The revolving door of the military is made of cement

In the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, which has a strong military component, military officers can act, simultaneously or progressively, even in contravention of the law, as troops leaders, government executives and even state contractors. One in three of the 785 military officers active in their time who, as private, contracted with the public administration during the last ten years, did it from companies that have the social purpose of construction. One case stands out: Major General Frank Herbert Lynch Dávila. The family company of which he is part has received contracts for construction works for years while the officer escalated positions until being in charge of the cement supply throughout the country.

9 July 2017

If something has characterized the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, initiated by President Hugo Chávez and continued by his successor, Nicolás Maduro, is the active participation of military personnel in political responsibilities and techno-productive areas. It is no secret that officers of the four components of the armed forces represent one-third of the cabinet, and that in the last few years they have had a free rein for contracts of food purchase and sale, preferential dollar imports and even social security management. Wherever you look, in the current government, there is someone wearing an olive-green military uniform.

However, it is surprising to corroborate that in the last ten years, at least 785 officers have been State contractors. It is the figure that comes up by crossing the list of companies of the National Registry of Contractors - a database that has been downloaded and processed for this series of reports that starts today - and the list of military promotions within the public administration provided by Vendata, derived from 2,763 editions of the Official Gazette published during that period.

Although there is no rule prohibiting an active military officer from having a private company or being part of a board of directors, it is also true that the article 34 of the Civil Service Statute Law, as well as the numeral 4 of the provision 91 of the Organic Law of the General Comptroller of the Republic and the National Fiscal Control System, establish an administrative penalty for the military who contract with the State. So it could be argued that at least 785 officers have contravened the law.

"According to the article 145 of the 1999 Constitution in force, an active military officer by virtue of his status as a public official must refrain from entering into any contract with the Government (National, State and Municipal), either by himself or on behalf of a third party", explains the expert lawyer in public procurement, César Esteves.

There are 70 companies, for example, which have been responsible for selling to institutions of the State everything related to computers, stationery and office supplies

Trading business in general, transportation, food and computing services are some of the areas in which these companies have been acting, under management of military officers in the role of businessmen. There are 70 companies, for example, owned by commanders of the Armed Forces who have been in charge of selling to state institutions everything related to computing, electronic maintenance, stationery and office supplies.

But it is the construction sector where the largest number of companies owned by military officers is concentrated: 259 or, in other words, almost one in three of the 785 that did business with the State during the last decade.

It seems an almost obvious choice. Although nowadays remains paralyzed, up until 2012, at the heat of the extraordinary income from the oil boom and the government's housing plans, the construction sector was where everybody wanted to take part. Hugo Chávez dismissed traditional building companies and preferred to look for foreign suppliers, to put in charge of megaprojects, or new local entrepreneurs. It was the latter category where the military fit in.

General constructions works

An outstanding example of this permanent reinvention of some officers, who have no problem in metamorphosing from troop commanders to state contractors, and from there to government executives, is that of Frank Herbert Lynch Dávila.  

General of the National Guard - the military police corps in charge of borders protection, public order and the fight against organized crime in Venezuela -, Lynch is a thin man, with dark skin, calm expression and who, according to the photographs, always wears his magnifying glasses. On July 1st occurred one of his rare expositions to the media. In the National Pantheon, north-central Caracas, where the remains of the Liberator Simón Bolívar rest, President Nicolás Maduro officiated the ceremony of promotion of the officers with the first place in their promotion. According to the Venezuelan president, they were being condecorated in reward for "the loyalty and commitment" that the uniformed officers had demonstrated with the country "and the legacy of Hugo Chavez".

One of the promotions of that day was precisely that of Frank Herbert Lynch Dávila, who received the two golden suns in his ribbons which bestows him the rank of Major General. It was barely the second official recognition in less than three months. On April 17 he had been appointed President of the Socialist Corporation of Cement, S.A, affiliated to the Ministry of Popular Power for Habitat and Housing, as announced in the Official Gazette 41,132.

It was just part of the good streak that adorns the last years of the passage of Lynch Dávila in the public administration. He has received decorations and the headship of regional commandos in the states of Cojedes and Bolívar (central-west and southeast of Venezuela, respectively).

