Explaining Venezuela and Chavez not an easy task

August 5, 2010

Talking to friends in the US, it is not easy to explain 11 years of Hugo Chavez in a short conversation. There are basically three questions that everyone asks or perhaps that no answer can satisfy their curiosity:

-How did Venezuelans let this happen?
-How could the system allow it to happen?
-How can Chavez allow inefficiencies and doesn’t he see the numbers that show his policies fail?

I try to answer these as briefly as possible, but it’s not easy. The last question is the hardest to answer. How can anyone understand the nationalizations that have made state companies worse? How can anyone explain that such things as revenue and profits or numbers are irrelenat to Chavez? To Americans who live by these questions, it is really difficult to understand how these questions are irrelevant to the Venezuelan populist.

To many, there seems to be a disconnect between Chavez the populist who cares about the people and Chavez the administrator who allows food to rot, oil production to drop and inefficiency to run rampant.

It is indeed a paradox that Chavez the micromanager of his popularity, tcould care less about any other numbers.

And that may be his down fall in the end.

And I keep explaining…

P.S. There are still places in the world where there is no cell phone connection or Wi Fi…priceless

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78 Responses to “Explaining Venezuela and Chavez not an easy task”


  1. […] great exchange of ideas took place the other day in the comment section of an article published by Miguel Octavio. Miguel was basically pondering on the difficulties of explaining to foreigners the reality of our […]

  2. Kolya Says:

    Not that I’m trying to pull a kumbaya here, but I think that there is more overlap and agreement between much (not all!) of what Roy and Alek wrote.

    Alek:

    “In 1998, voto castigo won the day, castigo against the duopoly AD-COPEI that had lost its north, squandering the future of the country. So disgusted were Venezuelans in general in 1998, that Chavez enjoyed support in nearly all sectors of society discussed above.”

    Well put. Sadly, there were many Venezuelans (among them, many readers of this blog) who were disgusted by AD and COPEI’s squandering AND who were aware that Chavez was nothing but bad news. Alas, they were the minority.

    Roy wrote:

    “When people do not have faith in the future, they will tend to make decisions based on their short-term interests. When people can see clearly into the future and make confident projections about the future state of their world, they will act accordingly, and engage in “delay of gratification” behaviors.”

    and Alek replied:

    “to say that Venezuelans are the way they are because they don’t believe in a better future is inaccurate, it is precisely because they want to believe in a better future that they do whatever it takes to improve personal condition, and engage in all manner of amoral behaviour.”

    Perhaps a way of squaring this circle is to say that ingrained historical habits die hard, very hard. I can easily imagine a person (say, a political leader or a government functionary) who genuinely thinks that he’s helping the country to follow a path toward a flourishing prosperous civic society. Meanwhile, though, messy reality is such that when he sees the opportunity to skim some from the top to enrich his coffers, he would do it. He might as well do it now because if he waits and the country, with all those oil riches, truly becomes a prosperous civic society, then such behavior will become impermissible. And if for whatever reason the country does not become the flourishing society of his dreams, then he would have been a pendejo for not taking the opportunity to help himself and his loved ones.

    It is undeniable that there are plenty of smooth-talking amoral sociopaths in positions of power. But we humans are great at self-deception, so I’m sure that many politicos and functionaries believe much of their own florid and noble-sounding language, even while behaving in self-serving ways.

  3. Alek Boyd Says:

    Here is my take on the amorality and lack of improvements in education, under Chavez and even before: All of it stems from a lack of belief in a better future.

    Roy, I beg to differ. In 1928, some students got fed up of never ending tyranny and rebelled against Juan Vicente Gomez. Their sentiment was echoed in many quarters of society, presumably for similar reasons. In 1936, another social rebellion took place, demanding more freedom. This time round it was more spontaneous. There was another in 1958, which set the stage for the 40 years of the IV Republic. In 1998, voto castigo won the day, castigo against the duopoly AD-COPEI that had lost its north, squandering the future of the country. So disgusted were Venezuelans in general in 1998, that Chavez enjoyed support in nearly all sectors of society discussed above.

    But to say that Venezuelans are the way they are because they don’t believe in a better future is inaccurate, it is precisely because they want to believe in a better future that they do whatever it takes to improve personal condition, and engage in all manner of amoral behaviour. For in the instances mentioned above, undoubtedly pivotal points in our contemporary history when notions of nation and identity were being discussed, agents of change were amoral. Caldera, Perez Jimenez, Chavez… All of them were concerned, first and foremost, in personal gain and power, morality it’s just not part of the question. The pillars supporting those power structures, were equally amoral, vying for more and caring less for the common wellbeing. Nation building and notions of identity have been the domain of intellectuals, and to lesser degree, politicos that compared to today’s crop, can be considered as much. Gallegos, Uslar, Betancourt, Perez Alfonso… these were outstanding, unique, extraordinary individuals, at whose inner selves a raging debate was taking place: how do we get out of this barbarie? How do we build a platform to change nationhood and identity notions? Some of their attempts lasted more than others. Gallegos and his pupil Betancourt, masterminded the greatest project of social engineering that our country has seen. But they were only two men, supported by small sectors/groups, while the majority continued being just their amoral selves. What about institutions? What about the thousands upon thousands needed to make the project work in the long run? Did they had those inner discussions, or were they instead vying for more, i.e. doing whatever it took to have a better future?

    The level of morality and personal sacrifice at the highest levels has only been exemplary in a handful of cases. Amorality and greed, on the contrary, has been the norm, since third tier conquistadores set foot in Venezuela. Chavez, as millions of others, inherited that. He does believe in a better future, as a matter of fact, he is frantically building his notion of a ‘better future’.

  4. Gordo Says:

    There seems to be some sort of an epiphany here (on this site), but how can it reach others where it is needed most?

  5. A_Antonio Says:

    Get literate and educated people from the education system, It is very different to educate to be citizens.

    East Europe did not want communism, simple they have no choice, If they want something different they find their self with bellow Russian tanks passing over their bodies. Also, as Chinese people do not had choices(tiananmen square massacre).

    In Venezuela, we have to remember that people were get shot in Altamira Square and in other protest, in the future Venezuelan people will not have choices, unless something very different emerge as results of parliamentary election.

  6. Kepler Says:

    Roy,

    I agree. Another thing: Venezuelans need to understand a country can only be rich through the work of their people. We can become a developed nation. To do that we must produce things.

    People are resigned to live in a banana republic. That should not be

  7. Antonio Says:

    Kepler, Kolya,

    Thank you for your replies. I take your points. Not much choice when there is an army reinforcing your choices.

    When communism fell the red army was still in existence and present in most of eastern Europe, and I propose that communism collapsed when the people didn´t support it anymore. When the majority of the people were of the opinion that a centralized economy was not a very good idea. External factors had a strong influence (collapse in the price of oil, Reagan´s Star Wars, etc) in changin people´s minds, of course.
    The Red Army still exists under another name, and a KGB man runs Russia. But the people there are not buying their stories anymore.

    Wen will Venezuelans convince themselves that what Chavez is doing is no good? in 50 years as in Cuba, or in 70+ years as in Eastern Europe?

  8. Roy Says:

    This comment thread has been full of well considered writing, free of some of the more petty bickering I have seen sometimes. Congratulations to all and thanks to Miguel for introducing this opportunity for some introspection.

