The Destruction Of Venezuelan Institutionality

January 7, 2014

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Institutionality. Such an easy word. But so easy to destroy, so difficult to build up. And therein lies the biggest conundrum facing Venezuelans in the future, whether in a year (not likely), or five (probable) or even later (Can God be so mean to us?), we can attempt to rebuild what has been destroyed by Chavismo. Because it is easy to think anything will be better than this, but when you face an avalanche of crime or economic distortions, you need more than change, you need the required institutionality to create the appropriate culture at each institution, whether part of the Government or of the decentralized Government.

And that is the problem. The sad thing about the loss of institutionality at the Venezuelan Central Bank, is not the clowns at the top, it is the technical professionals that will be hardest to find when (and if!) things change. Because while the exodus at the monetary authority may just be beginning, it has had a long run elsewhere in the country under Chavismo. How do you convince a former Intevep researcher working in Canada to come back?. Where do you find a Venezuelan Professional policeman (with a capital P) willing to come back from abroad and face the myriad of problems our cities face? Or medical doctors? Or Judges?

That is the problem. Chavismo has managed to destroy institutionality at all levels. From the Electoral Board, to Cantv, to PDVSA, to the Comptrollers office, to the Judiciary, those still inside have given up, left or sold their souls to the revolution in exchange for money.

The tough part will not be changing the Government, it will be rebuilding it. Like the picture above, it will take many bricks and many guarantees for people to want to help. As the saying goes: Once burned, twice shy. While some will be willing to come back and help rebuild, many will think they already paid their dues and are not wiling to come back at low salaries and with few guarantees to build an uncertain future.

And uncertain it will be, because unless Chavismo steps over the line badly, once out, they will try to claim they are democrats and they will fight you every day. They will blame crime, low scientific production and even PDVSA’s failure, on the opposition, the economic war, the US or whatever.

Which leads me to the origin of this post. While the murder of a former Miss Venezuela last night, her husband next to her killed in the robbery and their four year old girl surviving the episode is terrorific, this has become daily life for most Venezuelans. By now, a couple of dozen more similar homicides have taken place since this incident last night. Except you don’t know about their lives, whether they were valedictorian, or studying for their Ph.D. or simply  completing high school or university, all useful for a country like Venezuela. Or winners of the Miss Joropo contest…

Except that the destruction of institutionality is such, that the successful ones, the ones that can come up with a plan to fight crime, develop technology or fixed the complex problems associated with health care, are all abroad, developing the same dreams they had, but paid in foreign currency and with their kids going to wonderful schools.

Do you really think many will come back?

And that is the tragedy. Chavsimo thought that the most incompetent, undereducated, corrupt group of Venezuelans, the military, could do everything. And in the process the military got rid of those that had the know-how, the experience and the ability to fix the problems. And unless you get rid of the same military, it will be an uphill battle to get rid of these former, current and active military officers, that have no clue as to how to run anything. And they will try to keep their positions.

The reality is that the sharper Chavismo’s drop, the better the chances at change and institutionality being restored and rebuilt. Unfortunately, the country’s down fall, unless oil prices drop precipitously, is likely to be just a muddle through, with the usual suspects surviving and managing to live another day.

The only positive note I can give you, is that the radical wing of Chavismo is trying to push everyone out, guaranteeing that little is done to fix economic distortions and accelerating the so called collapse of the economy, increasing the chances for a change for the better.

But if Venezuela continues its slow motion downfall, it any not be until at least five years from now, that some form of institutionality can be rebuilt, except the country will not count with the brightest and the best, but with whatever is left. A different picture form what was available before Chavismo came to power.

A long road ahead for recovery. Likely too long for someone my age. Restoring institutionality may take the same thirty or forty years that it took to sort of build it up. Meanwhile the world moves forward, thinking about technology, ideas, know how, globalization and the like. Which Chavismo barely even thinks about.

And on that note, I end this post for the New Year, apologizing for the somber tone, but somehow hopeful that I am completely wrong.

29 Responses to “The Destruction Of Venezuelan Institutionality”

  1. LuisF Says:

    Not somber at all devil,but realistic, well thought and written.

    My biggest sadness is that those supposedly aspiring to fight chavismo politically speaking, those in the so called oppo, do not have anything to say, they do not critique and set the record on all matters of policy.

    They seem to be waiting for the demise of the incumbents, to montarse en el coroto and take their turn, period.

    My prayers go out to the 25k Monica Spears that died this past year in the county, to the many simonovis political prisoners, and to the millions? Of decent venezuelians that have emigrated the communist madness.

    Dios se apiade de Venezuela.


