There is no Christmas cheer in Caracas this year: no holiday spirit, Christmas carols, or gaita marabina music. Venezuelans are traditionally out shopping for gifts and visiting with family and friends around the holiday season, but something is different this year. The Caracas of our time is a sad and dreary city.
When it is all said and done, those of us living in Caracas don’t have much left to celebrate. One could even go as far as to say that Christmas has been stolen from us.
A Country Without Hope
It is understood that the primary function of government is not the accumulation of power, nor the control of the civilian population. Rather, our government officials are charged with the stewardship of our nation. They must foster conditions that ensure collective well-being and provide an opportunity for each citizen to pursue their own happiness.
But this is not the function of government in Venezuela, just as this holiday season is not marked by Christmas trees and colorful lights. In reality, they have stolen Christmas from us in the same way that they stole our hope for a better future.
These things have not happened by chance. We are speaking of a country where many young professionals elect to leave in search of greener pastures. Contrary to the situation faced in other countries throughout the region, many of the immigrants leaving Venezuela hold four-year, and sometimes post-graduate, university degrees, resulting in a massive brain drain in the country.
Paradox of Plenty
Neither is it by chance that Venezuela must import light crude oil in order to produce and sell its own oil overseas. After all, Venezuela has based its oil policy over the last 100 years on the exploitation of semi-heavy and heavy crude — both of which the country has in abundance — to build refineries abroad, particularly through Citgo.
But the decision to change business partners was made without considering that Chinese refineries don’t have the capacity to refine this type of crude oil. Venezuela now import light crude oil to “reduce” the viscosity of its own crude and make it “consumable” for Chinese buyers.
Our country also faces a gasoline and diesel shortage, a critical issue for a nation so dependent on vehicles. In some parts of the country, a lack of gasoline has forced gas stations to close their doors, while long lines await anyone intent on filling their tank in the capital.
It is, of course, ironic that the country with the world’s largest crude oil reserves is unable to effectively produce and distribute that resource.
This is not to mention the pending increase in gasoline prices. Let’s say that we agree with the increase, and that we recognize that Venezuelans pay far too little to fill their tanks; someone would still have to explain in the midst of this oil crisis how it is that crude oil subsidies are sustained for Petrocaribe countries?
How can the government sell oil futures to China, essentially mortgaging the future of our country? And why can’t we properly control the illegal smuggling of these resources? Are foreign interests more important than the well-being of Venezuelan citizens?
Finally, it is not by chance that the Enabling Act has resulted in a number of laws that hurt consumer’s pocketbooks in the same way as the structural adjustment programs that were so harshly criticized by the government.
These latest reforms are no more than an attempt to fill the immense fiscal deficit incurred by our government, which analysts claim to now top 20 percent of Venezuela’s GDP. It is an attempt to solve the foreign exchange deficit facing our public finances, which compromising the function of our import economy.
Efforts to Divide Society
Unfortunately, Venezuela’s outlook is bad, and getting worse. Everything points toward the government extending its populist policies that keep the people under control, especially in light of next year’s parliamentary elections.
The government speaks incessantly of economic warfare, sabotage, and conspiracies. It’s comical to consider the vast subversive capabilities attributed to the opposition movement which, in reality, is weak and disorganized with few ideas and an inability to agree. According to the government, the opposition movement is capable of anything, except winning elections and being taken seriously.
Our problem is far from being conspiratorial. On the contrary, it has much to do with the government’s effort to maintain polarization, avoid popular consensus, deal in distrust, and marginalize private investors. Our problem has to do with the police efforts to control everything, the discouragement of free thought in universities, and political corruption and oppression.
There are many ways to build walls. Some are made of concrete, while others are simply ideological. Both, however, are damaging and divide our society between “good and bad,” the loyal and the suspicious. It is impossible to grow under these conditions, and impossible to plan for the future. Moreover, it’s impossible to celebrate Christmas, or the coming of a new year.
Miguel Angel Latouche is an advocate for openness across nations. He holds a PhD in political science and is an associate professor at the Central University of Venezuela, where he directs the School of Communication.