    Here is my take on the amorality and lack of improvements in education, under Chavez and even before: All of it stems from a lack of belief in a better future. When people do not have faith in the future, they will tend to make decisions based on their short-term interests. When people can see clearly into the future and make confident projections about the future state of their world, they will act accordingly, and engage in “delay of gratification” behaviors. These are generally socially positive behaviors, such as staying in school longer, working harder to actually learn, investing in businesses, forming long-term social and business relationships, and working hard to prepare one’s children for that future. These types of behaviors are all hallmarks of individual and cultural “maturity”.

    Venezuela has been floundering in cultural post-adolescent miasma without meaningful direction for decades. You ask, “How did Chavez happen?” He came along and offered a “vision” for the future. True, it was a fuzzy sort of vision, but as poorly conceived as it was, it was more attractive than nothing, because the IVth Republic had nothing to offer, but more of the same.

    Creating “faith” in the future tends to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. When people “believe” in something, they tend to act as though it were true, and in the process make it real. Crafting that vision and disseminating it is a leadership function. Consider some of the most inspirational leadership speeches of all time:

    “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself” – Franklin Delanore Roosevelt

    “I have a dream…” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “I believe this shall be England’s finest hour…” – Winston Churchill

    All of these men believed in their people, and made their people believe in themselves, and in their future.

    So, that is why I despair when I see such negativity about the character and morals of the Venezuelans coming from Venezuelans. All that is missing is someone to tell Venezuelans that there is a brighter future and that they are capable of creating it.

    I remember a recipe I read for curing depression: “Smile until you feel it.” Well, I am not asking for a complete suspension of disbelief, but I do ask that, in spite of everything, we continue to have faith in and believe in the ability of ordinary Venezuelans to do the right thing. If we don’t believe in them, then why should they?

    To do anything else is to decide that all is lost, and the best we can do is save ourselves. But, you are all here, so you must harbor some small flame of hope for Venezuela. Take a look at that small flame. Analyze where it comes from. Feed the flame and let it grow. Faith can be very contagious.

  9. Kolya Says:

    Antonio, a quibble. You wrote:

    “Why do people bring on themselves this scourge? I don’t think Education plays an important part: the Russians, Poles, East Grermans and others were educated people when they chose to self-destruct.”

    That’s not quite right. First, Russia, as country, was not well educated back in 1917. Also, remember that the Bolshevik take over in Russia took place months after the fall of the Tsar and while fighting a war with Germany, Austro-Hungary and Turkey (WWI.) Heck, in 1917 the Bolsheviks even lost the popular vote during the Constitutional Assembly elections, but they simply brushed aside the results. Compared to the other parties, though, the Bolsheviks of Lenin were the most single-minded, ruthless and disciplined–their goal was to gain power by whatever means necessary. The Bolsheviks consolidated power only after winning a very bloody civil war that killed millions in a country that already suffered millions of casualties during WWI (the Russian Civil War started while Russia was still technically at war with her WWI enemies.) So it wasn’t that the communist gained power in Russia because they were welcomed with open arms by most of the population.

    And, of course, it is a great insult to Poland and East Germany to claim that they welcomed communism. Sadly, they had no choice on the matter. They were occupied by the Red Army and it was part of Churchill and Roosevelt’s unsavory agreement with Stalin in Yalta that he will keep them along with other Eastern European countries. The majority of Poles and Germans never chose to be under the Soviets.

  10. Kepler Says:

    Antonio,

    “I think it has more to do with a desire to live in a paternalistic state that takes care of one’s basic needs.”
    Why would they do that?
    And: do you think Yubiley Pérez and Johny Pacheco had such a great life before 1998?

    I agree Chavismo definitely want sto take all the means of production. They have already have most of them, actually, as Venezuela lives from oil.
    They want to take what makes Venezuela produce 40% of its food and they want to control all the import sources and destroy the few export
    industries in private hands, but those are already minimal.

    Now, Poles and East Germans were occupied by the Soviets. There were hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers supporting the national communist groups. The same in Hungary. There was 1953. There was 1956.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uprising_of_1953_in_East_Germany

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Revolution_of_1956

  11. Antonio Says:

    Miguel,

    I don’t think Chavez is deceiving anyone. He (and his followers) have chosen to turn Venezuela int a state-controlled economy, following a script that is at least 100 years old. To achieve this, they have to take over the means of production, private property, etc. Everything the present regime is doing makes sense if you accept that the idea is to build a communist state. Once you control the economy, you can start to think about efficiency. Any hardship that ensues during the process is trated as collateral damage, and acceptable in view of the end goal. Incompetence can be tolerated in the short term because things will be better later on.

    Why do people bring on themselves this scourge? I don’t think Education plays an important part: the Russians, Poles, East Grermans and others were educated people when they chose to self-destruct. I think it has more to do with a desire to live in a paternalistic state that takes care of one’s basic needs. Military people can be very convincing in this regard. The problem is that once you go down this route, it is very difficult to recover.

    Why do people in Venezuela still sympatize with socialist ideas? Beats me. But perhaps it is because it is very difficult to accept that many of us were wrong in our formative years when we viewed with sympathy the wonderful things the Cuban socialists and others were doing. Not to worry: the students of today are vaccinated against the follies of our generation.

    Antonio

  12. Kepler Says:

    Miguel,

    A friend of mine was a student of yours. You were a professor at a university producing excellent professionals who could find jobs easily everywhere in the world. There are other universities that at least partially try to keep quality (although levels vary a lot from faculty to faculty).

    National literacy, at least pro forma, was about 93% in 1997, higher than in many Latin American countries and comparable to that of Spain back then.

    I know quite a lot of Venezuelans here and in North America who are in key positions in research, management, etc, coming from public universities in Venezuela.

    The government in the forties (if I recall well AD 1.0) started to massively build schools everywhere and pay teachers.

    Now, there is the other side of the coin.

    My dad was a professor and my mother a teacher at primary school. My mother’s salary came to nothing in the early eighties, she did it for the love of it. My dad would often discuss about how politics was making universities less and less efficient, how much was wasted. Politics was everywhere and it was not just AD and COPEI, but the lefties as well
    (remember who was rector at the UCV? a commie)
    The differences between school levels were huge.

    The chica de servicios in my house told me how she had to give up her schooling very early because the teacher just stopped going and that happened a lot in Los Llanos and in the mountains, places most people in Caracas-Valencia-Maracaibo were not taking into account. All those people kept coming to the only places we call ‘cities’ and many of their descendants became Chávez supporters.

    I mentioned already: I was so shocked when I read the article from The Economist that showed that in 1998 Venezuelan pupils came last out of 13 Latin American countries in mathematics, way under the second worst, Bolivia. I talked to the head of the Olimpiadas de Matemáticas
    in Venezuela and he told me they also did a special study in the late nineties and it was so devastating “they” just buried it.

    And Venezuela came 41 out of 41 in reading and comprehension tests of IEA of the same year.

    So: while there were people building Venezuela with their minds and hands as you and my parents did, there were others destroying it with their feet and greed.

    Now comes Chávez and he talks and talks and talks. And he gives those people pieces of paper that are a farce but give them the impression they did study something. Their programmes are a total waste of the most precious, of people’s time and hope, but those people know nothing better. Quality in schools is going further down the drain and Chávez tells them everyone should go to universities and get a degree in something. And the opposition just says
    “don’t mess with the private education, don’t mess with the universities”
    and “we always had free education”.

    Well, yes, we did for many decades, but it was not quite reaching and it was on average bad, at least from the late seventies and later.

    And we cannot progress if we just have a bunch of very skilled and bright people and the others are left with miserable schools.