  2. The only thing left is the music system (FESNOJIV), proof that continuity is the key to success, and perhaps excusing Abreu’s and Dudamels’s salamero attitude.
    Even the sense of humor is cracking, look at Chiguire’s December 28th issue.
    El petroleo es una maldicion!

  3. Frank Says:

    This is a real problem. From what I’ve seen, Venezuela doesn’t just need a better government, it also needs a much better opposition, and the talent drain is having a clear effect.

    I was impressed with Capriles in 2012 when he walked the length of the country and seemed to connect with the voters, but since then he and the opposition have been wrong-footed on every occasion. Why is he offering to work with Maduro on security? This is an issue where he can and should score every point he can, it is certain to resonate with voters.

    Why were all the opposition leaders on holidays outside of Venezuela for Chrismas and New Year? That’s a total disconnect, normal Venezuelans go to the beach for the holidays, only the elite go to Miami. The Rodriguez list really called them out and they deserve it.

    The Daka event showed the opposition don’t even know who’s with them and who’s been part of the boligarchy and has been taking advantage of the exchange-rate mess to line their pockets, the opposition offered a limp commentary on how the Daka closure was an attack on private enterprise when it was nothing of the sort.

    I’m in Higuerote fairly regularly, and you know, this is the major holiday resort in Miranda state, where Capriles is governor, only 2 hours from Caracas, and my God, going there is like a trip back to the middle ages, open sewers, children playing in polluted streams, non-existent street lighting, derelict houses in the town centre. Basically I feel every mayor of the place for the last 20 years should be taken out and shot, but this is Capriles home ground and it’s a disgrace. He gets credit for the lifeguards but that’s about it. For the rest, completely out of touch.

    Is the only way to improve Venezuela to reform charisma / madurismo from the inside? Because the opposition has precious little to offer.

  4. Frank Says:

    was meant to be chavismo, I think a spelling checker got me :-(

  5. Ira Says:

    Interesting piece, and I appreciate your (Miguel’s) UNCERTAINTY about this. And you touched on a fascinating point:

    –“The reality is that the sharper Chavismo’s drop, the better the chances at change and institutionality being restored and rebuilt. Unfortunately, the country’s down fall, unless oil prices drop precipitously, is likely to be just a muddle through, with the usual suspects surviving and managing to live another day.”–

    One (like myself) might be tempted to make the Cuba comparison, which hit rock bottom years ago and shows no signs of ever leaving it. I firmly believe that Cuba will enjoy a prosperity boom like never seen anywhere in the world should the Castro government topple and policies reverse. This will come about from ex-pat (and other) investment, buoyed by ex-pats’ undying love for their country, and geographic proximity!

    However, I don’t believe that on the whole, Venezuelans have this same passion for their homeland (no flames, please). They would also have to return to a DANGEROUS place, unlike Cuba. And would have to return from arguably superior places than Florida, such as Canada and Panama:

    Like, if you think Sawgrass Mills is safer than Avenida Lincoln, imagine how safe CALGARY is!

    Venezuela needs a Brasilia project of its own, far from Caracas. A brand-new, totally designed city where people can start over. With a huge stone wall and gun towers to protect its inhabitants.

    Maybe then some ex-pats will return.

  6. Douglas Novo Says:

    Miguel, unfortunately I think you are right…….

  7. bobthebuilder Says:

    Another excellent summary. It’s all about the hollowed out institutions which leaves the government free to do what it wants yet also yields un-restrained criminality & incompetence. Like you I don’t see any realistic short or medium term solutions.

    I also agree with the other commenters: the opposition missed a half-opportunity to capitalise on Maduro’s weakness and it feels that Capriles is becoming a busted flush. Perhaps Lopez/Smolansky et. al. will take an increasingly high profile role, but ultimately they may be overtaken by the wait for the next chance to make headway.

  8. Ralph Lorenzo Says:

    YOU REALLY NAILED THIS. I have been working on projects at the Curacao refinery for the past 13 years, some of the best and most loyal friends I have made there are Venezuelans. Many are from the homeland and a small percentage live in the states. The professional Venezuelans living in the states either have very good jobs in the gas and oil industry or they have started their own business. They have been here long enough to lay down roots, they either had children or grandchildren born in the states. This is what will prevent them from coming back to Venezuela to help rebuild the country. They have been away from home too long.

  9. Venny Trader Says:

    Sorry but I can’t agree on your comment regarding institutions ever being built in Venezuela. Perhaps for 10-15 years? Clearly not for 30. And I disagree even more on the BCV “institutional” angle.

    Rewinding to 1989, I believe all traces of institutions were already gone when a person can simultaneously be president of the Central Bank and sit on the board of Banco Latino (Pedro Tinoco). Talk about BCV’s “autonomy”. Right.

