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Top priorities for a better Venezuela

By Gustavo Coronel

January 3, 2004 - The main priorities for Venezuelans who want to see Venezuela surge ahead in the short to medium term should probably be the following:

1. Change the current government within the Law.

The five years under the government of Hugo Chávez have been the most disastrous in modern Venezuelan history. In those five years we have gone down 24 places in the ranking of the Human Development Index generated by the United Nations, an unparalleled collapse for any country since this Index has been in existence. Physical infrastructure, quality of social institutions, the spiritual mood of the country, the urban and rural environments, the private and the public sectors, all of these components of national life have suffered a tragic deterioration, in the name of a so called “bolivarian revolution” which represents both an insult to Bolivar and a fraud as a revolution. This is an intolerable situation for Venezuelans who love Venezuela and who are not in the business of enriching themselves at the expense of the tragedy of their countrymen. This is why the current government has to be expelled from power, before the ruin of the nation becomes irreversible. The process now in progress, that of a referendum to revoke the presidential term of Hugo Chávez, must be promoted and brought to a successful conclusion by using all the resources of our civil society and by encouraging democratic nations and international institutions and civil groups to keep the pressure on the authoritarian Venezuelan president to accept a democratic solution for our country.

2. Agree, within civil society, to a basic common Plan for the Political and Economic transition which will be required to return the country to a reasonable level of normalcy during the period 2004- 2006.

This plan already exists, to a large extent, but it should be agreed by all within the next few months. At the same time, a simple mechanism will have to be found to select a Venezuelan man or woman who should lead the transition for the 2004-2006 period, a person without long term political ambitions, a good manager, willing to surround him/herself with capable Venezuelans in the Cabinet and in the main State controlled economic and political institutions. The complexities of the problems facing Venezuela require the contribution of the best and the most honest Venezuelans, without any unhealthy regard for political affinity instead of competence. The selection of the leader for the transition can be as simple or as complicated as the good will or selfishness of the main political actors will determine. If the persons with presidential ambitions insist on converting this process into a traditional Venezuelan election, on the grounds that this is the only “democratic” alternative, we might be faced with the undesirable prospect of Chávez until 2006. Our main argument for a transition leader is that, during the coming three years the nation will be faced with many difficult choices, some of which are bound to be unpopular. A politically oriented leader, thinking of re- election, might not be willing to take those decisions. We need someone at the top who is not thinking of his/her political future but of the national future. This is extremely simple to understand for everybody . . . except for those dominantly politically oriented candidates. For them, obtaining the presidency is the only important objective there is. They believe, in their arrogance, that they will be able to eat their cake and keep it too. Personally, I would like to see a senior citizen in that transitional leadership position, someone who belongs to the 60+ club, with no ax to grind, no hidden personal agendas, in reasonable good health, a proven manager and conciliator. I would prefer a woman, except that no woman would ever admit to being over 60. I would prefer a woman because, during the last 15 years or so, women have been the main motor of almost all positive initiatives in our country. They have proven to be brave, unselfish and perseverant like few Venezuelan men have been. In special, they seem to be less prone to grandstanding or to believe that they are “the last Coca Cola in the desert,” a Venezuelan disease far too abundant among men above the age of 15. Of the possible candidates that could lead the 2004-2006 transition I will mention only three names, just to put some flesh into what I believe to be the right profile to look for:

• Ruth Krivoy. A tough lady in the manner of Mrs. Thatcher. Very competent in finance matters. Not a politician. Probably willing to surround her with the best and the brightest. Below 60.

• Pablo Reimpell. A wise, modest maracucho (from Maracaibo). Extremely competent in finance and general management. Tough as nails in his suave, understated manners.

• Alberto Quiros Corradi. Perhaps the best all around manager the country has produced in the last decades. Just over 70. A big civic motor, with few enemies, many personal tools.

Anyone of these three distinguished Venezuelan citizens could do a very good job during the transition since they would look, I am sure, for the best support that Venezuelan society could provide. In fact, I am sure they could work as a team, if it was decided to have a triumvirate rather than a single leader for the transition (Triumvir, in its original meaning, only meant men, but this should no longer be the case).

3. Establish an open, sincere, all inclusive dialog with the Venezuelan people from the positions of political power. Stop the nonsense of one-way communication, as exercised by this current government.

What has to be done, from now on, is to really talk with the people, not talk to the people like the current government has been doing. People demand to be heard and are no longer willing to be treated as children. The transition government has to be very open, frank with the Venezuelan people, explain to them exactly what the situation is. One of the main messages a new government should transmit is that we can no longer afford a nation made up of dependent citizens but we need a nation made up of self-starters. This is not a message that can have short term, magic results, but it should start transmission now if we want it to have some effect in 10 years time.

4. Open the doors of the country to private international investors.

The world is too small to keep pretenses of political autonomy and economic self-sufficiency, much less to align the country with historically superseded ideologies. Venezuela needs investments, needs new business, new roads, new telecommunications. Let us establish clear rules of the game for new investors and keep them constant, instead of changing them every time the liver of the Finance Minister malfunctions.

5. Align the country with the good guys.

I know the current president believes that he has been aligning himself with the good guys, Castro, Hussein, the Colombian guerrillas, etc. But Venezuelans who love Venezuela do not agree. We want to see our country aligned with real democracies, with the civilized countries of the world. Stop being tolerant to terrorists, kidnappers and murderers.

6. Stop the handouts to the people and replace them with employment.

We have to start working hard and forget about being idle because we are rich. We are not rich. We have the worst type of poverty there is: Ignorance. We are poor because we do not know how not to be poor. On top of this tragedy, we have been told by irresponsible leaders, such as Hugo Chávez, that we are “rich” but that someone, the oligarchs have stolen our wealth and made us poor. He has told poor Venezuelans that the way to become rich is to take what those oligarchs have stolen from them. But building hate has never been the way to build wealth. After five years of Chávez we have more poverty and more social hate than ever before in our history.

7. Start renovation of essential physical infrastructure.

Not one single mile of roads, not one hospital, not one school, not one airport, not one bridge, not one airline, not one university, have been created in our country during the last five years. The physical infrastructure of Venezuela is crumbling down since most of it dates back to the 1950’s. No country can progress without renovating its physical infrastructure.

8. Build confidence and trust.

Of all intangible assets a country can have this is the most important. If there is no credibility in the government. If the country is not well managed and lacks the trust of the international community it is destined to stagnate. We have to take advantage of the change in government to send a powerful message of sincere attitudinal change to the outside world.

Venezuela can and should have a better leadership. There are many Venezuelans who are better qualified than Hugo Chávez to lead the country. A mistake was made in December 1998 that has to be corrected before the country goes to pieces. In 1998, a majority of the country voted for a person who has proven to be intellectually and emotionally unqualified to lead the nation, who has proven to be mentally unstable and full of hate in his heart. We do not deserve this president. During these last five years we have paid in excess for our error of judgment. How much more punishment should the Venezuelan people have to absorb before this nightmare is over?

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