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Who owns Venezuela?

By Michael Rowan | El Universal

02.11.05 | "Quien es el verdadero dueño de las recursos naturales de Venezuela? El pueblo venezolano. Cuando nacionalizamos la industria petrolera asumimos la conducción de esos bienes en nombre del pueblo. Ese patrimonio pertenece a todos los venezolanos. Llego el momento de ir mas allá y dar participación accionaria a cada uno de ustedes en esta riqueza nacional. La decisión es tuya."

These are words from a television ad in the 1993 Venezuelan presidential election. Research showed that 70% of Venezuelan voters agreed with this message, which helped the speaker, Claudio Fermin, to climb from 8% in national polls to 24% in the presidential election -- only 4% behind Rafael Caldera.

The idea still makes sense. The state is richer and the nation is poorer. Corruption and insecurity have increased by great magnitudes. Today, half of Venezuela lives on $2 per person per day, while the gross domestic product per capita is $14 per day. A big proportion of the poor are voting for Chavez, because he controls the other $12.

Providing Venezuelans with a half ownership of oil and gas resources, in a Permanent Trust Fund untouchable by the state, could solve its poverty problem in a few years. Earnings from that trust fund delivered as dividends could produce $5 to $10 per day per Venezuelan indefinitely - and without ever invading the trust fund capital.

The 2006 presidential election should be a referendum on who owns Venezuela. The choice is between the state with 100%, or the state with 50% and the nation with 50%. In the first case, we have more of the same failure experienced since 1977 - not just since 1998. And in the second case, we wipe out poverty and double the size of the economy in only a few years.

The alternative to the revolution is a real revolution. In the barrios, this proposal could win easily in 2006, even if Chavez spends billions buying votes to prevent it. Nationally, that would put Chavez on the wrong end of an 80/20 vote, an overwhelming majority that no rigged electronic voting machine could reverse.

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