US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó recruits DC lobbyists as crisis deepens

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Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared acting president Juan Guaidó (FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)

As the political and humanitarian situation in Venezuela grows more dire, the opposition government has hired an American lobbying firm to help them shore up American support.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela on Jan. 23 and declared current President Nicolas Maduro illegitimate. Guaidó is recognized as the rightful president of Venezuela by the U.S., Canada, most of Central and South America and many European countries. Maduro, however, has refused to resign and still maintains support among critical allies like the Venezuelan military, Russia and China.

As a faceoff over the delivery of humanitarian aid builds, Guaidó has hired two lobbyists from international law firm Arnold & Porter to advise the Venezuelan opposition on “U.S. economic sanctions, corporate and banking law, U.S. litigation, and international arbitration,” according to FARA filings revealed by the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

“We can confirm that the firm filed a registration under the Foreign Agent Registration Act with the Justice Department on Monday, February 11,” the firm told CRP in a statement on Wednesday. “We will not have any further comment.”

Arnold & Porter had been representing Maduro’s government in court and was advising the government on debt restructuring. However the firm recently stated in a court filing it would no longer represent Maduro’s regime and instead take instructions from Guaidó’s government. Before Maduro took power in 2013, the law firm represented the government of his predecessor Hugo Chávez.

New FARA filings note that the lobbyists will meet with U.S. government officials to discuss “preservation of Venezuela’s assets in the United States, the establishment of a diplomatic presence, and economic and humanitarian assistance.”

The U.S. initially froze Venezuela’s American-based assets but in late January gave control of  some of the bank accounts to Guaidó in order to “help Venezuela’s legitimate government safeguard those assets for the benefit of the Venezuelan people,” according to a State Department statement.

Carlos Vecchio is listed as the point of contact for “the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela under President Juan Guaidó” in FARA filings. Guaidó appointed Vecchio, a Venezuelan activist and a Fulbright Scholar who graduated from Georgetown and Harvard and who has been living in exile in Florida since 2014, as the opposition’s charge d’affaires, their top diplomat in the U.S. The U.S. swiftly recognized Vecchio and on Jan. 29, the diplomat met with Vice President Pence in the White House. According to a FARA filing, Vecchio is based out of an office building next to The Madison Hotel in downtown Washington D.C. The filing is no longer available on the Department of Justice’s website, though it had been earlier in the day on Feb. 13.

The lobbyists hired both have backgrounds in international finance. Arturo Caraballo, counsel at Arnold & Porter has worked with clients like Honduras, El Salvador, Columbia and Panama. The other lobbyist, Eli Whitney Debevoise II, is a partner at the firm and a former U.S. Executive Director of the World Bank from 2007 to 2010.

The Washington, D.C. firm is active as a foreign registrant, taking in nearly $1.9 million from the Israeli government and $677,234 from Micronesia between 2017 and 2018 for foreign lobbying and influence operations, according to CRP’s Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

The firm also lobbies for domestic clients under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, taking in nearly $13 million over the last two years.

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