Project description

#Petrofraude project dealt with Petrocaribe, an international oil sales agreement with long-term credits and very low interest rate carried out by the Venezuelan governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro and from which 14 countries of Central America and the Caribbean region were benefited. The agreement, which allowed the injection of more than 28,000 million dollars in 10 years, had the formal objective of serving as a tool to fight poverty through social programs, but in fact it was used by both leaders to support politicians who were their allies in the region and to obtain in exchange, international protection for the so-called Bolivarian revolution, as seen in official documents mentioned in the investigation. The agreement was undermined by the lack of transparency, lack of controls and corruption with public funds. The millionaire debts acquired by the beneficiary countries have been key for the Maduro government to maintain endorsements in the region and this has allowed him to resist the isolation from a majority of nations in America and in Europe that object the legitimacy of his re-election and claim that has led to a government that has committed crimes against human rights and keeps his country in a humanitarian emergency. #Petrofraude was a project in which five organizations of Latin America were involved. They were able to establish an unprecedented alliance to investigate Petrocaribe led by the Latin American platform CONNECTAS in partnership with Confidencial (Nicaragua), Diario Libre (Dominican Republic), El Pitazo (Venezuela) and Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador) and the support of ICFJ/Knigth Fellow Program for the final multimedia product. The content was divided into five chapters published simultaneously in English and in Spanish. It was possible to demonstrate the collection of surcharges, never before documented, in the operations through which the recipient nations paid part of their debts to Venezuela, which implies a paradox for a population that at present are having serious limitations in relation to access to food. It was also possible to confirm the insufficiency or omission of efforts needed to be carried out by Petrocaribe authorities and by the national comptrollers of the beneficiary countries, to monitor the correct use of these money, despite the existence of the irregular scheme for the management of funds, such as the one identified in El Salvador with real estate transactions. The Petrocaribe\’s biggest corruption case was reconstructed; this was the fraud carried out with the funds intended to be used for the reconstruction of Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010. Part of the funds, according to records obtained, went to the accounts of candidates and presidential campaigns. In the same manner, the investigation showed the use of funds to support politicians and governments in the region and it confirmed how diplomatic support was given to Maduro and Chavez thanks to an agreement.

What makes this project innovative?

Despite the geopolitical importance of Petrocaribe, a collaborative research and data journalism project had never been carried out to address the issue, which had been limited to local and fragmented approaches. #Petrofraude involved the participation of 12 journalists, who were the ones documenting the work in relation to the countries included in the oil agreement and doing specific field tasks carried out in Venezuela, Guyana, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and in El Salvador. All these allowed to recreate the general framework of discretion and corruption related to the international agreement. Another innovative aspect was the creation of an unpublished database package, the most important on the subject that has been made available to the public with respect to an agreement that, despite having managed multimillion-dollar resources, was characterized by the lack of controls and mechanisms of transparency and money being used for political purposes. #Petrofraude consolidated scattered data mainly thanks to the review of approximately 1,200 documents of different length and complexity found in public institutions. The information released, allows us to have a follow up from different perspectives on how the money was used and it offers a new starting point for researchers interested in the subject. In total, six databases were made. Three of them have shown the following: the existence of inconsistencies in the records of imports and exports related to transactions paying food with oil; the transactions seen in El Salvador, in relation to a speculative real estate scheme, financed with money from oil credits and the consistent patterns regarding votes given by the beneficiary nations in relation to positions that agreed with the Maduro government. The three remaining databases have consolidated inventories of infrastructure works, social programs and companies related to Petrocaribe, with details on allegations of corruption, proselytizing cases or open investigations on irregular facts. "