    Somewhere down the path efficiency suffered a lot.

    Meanwhile some countries such as Chile and even Colombia are improving the qualities of their state schools little by little.

  13. loroferoz Says:

    “Yes they have those characteristics you’ve mentioned, yes they are creative and enterprising. In a country with strong and functional institutions, dedicated to service and to create the right conditions for everyone to prosper according to its capacity, that would have meant that Venezuela would be a developed nation. Unfortunately, Venezuelan institutions are run by chavistas, before that it was copeyanos and adecos, and even before that, by a succession of caudillos, military and otherwise. All equally amoral. ”

    In this, I do not blame the uneducated (and not necessarily unintelligent), as much as I blame the educated (and not necessarily intelligent) Venezuelans.

    There was a chance to do things right in the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of wealth that could be created. And the educated Venezuelans, those that made up the intelligentsia, chose the worst possible system for a people that was enterprising but not necessarily scrupulous.

    I’d would wish to think it was ideology or naivete instead of lack of scruples that made Venezuelans nationalize oil & everything else and choose populism and corruption.

    Thus, we have the next generation of Venezuelans, which only found natural to vote Chavez. The bad ideas, the opportunism, the lack of scruples, the corruption, the way of life of abuse-or-be-abused had percolated to the poorest and “uneducated”, even the misplaced faith on myths, mythical figures and mythical political systems, had percolated all the way to the less educated.

    Now, Venezuelans in public display the social conscience, social intelligence and social instincts that would shame a runaway dog, and probably would get it killed by it’s own fellows.

    And in that we are also lacking, we lack the bare minimum to reproach roguish behavior.

    Socialism indeed! Social-lisis is what I see.

  14. Kolya Says:

    Miguel, didn’t some people saw it coming as early as the sixties and the seventies (when Venezuela was a booming democracy)? Back then Perez Alfonso with his warnings about the future was a rather popular voice of wisdom. He would often be on TV, newspapers had long interviews with him, etc. And I don’t think he was the only one. Except for occasional lip service, the establishment ignored those irritating warnings.

    Perhaps not directly relevant: in the 1990s in Moscow I met a rather a cynical and shady American commodity traders. Previous to Moscow and New York, he worked as a trader in Venezuela for a few years (I don’t remember what exactly he meant by commodity trading.) He told me that it was very easy to do business in Venezuela because most of the people he dealt with were incredibly profligate. On the subject of corruption, he thought Russian traders were just as corrupt as the ones he dealt with in Venezuela, except that the Russians were much more hard-nosed.

  15. moctavio Says:

    I will try to be brief in this comment, not easy:

    First, the IVth. republic had good times, it lost track of where it was going. Education at all levels grew very fast in the 60’s and 70’s and it was pretty good.

    Economically, things did not progress well, much like today, the State wanted to do it all, some precious opportunities were lost and lots of money wasted. The country fell into the trap of The Devil’ Excrement. Very much like today, the thought that oil would go up forever, convinced these “leaders” that oil production was at an adequate level. Oil prices went down, income per capita went down sharply and life for most Venezuelans became miserable.

    And that is part of the problem, when you are trying to make ends meet, survive, ethics and education are not among your priorities, survival is. Thus, the standard of living dropped and even with all the money Chavez has received, it has not improved for 26 years

    But there isn’t a single Venezuela. There is the Venezuela of those that have jobs and the Venezuela of those that don’t. There is the Venezuela of those that are “vivos” (sneaky?) and there is the Venezuela of those that don’ want anything free. There is the Venezuela of those that live off the state, no effort, there is the Venezuela of those that want nothing to do with the Government. There is the Venezuela of ethical people, there is the Venezuela of unethical people. In each case, those in one group are not necessarily in the other, but there is a lot of overlap.

    But, let me tell you something I have come to appreciate over the years, Venezuelans that work, work very hard, get low salaries and spend too much time commuting. At my old place of work, the universities where I worked and my current job, I have found most people to be extremely hard working, nice, ethical and devoted to their jobs, under less than ideal conditions.

    In that same experience it was always the introduction of politics that screwed things up. Politics represents the easy way up, the short cut to money and power and unethical behavior. Unfortunately, politics increasingly permeates more and more of our daily life.

  16. firepigette Says:

    Thanks Eric and Moraima!!


  17. Thanks Ira and Alek, but maybe there should be a rule: no praising the blog owner, in the end this is for me a labor of love…

  18. Eric Says:

    You’re right, Moses, it was published with substantial support from VenCred. Firepigette, send me your email address. You can reach me at corpstratcom at gmail.com. I’ll put you in touch with Gerver.

  19. Lemmy Caution Says:

    From a gringos perspective on a very intelligent blog.
    Real progress requires a lot of patience especially from the poor.
    They face a lot of more constraints than we most of us do.
    For example this woman: http://tinyurl.com/32crlct

    I guess that in Venezuela the poor lost trust that the constraints they were facing made any sense for their kids having a better life. On a massive scale. So they followed the populist.

    In 1917 some guys from the administration visited my grand-grand-mom to hand her a medal for bravery in war for my grand-grand-pa. Also they informed her that her husband had died in France. She threw the medal in the mens face and told them that her husband never wanted to go to war, so the war medal must be an error.
    She became marxist. She brought 5 sons and 1 daughter through the 20ties.

    If once you followed the sweet song of the populist, it may be very hard to accept the constraints of a democracy with market economy rules. Especially if you are poor, as your possibilities to push the constraints are worse than for anybody commenting on this blog (I hope).

  20. Alek Boyd Says:

    Hey Ira, I have kept blogging, just not with the same passion and regularity than before. I’ll take the opportunity to also extend my sincerest gratitude to Miguel, for he has taught me that in every society, however much debased, there are incredible individuals to look up to.

    And Ira, if you’re keen on a dose of my regular ranting, feel free to drop by my blog @ http://alekboyd.blogspot.com.

  21. Ira Says:

    I saw a typo in the above:

    nacimiento.

    I’m sure there are OTHERS, but this is the one I spotted.

  22. Ira Says:

    I want to thank Miguel for this site, and for all of the posters here writing in English:

    Porque mi espanol es horible, pero todavia, quiero aprender mas de que esta pasando en el pais. Mi esposa (Venezelona de nacimietno) odia Chavez del premira dia, pero ella no le gusta y no puede hablar de los politicos muy mucho.

    In other words:

    As a Gringo, I present myself as an example to how difficult (basically impossible) it is for Americans to get real news about South America, besides 30-second soundbites on Fox. (Eech.)

    So thanks to all of you for keeping me informed, and I’m very, VERY happy to see Alek posting here. I used to read his website/blog a few years back, before he shut it down.

  23. moses Says:

    I think this book was edited by Banco Venezolano de Credito. Really nice book,

    My 2 cents.

  24. Moraima Says:

    Firepigette, here you can find info about the program that created “Un sueño para Venezuela”. http://www.liderazgoyvision.org

    Also here you can read the book: http://www.venezuelatuya.com/sociedad/sueno.htm

  25. firepigette Says:

    Eric,

    I would be interesting in reading the “wonderful book Gerver Torres wrote some ten years ago, Un Sueño Para Venezuela,”

    Do you happen to know where I can get a copy ?

    To be honest when I first heard about Machado’s work I was closed to it because when I met him in person during a televised interview in his home, I found him slightly strange( Of course my opinion was based on my own biased cultural ideas)…then years later I participated in his courses as part of my teacher’s training and found them to be the most powerful courses for positive transformation, Unity, understanding and ethics I had ever seen.There are brilliant!

