dass ein Ende mit mir haben muss,
und mein Leben ein Ziel hat,
und ich davon muss. (1)
The Chavez regime is finally reaching an end, transition has started, regardless of the fact that today it reaches 12 years.
Transition to where, we do not know. How long a transition is any one's guess. Maybe we are returning to democracy and the rule of law, or maybe toward the final Myanmarization of Venezuela with a Chavez II holding on, but a hold over a very different country as the one we used to know in 1998. The country that either us or Chavez will inherit is a country with little prospects, wasted time, squandered opportunities and a mess. I suppose that there are those who may think that it would be poetic justice for Chavez to stay over for a few more years and face the mess he created. But autocrats do not function that way and I doubt that Chavez at this point is able to comprehend the extent of the damage he has inflicted on our country. And even less able to care (ref: the movie "the last days" if you do not get the psychology behind this comment).
So what is the country we are getting after 12 years? Before we can even attempt to think about what to do to start fixing up the disaster upon us we need to understand our inheritance. Below I try to be brief and split the description in different areas without any particular order.
There is in my view a single possible positive of the 12 years of Chavez, and a positive that we will pay dearly for it, for maybe 2 to 3 generations. If anyone can do better than me, please let me know and I might even allow you a guest post.
Chavez has brought forward the poverty that had become chronic in Venezuela, has spoken to the excluded and has shown them that they could exert power if they set their mind to. He taught them that politics are the only way out of, well, pretty much any dire situation. That the power he allegedly granted them has been stolen by his goons is another story, but in the country consciousness no new government will win elections unless it includes that poverty mass or finds ways to divide it. This is a reality that will stay with us for at least a generation because chavismo has restructured the concept of poverty in Venezuela, and deliberately made it directly dependent on the state, establishing the ultimate client system, using poverty as a divisive issue which implies that it cannot be solved even in long term thinking. That is, poverty as a political weapon is too useful to wish to reduce it. With today economic situation poverty cannot be resolved and dependency will remain as a necessary evil to avoid further social conflict, making difficult, of course, any economic recovery. A perfect vicious cycle.
The biggest challenge of the post Chavez area is to make understand both sides that they need to work together, away from the pre 1998 alleged "privileges" and in spite of the alleged post 1998 "rights" in order to make a realistic transition out of poverty, a transition where the only perceived means is wealth creation and not wealth distribution.
So much, so much, that I cannot address it all. A few key elements that even if listed separately more than often overlap.
A ruined social fabric
Chavez has brought us social violence, has made racism worse than what it was, has reduced all minorities status at the expense of his final power on all, and went as low as introducing an alien concept to Venezuela: antisemitism.
Indigenous rights are only a show. Indigenous lands are as poor as they used to be, except for the occasional public service improvement which just reinforced dependence. Indigenous people are overall as poor and mendicant as they used to be in 1998. In a recent column of Elizabeth Kline in El Universal tells us that the only thing recently that has improved the fate of the Waraos in the Orinoco delta is the growth of tourism creating rustic nature lodges in the many tributaries of the river.
The revolution has failed to address gay rights in a consistent and modern manner, succumbing to the left puritanism and the military macho mind set. While in Colombia, Argentina and Mexico among others, in allegedly more conservative societies, gay rights have made significant advances in Venezuela which is supposed to be a liberalized revolutionary country there is not even domestic partnership of any kind.
Racism before 1998 existed but was of a milder variety than elsewhere and easily erased if you got some money. After all, way more than 505 of the population was neither Caucasian, nor African nor Amerindian. Now we do have strong reverse racism where the whiter you are the more in trouble you risk to get into unless you wear your rojo-rojito heart on your sleeve. Racism has become a state policy even if the regime tries to hide it. And along racism come the usual suspects, antisemitism, xenophobia and what not.
Political apartheid is now the norm. Since the Tascon list Venezuela has lived under a permanent light purge system where failure to loudly embrace chavismo (and pay to be recognized as such) means political and economical second class status.
Before 1998 Venezuela had a "normal" drug problem. In a country where being drunk is not a sin, in fact, rather a proof of manhood, the incentive to move on to stronger stuff was rather limited and reserved mostly to big cities. Today even in San Felipe there is drug trafficking and gang wars unheard of 10 years ago.