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

#Petrofraude was published online and printed in the versions of each of the allies of the project, but it had other publications or references of their findings in 30 different media of the United States, Europe and Latin America, among which, we can mention The New York Times, The Washington Post, Univisión, The Deutshe Welle and Aristegui News, as you can check in the links attached. A senator from the United States, the Democrat Richard Durbin, praised the work just a few days after its publication and described it as "devastating" evidence gathered in the project: this was said during a speech he gave to the Congress of his country when addressing the political situation in Venezuela. Only in the CONNECTAS webpage, which was the organization leading the #Petrofraude project, it achieved more than 157,000 visits from 138.000 users of 141 countries during the first week. During this period, data visualizations that were related to inconsistencies in the payment of oil with food, the voting patterns of the countries in the Organization of American States (OAS), the real estate speculation scheme in El Salvador and the inventory of social programs, all had the following online consultation times: 4 minutes and 59 seconds, 3 minutes and 55 seconds, 4 minutes and 53 seconds and 5 minutes and 16 seconds. All of them significant reading periods. In Diario Libre, for example, three of #Petrofraude 's reports remain today among the 10 most read of the year and journalists from El Pitazo were contacted by a Latin television station in US, to give interviews in which they expanded on the details of the project. In addition, a forum was held at the headquarters of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, which included a live broadcast with the C-SPAN network that covers issues of public interest in the United States.

Source and methodology

The work involved an intensive consultation of documents and living sources. The data component consisted mainly in the consolidation and contrast of data obtained from dispersed official sources in each of the countries involved in the Petrocaribe agreement for a period of 10 years. The database on inconsistencies in oil payment transactions with food was made thanks to review of reports from Petróleos de Venezuela (a Venezuelan state company that was the backbone of the agreements) and its comparison with reports from the Venezuelan Institute of Statistics, the Central Bank of Nicaragua, the Rice Development Board of Guyana, the Customs Office of El Salvador, and the Petrocaribe Office of the Dominican Republic. The database on real estate speculation in El Salvador was produced with documents from the Property Registry of that country. The database on infrastructure works and social programs was carried out with the consolidation of reports from Petróleos de Venezuela, the Central Bank of Nicaragua, the Monetization Bureau for Foreign Aid of Haiti, the Petrocaribe Development Fund of Jamaica, the finance ministries of Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Vincent and Grenadines. The database on the voting patterns in the Organization of American States was made after reviewing the minutes and videos of the organization and after reviewing public hemerographic reports. The database referring to the inventory of companies related to Petrocaribe was carried out with the consultation of reports from Petrocaribe, Petróleos de Venezuela, finance ministries, newspaper documents and other documents obtained from sources related to the transactions. All documents were consolidated into files shared with every member of the team. A central group homologated and reviewed every record, one by one, before submitting the documentation to the programming area for its visualization

Technologies Used

During the research process, encrypted communication applications were used to exchange messages. For the creation of the databases, Google Drive spreadsheets were used to facilitate the first phase of the collaborative work. A combination of manual search and automated scrapping techniques were used to collect data. For the latter, Phyton and OpenOCR were used to extract material from PDF files. OpenRefine was used for the final cleaning of the databases after the review and approval made by the central team in charge of the subject. The investigation #Petrofraude has databases, maps and interactive visualizations. The maps and interactive visualizations were implemented using D3.js, a library of Java Script that allows to visualize graphics by means of vectors (SVG), these visualizations are interactive and show results depending on different filters. The visualizations can be inserted as iframes and adapted to the screen depending on the device. The illustrations of each of the chapters were animated using JavaScript and CSS3. The website was built using HTML5, Java Script and CSS.

Project members

Field Work Journalists: Moisés Alvarado, César Bátiz, Carlos Eduardo Huertas, Julio César López, María Fernanda Sojo, Suhelis Tejero y Grisha Vera Documentation and Data Analysis: Daniela Alvarado, Iván Olivares, María Fernanda Sojo Photography and video: Andrew Flecman, Julio César López, Melvin Rivas, Dennis Rivera, Grisha Vera Multimedia product coordination: Fabiola Torres (ICFJ/Knigth Fellow) Illustrations: Rocío Urtecho Programming and visualization: Jason Martínez y Jorge Miranda Translation: Danitza Erzisnik Direction, Editorial Coordination and Editing: David González, Cecibel Romero y Carlos Eduardo Huertas

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