    I truly believe that the best shot we have for breaking the status quo that keeps us in a cycle of difficulties, are these programs which I believe should be given to all children starting from the ages of 10 or 11- the reason being because abstract intelligence generally appears at those ages.

  26. Moraima Says:

    Eric, I wish I could stop checking the blogs every day; it’s being a year and a half since I left and I still do it. I hope you can find peace abroad and will miss your comments.

    Today’s discussion is really interesting because is moves from the usual disgust at the latest craziness of chavismo and focus on the reasons and hopefully on ways we can change that some time in the future. I just will add caution against simplistic explanations. I always recommend people to read the results of the “Proyecto Pobreza” done by the UCAB a few years ago. It is really enlightening about how Venezuela really is.

    Talking one day with Luis Pedro España about the findings I told him how I came from a family from Los Andes that moved to a barrio in Caracas in search of better opportunities and despite being poor and uneducated we had been taught really strong values and my father was a propaganda machine telling us all the time how being poor did not make us miserable and we had culture even if we did not have money. He told me that the regional culture of people from Los Andes is one of the most likely to resist the disintegration that comes with moving to urban centers. My point with this is there is not a simple answer, is the very unique way in which our history, climate, natural resources, economy, education, values, and physical realities interact together.

    Just before Chavez won the election I worked at a group that gathered experts from several areas and came up with a list of a 100 executive measures to be taken the first 100 days that could create a big impact and momentum to gather support for the changes that are needed. All of the candidates received the document. None of that has been executed.

    I believe that even with a mediocre government we would have a chance of getting something like that moving, so I still have hope that some change can start to happen, but agree with the fact that it will take a generation or two… Lets keep helping any way we can and lets keep talking at what is needed, when the time comes this country is going to need every one of us…

  27. Eric Says:

    A good place to start re culture change would be reprising the wonderful book Gerver Torres wrote some ten years ago, Un Sueño Para Venezuela, which was promoted along with workshops on the same theme by the Liderazgo y Visión NGO under the direction of people from CEDICE et al.
    Anybody interested in this issue should read it.

  28. firepigette Says:

    Roy,

    I understand your love and appreciation for Venezuela.I also fee and felt the way you do.However my observation is that Venezuela is a bit like India.It has the sublime and the real low down and dirty both at the same time.It takes awhile( more likely longer than your stay there) to see it.

    Right now the bad side of the country is dominating.Before the good was much more influential than now.I never wanted to leave Venezuela, but I got a heavy glimpse into the bad side,which I cannot talk about here, and knew I had to get my kids out.

  29. firepigette Says:

    Culture:

    ” : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time”

    This is what trumps politics every time.The only way to change it is for each of us to not allow ourselves to succumb to groupthink, and work on our own self honesty and willingness to grow as human beings.

    We cannot change others…we can only change ourselves.

    Venezuelans accept the status quo WAY too much. Before change can take place we have to learn to think for ourselves, and not depend so much on agreement but rather on respect- which is what George talks about.

    George was quite correct.There is this tendency in Venezuela to respect those who are popular, have power, and or rich.Even the little ‘social resentidos’ like to be noticed by the sifrinos…if you know what I mean.Everybody wants to be top dog or be close to top dog.

    Learn to respect others despite differences-Then and only then can a true learning situation take place.

    There is NO overall system to change Venezuela over nite….it will be a gradual process or not at all.

    I think the best program for personal growth in Venezuela was Machados developed for the Minsterio de Inteligencia…but unfortunately most Venezuelans do not like it because it is from the ” wrong” party 😉

  30. Kolya Says:

    Earlier this morning Quico at Caracas Chronicles wrote about Pamfleto Negro and in particular about a piece titled ENTÉRATE: EL ESPECTÁCULO ERES TÚ. Considering some of the previous discussions in this blog (and in this thread), it’s a piece that many of you would strongly relate to (only in Spanish). Here is the link:

    http://www.panfletonegro.com/volante/2010/08/05/enterate-el-espectaculo-eres-tu/

  31. Alek Boyd Says:

    Still, what I want to go to is to the whys and what can people do as individuals to help promote a paradigm shift, no matter how incredibly difficult that is.

    You’re doing it, I’m doing it, Miguel’s doing it, Daniel’s doing it, FT’s doing it, Juan’s doing it, Roy’s doing it, Eric’s doing it…

    The change in paradigm, as I have always argued, needs to take place at the individual level. Que alguien resuelva, if you really think of it, is the utmost example of failure to take control of one’s destiny. And it is so deeply entrenched in the Venezuelan psyche that any attempts at changing it seem a Herculean task of generational proportions. It has to do with what Miguel described the other day as the quality of society’s role models. Who are the role models: if you were to conduct a poll in the streets of the biggest cities in Venezuela, who do you think would come as the most cherished figure? Someone hardworking, accomplished, and master of its own destiny, who at the same time does whatever he pleases, plays the rules and always comes on top? That’ll be Chavez.

    Ethics is not something you learn through education. That’s why I said that education is not everything. Mind you Noam Chomsky, the world’s most respected intellectual, cheers for Chavez. It’s about morals, and ethics, that you learn at home, that you see in your household, and employ throughout your life. Society’s single most important unit, family, is fucked up. NOt only in Venezuela. Everywhere. Problem in Venezuela is, that to that a completely dysfunctional public institutional framework, read society’s bigger “family”, is even more fucked up. So change starts at the individual level, and it spreads from there. To the irresponsible premise “que alguien resuelva” one needs t adopt “alguien no vino, yo mismo soy”. If and when that happens, we’ll start seeing change. And regarding education, that would be the very first principle I would teach to people: no one is going to resolve your life in your stead. Get it to your head quickly, and you’ll see fantastic developments.

    We could write a treatise on how change could come about, and we would have to create outlets to spread it. It can be done, it has been done in other countries. But it won’t come round under the current crop of leaders, opposition or chavistas. Los verdaderos lideres, in my book, are yet to appear.

  32. Kepler Says:

    Alek,

    I was going to add I use the word “ethics” as you use moral, it is just a matter of terminology, so we agree.
    Still, what I want to go to is to the whys and what can people do as individuals to help promote a paradigm shift, no matter how incredibly difficult that is.

  33. Alek Boyd Says:

    Kepler, the key word here is amoral: la amoralidad is what defines most Venezuelans. If you want to call it ethics, that’s fine. At the end of the day is the same, lack of ethics, lack of morals -hence “amorales”- means a people without scrupples, without care for the general wellbeing, country, people, etc. Nothing to do with genes, all to do with adaption to endogenous reality.

    Roy: altogether I lived 26 of my 40-year life in Venezuela, so I don’t accept your argument that I have the opinion I have because I no longer live there. I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to live and see, up close and personal, how nearly all strata of Venezuelan society lives and acts: from the dispossessed to the truly rich, from the utterly ignorant to the extremely well educated in the finest universities of the world. Thus, I think I am perfectly equipped to talk about my countrymen. Yes they have those characteristics you’ve mentioned, yes they are creative and enterprising. In a country with strong and functional institutions, dedicated to service and to create the right conditions for everyone to prosper according to its capacity, that would have meant that Venezuela would be a developed nation. Unfortunately, Venezuelan institutions are run by chavistas, before that it was copeyanos and adecos, and even before that, by a succession of caudillos, military and otherwise. All equally amoral. So an enterprising people, faced with the prospect of having to go through the inescapable corruption mill, no matter how well intentioned, or indeed principled, ends up morphing into an amoral people, that get to do whatever is necessary in order to educate kids, buy house, living whatever definition of decent life is, etc.

