Venezuelan social media burst into a frenzy at the end of last week when the government announced that María Gabriela Chávez, the middle daughter of the former president, would be heading to New York to serve as an ambassador to the United Nations.
This week, Venezuelans are asking how she’ll deal with the downgrade from her current lifestyle, which the national budget has at $980,000 a day.
No, that’s not a typo.
An investigation led by opposition politician Carlos Berrisbeitía, who has helped oversee the presidential budget for the last 15 years, found that spending by the office of President Nicolás Maduro has increased by 40 percent from last year following President Hugo Chávez’s death.
This year’s budget set aside 5.9 billion bolivares (about US$938 million, at the current official exchange rate) for the Office of the President, and an additional 2.26 billion bolivares (about US$359 million) for the presidential residence.
This house, La Casona, is currently occupied by Rosa Virginia and María Gabriela Chávez, the two older daughters of Maduro’s predecessor. Chávez’s youngest daughter, Rosinés, who has a different mother, does not live with her sisters.
Berrisbeitía may have been going for dramatic effect when he concluded that, taken together, the two budgets meant that Maduro and the Chávez daughters were spending US$3.6 million a day, but Venezuelans have begun to question exactly where all that money is going, especially as the country continues to experience severe inflation and shortages of basic goods.
Rosa Virginia and María Gabriela have continued to live in La Casona since their father’s death in March 2013. Their continued occupancy of the presidential house means that President Maduro and his wife have been forced to remain in their alternate home, thus requiring the country to pay for maintaining not one, but two, presidential residences.
The sisters are famous for throwing lavish parties, hosting private concerts featuring international artists and handing out generous gifts to friends — but not always to the delivery guy. According to one source, some restaurants and catering companies refuse to deliver to La Casona anymore, allegedly because the Chávez ladies don’t pay.
According to the budget, the 2.26 billion bolivares designated for La Casona and its residents go toward electricity and telephone bills, civil and military security details, bodyguards, drivers, cooks, upkeep of the private bowling alley and dance room, pool cleaning and vehicle maintenance.
New York, New York
However, Rosa Virgina may have to get used to being the sole occupant of the sprawling mansion when María Gabriela leaves for New York — perhaps the single greatest symbol of the capitalist society that their father so hated — to represent Venezuela before the United Nations.
Eyebrows were raised across the country when Foreign Minister Elías Jaua announced during a rally to show solidarity with the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip that the 34-year-old “Gaby” would be taking on the diplomatic role “with the goal that the people of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and all of the people of the world may continue to hear the fraternal voice of the comandante.”
She will officially serve as “alternate ambassador” to the U.N, joining current ambassador Jorge Valero. The appointment comes at a strategic moment for Venezuela, which is currently in consideration for a seat on the Security Council.
This will be the younger Chávez’s first role on the international stage — and, according to some, her first job ever. Though she studied journalism at Venezuela’s Universidad Bolivariana, she has not worked for any media outlet.
Within Venezuela, she is best known for her relationships with famous figures like Pablo Sepúlveda Allende, the grandson of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, and the actor Manuel Sosa; and her active Instagram account, which heavily features photos of her father, her dog, current boyfriend Roberto Leyba and her trips to exotic locations like Paris, London and, yes, New York.
Almost immediately following the announcement, Twitter lit up with the news, with Gaby a trending topic across the country. Some offered support for Venezuela’s newest diplomat, while others questioned the choice of such an inexperienced candidate.
Sin experiencia alguna en la materia Maria Gabriela Chavez es nombrada EMBAJADORA ANTE EL MUNDO.!
— Carlos Ramirez Lopez (@carlosramirezl3) August 13, 2014
“Without any experience Maria Gabriela Chávez is named AMBASSADOR TO THE WORLD.!”
Still others suggested that the president might have ulterior motives for the appointment.
Para que abandonen La Casona @NicolasMaduro designa embajadora alterna ante las Naciones Unidas a María Gabriela Chávez
— Esteban Gerbasi (@estebangerbasi) August 13, 2014
“To get her to leave La Casona, @NicolasMaduro has named Maria Gabriela Chavez the alternate ambassador to the UN”