Editor’s Note: For the first time, we are featuring with a country reportage original cartoons, drawn by Jesus Penella, a Venezuelan cartoonist from Caracas, exclusively for Global Young Voices. Penella majored in Mechanical Engineering and currently resides in Panama City. Samples of his artwork can be found on his professional Instagram account @penellacomics.
The Venezuelan regime has adopted the vicious policy of ‘anything goes’ to avoid a parliamentary election that will see it lose its chokehold on all branches of governments. Yet, even as authoritarianism slips into totalitarianism, the opposition has doubled-down its commitment to the rule of law.
Venezuela was cursed with the world’s largest oil reserves. The South American country suffers the world’s most expensive Big Mac and the highest homicide per capita. As the country slides ever closer to hyperinflation and crime rates continue to spin wildly, one thing remains clear: the price of the regime’s survival appears to be the slow death of all Venezuelans.
The disembowelment of Venezuela has its roots in the ballot boxes when Hugo Chavez, who had been imprisoned for a failed coup d’état, exploited widespread preoccupation with structural inequality and corrupt political oligarchies. He transformed the sentiment into a political ‘revolution’ for personal gains. His ‘revolution’ presided over the commodity boom but never created a Norwegian-style oil fund, guaranteed a safety net, championed growth, or reduced poverty.
Instead, the Chavista establishment squandered the influx of petrodollars in political shenanigans, engendered a prodigious deficit, and stole the biggest slice. Evoking Dean Acheson’s words seems appropriate, “never in the annals of history have so few, wasted so much, so fast, so stupidly.”
Last month, the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, marked a mournful milestone; its value in the black market surpassed 100 times over what it should be according to the official exchange rate. That is, the regime sets 1 U.S. dollar at 6.3 bolívares but no willing seller will ever exchange 1 dollar for less than 630 bolívares. It is worth a thousandth of the value in 1999, when Hugo Chavez began the country’s immolation. By the time this article was completed the exchange rate in the black market was at 830 bolívares. Or, in other words, it is now cheaper to use bills as napkins than to use the bills to buy napkins.
Yet, more importantly, with 82 murders per 100,000 people the country has become a killing field. Murder rates have increased by 500 percent since 1999, and the regime is paving the way for the decadent spiral to continue as more than 90 percent of crimes go unpunished and uninvestigated. Neither the currency nor life itself seems to escape the wrath of mismanagement.
Take this humble proposal as inquiry into paving the way away from dystopia. The basic premise is that oil-rich Venezuela needs a restraining shirt to stop it from committing hara-kiri. The country needs a Pact of Predictability, so no autocrat, no matter how charismatic, will ever again implant crackpot economic policies of misery and dependency. The Pact must have flexible guidelines, but rigid compliance on how will economic output be generated and how public expenditure will be distributed. Also, it must serve as guarantor of a free market and a safety net, a combination of production and distribution of wealth. The Pact ought to maintain financially predictable institutions and judicial independence. Eliminating economic volatility would guarantee the store-of-value of the currency, attract long-term investments, and inspire security amongst entrepreneurs.
Politically, the pact needs to be used as a force to constrain demagoguery in order to elude the attractiveness of messianic candidates who paint utopias or reactionary extremisms. The political scientist, James Macgregor Burns, noted, “At best, charisma is a confusing and undemocratic form of leadership. At worst, it is a type of tyranny.”
An assertive judiciary, loyal to a nation rather than a person, must be interpreted as a commitment to democratic governance. But, most importantly, the Pact must go as far as to compromise in a broad-based transitional government, providing the current cabinet steps down. Only a political coalition will be able to weather the short-term pain the necessary economic measures will cause.
Now that all of Venezuela’s skin is in the game we ought to move away from ideological purity, perfect for the public plaza or academic considerations, but enemy of public management, implementation, and creative leadership. Bankruptcy calls for innovative solutions, and fundamentalists who close their minds to ideas that conflict with their preconceived philosophies stifle the march of progress. In defense of the future of Venezuela, I propose to embrace the Machiavellian consideration that it is better to be bold than shy because fortune only “allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous.”
The inherent risk of political change is far more attractive than the risk of withering away amidst the status-quo. The Pact must be adventurous enough to recognize the social grievances that Chavez exploited for his rise; and, consequently, be bold enough to propose corrections without further dividing the country. A fifteenth century explorer would find the unexplored territory in a map marked, “Here Be Dragons.” Just as fearless, a less-cited stanza of Invictus pleas,
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
and yet the menace…
Finds, and shall find [us] unafraid.