    To conclude, there’s no point in deluding oneself into thinking that because Venezuelans are, in general, more open than your regular European or American, and have a great sense of humour, they are not amoral, for I could argue that Chavez is very open and has a great sense of humour. Remember Roy, cada pueblo tiene el gobierno que se merece.

  34. Eric Says:

    The comments that most stand out here as far as I’m concerned have to do with culture trumping education, and the fact that Venezuela is one of the lowest-trust countries in LatAm (if not the lowest — some great data on this and other cultural issues in Riding the Waves of Culture http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Waves-Culture-Understanding-Diversity/dp/0786311258/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1281098092&sr=8-1)

    I’m an American and I’ve been here since 1982, and I expected to spend the rest of my life in this ebautiful country, but my wife and I are finally pulling the plug and moving to the vecino país. We just can’t take the constant, escalating levels of violence, in all its forms, and we want to live in a country where people have a sense of national purpose, respect themselves and others, and are optimistic and have some faith in the future. I have lost what little faith I ever had — and I must admit, in the 80s, I still had reason to hope — in Venezuela, and I think it will take a generation or two, if ever, to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But as firepigette so perceptively puts it, culture is tenacious and doesn’t change easily.

    Ive immensely enjoyed this devilsexcrement community of intelligent, inquisitive people over the years. Thank you Miguel for making it happen. And thank all of you for so earnestly trying to get to the bottom of the many problems that ail this once-vibrant, if deeply flawed, country. There are many extraordinary people in Venezuela — not everyone is infected with terminal viveza criolla — and they deserve so much more. And I am deeply saddened when I conclude that past is probably prologue and that there is little chance they’ll see things change for the better in the future.
    I hope for my daughter and grand-daughter’s sake — they are staying on, por ahora — that I am wrong, but I for one literally can’t take it anymore and have to get something approaching a normal life again. And that probably means NOT checking into the remarkable site at least once a day!

    For those of you who are still here. I wish you the best. For those of you planning on getting out, make it quick — it feels like this place is about to blow. And for those of you on the outside looking in, for the young people who’ve left, for those studying abroad, I hope that if you have a chance and feel the urge, that you come back some day and try to put the pieces together again. Perhaps the greatest long-term damage that Chávez has inflicted on the Venezuela is having created the conditions for an immense diaspora of young people. I know dozens of families, couples in their 50s and 60s like us, whose young people are ALL living abroad, from Finland to Australia. And I think they’ll probably never come back to live here. Why would they. Pobre país

  35. A_Antonio Says:

    The compensation from education system is that it has to produce citizens with some morals and principles, and the value of the work to be self accomplish, the value of the work by the work itseft.

  36. Kepler Says:

    Alek,

    I agree with many of the things you say. It is to a big extent ethics (a word I prefer to moral as I use it as principles that are constant across time).

    Now, when I talk above all about education in a general sense, including upbringing.

    The issue is not whether you and I and Cisnero have good education and Maduro and Chávez and the oppo governor of Margarita do not, but whether the average person has good education.
    Of course, even that is still not the most important thing as Germany
    showed, but other things being equal, it does help a lot: average education + ethics.

    Now: why are Venezuelans like they are? Yes, we know the country was
    a forgotten colony where mostly adventurers came in, where plunder and
    corruption were the norm. But why still? What are the patterns?
    This also goes across “ethnic” lines often after the first generation or even then.

    I am Venezuelan of Venezuelan grandparents and some others here as well.

    I think when Venezuelans start to discuss why they are as they are on average we may have a key to improvement. It is not in the genes.

  37. A_Antonio Says:

    As born in Venezuela from emigrated parents, what I have to say is that we should practice to change the point of view, Venezuelan people are the victims more than the guilty ones.

    Very literate and very educated politicians, and others not so educated, were kept telling to the people, in the last 60 years, that we are rich, we live in a rich country, we hit the lottery and if those politicians are elected they will give to you your part of the rich country you deserve, only to born or live in Venezuela, with not much work at all. Almost all Venezuelan politicians play to be populist to be elected.

    Do not be a surprise that when a Venezuelan gets a position to steal public money, He thinks that only he is taking his part of the wealth he deserve and was promise to, and he thinks than others Venezuelans that aren’t position to steal or can not get their part is because they are fools.

    More of Venezuelan have their minds full of craps from 60 years of politic and populist propaganda, without any compensation from the education system, these propaganda and populist came from a very literate and educated people (and others not so) that are suppose to be their moral guides to be a development country.

  38. Nur_Ich Says:

    for me the thing is, that Chavez doesn’t care about Venezuelans. He wants to rule, so he has to put don the people that they’re more busy to find the basic stuff they need than to start a revolt. But not that much down, that they have nothing more to loose.
    That is the problem also, why the middle class never will achieve any “golpe de estado”. They have still something to loose. So they go on a protest rally, they hear the first tear gas bomb and they run home. End of story.

    Look at 2002, Puente Llaguno. The Opposition rally was like 20 times bigger than the few chavistas on and under the bridge, nevertheless they ran from them.

    Also Chavez manipulates the opposition, saying they’re violent. So in return the opposition put up their hands, chanting, that they’re not violent and Chavista-Thugs can do with them whatever they want. I was on a rally, where 40-50 Chavistas on motorbikes ran into a student rally of 100.000 people and the students ran. Like that you cannot win. period.

  39. Roy Says:

    Alek, Deana, and all the others who say that what has happened in Venezuela is due to Venezuelans being, “lazy”, “selfish”, “self-absorbed”, “irresponsible”, etc., etc.:

    I find it very sad that there are so many Venezuelans ready to bash their own culture. I know that a lot of that comes from Venezuelans living abroad, and I do get where you are coming from.

    In a sense, you are correct about these negative qualities, but all of that falls under the category of political immaturity. Add in the “devil’s excrement”, and you have a classic recipe for a spoiled, brat, living off of an inherited trust fund.

    For my part, I see this as part of all of Latin America beginning to finally “grow up” and become economically and politically more mature. Look at all the various tyrants that have come and gone in South/Central America. Venezuela is not unique in this regard. But, we are finally seeing political and economic maturity in Chile, Peru, Colombia, Brazil (sort of), Panama, and many others.

    Indeed, Venezuela is a regressing at the moment. The differences between the mature countries and Venezuela are becoming more more apparent every day. When Venezuela finally comes out of this, it will be sadder, but wiser. Venezuelans will have learned the lessons they need to advance their society and country and join the society of nations that are forming solid mature relationships throughout North and South America.

    I would suggest to those Venezuelans who say this, try to focus on the positive qualities of the culture you came from: Great sense of humor, creative, enterprising. I live here full time. The image you are seeing in your mind when you criticize all Venezuelans really is the minority, even though it may not seem that way, since this minority currently has the upper hand. Please don’t forget that the country is still full of ordinary decent people struggling to make a living, raise their children, and live a decent and dignified life.

  40. Deanna Says:

    Let me put my 2cents worth. I thoroughly and completely agree with Alek, as my husband keeps telling me that that is what’s wrong with Venezuela. He’s the Venezuelan, I’m just a concerned observer.

  41. Roberto N Says:

    Indeed, I think Alek has come closest to putting his finger, “en la llaga”, as it were.

    george, you too have a lot of the truth in your post.