But in the field of private business, meanwhile, the high official of the National Guard was inadvertently part of the board of directors of a family construction business benefited by at least 31 contracts with the State.  

Frank Herbert Lynch Dávila is the vice president of a company called Projects, Inspections, Consulting and Constructions Lynch (Proincon Lynch, C.A.), which was incorporated in 1984 in the state of Zulia, according to the National Contractors Registry until this week. But after contacting him, the information suspiciously disappeared from the official servers. The record of the company, however, was kept for this article, where it is reported that the board is also integrated by Lynch's relatives such as Herbert Lynch Blackman, Carmen Beatriz Lynch Dávila and Herman Herbert Lynch Dávila.

Retired military personnel who provided testimony for this report point out that Lynch Dávila's proximity to the recently relieved commander of the Bolivarian National Guard, Antonio Benavides Torres - Caracas's new head of government - and his close friendship with the current Minister of Habitat and Housing, Manuel Quevedo - also an official of the National Guard - has taken him to the position he now occupies. "In his early years, Frank behaved like most officers but started to change with the incentives he was receiving. He is totally committed to the revolution. Even though he has a sister in the Miami MUD", says the former National Guard official and former director of Immigration and Foreigners Service, Marcos Ferreira.

Ferreira refers to Catherine B. Lynch Dávila, who in 2011 was a member of the MUD Committee for the Primary Elections Abroad (CEPEX) in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, in the United States.

Family business

The president of Proincon Lynch, C.A, engineer Herbert Lynch, is also the father of the Major General. He explains by telephone that the company in question is a family business with many years of experience and that his son has had no influence in the receiving of any contract. "Frank Lynch Dávila has a vice-presidency as a substitute. We decided to place him in that position after my wife's illness in 2007 and thus leave everything solved to my children when I die. He can't do anything in the company without my authorization and he has not received a cent from it. Let alone get contracts thanks to him. We have worked for all governments", says the engineer.

Frank Lynch Dávila has a vice president as substitute. We decided to place him in that position after my wife's illness in 2007

Proincon Lynch, C.A, between 2002 and 2015, was involved in at least thirteen construction works for the Venezuelan State. More than 40% of these works have already been completed. One of its clients was Odebrecht, the Brazilian civil engineering conglomerate involved in a worldwide scandal for paying bribes to public officials in twelve countries in order to obtain works contracts.

For Odebrecht, the Lynch family company was in charge of the engineering for the integrating road El Diluvio - El Palmar in 2008, which would serve an important irrigation system at the southwest of Lake Maracaibo, in the state of Zulia; irrigation system Zulia State; quality control of samples taken in the construction of asphalted roads and laboratory, in 2009; road pavement evaluation for the Socialist Agrarian Project of the Maracaibo Plain in 2011; and detailed engineering of agricultural roads for the irrigation equipment, that same year, for the aforementioned project.

The Socialist Agrarian Project of the Maracaibo Plain was promoted at the time as the solution to guarantee food sovereignty in that region of western Venezuela. According to the Odebrecht website, the project was conceived as an endogenous integral development plan, with the objective of promoting food production in the Venezuelan West and "it comprises farmland, housing, water bodies, road infrastructure and services, and field for more organized growth".

Shortly after Proincon Lynch's participation in the agricultural project, it began to languish. This did not affect the business of this company, which, by contrast, continued with the wind on its sails. While Lynch Dávila was coordinator of the Bicentennial Security Device (Dibise) in the municipality of Caroní, State of Bolivar, in the south of the country, and then commander of the 88th detachment in Puerto Ordaz, the main commercial and industrial city of the same state, his company received construction contracts for apartments in the area.  In 2011, the Mission Habitat Foundation assigned it the task of making 422 homes in different communities of the Dalla Costa parish and then received two more contracts to carry out additional works after building these houses.

Proincon Lynch also had clients like the National Cinematheque Foundation in the states of Anzoátegui and Monagas, in the east of Venezuela; the Foundation for the Sports Infrastructure of the State of Zulia for the rehabilitation of football fields; and the Investment Fund Misión Negro Primero S.A. for the construction of dormitories, stables and obstacle courses for the troops of the National Guard.

On the occasion of this report, an interview request was sent to Major General Lynch Dávila, to his office of the presidency of the Socialist Corporation of Cement, which was not attended.

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