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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Michael Rowan: Unrecognized Errors in Thinking Plague Venezuela
With the skill of a forensic accountant, Latin America expert Michael Rowan explains the choices that have brought Venezuela -- the country with the world's largest oil reserves -- to the brink of bankruptcy.

By Michael Rowan

A series of inter-related mental lapses have caused Venezuela to fall from one of the richest countries on the planet to one of the most retarded. Starting today and going back to the 1970s, these lapses are:

Choosing government by the few versus government by all.

Choosing a permanent revolution to control government versus the regular democratic transitions of power as society elects, is the mighty error facing Venezuela today.

The last transparent election in Venezuela was in 1998. The Bolivarian Revolution is an extreme version of this lapse, while the historic Pacto de Punto Fijo between AD and COPEI political parties was a much milder expression of it. The Pope’s “dialogue” is hamstrung by this choice.

Choosing an economy dependent on oil versus a diversified economy. This choice was and is a predictable disaster.

If Venezuela had chosen diversification and invested in its people, as was proposed ceaselessly in the 1960s, it would look like Texas today, which has strong agricultural, manufacturing, educational, and commercial sectors, not just a competitive oil industry. And recognize that Venezuela may have more oil than Saudi Arabia but it can only produce 20% of what the Saudi’s produce – and can’t even reach its old OPEC quota. The argument that Venezuela’s leaders did not make this choice is brazenly nonsensical.

Choosing isolationism over globalization. Take a look next time you fly. The planet does not break up its climate, economy, or people into 200 separate geographic nation states but is one, organic, complex adaptive system; yet politics breaks it up. Nations that have utilized the organic nature of the planet to succeed include almost all 200 of them. There are some holdouts for isolation but take a look at them: North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and until recently Cuba.

Choosing corruption over transparency. For years, I have been writing about the world-recognized equation for corruption, that is, how to guarantee society will be corrupt. The equation is: Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability = Corruption, which is precisely the equation for economic power in Venezuela since the nationalization of oil and industry.

I defy anyone to prove a governing institution in Venezuela is not by that definition corrupt.

The practice of corruption is proved by the fact that approximately one third of the funds that have passed through the government and PDVSA since 1999 cannot be accounted for. That is not a mystery. There is intentionally no accounting for funds. It is true that even with transparency laws, corrupt individuals can fool the system. But in a corrupt system, individuals don’t have to fool the system, just use it.

Choosing magical thinking over realism. This is the most sacred taboo of the land but it is a farce.

In Venezuelan politics, language and numbers have been distorted to incomprehension while being cited as the ultimate truth of an assertion.

Magic realism creates filters governing what is permissible and impermissible to think about, no less say. Self-censorship is a common way to show loyalty and solidarity even for nonsensical assertions, such as, "Venezuela’s democracy is the best in the world", or that "scarcity is caused by conspiracies, not supply and demand." This choice for magical thinking has disabled cognition and rendered politics and education a joke.

Since 1993, I have written about one thousand articles, two books and many strategies to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns in Venezuela. While huge majorities can be found for ideas in surveys -- which are conducted with rational questions and answers -- those majorities were rarely found in elections which were driven by magical thinking or corruption.

Since 1993, the sum and substance of my observations in Venezuela is that the lapses in mental acuity noted above have attained the power of rigor mortis over the body politic. The entire country and especially the youth are infected by this malaise of thought. Only recently, when everything is collapsing around them, are people coming to the realization that the problem is fundamental, systemic and cultural. But they still don’t know what to do.

To reform Venezuela does not require intelligence as much as mercy and compassion for the sick. It would probably take a generation or two to succeed at it. A country that has been intentionally soured on thinking is not going to look for a great brain to figure this out. The country is more likely to look, as it has in the past, for a savior, for someone who resonates with magical thinking and false hopes. That’s all it knows.

The country is looking for a leader who somehow succeeds where everyone in Miraflores before has failed, especially the last two occupants. But given how Venezuela thinks, how could this person emerge to lead? And lacking real democracy, freedoms and law, how would Venezuela recognize such a person, assuming he or she exists? Getting struck by lightning seems to have a higher probability than finding someone as useful as that.

Michael Rowan is an author and political consultant who has advised presidential candidates throughout Latin America, including Governor Manuel Rosales in Venezuela, President Jaime Paz Zamora of Bolivia and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. In the U.S., he has advised winning candidates in 26 states. He has been an award winning columnist for El Universal, The Daily Journal -- predecessor to LAHT -- and the Latin American Herald Tribune since the 1990s. He is the author, with Douglas Schoen, of The Threat Closer to Home - Hugo Chavez and the War Against America.


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