    When Chavez first won in 98, I told many people that it was going to be “el mismo raterismo, pero con ratas mas flacas y hambrientas que las que tenemos ahora” and boy was I right !

    The key has always been how Chacumbele has managed to subvert the other two powers to his will. How did we let him do it? We gave him the Asamblea, after that it was downhill seriously from there.

    How can Chavez allow inefficiencies and doesn’t he see the numbers that show his policies fail? He WANTS them to fail. That’s the whole point, and you just lurch the people along and keep them off balance and chained to you.

  42. Alek Boyd Says:

    PS: in answer to your questions,

    -How did Venezuelans let this happen? Because they are Venezuelans.

    -How could the system allow it to happen? Because it’s run by Venezuelans.

    -How can Chavez allow inefficiencies and doesn’t he see the numbers that show his policies fail? Because he is Venezuelan.

  43. Alek Boyd Says:

    Interesting answers above. I’d say I lean more towards what Daniel and to an extent Kepler said, than the rest. I’ll venture my opinion, is Chavez’s actually:

    “Lo que mis enemigos no entienden es que Chavez no es Chavez, Chavez es el pueblo de Venezuela.”

    As someone who was born in Venezuela to foreign parents I can say that the quote above encapsulates to a high degree the crux of the matter. Education is not the panacea, we all know highly educated Venezuelans who are eager to go into any shoddy deal for self gain regardless of morality. For can anyone say that Gustavo Cisneros is not an educated man? We all know that non educated Venezuelans will behave exactly the same way. For can anyone say that Nicolas Maduro is an educated man? So to me is not about education, but about morals. Morals that, as a collective, have never been there. Ever: “moral y luces…” For Cisneros, and Maduro share the same ‘morality.’ Rosales and Miquilena, Borges and Petkoff, Caldera and CAP, and all the previous with Chavez. It is an opportunistic bunch out there, and the crux of the issue is that the old guard can no longer enjoy the life, the abuse of power, the corruption rackets, etc., that they did in the past. That’s all. It was the same in Bolivar times, it was the same in Gomez times, it is the same today, and it will be the same in the future.

    Venezuelans are one of the most unprincipled people in this planet, unprincipled in the orthodox sense, for the reigning principle is “quitate tu….”, “que me pongan donde…”, “que alguien resuelva…”, etc. There’s no higher principle, no moral compass, no self respect, as someone said above. Venezuelans, in general and regardless of education levels, don’t give a fuck about their country, their society, their community, their future, their reputation.

    And our problem, in this blog, as well as in Daniel’s, FT’s & Juan’s, etc., is to think that we are representative of society. We do represent, a tiny fraction, of people. But it is not the elitist, highly educated bunch that we represent, for I have never been elitist, nor what people would consider highly educated (not only very recently anyway). What we represent is the tiny number of principled -in the orthodox sense- Venezuelans. Tiny number that is, in the nought point something percentile I’d say.

  44. Gordo Says:

    There has to be a tradition that those who make promises to get elected need to keep those promises or you vote them OUT!!!

    Or maybe that’s to logical?

  45. Steven Says:

    Ira wrote: “As an American with a Venezuela history going back to 1988, I have the same problem explaining the current situation to people.”

    Ira, my family moved from the USA to Venezuela in the 1960’s. It’s not any easier for us to explain it.

  46. Gerry Says:

    Kepler!
    When do you sleep?
    “ubiquitous man”
    You ‘blog’ everywhere at the same time.


  47. Bruni, those are facts, not explanations. People wanted change, but there has been little change for the better, but nevertgeless Chavez keeps gettung away with things.

    What is weak? How do you recognize it?

    Finally, the third one goes back to scruples, how can anyone that wants to stay in power forever not care about results, one contradicts the other. Chavez has no scruples, at each stage he has been and is willing to go as far as needed to achieve his goals. Explain that!

  48. albionboy Says:

    When Fidel Castro, first went to China, he expressed amazement at the economic miracle of China, when he got back to Cuba he didn’t change a thing. Castro wants to rule in “Hell” than serve in Heaven.

    Perez Jimenez, gave Venezuelans good roads and a good economy, and Venezuelans kicked him out, Chavez policy, is Castro’s, keep them barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, and they will love you for it.

  49. Kolya Says:

    “The Soviet Union was quite egalitarian, and the government was extremely corrupt.”

    That’s a non sequitur to what I wrote. Quoting myself:

    “It is also interesting that among the advanced countries, those with smaller gaps in inequality also tend to be societies with the most developed sense of trust and the least amount of corruption.”

    I was writing about advanced countries and the Soviet Union was NEVER an advanced country. The standard of living in the USSR was always quite low. Being powerful is not the same as advanced. Among advanced countries, however, there is indeed a very strong correlation between lack of corruption and a fairly small gap between rich and poor. As any middle schooler knows, correlation is not prove of causation, but, as science has shown time and again, it is indeed often a strong sign of a causal relationship. (Remember that the tobacco companies often repeated the mantra that the fact that high cancer rates correlate with high cigarette consumption does not prove any causation.)

  50. deananash Says:

    THANK YOU ALL for meaningful comments. This is the community that I have come to know and grown to love. (The comments on Miguel’s last post nearly killed me. I kept reading HOPING for some salvation. None came.)

    And george, yours and a few others have made the point that I have been saying for a long time now. The problem isn’t Chavez as much as it is the part of Venezuelan culture that it represents. Both those from the pueblo (poverty) side of the spectrum to those in the military/police (raw power) side, to those of the selfish and greedy (money) side.

    And then, of course, there is Chavez himself, who wouldn’t know…well, you know. It’s all about him, his ego, his power, his…

  51. bruni Says:

    Answers

    1) because people wanted change and change they got (MORAL: be ALWAYS weary of what you wish because you may get it!)

    2) because the institutions that could have stopped Chavez (Congress and the CSJ)were weak and could not resist to the “assault” of public opinion and the press (MORAL: be ALWAYS weary of public opinion campaigns)

    3) because Chavez’s objective is not to run a country efficiently, but to stay in power forever. You change the objective, you change the outcome.


  52. juan cristobal

    because poor education is not linked to poverty levels?


  53. You see, I think some are confusing the question, to me the question is not why Chavez is popular, but how could Chavez get as far as he did with less than 60% popularity. Our Constitution had protections that Chavez overturned with the help of the “educated”. The minority did not understand he had no scruples or principles and he was no democrat. Those are the reasons why he got that far. And yes, The Devil’ Excrement had and has a lot to do with it.

    On examples of countries, Argentineans are fairly well educated and the love populists, over and over.

  54. Gordo Says:

    When everybody is poor, that is quite egalitarian but not like Norway. More like Cuba I would say. If that is a consolation for the poor, then it works, I guess. Poverty is something that has to be addressed by the rich, or it’s deja vu all over again and again and again.

  55. Kepler Says:

    The Soviet Union was conceived based on forced “egalitarianism”.
    In the Soviet Union in spite of all the talk you had the classes, you had the Aparatchiki, you had the scientists living in special cities, the artists and so on. You had a system of terror and use of resentment based on a not so distant pass, brainwashing, isolation.

    One of the things we can observe specially in Swedish and Norwegian societies is that their systems had very flat hierarchies from early on, predating the Viking times. A feudal system did not even exist in Norway as such. On the contrary the Russian Empire had serfs until very late, about the time it was abolished in the USA. Only in the Baltic states was it earlier.
    Still, enaqualities persisted and so did resentment…until very late.

