Venezuela: Never More
July 13, 2018
Tasks for the day after in Venezuela
The worst stage in Venezuela’s history is very close to concluding. Rarely has a country lived, for a period of almost two decades, in a worse combination of incompetence, mediocrity, systematic theft of public goods and money, ideological perversion, pettiness, lack of scruples, and systematic violation of human rights.
There has been much discussion about the causes of this tragedy, and about the errors, omissions, and negligence that led to the war-like destruction left in its path. But little is said about what needs to be done to prevent this horrible story from repeating itself.
The most critical concern should be preserving democracy and the rule of law. In order to prevent bad governments from remaining in power, nations must establish robust and sustainable institutions that prevent the government from sliding away from democracy towards a dictatorship -- which are inept and corrupt.
The perpetuation of bad government in Venezuela has a lot to do with the failures that democracy presented in Venezuela and in many other countries of the world: countries are being assaulted by buccaneers of politics.
We observe two constants which open the door to the destruction of the rule of law and the emergence of Messiahs, Great Helmsmen, Eternal Commanders, enlightened guides and arrogant leaders.
The first is the lack of an effective course of action against inequality. Few people are willing to defend passionately a system of government that has not been able to improve its citizens’ quality of life and ensure that the lives of their children will be better than their own.
Compulsory wealth distribution dictated by a government entity is not effective. Instead, it must be accepted that development requires the production of new material and spiritual wealth. As it was well demonstrated by Amartya Sen, development can only be conceived as the expansion of the real freedoms enjoyed by citizens. Only through a sustained expansion of human capabilities can everyone enjoy the freedom to choose and carry out those life projects that they consider valuable.
For this, the first and foremost task of a new government is to invest in education. The government must prepare children and young people for productive work, research, critical thinking, and civility. Nations should prioritize giving every child the best opportunities since birth, which means funding schools and universities, as well as hospitals, health centers, sports fields and cultural centers. If that is achieved, economic growth and the generation of wealth will be assured.
The second fault is corruption. It is an ethical tragedy as much as it is a political scandal. In Venezuela, corruption is surprisingly widespread -- it is estimated that 300,000 million was stolen or misused.
Corruption is not compatible with democracy. We have seen this story play out in Venezuela, Italy, Brazil, Greece – and now even more recently in Spain and Mexico.
Fighting corruption will be a great challenge for the next Venezuelan government. There can be no more impunity for those who stole in the past or for those who will fall into the temptation to enrich themselves using public money. The existence of a free press, a Comptroller Office that really controls, a National Assembly that investigates, and implacable courts, will help. The laws must demand total transparency in the management of public affairs. However, these institutions alone are not enough. We must achieve a total political and social rejection of corrupt practices and a society that does not tolerate corruption. For this, cultural patterns must be changed and civil servants must be well-paid. The role of the parties is essential.
The existing problems in Venezuela will be magnified the day after the impending regime change, due to the presence of people with a lot of money of dubious origin, seeking to gain respectability, buy politicians, and finance political parties.
If it is not possible to prevent the continuity of corruption in the management of public money, and if inequality is not tackled effectively, all the effort and sacrifices that went into ending the dictatorship will have been in vain. If that is the case, it is likely we will see a resurgence of new prophets and messiahs, similar to what happened in Mexico a few days ago for the same reasons.
Gustavo Tarre is a senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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