Part of the problem must undoubtedly be laid at the door of President Chavez ... as a military career strategist he will certainly be aware of the intricate patterns of subversion that constantly conspire to inflict substantial damage to each and every move he makes towards his personal dream of an egalitarian Venezuela that must necessarily rid itself of the gross injustices of past presidencies and inculcate a sense of citizenry moral indignation at the plethora of administrational abuses that will inexorably bring the nation to its knees.
My garrulous friend, Gustavo Coronel -- writing from exile in a Washington D.C. suburb -- continues his fixated anti-Chavez campaign filled with the venom of a soul possessed by a demon that he is unable himself to control. Perhaps through the haze of his 25-year-old Scotch whisky, the disenfranchised oil executive sees some semblance of reality in the verbal war he rages against the democratically-elected presidency of Venezuela, but he's still to recognize the fact that whether he likes it or not, his fetish figure is indeed the democratically-elected chief executive with all the powers that that office imbues.
THAT is perhaps the crux of the problem! Not just for Gustavo, but for quite a few of his co-conspirators who will set aside democratic values to see the immediate impaling of Chavez' head on the nearest spike outside the Presidential Palace in Caracas. What's to be done? Is there, indeed, ANYTHING that can be done while Gustavo and his acolytes dream their dreams of a heaven in which they may return to a promised land of accustomed privilege and wealth. Not a chance...
As said, there's a bloody war going on out there and, while Gustavo Coronel and his poison pen may ultimately fade into geriatric obscurity, the pulse of Venezuela is still beating. The war, however, continues unabated and has all the hallmarks of exploding into a curious sectarian parallel with 1950s Northern Ireland with neighbor set against neighbor's throat in a senseless battle ... for what?
Will it take another fifty years for the Venezuelan people to discovered that they have 'The Power' and be prepared to use it decisively at the ballot box. Thankfully, recent displays of democratic willingness have borne fruit and although the political opposition is prone to ridicule the democratic will of the people, it is a fact of life for which -- considering the insidious ploys of politicians (on all sides of the divide!) -- all Venezuelans of right and patriotic mind must constantly be on their guard against a re-imposition of the selfsame abuses they thought they had rid the country of with the demise of the Accion Democratica (AD) / Christian Socialist (Copei) Punto Fijo pact with the Devil that really did bring Venezuela to its knees in the mid-1990s banking crisis which saw the intervention of some 18 banks and losses to public patrimony of more than $11 billion.
- Admittedly small fry when set against today's mega losses on Wall Street and the Obama administration's bail-out of $-millionaire pensioned bank executives.
Corruption is a central theme in the Venezuela's national psyche, but few -- if any -- feel capable of doing anything about it. And, if they dare, they'll almost certainly run up against brick walls or even have their lives extinguished as the perpetrators of corruption go scot free, the new "untouchables."
I have personal memories, from the mid-1990s, of a 4th of July reception at the US Embassy residence in La Florida (Caracas). A sudden hush came over the assembly as banking mogul Orlando Castro entered the residence's wide reception veranda with his usual complement of bodyguards that most definitely put then-Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow's protection squad in the shade. It was at the height of the banking sector crisis and yet, Orland Castro and his band of thugs were accorded RESPECT in a very much more intense interpretation of the word than any hoodlum gangster from the Bronx.
It would be too easy to say that CORRUPTION (getting rid of it!) is the only roadblock to Venezuela's prosperity ... simple to say, yes, but endemic corruption is the grow-ground for the violent war that's being waged each living day between Venezuelans of all classes and color. Who is to blame for the ingrained, unspoken acceptance that it is necessary to belong to a particular grouping (a mafia of sorts) otherwise there's no advancement for a single voice in the wilderness of complacency. It's an accepted fact that you have to have a 'padrino' (godfather) to get a step up the ladder and you get absolutely nowhere unless you have the 'palanka' (influence) or 'family' name to force an issue.
It's no different now than it was before Chavez ... it's just that the map, the geography has been shifted from residential opposition hideouts in La Lagunita to new cliques/mafias/etc., that have proliferated in the wake of governmental change to new regime qualified as "Chavista" as opposed to its predecessors now in opposition.
While President Hugo Chavez has set himself the seemingly impossible task of eliminating corruption, and has set its elimination as Venezuela's most important political promise, corruption has become pandemic thanks partly to discretionary policies that rely too much on the professional ethics and morals of a string of unaccountable government officials and the sure and certain knowledge in the minds of all Venezuelans that "everybody is doing it" ... impunity reigns! Corruption is simply justified as a means to grab a 'legitimate' portion of Venezuela's wealth, otherwise it will be stolen by next in line. Corruption -- in and out of public office -- is qualified as the quickest and safest way to make a fortune and, in general, there's only fleeting moral condemnation of its perpetrators who are often accorded 'hero' status by the sheer fact that they carry so much 'palanka' (influence) that they can get away with it. Its usually accompanied by an attitude enshrined in the descriptive 'sin verguenza' (without shame) accorded to perpetrators who brazen it out in public as thought it were their God-given right to pillage the public purse.
Corruption is the main culprit behind Venezuela's woes and is the source of Venezuela's political and economic instability. Politicians fixate on plans to alleviate poverty and at the same time create the very infrastructures, policies and institutions to enhance corrupt opportunities ... actual honesty gains zero ratings in recruitment and appointments where 'palanka' and the benefit of 'padrinos' eliminates any concern for actual job qualifications or competence in government officials who will consequently stone-wall any effort to cause waves or disturb their comfortable feather-bedding.
President Hugo Chavez Frias should take heed from lessons (that should have been) learned under his predecessor, Dr. Rafael Caldera who -- in his octogenarian dither -- appointed a 'Presidential Commission to Combat Corruption.' The idea was good ... but the remit was flawed by lack of designated authority and even less the resources to pit against the national cancer. Caldera insisted on making corruption a central theme of the 1997 Ibero-American Summit in Venezuela, but other invited Heads of State were more interested trade, investment and economic integration. It was reduced to window-dressing and the Corruption Commission coordinator was caught using PDVSA's fleet of executive jets for joy-rides to Disneyland etc. The Caldera administration failed to bring government regulators and criminal bankers to justice for Venezuela's crippling banking sector crash in 1996 ... despite his promises not to let a single act of corruption go unpunished, corruption increased and impunity flourished during his presidential tenure.
The crux of the matter lies in misguided policies implemented by thoroughly incompetent institutions, incompetent political and administrative leadership and the laissez-faire attitudes brought on by easy government revenues from oil ... a whole list of government executives who did nothing while corruption continued unabated, was even encouraged by the simple non-existence of controls on the public purse. In their stoic efforts to combat the proliferation of corruption during the last 10 years of 'Chavismo,' a number of valiant souls have beaten their heads bloody against institutional mafias that have undermined or blocked efforts to reform the bureaucracy, to effect imperative changes and to break vicious circles that have mill-stoned Venezuela's development.
Unpopular as it may appear to 'Chavista' ears, the concentration power to the center of Venezuelan politics and its economy have only created a concentration of incompetencies at all levels of newly-centralizing government ... and the cancer is already more than obvious!
All of which is sadly at variance with President Hugo Chavez' original thesis of returning power to the people.