By Michael Rowan
An old hand who looked like the Dalai Lama gently interrupted a heated discussion about Venezuela at Simon Bolivar airport one day almost 20 years ago with this show stopper:
“Excuse me, but may I say from long experience… It will never get any better… and you will never get used to it.”
He was right. The optimists, including me, were wrong. Just because a strategy for success, prosperity and peace is there for the taking, it does not automatically follow that those in power will reach out for it. They may hang in there with failure, poverty and war.
Since the 1998 election, or maybe the 1992 coup attempt, or perhaps the 1989 riots, Venezuela has been on a steepening trajectory of failure, poverty and war. And in the last two years, the fall is similar to a bomb falling from a plane.
But those in power continue to deny that there is a problem and claim that Venezuela’s democracy and equality are better than anywhere in the world. To them, the recent Time Magazine cover story “Venezuela is Dying” is a pack of lies.
We know what would happen to Time Magazine if it was published in Venezuela: it would be shut down, confiscated or prosecuted. The children dying, the parents dying, everyone dying – are a pack of lies. No one is dying. Everyone is fine.
“Everything is abnormally normal” as a highest level government spokesman used to say.
Denial always has an explanation. And in Venezuela’s case, very simple math explains why everything’s normal.
Here’s what’s normal. Approximately $350 billion that passed through the hands of the government since 1999 is unaccounted for. No one knows for sure where it went.
To figure out what happens now, let’s do some imaginary math. Part I Math
Let’s say 10,000 individuals who had little money in 1999 but who were among those who got total power over the state secretly gave each other $1 million. That totals $10 billion.
Add to that 1,000 individuals in very powerful positions who got $10 million each. That’s $10 billion more.
Add to that 10 individuals in super powerful positions who got $1 billion each. That’s $10 billion more.
Now you’ve got 11,010 powerful individuals who run every powerful institution in the country and who have a total $30 billion hidden away. That $30 billion is less than 10% of the unaccountable $350 billion. It would be easy to hide as long as no one in authority decided to look for it. Part II Math
From 2013 on, the math gets tough. Oil production is down, agricultural and manufacturing is almost at zero, and hyperinflation is destroying trade, commerce and finance.
By 2016, oil production is down to two million barrels a day, of which a maximum 1.5 million barrels per day can be exported at a maximum average of $30/barrel, yielding $45 million/day maximum government income.
As has been well documented by Latin American Herald Tribune
for years, this is not enough to pay for debt service or imports, no less all the other necessities requiring dollars.
To make matters worse – and justifying the authorities doing nothing – even if the $30 billion was given back at this point it would not make enough of a difference to stem the tide of disaster that has been set in motion.
So the casualties begin to mount -- from starvation, disease, killing, and neglect – just as they do after an earthquake or a genocidal massacre but with this difference: the world must not be allowed to know what is happening in Venezuela. The truth must not be revealed. Everything must be abnormally normal.
Therefore, political repression increases and the humanitarian crisis deepens.Part III Math
This math starts in the summer of 2016 as the population realizes three things:
One, it is not going to get any better; it is going to get worse.
Two, everyone has to get out of here, and if they can’t…
Three, Venezuelans have to think about the unthinkable – the early death of a huge percentage of the population especially the innocent children who can’t forage for themselves.
This is the math of Syria, the math of refugees, the math of the plague, the math of genocide, the math of hopelessness.
But by the time the world realizes that the authorities are letting the population die, by the time that help arrives in such force and number that it can make a difference, Venezuela will be the 21st century’s Rwanda.
It will be such a disgrace that every nation in the Americas, every family of Venezuela, will be filled with guilt, loathing and depression for doing so little when morality, decency and humanity demanded so much. But it will be too late to do anything but the math.
It will be time to add it up. Finally, someone will add it up.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.