Venezuelan coup official and economist Ricardo Hausmann
Venezuelan coup official and economist Ricardo Hausmann (Photo: Center for International Development / Harvard Kennedy School)

Did Venezuelan coup leader Ricardo Hausmann stage fake IDB resignation to keep cushy Harvard job?

Caught in a conflict of interest with his employer at Harvard, Ricardo Hausmann publicly resigned his job as Guaido’s Inter-American Bank Representative last September. But he may have never left the bank. Was his resignation merely a ruse?

By Anya Parampil

Lee este artículo en español aquí.

The Grayzone has confirmed that nearly five months since Ricardo Hausmann announced his resignation from his position as Venezuela’s ambassador to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), he remains in the job.

Hausmann is a top advisor to Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó and Harvard University’s Rafik Hariri Professor of the Practice of International Political Economy. He appears to have staged a faux resignation from the IDB in order to maintain his employment at Harvard. 

Hausmann is the most senior member of Guaidó’s shadow administration, with a record of several high-level posts in Venezuela’s government in the years before Hugo Chavez’s election as president in 1997. Hausmann has lived in the United States since 1994, when he took a job as IDB’s first “Chief Economist,” before moving to Boston and joining Harvard in 2000. In March of 2019, Hausmann seized the opportunity to return to the IDB as Guaidó’s representative at the bank.

Curiously, Hausmann never resigned nor took a leave of absence from his Harvard position when he went to work for Guaidó. Pressed by this reporter in August of 2019 as to how he could occupy both a full-time government position and academic job without comprising his independence, Hausmann claimed he served “no government function” in his role at IDB. 

Harvard seemed to disagree. Weeks after this reporter took similar questions regarding the professor’s apparent conflicts of interest to the university’s press office, Hausmann announced his resignation from the IDB post on September 26, 2019. His departure from the Guaidó shadow regime suggested the university had determined that his government gig violated Harvard’s ethics policy.

Despite his September resignation, Hausmann is still considered Venezuela’s governor by the IDB. The bank confirmed his position in an email to The Grayzone on February 6. 

“I would be fired if I did something like this”

Matías Vernengo is a professor of economics who was required to take a leave of absence from the University of Utah when he went to work as a senior research manager at Argentina’s Central Bank in 2012.  

“I would be fired if I did something like this at Bucknell,”  Vernengo said of Hausmann’s double dealing. 

Vernengo, who teaches today at Bucknell University, described Harvard’s ethics code as “purposefully vague.” He hypothesized that Hausmann’s case likely fell in a “gray area” for the university. Still, he knew of no case in which a single person worked a full-time academic job while occupying a supposedly full-time government position.

“There are obvious conflicts of interest, despite the fact that you can’t be in two places at the same time,” Vernengo explained. “A position at the IDB would be a full-time position, he would have been in DC all the time, and hence, there’s no reason he should be tied to Harvard. And he’s acting for a foreign government.” 

Even as he acknowledged that “universities in the U.S. have always given cover to right-wing technocrats in Latin America and elsewhere,” Vernengo said he was “surprised that Harvard forced [Hausmann] to resign” at first. Harvard must have concluded the professor was violating its ethics policy, he surmised.

In a WhatsApp tantrum he threw at this reporter in September 2019, Hausman insisted that he served no real government role in his position at IDB, essentially conceding that the Guaidó government existed in name only.

“I think that because you caught them, they had to say, ‘Well, this isn’t a real government,’” Vernengo posited. “Hausmann’s resignation was a cover up for getting caught.”

Hausmann made it clear in his resignation letter that his academic commitments drove his decision to step down from the IDB. According to the professor, his newfound government responsibilities were “incompatible with [his] current obligations at Harvard University.” 

Five months after his resignation, however, Hausmann is back as Venezuela’s representative at the IDB. Yet there is no evidence that his stated “obligations at Harvard University” have changed since he publicly left the job.

“He’s a hired gun, that’s what he is. He’s the Pinkerton of the intellectual world,” Vernengo said of Hausmann.

The IDB violates its founding charter for Hausmann

When Hausmann appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, he was described by attendees as an official representative of Juan Guaidó’s shadow regime. While Guaidó’s own appearance at the annual financial gathering was regarded as a failure, Hausmann leveraged the opportunity to network with foreign government officials.

“During the 2020 World Economic Forum, I met with Ricardo Hausmann, President Juan Guaidó’s representative at the Inter-American Development Bank,” Ecuador’s Finance Minister, Richard Martínez, tweeted in Spanish on January 23.