To the street evidence that anyone can observe in Venezuela we can add the international evidence that Venezuela is now a major passing point for drug shipments to Europe and the US. It is now public knowledge that several high ranking officers in Venezuela are connected to drug traffic, and even more public knowledge that the regime does not even pretend to deny or investigate these accusations. The latest occurrence of the regime was to use the enabling law powers to pass as a first law one that creates special military zones coincidentally where most of the traffic takes place. That way it will be easier to control access there to inquisitive eyes while moving away people that might be of no interest to drug trafficking.
And that is why the Venezuelan drug consumption went up, because the lower guys who handle traffic are often paid in nature and need to sell their loot in the Venezuelan streets to turn it into cash. It is possible that the Venezuelan consumption is not yet at a dangerous level but since there is no reliable statistics on the subject, and since there is apparently so much trafficking, we are right to be afraid.
Corruption is now institutionalized
Corruption is now such a norm in public administration that private business informally budget the payments for obtaining all sorts of permits invented under Chavez. These permits are of little application, even less based on reality but are highly susceptible to interpretation to favor the "public servant" that shows at your doorstep for "inspection". Because the sate is so far behind in offering the right advisory on the multiple regulations it keeps emitting it is simply nearly impossible for anyone to be entirely legal and any inspector will find fault with you and screw your business.
The end of fair justice
The only thing that could mitigate the above exposed is a functional judicial system to rein in the worst abuses. This one does not exist anymore. Chavismo has created a judicial system indebted to the executive, that is, Chavez. Now a judge that dares to show independence and initiative can find himself behind bars in short notice, as the case of judge Afiuni so well illustrates. In today Venezuela, if you sue the regime or a hot wig in it your odds of losing are pretty much close to 99%. And if you sue anyone with more money than you and more willing to spend it for "judicial expenses" your odds to lose are pretty much close to 98%.
Agriculture down the drain
This blog is the lone one who regularly narrates how agriculture is circling the drain. No merit here, just where yours truly makes a living. the numbers are simply devastating: after 12 years of Chavez we import more than 50% of our food with little prospect for improvement when in 1998 we were able to produce about 3/4 of our needs.
As I return from a trip I learn that the agriculture minister, the brutish looking one that before my trip was expropriating very productive farms right and left is now promoting Urban Agricultural where we all need to grow our tomatoes on our balconies if we have one. Has the regime conscience of how ridiculous is its position? That a couple of the expropriated farms in Sur del Lago produced as much as all that Caracas and the main cities if the regime plan were to be successful?
We can bet that ration cards of some sorts are in the not so distant future, with or without Chavez.
Not even half the manufacturing business than in 1998
This is very simple to discuss: from all the trade groups we have about less than half of what manufacturers we had in 1998, even counting for the new bolibourgeois pro Chavez manufacturers (which more often than not are pre 1998 recycled companies). Go to any mall in Venezuela and check out the "hecho en Venezuela" percentage of goods.
An import economy depending more than ever on oil production and its export
From the above you can infer on your own that Venezuela is importing more than ever, at least percentage wise. With the currency control exchanges and the overvalued currency exporting manufactured goods is no business anymore unless you have no market inside Venezuela and thus are forced to export. As for agricultural products, not only they are not available for export but it is all but forbidden to export any type of food now.
To reverse this, in the context of today modern global economy, stimulated by the lingering crisis, it is simply impossible even in the medium term, and even less without massive foreign investment which cannot happen in the current political climate.
Public services increasingly deficient
The productive deficiencies are here to stay because public services are increasingly deficient and producing conditions are more and more difficult. Last year we had a major electrical crisis that is not yet, by far, resolved. The regime actually brags of electrical savings without paying attention to its manipulated statistics that report a decrease of GDP, more apt an explanation on why electric consumption went down.
And it is not only electricity: very few people in Venezuela now benefit from 24/24 water supply. That lack of water in addition of being inconvenient for the natives is also a problem for many production processes that require water.
Deficient trash collection is also another service that affect quality of life as well as productivity.
And of course, the abusive bureaucratic paperwork now required before you even produce the first gram of whatever you were planning to manufacture is what we could call a public a-service.