    Venezuela, to a certain extent, was almost a feudal society until Gómez. My paternal grandparents were landless farmers who had to pay to one of Gómez’ generals to live and farm in his huge territories and that was next to Valencia’s Lake. Only when Gómez kicked the bucket in 1935 did they stop paying the right to use the land.

    The following days after Gómez died there were riots for days.

  56. firepigette Says:

    Correlation is not causation.

    The Soviet Union was quite egalitarian, and the government was extremely corrupt.

    Chavez’s system is based on the principle of injustice because in Venezuelan culture injustice is and always has been tolerated.

  57. Kepler Says:

    Sigh…I agree with Kolya. Scandinavian countries tended to be incredibly egalitarian from early on, these things take time. The kings were paying so much attention to proper education and giving fair
    chances to people, specially in Norway and Sweden.
    Denmark seemed less so and indeed Miranda even interceded at the court for better treatment to prisoners in Danish jails (imagine a Venezuelan doing that now). Miranda did praise the Swedes and Norwegians a lot.

    But all those societies are under pressure (as Flanders) with the arrival of groups that have completely different sets of values. And this takes the countries towards counter-reactions that sometimes lead to intolerance and the emergence of extremists.

    Kolya, you may find this interesting, specially the historical part:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_farm_culture

  58. Kolya Says:

    Societies that have a highly developed level of trust among strangers tend to prosper and they tend to suffer less during lean times. It’s easy to do business when you know that the vast majority with whom you transact business are trustworthy and honest. When in Russia and in Venezuela people would ask why I like the US so much, one of my usual replies was that it is easy to be honest in the US. Unfortunately the level of trust in a particular society can decline. Years ago self-serve roadside farm stands where much more common in the US: driving on a country road you would see a farm stand displaying berries, corn, veggies. Nobody was around, but there would a scale, price tags and a money box. You were suppose to weigh your produce and place the required amount of cash in the money box. The honor system. Although you still see some of them around (well, at least in New England), there are fewer of them than before.

    It is also interesting that among the advanced countries, those with smaller gaps in inequality also tend to be societies with the most developed sense of trust and the least amount of corruption.

    Quote:

    “Among the top fifteen least corrupt nations in the world are Norway, Austria, Canada, New Zealand and Sweden- and- at number one- Denmark. All are countries with a relatively small gap between rich and poor- in fact Denmark and Norway are among the most egalitarian societies on this planet.’

  59. Mike E. Says:

    Had friends from Venezuela here (2 families with adolescent children) and it was sad to witness the emptiness of their existence and the acceptance of their fate. Chilling how they were beyond the point of even wanting to talk about Chavismo, yet believing or at least pretending to not be much affected by the realities in Venezuela. Just like the proverbial frog story slowly being boiled to death.

    On the other hand, conversations e.g. about 18 year old Guijgui, latest model SUVs and 4x4s, Quinceañera big bash parties, and advancements in female attributes enhancing cosmetic surgery and the difficulty to get reliable cachifa(s) and how we in the US can exist without them (cachifas) were always vibrant.

    And they must have bought about 10 Blackberries, one for every member in the household (plus another dozen latest model iPods). About a year ago, existence was impossible without iPhones!

    It will be dark in Venezuela, very dark and for a long time, if our friends even remotely represent the mindset of Venezuela’s middle class. And quite frankly, while I hate to say it: with these kinds of values, maybe they deserve every bit that is happening to them.

  60. qtxo Jose Says:

    Well, the title of this blog alone answers all questions (“Chavez” excrement), it is the fucking easy money… or the people willingness to believe they live in a rich country:

    The lucky well educated class think they can spend as they earn, the future is not a problem, and some of them go further, now that my future is safe I should study Marx to try to help the poor people in the world saving them from the evil consumer society I live in…

    And the low class looking jealousy at the upper class waiting for their piece of cake…

    The problem is how to break this circle.

  61. Gordo Says:

    It’s really not that hard to explain. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem just needs another nail. Likewise, Chavismo doesn’t have any tools to build an economy, improve life for the pueblo, fight inflation, run companies profitably, etc. etc. etc. They have tools for shutting down news media, putting people in jails, nationalizing companies, changing the constitution, subversion of the law, buying weapons, misinforming the followers, etc. etc. etc.

  62. george Says:

    having lived 20 years in venezuela now, my opinion of how we got to where we are is in 3 words, lack of respect. lack of respect for themself and lack of respect for others. when you don’t respect yourself you wont respect others or their properties.
    respect has to be taught in the homes and schools beginning with the children. That they learn to respect them selves, respect others and their belongings.
    Here hardly noone takes care of anything because they dont respect it, they havent learned its value.
    if someone breaks a tool the response is, it broke, give me another one, without saying Im sorry I had an accident and your tool broke. Or the problem with stealing, he has two so he wont miss it.
    the government is not broken, society is broken and it wont be fixed until society, the people choose to respect themselves and their neighbors.
    this will be hard to do with the current gov because you cant respect yourselve when you know you are taking what does not belong to you, therefore you justify your wrong doing. but in doing so, you are also creating an incorrect attitude toward others and in that comes division of the people.

    education is very important but it is not the main thing. Morals, value of life and respect of others son the basis for a strong foundation.

    please be kind to me lol

  63. Juan Cristobal Says:

    Education shmeducation. Chavez’s rise is the result of a very basic fact: the rise in poverty. Starting in 1980, Venezuelans’ standard of living declined and declined. Other social indicators went down with it, but mostly it’s as otry of falling income levels.

  64. RWG Says:

    In the early 1980’s, the United States was loaded with Venezuelan students getting advanced degrees. Most were on Venezuelan government grants funded from petroleum revenues. Most looked forward to returning to live in Venezuela.

    Today Venezuelan students in the United States are rare. Most are immigrants from Venezuela that will never return to Venezuela.

    Russian weapons have trumped an educated society in Venezuela.

  65. firepigette Says:

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is NO correlation at all with formal education and political savvy however I still see how the history, and what people have learned from the past , the values( how a set of people have learned to survive, prosper and find happiness) and experiences( all happenings and conclusions made from specific events)ALL make up a large part of what is known as culture.Historical developments are part of what makes a culture-The events and people reactions to them.

    We can learn analytical skills that might help us overcome the ravages of cultural blind spots, but most people accept the cultural norms without question, even when confronted with new materials and ideas.

    The ravages of wars in Belarus helped to make the people passive, and accepting of their fate( a cultural quality).This passivity in turn creates an environment where a dictator is not seen with quite the same horror as we might see him in the West.

  66. Kepler Says:

    Firepigette,
    Many highly educated Belorussians are not in Belarus anymore, specially those who speak other languages. Russian news are worse than those of other countries.

    Besides: it is relative to what people have known. Belorussians never had a democratic government and they have always been very isolated. They are even better off than before now and they have lived relatively better off than their neighbours.

    Still, in Venezuela you have huge masses that have remained highly ignorant
    You have the Devil’s Excrement as few countries have had it.
    You have a group of people who have basically looked down at others most of the time.
    You have a heavy military past.

  67. firepigette Says:

    In Belarus people are highly educated.

    Fact:

    Most of these highly educated people are quite comfortable with a dictatorship and with corruption.

    Why?:

    Because of their values.A simple as that.Culture trumps formal education.

  68. Kepler Says:

    We are not talking about formal education as in “I have this piece of paper”.
    You can become a bachiller in Venezuela if you learn everything by heart, if you follow the rules that you have to leave a line and a half space and use a brown folder. Actually, you don’t even need that.
    Analytical thinking? Bien, gracias.

