Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer has stepped into the battle over the legitimate leadership of Venezuela, as it is now working on behalf of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
The firm had, as recently as January, advised Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government on such issues as the country’s debt restructuring. But documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) indicate that the firm has switched sides and is now working on behalf of opposition leader Guaidó.
Partner Eli Whitney Debevoise II and counsel Arturo Caraballo will advise the Venezuelan opposition on “U.S. economic sanctions, corporate and banking law, U.S. litigation, and international arbitration,” according to the FARA filings, which were submitted Feb. 11.
Debevoise is an international finance partner and former U.S. executive director of the World Bank whose past clients have included the governments of Argentina and Kenya. FARA filings from 2001 list Debevoise as a lobbyist for the government of former Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, along with retired partner Mark Stumpf who represented Venezuela for 35 years.
Caraballo has represented the governments of Colombia, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador in capital market transactions, and according to his FARA filings, his lobbying efforts will include “making contact with U.S. government officials concerning the preservation of Venezuela’s assets in the United States, the establishment of a diplomatic presence, and economic and humanitarian assistance.”
Caraballo and Debevoise did not immediately return calls for comment.
The firm issued a statement, however, saying, “We can confirm that the firm filed a registration under the Foreign Agent Registration Act with the Justice Department on Monday, February 11. We will not have any further comment.”
On Jan. 23, Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela and declared current President Maduro illegitimate. Since then, the United States and 30 countries have recognized Guiadó as the de facto leader of Venezuela. To put further pressure on Maduro, the Trump administration has levied heavy sanctions on Venezuela’s lifeblood industry, oil, barring any U.S. person or institution from doing business with state oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela SA and its U.S. subsidiary Citgo.
Guidó has since appointed a parallel governance board to PdVSA and Citgo, all Venezuelan exiles, in an attempt to wrest control from Maduro, though it is unclear how the new board would exert control while Maduro is in power.
Arnold & Porter has represented Venezuela since as early as 1984, according to FARA filings. On Tuesday, attorneys from the firm representing the country in an active lawsuit requested a stay in the matter. The case relates to a demand by a Canadian gold producer for compensation tied to Venezuela’s expropriation of its property.
“A stay is necessary to allow the newly installed government of Juan Guaidó, interim president of the Republic, sufficient time to evaluate its position in this and other cases involving the Republic currently pending in U.S. courts,” the firm said in the court filing.
The firm goes on to say that “because [President Trump] has recognized President Guaidó as the rightful representative of the Republic, only President Guaidó or his representatives may assert the interests of the Republic in U.S. courts.”
Venezuela is involved in other similar cases in U.S. courts. Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state-owned oil company, and its American unit, Citgo Petroleum Corp., are also involved in U.S. litigation.
Carlos Vecchio is listed as the foreign principal for the new government, according to FARA filings. Since his exile from Venezuela in 2014, Vecchio, a Fulbright Scholar who graduated from Georgetown and Harvard Universities, has been living in the Miami-Dade municipality of Doral and has been an outspoken voice against the Maduro government. He was recently appointed as a chief diplomat for Guaidó’s government.
Arnold & Porter has long been active in foreign lobbying, hauling in over $6 million in lobbying fees in 2018 on behalf of 42 different organizations, according to OpenSecrets.com.