Venezuela’s ambassador to Italy has resigned his post, saying US sanctions have reduced him to penury and have made it impossible to keep running the diplomatic mission.
Isaías Rodriguez lamented that his financial situation is now so dire that his wife has started selling off the designer clothes that were given to her “by her ex-husband”.
His bank account in Italy has been frozen and he is trying to sell off his car, he said in a long letter addressed to Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president.
Flogging off their possessions was the couple’s only hope of “surviving the North American embargo”, he said, blaming the situation on the “gringos” in Washington.
Mr Rodriguez, who has previously held posts as attorney general and, briefly, vice-president in Venezuela, no longer has the cash to pay the embassy’s staff or the rent on the building, he said in the letter, which was posted on Twitter.
A range of crippling sanctions were imposed by the US against Venezuela in retaliation for President Maduro’s alleged rigging of last year’s national election.
Mr Rodríguez, a hardcore Chavista, is the first ambassador to formally resign citing lack of funds.
“I leave without bitterness and without money,” the 77-year-old ambassador wrote.
“My wife has just sold the clothes her previous husband gave her in order to survive the North American embargo.
“I’m trying to sell the car I bought when I arrived at the embassy, and as you know I no longer have a bank account because the gringos have placed sanctions against me and the Italian bank has closed its doors to me.”
His intention was to step down as ambassador and spend more time “being a grandfather”.
Despite being reduced to penury, he pledged his continuing allegiance to the Maduro regime, saying he had “immense respect” for the embattled president. “Your cause is my cause,” he wrote.
The president is locked in a struggle for power with his challenger Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president and is backed by more than 50 countries, including the United States.
On Monday, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, which is made up entirely of Maduro loyalists, declared that it had extended its mandate to rule the country for another 18 months – despite the fact that President Maduro has presided over the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, leading to shortages of basic food and medicine and misery for millions of ordinary people.
An estimated three million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 and should be considered refugees, according to the United Nations.
Ambassadors short on cash
And while Mr Rodriguez is the first ambassador to resign over the funding crisis, he is far from the first diplomat to be suffering as a result of Venezuela’s economic collapse.
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Venezuela’s ambassador to Haiti, Luis Diaz Curbelo, wrote to the foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza last September, complaining that his embassy was so short on funds they were unable to pay rent, electricity, telephone bills, internet, water, gas, security, taxes, insurances, maintenance of vehicles and fuel, and even vets’ bills.
He said they had no means to feed the guard dogs in the compound.
Mr Curbelo told Mr Arreaza that he had convinced the landlord to grant them an extension until mid June, but then they would be forced out.
"The ceiling of the official residence is falling down," he wrote.
"I am writing to discuss how to pay the bills that we have for 2018, without even considering those of 2016 and 2017."
A diplomat inside the Venezuelan embassy in Madrid reported that the staff had been left for 90 days without pay, Venepress reported.
And a former senior diplomat at the UN in New York claimed that the Oxford-educated ambassador, Samuel Moncada, former ambassador to London, had siphoned off $200,000 from workers’ salaries for an “emergency fund”.
Ana Carolina Rodríguez, former assistant to Hugo Chavez’s daughter María Gabriela Chávez, the deputy UN ambassador, said that Mr Moncada arbitrarily decided who should be paid.
She told TV Venezuela from Kuwait on May 7 that Mr Moncada’s actions were “totally illegal”, and that many of her colleagues in the diplomatic service were being forced to work second jobs.
In March the Guaido-controlled national assembly announced that it was investigating transfers made by Mr Maduro’s ambassadors in Europe and America to foreign bank accounts.
Carlos Paparoni, president of the financial commission, said that they estimated $3.2 billion had been hidden in 72 secret accounts, held in countries that recognised Mr Guaido and cooperated with his team.
He said the accounts had been frozen and were being overseen by the national assembly.