Luis Pedro Espańa is a researcher from the Universidad Catolica in Caracas. He has spent all of his life studying poverty in Venezuela. I don’t think anyone has devoted more time than him to understanding and measuring poverty in this country. He keeps a low profile, once in a while writing an article in the papers. I wished he had a website with his studies to be able to read them in detail and reference them when necessary. He wrote this article in today’s El Nacional. It speaks for itself.
The Promised Land by Luis Pedro Espańa
At the beginning of this Government, in the now far away year of 1999, part of the team of the then Minister of Cordiplan (today called Planning) met with the researchers of the Project to Study Poverty with the purpose of exchanging and discussing proposals for public policies. We prepared a presentation for them, which was listened to with attention and without any interruptions. At the end, when we thought we would initiate a productive debate with the new national planning authorities one of them dealt swiftly with us when he (dis)qualified us as “Nordian Neo-institutionalists”, and then, once unilaterally labeled, the meeting appeared to have ended.
We were ready to leave, after receiving our fist act of Governmental indifference, when another friend from the Government, I supposed out of courtesy, rushed to reveal the true plan against poverty that was being cooked at the Ministry. I have no space to relate to you the minutes of amazement that followed. But it was there that for the first time that we heard that you fight poverty by moving it.
I had heard my aunts about painting the houses in barrios so that they would look good from where they saw them (the Caracas La Guaira highway), because they thought one should improve the esthetics of the entrance to the capital; I had read about the practice by the Latin America right and about the prophylaxis of the “disappearance” of panhandlers; I was tired of explaining why birth control in poor women or the abusive practice of sterilization solves nothing because they attack only the consequences of poverty; I had listened to my elders with patience deducing “novel” theories derived from years of experience; but I had never heard that military convoys moving people, things and stuff, would distance the poor from poverty.
At that moment we were not able to find out if they were kidding or if it was really an episode of genuine ignorance by a group of revolutionaries that did not know who Pol Pot was, with his brutal displacements of the Cambodian population from the cities to the rural areas.
We soon cleared up any doubts we may have had. Soon after that, with the first flooding and mudslides of Vargas “our Pol Pot planners” reappeared, inventing great mobilizations to places such as the Orinoco-Apure axis. They were not screwing with us when they talked about moving poverty, it was serious, and they were pretending to take advantage of the tragedy to turn it into an opportunity to carry out what would be nothing more than a perverse plan.
Logically, the mobilization of the people ended under the sign of improvisation. Wherever there may have been some availability of housing, the displaced were persuaded to move there. Guri, Machiques, Merida and many other distant destinies were taken advantage of, to offer the option of a new life, of the Promised Land.
With the same speed that hopes were destroyed, due to the lack of jobs, hunger and opportunities, Vargas began receiving back the displaced. With the work of the citizens the mud and debris were cleaned up. Its inhabitants occupied the spaces the best they could and rehabilitated homes and clubs
It is not true that they were irresponsible like the Government’s arrogance pretends to tell us. The people of Vargas did their job; it was the authorities that did not do theirs. The private sector, the citizens and their families could rebuild their walls, repair roofs and even get rid of the mud and debris that blocked the access to their homes. But they could not channel the brooks and rivers; build the roads, the bridges, the services for the homes, the sewers and drinking water. They had no way of knowing how the topographical changes (If they were allowed to rebuild, it had to be because they could), the conditions of the land or the new riverbed, just to mention the obvious, implied some form of danger.
Even if the new tragedy was forewarned. even if the smallest sprinkle would make it look like everything was getting out of place, even then, the improvisation and carelessness, the authorities were not sensible to criticism.
Today Vargas is back to its drama, and given the incompetence and their inability to learn, the answer is exactly the same. Once again the Promised Land, the magic and deceiving offers: housing, jobs and opportunities. The paternalistic state presents itself in operating fashion and goes back and offers the same, the new towns, the Promised Land, housing without jobs, mobilizations to empty out disgraceful shelters, primitive development nucleii, and of course, a lot of loyalty for the hand that provides.
I hope that someone in the Government will reconsider, send back the Pol Pots to the universities they came from and decides to organize those from Vargas according to their interests and not to the businesses of those that govern them.