    That we are on a declining path? Yes. But it started way before.

    • moctavio Says:

      I dont claim Venezuela had full institutionality, in fact I say:

      “Restoring institutionality may take the same thirty or forty years that it took to sort of build it up”

      Of course institutionality was not perfect, but even today the BCV reported the inflation numbers, the technical people are holding strong, which is not the case elsewhere. You can weaken institutionality or you can destroy it, Chavismo destroys it.

      You could argue the same about PDVSA. Institutionality was weakened every time someone from the outside was named President (Sosa broke the line), but the destruction was the firing of the 20,000 workers with a gizillion years of experience and knowledge that would take decades to replace.


  10. Reblogged this on danmillerinpanama and commented:
    As Venezuela continues her circular descent down the toilet she can serve at least one useful purpose: as a warning to other countries the descent of which has begun but which has not progressed to a near-terminal stage. WIll they pay attention?

  11. Andres F Says:

    Your tone is not somber at all, just realist. Although I would bet it would take much longer than 30 or 40 years for “institutionality” to to be somehow restored.

  12. Paul Esqueda Says:

    Miguel, I totally agree with you. The level of destruction of minds and institutions is beyond believe. The opposition leaders should be considered heroes after surviving all the aggravation, repression and undemocratic behavior by the current government. Having said that I think all countries in Latin America (Chile, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and others) have gone through similar processes. Particularly Chile was able to rebuilt the economy to the extent that they constitute a benchmark after 17 years of a devastating dictatorship. There is hope at the end of the tunnel but certainly not for our generation. Best, Paul

    • Noel Says:

      I disagree. And to compare the current situation in Venezuela with Chile under the military junta is a (bad) joke. At the current rate of destruction, the future of Venezuela is not Cuba but Haiti.

  13. Armando Subero Says:

    Well this is my own personnal conumdrum…. If I add 30 years to my current age that will make me 80 by the time Venezuela starts being a different country, and that if the change starts today. So chances are I will not live to see a different country, so it is terminal and I have ran out of excuses not to leave. We are too few and is too late.

  14. eduardo Says:

    I may agree on your assessment, but I am really a lot more optimistic towards the future. Once there is a regime change -and I concede that this is a big IF- we can remove the majority of incentives that make my fellow citizens behave the way they do. Cadivi breeds corruption? well, we can o away wit it. Where does corruption come from? the State. If we can diminish the role that the State plays in our everyday life, a lot of the vicious incentives that power corruption everywhere will disappear.

    It´s true that there exists a great deal of power structures that will be difficult to dismantle, especially within the armed forces, but they can be taken apart by pieces, so that they are not as harmful.

    Once we get the State going, or at least not hampering society, private citizens, private companies will take it upon themselves to rebuild. After all there will be new, virtuous incentives working in our favor. There will be money to be made (the legal way), there will be a lot of rebuilding to do. Once chavismo is all over Venezuela will still be a great place, with a myriad of untapped money-making industries, such as tourism.

    Our future is indeed very bright, it´s only our present that looks grim. We just need to fight it out, until the end: our own tropical Nirvana is just around the corner. I firmly believe this.

  15. Carolina Says:

    Miguel, maybe I can give you a different perspective regarding the expats around here which might surprise you.

    A year ago while I was in Venezuela for a family emergency. my 95 year old uncle asked me if I thought that the oil workers that left Venezuela after the massive firing of PDVSA would return if the opposition would win.
    I told him that I didn’t know, but the truth is that I thought what you mention, that they wouldn’t leave all their commodities, stable life and good jobs they have here to go back to rebuild the country. It is true that I saw that from my own perspective which is different though. I’m not an oil person, I have been here way longer than most Venezuelans, I didn’t leave because of Chavez or Tascon, and I’m married to a canadian, but still, who can’t deny that, even though it gets very cold at times, the canadian quality of life is in the top 5 of the world?

    In any case, my uncle’s question left me wondering, so I started to ask around. You’d be surprised that most of the people would go back. A close friend, quite involved with the venezuelan community, told me that his guess id that 80% of those would return in a heart bit!

    I was surprised, but after thinking about it, most of the oil people here didn’t leave because they wanted. they left because they didn’t have an option, as opposed to my own experience.

    They long for the country, they miss the traditions, they hate the cold (they even hate the hairdressers as I learn from a conversation last week) and they are not doing much to adapt to their new reality. I got the feeling they are just waiting…

    • moctavio Says:

      That sounds fair. But when you are offered a salary that is peanuts compared to what you earn and are asked to work alongside the Pdvsa workers that are there (and even for), few will actually go.

