ONE GROUP that will be delighted by Ireland’s support for the Venezuelan opposition and Juan Guaidó in recent weeks is the Venezuelan Community in Ireland (VCI). Founded in April 2017, VCI is a non-profit group that aims to “work towards the integration of the Venezuelans living in Ireland into Irish society”.
It is a member of the New Communities Partnership (NCP), a network representing 65 different nationalities with offices in Dublin and Cork. The NCP received close to €1/2m in state funding in 2017, the bulk of it from Tusla and the Department of Justice.
However, VCI wasn’t able to tell Goldhawk how much money (if any) it receives from the NCP and Tusla declined to tell The Phoenix if there were any conditions attached to the funding.
VCI is also very well supported by the business community. Those famous altruists at Facebook were able to provide a space at their Dublin HQ for VCI’s first ever conference in July 2017 on the subject of “human rights violations in Venezuela”.
One of the organisers and a speaker at that event was VCI trustee and Tusla staff officer Angelisa Zerpa, sister of controversial Venezuelan judge Ángel Zerpa. The judge was arrested for treason in July 2017 as a member of the anti-Maduro Supreme Court in Exile, which recently urged Guaidó to assume the presidency.
Ángel Zerpa is famous in Venezuela for his part in the trial of Luis Carrera Almoina – the son of a famous academic – who was charged with the rape and torture of a young girl over a three-month period in 2001. Instead of committing the accused to jail pending trial, Magistrate Zerpa placed the well-connected rapist under house arrest. He was suspended from the case after Almoina briefly escaped from custody with the help of his father.
Natacha Fitzgerald-Soto, a trustee of VCI, was also in attendance at the 2017 conference. She is a Madrid-based graduate of Griffth College Dublin and a former intern at Grant Thornton. She currently works for a Jesuit-sponsored Latin American development agency, which has its HQ in Washington DC. Fitzgerald-Soto told the small crowd that the event was not political and had been organised to draw attention to the “human rights crisis” because of “the lack of fact-based information about Venezuela in Ireland”.
Another speaker was Facebook executive and Venezuelan expat Xochilt Balzola-Widmann. She expressed hope that if groups like VCI could shine a strong enough light on the plight of her people, “maybe someone will rescue our country”.
It certainly looks like her wish has been granted.