoples' beloved team may leave. Given how ingrained teams are in the local culture, team owners know that they can use this leverage to get ever more benefits from the public, regardless of the dire fiscal straits of some cities. Even bankrupt Detroit, Michigan will spend hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds on a new hockey stadium for the Red Wings. Homes and businesses were seized in order to build the stadium for the National Basketball Association's Brooklyn Nets in recent years, and the same thing is underway for Major League Soccer's DC United. Politics and sports have an uneasy relationship that is far from easily resolved. Sport mega events are wildly popular, but taxpayers rightfully do not want to pick up the tab for hosting them. Politicians, on the other hand, love the notoriety that comes from hosting them. Both parties have long used nationalism and populism to draw economic rents from the population. While this is true, the push back against these events, including the World Cup protests, show that the population is coming to realize that they are the ones left with the bill at the end of the day.