Monday, June 21, 2004

Corruption in Venezuela

Sunday 18, June 2004

Today I will discuss what other colleagues of the web sphere wrote. Let' s start with Gustavo Coronel new post card from Venezuela. Gustavo seems to have some experience with corruption, from fighting it to witnessing it in the former "4th Republic". Like anyone of us in Venezuela, so used to sudden ostentatious display of wealth, we have been able to detect rather early that the Chavez administration was going the same way as the previous administrations. The only surprise that was in store for us was that a government almost specifically elected to fight corruption was going to turn out into the most corrupt government of our modern history!

But should have that been a surprise?

Gustavo notes:
The big tragedy of this "revolution" was to have been attempted by a morally, intellectually and educationally ill equipped group, which could not keep their faith, which could not stay uncontaminated under the intense existing temptations. It was impossible for Chávez and his followers to stay pure under the avalanche of petrodollars raining on them for five years, without controls and without accountability. This surely is what Lord Acton meant when he said that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

We agree, and readers of this blog might remember how many times I gripped abut the intellectual poverty of chavismo, its chronic incompetence. Most people occupying high positions today in Venezuela are people that could not make it before due to their low merits: they owe it all to Chavez. The only thing they share with previous officeholders is the ability to steal without leaving any traces, but they do not share the ability to make trains run only one hour late.

But is this undetectable?

Gustavo notes the work of Roland Carreno, the famed "gossip columnist" of El Nacional. As it turns out I do have a relative that knew him in high school, in a well known military institution. Mr. Carreno might have gone from military travails to society gossip columnist, but he is as serious about his work as he was as a military student. Now he knows as much about weapon and military strategy as he knows of the price of the luxury items that chavismo is displaying carelessly. Mr. Carreno might not know where the money comes from, but he knows the price of what people are wearing.

Apparently all of Chavez clothes come from outside of Venezuela, currency control exchange notwithstanding. I have personal indirect evidence of that. For some physiological reasons, I cannot find dress up shirts that fit me well in Venezuela and I must require the services of a professional "chemisier" in Caracas. His shirts are about twice the price paid off the rack but they fit me well and comfortably, which is very important when one only wears a tie only 1 to 2 times a month. With one custom made shirt every couple of years I fulfill the slight business requirement of dressing up fancy. Well, as it happens I was ordering a shirt a few weeks ago and while making small talk I asked my chemisier if his business was good, considering that I heard all sorts of tales of chavistas buying shirts by the truck load. Well, my "chemisier" who used to attend quite a many people from all previous administrations does not do so anymore. Nor do his colleagues! There are about half a dozen good chemisiers in Caracas and they all know each other. The word is that chavistas buy all their clothes outside Venezuela.

Through my clients I have heard of many cases of corruption and how ingenious officials are at hiding the overprice and commissions charged. Direct evidences are hard to get as too many people cave in wanting to at least keep their business up while the public officials awarding contracts get the benefits. Not to mention that cash seems to be the preferred way. As a result, as far as I know none of my clients now do business with the state and I can vouch of the business rift in Venezuela: there are those that do business with the government and those that do not, and they do not by choice, something not heard of.

So when I read all the series of recent "revelations" of Alek Boyd in Venezuela crisis about possible payments to all the chavista apologists in the web, I can only but believe that too well. Whatever monies that chavismo is paying overseas for lobbying is just peanuts compared to what chavistas are harvesting for their own pockets in Venezuela. Perhaps these writers are paid by chavismo with genuine contracts covering expenses and travels to conferences to defend the regime. Maybe even a stipend, why not? I actually have no problem with that as long as it is duly reported. The real problem is when they are defending an absolutely corrupted regime and that can only absolutely corrupt them. Even if corruption is in the name of the people.

To close, certainly I am in agreement with Gustavo. We both are tired of saying that one of the main reason, if not the main reason, for chavismo to cling to office so desperately is the knowledge that whenever justice returns to Venezuela they will go to jail either from stealing or from killing people or both. The ones writing overseas will just find some other cause to leech off, be it mighty Ramonet or the scribbles in pro Chavez sites.

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