Hausmann traveled to Davos alongside IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. Moreno, a Colombian national who previously served as the country’s economy minister and ambassador to the United States, had been an eager supporter of the Trump Administration’s coup attempt in Venezuela from day one.

“The IDB expresses its willingness to work with the Acting President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, to ensure the continuity of our support for the development of the Venezuelan people,” Moreno tweeted on January 23, 2019, mere hours after Guaidó swore himself in as self-declared president. 

The tweet appeared to violate IDB’s founding charter, which stipulates, “the Bank, its officers and employees shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member.” 

But the core principles of the institution he represented were of secondary concern for Moreno.

During an event at the Washington DC think tank, the Atlantic Council, the IDB’s president recalled the heady moments when he first learned of Guaidó’s self-declared presidency. It was at Davos again, but this time in April 2019. At first, he asked his legal team to prepare an opinion regarding the news. But then, “after the second scotch and reading two pages of the legal concept,” Moreno recalled, “I said ‘baloney, I mean Venezuela needs a change… so that’s why I sent the tweet.”

After just a quick tipple, the IDB’s leader was all but ready to toss the rules out the window and let Hausmann through the bank’s front door.

A third conflict of interest for the double dealer

The Grayzone contacted the IDB on January 27 to inquire about Hausmann’s status at the bank, where he is still listed as Guaidó’s ambassador on its website.

Was the professor still an official representative of Guaidó’s shadow government? If so, why did he resign from the bank five months before?

The Grayzone provided the IDB with a September 27, 2019 Associated Press dispatch reporting Hausmann’s resignation. 

After a week of silence, IDB’s Public Information Center replied: “Mr. Ricardo Hausmann is currently the Governor for Venezuela.”

Hours before the IDB informed The Grayzone that Hausmann still represented Venezuela at the bank, the official Twitter account of El Salvador’s presidential office announced that the country’s president, Nayib Bukele, had also tapped Hausmann as a top advisor. 

This meant that Hausmann, a full-time professor at Harvard, was acting as an official representative of the Venezuelan government while at the same time advising El Salvador’s president.

As The Grayzone previously reported, the professor also operates a private consulting firm, Ricardo Hausmann Consulting, which has allowed him to conceal payments he has received from other corporate and government clients over the years. 

“You can’t be on three sides of this thing,” explained Vernengo. “The government side with Venezuela; on the consulting side with corporations; and other governments that might have an interest in Venezuelan business – while also doing research at Harvard.” 

To elucidate Hausmann’s elaborate conflict of interest, Vernengo pointed to the example of Columbia University Professor Frederic Mishkin, who infamously co-authored a report titled “Financial Stability in Iceland” in 2006.

Less than a year before Iceland’s economy collapsed, helping set off the country’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Professor Mishkin predicted “the likelihood of a financial meltdown is very low.” It turned out that Iceland’s Chamber of Commerce had paid Professor Mishkin $124,000 for the report.

After the collapse, Mishkin changed the name of the paper to ‘Financial Instability in Iceland’ on his CV and failed to disclose the payment he received from Iceland’s government.  

Stunningly, despite what seemed to have been an obvious act of academic corruption, Professor Mishkin kept his job at Columbia University. 

Hausmann has not responded to questions from The Grayzone about whether Harvard demanded he resign from the IDB in September. Because Harvard has not responded to this reporter’s queries, it is also unclear if the university knows he returned as Venezuela’s representative at the bank.

The logic behind Hausmann’s unusual double duty as a Venezuelan shadow government official and Salvadoran presidential advisor is another source of mystery.

“Economics is a terrible profession; 99.9 percent of economists are fine with the kind of thing [Hausmann is doing],” Vernengo said of his colleagues. “They think it’s okay to play both sides… We’re hired guns. Most economists are hired guns and the ethics standards are very low.”

According to the economist, Hausmann’s apparently unethical conduct is not just symptomatic of his field, but of the corruption of academic institutions as a whole. 

“Universities are complicit in this, particularly the prestigious ones,” Vernengo remarked. “A guy like Hausmann lends authority to a coup in Venezuela. It’s the same role that [neoliberal University of Chicago] economist Milton Friedman played in the Pinochet coup” in 1973. 

“Harvard probably doesn’t care, it’s part of the problem,” he concluded. “Universities have, for a long while, played provided support for this kind of game. And Hausmann is not only getting the prestige of being at Harvard, he is also getting the compensation that comes from being there.”

While Guaidó’s impostor government is an increasing target of international mockery, Hausmann is laughing all the way to the bank.