      My wife is a former PDVSA person, no way she will go back (she is not Venezuelan) not so much because of going back, but because she thinks is like going back to something too uncertain. Moreover, there are a lot of good people who will not return, because they work for Pacific Rubiales, Vetra, etc. making good salaries in countries that are more Latin and tropical and making dollarized salaries. It will take a long time for PDVSA to be able to bring salaries up to international levels, for the simple reason that salaries are decimated today in Venezuela. Proffessionals with 10 years experience make $10,000 a month at the black rate, which is the only one they have access to.

      • Alex Says:

        From personal experience, I may say that those that were forced to leave and were subject to traumatic events have more of a tendency to express a commitment to return than those that decided and planned their departure.
        It’s inexplicable because the former resent the country and its superficial, selfish society for what happened to them. But then, this people had no plans to leave and likely were in a good position prior to the purges they faced.


  16. […] What is the government’s reac­tion to this tragedy? The Min­is­ter for Inte­rior, Jus­tice and Peace (yes, the guy head­ing the depart­ment that hasn’t released offi­cial crime stats in nearly ten years), after fly­ing over the crime scene, declared that crime is a soci­etal prob­lem, and “we’re all guilty,” ignor­ing the dele­te­ri­ous decay of the jus­tice sys­tem and its insti­tu­tions. […]

  17. extorres Says:

    “The tough part will not be changing the Government, it will be rebuilding it.”

    Knowing this, we should accept a redesign focused on simplicity.

  18. xp Says:

    You got to know when to hold ‘em,
    know when to fold ‘em,
    Know when to walk away,
    know when to run.

    Victims murdered by killers
    [the 5 lynchers vs 2 dead & 1 wounded child],
    means that vzla lost 2 productive persons,
    and KEPT 5 killers who will kill AGAIN.

    So what’s the mystery behind
    the rising homicidical rates?
    None.

    Killers SURVIVE, and kill AGAIN.

    Population of vzla’s bonafide Killers rises –
    ergo ,
    the slaughter of innocents grows exponentially.

    Weeping and wailing don’t help.

    What a way to start a year :-(

    • Frank Says:

      “So what’s the mystery behind
      the rising homicidical rates?
      None.”

      Correct. No mystery, it’s guns. Take the guns out of society and the robbery and killing will almost come to a stop.

      Actually, the thugs aren’t focussing so much on individuals in cars now, they go for the big targets, buses. Even from Caracas to Higuerote, it’s so much more lucrative to hijack a bus with 40 people, even if they are poor people (you won’t find many of the well-off in the bus line in La Hoyada, I suspect most people from Chacao and Los Palos Grandes would’t dare to even go there) than to take out an SUV with 1-2 rich people inside. Either the thugs buy bus tickets like normal passengers, or they stop the bus by throwing stones at it or trying to puncture a tyre. And the most effective way to hold 30-40 people in check while robbing them is with a gun. Take away the guns, no more hijacks.

      • Ira Says:

        I’m not a gun nut, but wrong:

        You can’t take guns away from criminals–that’s what makes them criminals in the first place. (And doesn’t VZ ban private ownership of guns anyway? How’s THAT working out for the country?)

        In Florida, a lot of us are packing heat. (I own guns but don’t carry—only when hunting and fishing.) No one really messes with anyone because you don’t know if they’re carrying, and immediate death by the hands of your victim is a pretty good incentive to behave yourself.

        That being said, all of these guns certainly result in TONS of stupid deaths, but not necessarily by crime:

        Insane acts of passion (against spouse/family/novia)…disputes with neighbors…accidents…suicides…misplaced and incorrect feelings of being threatened…mental illness…ALL contribute to the outrageous number of gun deaths in the states. But death by gun by criminals looking to rob or kidnap you?

        No, because so many people are armed and can defend themselves against this.

        • Frank Says:

          Good to know you’re not a gun nut :-) but you can’t compare even Florida or the US, which is bad enough and has a very high murder rate (17 times more than France, for example, for murders committed by young people) with Venezuela which has a ridiculous murder rate, 41 times more than France for the same statistic.

          Venezuela has gun laws on the book and silly signs in every restaurant and bar, but they’re not enforced anywhere. To take a different example, go to Mexico, you can’t even get on an intercity bus without passing through a metal detector and being patted down. How does that compare to Venezuela?

          Non-enforcement of the laws means anyone who wants can get a gun in Venezuela, and the malandros are the ones who will use them without hesitation. No, the guns really are the problem.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Sorry, but you are all delusional. The honest Venezuelans that have left did so because things were bad. They know that things have gotten worse since they left. What incentive is there to return and put themselves and their families in danger? The only ones that will return are the thieves who are looking to get into power and get some easy money.

    As long as there is oil in Venezuela there will be corruption and things will only get worse.


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