    Of course, education is just a part, but at this stage in history it matters more and more. We are lagging behind everybody else.

    And to top it all: huge amounts of better-off Venezuelans behave as if they belonged to the royalty and the others are just “oh so inferior” and “just lazy”. I don’t know how many times I heard my peers talking about the “monos esos”. I have seen ellitism everywhere, but the issue is particularly strong in Latin America.


  69. Miguel

    I disagree with you. It is true that University education kept expanding and retained some quality at least until Chavez made it to office; since then the universities controlled by chavismo are not producing anything worthy for the job market, only for public workers and assorted propaganda ministries.

    What has been going down hill since the 80ies is primary and secondary education. That is, the bulk of Venezuelan electorate today has had its primary education after 1980. that is what I was referring to in my comment. Even people that got only primary education, not high school, just primary education before 1980 are better off than those who boast today of a recent high school degree. I see that at work every day! My oldest personnel is in general better educated than my younger one and yet they have formally less education than those young’uns.

    You cannot have a mass of poorly educated people and not feel the effect at the ballot box. True, it does not explain everything but it is a good start.

  70. firepigette Says:

    Miguel,

    “How can Chavez allow inefficiencies and doesn’t he see the numbers that show his policies fail?”

    One can only see inconsistencies here if one believes that Chavez is honest and well intentioned.My answer is that he is not.A dictator is looking for power, not for improvements.

    As for Chavistas.They believe that getting worse is all part of the ” beautiful processo” where things have to get worse before they can get better.I hear them say: “We have to be patient but the end game will be ‘un solo pueblo’ and prosperity for everyone”

    Once you create a powerful myth represented by a super human figure like Chavez ,it can withstand encounters with reality for many years.Just look for how long the Chinese insisted on pursuing the destructive policies of Mao.

    Education is important but it is not going to prevent people from being confused when it comes to idealizing power.That is why all this pantomime about Bolivar is so important.It keeps the myth intense and alive.It infuses new energy into the myth.

    Idealizing power comes not so much from a lack of formal education but rather from the cultural blind spots we have that prevent us from seeing certain things.

    There are many people like the Cisneros who are well educated but with a total lack of moral values and who act solely from their perceived self interests.

    One of the key factors is a lack of the importance of a sense of fair play.Why compete fairly with outsiders and perhaps lose out to them if you can win through using contacts, friends, family connections etc.To Chavistas it might seem perfectly acceptable that the boss give them a special advantage in the elections to make sure they can win.

  71. Kepler Says:

    Miguel, the problem came from earlier and it was not just education, but even if there was an expansion,we did not do it so well either.
    You just don’t solve problems by focusing so much on universities.
    No country is viable if you have a group of engineers and lawyers and
    the vast majority of the people are basically functional illiterates (and it is worse now).

    And even the ones arriving to universities, specially those from public schools, had such a low level that a lot of energy were spent on trying to put them to decent levels to really start university.

    My dad was a university professor and my mom a school teacher. They often discussed the topic. Even the very general EU report on Venezuela remarks how Venezuela stands for the focus on university…and the focus is not well spent. As Juan commented once, it seems the UC has ten times the amount of cleaners that the UCAB has for the same work.

    Of course, we were already lagging behind way before 1958. We were lagging behind even in 1830 compared to other Latin American nations.
    And that is why the milicos could take over our country in such a way.


  72. Sorry Daniel, not true, those 40 years were not that bad, the expansion in education was actually quite remarkable, Venezuela had 10,000 university students in 1958 over a million in 1990, that is not the explanation.

  73. Kepler Says:

    Island,

    I agree 100% with you.

  74. island canuck Says:

    Welcome back to posting Miguel and, yes, there still exist some beautiful quiet places in North America, especially my former home in Canada.

    When I arrived in Venezuela in the late 80s I really didn’t understand what was going on. Language & cultural restraints caused more stress than knowledge.

    After more than 2 decades here the language problem no longer exists however the cultural differences will always remain with me. I still get frustrated during a “temporada” at the manner in which some wealthy Venezuelans behave.

    I often say to my wife, who is middle class Venezuelan from CCS, that the reason that Chavismo succeeds is a direct result of the way many, not all, of these people behave & treat the pueblo.

    After the election of Chavez in 99 I waited for the country to change. To accept the fact the the “pueblo” represents a huge % of the population (and votes) and deserved respect.

    I just don’t see that change. Not in the infighting of the opposition nor in the arrogant attitude of many of the young, wealthy Venezuelans who visit Margarita. Until that change occurs Chavismo will have a base.

  75. Susan Says:

    Meanwhile from Bloomberg:

    http://noir.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=auAxj4ayDFLQ&pos=11

    We wonder where the money went, will go ??

    Sm

  76. Kepler Says:

    Well, I agree with most of what Daniel said. The problems did not start 40 years ago, though, as Ira says. Venezuela had the most militaristic past of South America, followed by Bolivia (surprise, surprise). The period 58-98 of corrupt and dysfunctional but democratic governments was rather the exception to the rule. When I was a child I thought we had a longer “democratic tradition”, but the military scum was there very present. And the advances in education that started in the forties were soon forgotten when politics too over and there was a rampant focus on university education. Teachers fled in droves from public schools.

    In the XIX century Chile, Argentina, even Colombia had several military dictators, but mostly democratic governments. In Venezuela we had only 7 years of pseudo-civil governments. All the rest were milicos.
    In the first half of the XX century it was even worse.


  77. Miguel

    I must confess that I am slightly perplexed by your quandary! The answer is in fact rather simple. During the 40 years before Chavez the diverse government have dismissed the most important aspect of what can keep a democracy alive: basic citizen education. Chavez has fed on that, on basic ignorance of the people as to what moves an economy, what rights they should exert, what is due to them and what they owe to the state in exchange. IT has been disarmingly easy for him to convince enough people that their answer to their life problems is a free bag of food and free aspirin with the Cuban “doctor” who has replaced the traditional brujo or santero that they visited when they could not afford treatment in an hospital.

    All opinion polls and electoral results confirm it: the more educated the Venezuelan is, the less likely s/he is to vote for Chavez. And this also explains the failure and the incompetence because no one, NO ONE in Chavez current cabinet has enough competence to even be the manager of a local branch of some business. And yet they are now managing a country based on a single prerequisite: loyalty to Chavez.

    then again this might not help you much as one cannot find a good explanation as to why we got stuck wiuth such an ignorant country, while it makes you look totally un-PC and even racist in some circles. Oh well…..

  78. Ira Says:

    As an American with a Venezuela history going back to 1988, I have the same problem explaining the current situation to people.

    As South America’s oldest democracy, how could the people be hoodwinked so easily?

    The answer is easy–greed, wanting something for nothing, and blaming everything on the U.S. (When of course, Spanish atrocities on the continent far outweigh anything the Gringos have done. But they speak the same language, so I guess that’s okay then.)

    I basically explain it to them this way:

    1) People were foolishly suckered into Chavez’s populist style of politics.

    2) He told everyone that the Yankees were stealing everything, and he would get it back for them, to which the people cheered.

    3) He had high oil revenue to buy allegiances, and he bought them with the most despicable leaders on earth.

    4) He gave everyone red hats, Che t-shirts, pig roasts, and cool slogans to chant.

    And basically, that’s all it took to turn Venezuela from a democracy into a Communist dictatorship.


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