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Giuliani’s Ties to Venezuelan Oligarchs Could Hurt Trump in 2020

Rudy Giuliani speaks in Manza, Albania, July 13, 2019. (Florion Goga/Reuters)

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Rudy Giuliani represented Venezuela energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López in a Florida money-laundering case.

Betancourt runs Derwick Associates, which attained close to $2 billion in contracts to build power plants for the government of Hugo Chavez. The Florida complaint alleges that Derwick executives bribed government officials into embezzling $1.2 billion from PDVSA, Venezuela’s national oil company. With the help of international bankers, they allegedly laundered that money into Miami real estate and other investments in the U.S. Although Betancourt was not charged in the case, he is named as an uncharged co-conspirator, according to the Miami Herald, and freelance journalist Alek Boyd has reported that there are sealed indictments against Betancourt.

The Latin American constituency in Florida — especially the Cuban and Venezuelan diaspora — will play a key role in Trump’s 2020 election. The memory of socialism sways a significant portion of Latino voters to the Republican party. In 2016, 54 percent of Florida’s nearly one million eligible Cuban-American voters cast ballots for Trump. The president’s ostensibly tough approach to Venezuela, where he has threatened to intervene militarily, has bolstered his support in this segment, as have sanctions imposed on Venezuelan officials this year. As a Republican operative told the New Yorker, “If you solve the Venezuela problem, you get three for the price of one. You’ll make the Colombians, Nicaraguans, and Cubans in Florida very happy.”

Giuliani’s defense of Venezuelan thuggery will outrage Latino voters. Venezuelan dissidents and writers have already denounced the president’s lawyer on Twitter. If Trump continues to retain Giuliani’s services, he will be seen as condoning corruption of the worst order. In that most crucial of swing states, this could be an underrated election story.