An infrastructure that got stalled in the 1998 plans and that starts decomposing
Perhaps one of the heaviest burdens that we will need to shoulder in a post Chavez era is the construction of the country, in addition of its reconstruction. If it is now public knowledge that the infrastructure is crumbling because the regime will not spend money on something which is not a direct vote getter with its electorate, it is less understood that the country will pay a heavy cost for all the investment that should have been done timely in prevision of the country's population grow, amen of an eventual economic growth.
The most glaring example of lack of maintenance was the famous bridge of the Caracas to the sea highway, a predicted disaster that the government never tried to avoid, and for which it had to spend quite a bundle to rebuild a new bridge, after the fact.
Drive in any road of Venezuela and it is a battle of the pothole avoidance.
If there is no electricity it is because the grid was not adequately maintained and modernized, but also because the major projects were stopped and only retaken recently, even though they were all planned in 1998 and were previewed to be be built in the following decade.
Almost any Venezuelan president before Chavez has built in its 5 year term more houses, more highways, more subway stations, than Chavez did in 12 years when none of the subway lines in Caracas, Valencia or Maracaibo have been completed, when no new project has been planned and even less started. Without talking of the housing construction which does not even compensate the population growth.
How can you expect a fast economic recovery when the roads are deficient and hyper crowded, when people must waste every day unnecessary hours in commute, when they cannot find semi decent housing to recover from their day at work?
QUALITY OF LIFE DECOMPOSITION
Obviously from the above it should be clear that quality of life in Venezuela has in general terms degraded. If some social groups have witnessed some improvement, this one has been limited and stopped expanding. Whatever improvement the regime obtained was in the 2003-2007 period and ever since no progress has been done.
Health care degradation and insufficiency
If there is one area where the regime has shown its good will but where lack of planning and incompetence is doing it in is the health sector. The initial ideas of the diverse Barrio Adentro programs were good, they aimed at including into some general health care system all the population that had no access to it.
Why did Barrio Adentro start failing? Because it was conceived as a parallel heath system to prove that "revolutionary" alternatives were better than the traditional hospital system. The disconnection between the two systems resulted in under funding of both of them and decreasing quality for both of them. Today we can say that it is possible that overall the general health care system of Venezuela, including public and private, is performing below 1998 standards. The use of the word "possible" in the previous statement is allowed because the Venezuelan government has stopped publishing serious and verifiable statistics for at least 3 years. We really do not know how good or how bad the current situation is, but judging from recent epidemics we can fear the worse.
Getting out of this problem would require that the Barrio Adentro system is retooled as a preventive medicine system and a triage tool for hospitals. And that hospitals are adequately funded for basic care, denying of course more specialized care that would be reserved only to those who can afford. Only then, as preventive care improves and hospitals are restored and restaffed could we consider future care expansion. That work will take at the very least half a generation.
Gutted education turning ideological
The regime has fought a constant battle to ideologize education. The resistance from teachers and parents has been real. As a consequence the refurbishing and renewal of schools as well as the better education of teachers have been neglected. Now we have a public school system which can be described at best as a giant day care center.
As a consequence it is safe to assume that those formed today are not given the adequate tools to fit in the work market that Venezuela needs to take its place in the global economy. This is particularly true of the kids coming from the universities created by Chavez such as UBV, kids that are unemployable in the private sector.
Meanwhile, the best and the brightest that were formed as far as in the first years of Chavez are finding slowly but surely their way in overseas jobs. they will be sorely missed when we start rebuilding the country.
And overwhelming violence and crime as a consequence of all of the above
Under Chavez crime has become a true plague. Although there are motives to suspect that the regime actually benefits from it and thus does not take the necessary measures to fight it, we will get stuck with a major problem that will take decades to solve as it can only be solved with more jobs, better education, and a more functional safety net.
Why has Venezuela so much crime? Reread again the above sections and surely you will guess why.
We are in a much worse shape today than 12 years ago. The opposition needs to really study the situation before it can dare make proposals. And it needs to criticize the regime consequently, consistently, continuously to gain credibility, to make the population understand the situation if we are to have a chance to rebuild the country.
So far I see little of that and there might be the worst legacy of Chavez: a country that gives up and thus starts its way to failed state status.
(1) The verse that opens the post come from a new version of one of my favorite pieces that I found in Salzburg (no, not from Mozart). It is a solemn price adequate to the somber post. But to lighten up this dismal post, let's see who guesses it first, without using Google search!.
Now that many of you have tried their hand the best is still KJ version Psalm 39
4LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.