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Letter from Venezuela

Editorial from Ethical Corporation

21.01.06 | All is not well in the land of 21st century socialism, writes our own correspondent. Hola, que hubo? As we say over here. Sorry we haven’t written for a while, it’s been a busy time since 1998, when we became a socialist republic.

Unfortunately not everything is chévere (good) here at the moment. Our Dutch disease is playing up, and el excremento del Diablo (the Oil Curse) has just got worse again, so we’re a bit under the weather.

If I seem a little sleepy in my writing, that’s because it’s early morning here and we’ve no coffee. At least, the supermarkets haven’t.

Still, the wait shouldn’t be long: our government has confiscated lots of it and handed it over to the state-run supermarket chain, Mercal, so I should be able to get some by next week.

Pretty soon we’ll be swapping it for oil with Colombia, though, if we are not on speaking terms with them.

We’ve been running out of coffee since our government started driving all the private agricultural producers out of business by fixing the retail price at below production rates.

Importing it will be nothing unusual for us. Despite being twice the size of Spain we regularly import about 60% of our food. We curse those pesky rightist Colombians, but they bail us out now and again.

Up yours, world financial system

I guess we can’t complain though. If we go to visit some of our neighbours in much of the Caribbean, like Cuba, or south to Argentina, Bolivia, or Uruguay, we’re received warmly by our fellow comrades in arms.

After all, it’s all about sticking it to the US, the IMF and the World Bank and putting it up the global financial system in general.

And since we’re handing out oil largesse in one way or another to most of our neighbours, they’ll give us a great welcome, and maybe even feed us too.

Our new regional development bank should soon gain us even more friends. And if you know where we can get some more left wing government bonds, please write to El Presidente and let him know.

Getting out of the country could be a bit of a problem, though, since our exchange controls mean that our money, already inflated by our oil wealth, is worth less than it should be.

And the government of Senor Chavez, who of course knows what’s best for us, the people, has kindly decided to save us from ourselves by restricting our overseas credit card and dollar usage.

We’ll be holidaying at home this year, maybe in a surly, co-operative run, state funded chavista hotel, or perhaps taking a flight on the worker- (sorry government supporter) run airline.

These are still private at the moment, but the way el gran jefe is going, they’ll probably soon be run by his cronies. Let’s just hope they keep up the maintenance budget if they do expropriate the airlines.

Good old oil

Talking of maintenance, did you know that we now depend almost entirely on the global oil price for survival? We plan to boost our production to where it used to be before we sacked half the staff (18,000 of them to be exact) for objecting to cronyism at PDVSA, our state oil giant. Some of us are a bit worried you see, since PDVSA spent about $400 million more on social projects than on repairing and investing in our only source of revenue last year.

Our oil minister and the boss of PDVSA never fall out, though. Demonstrating our government’s commitment to good governance, they are the same man.

With the world’s biggest CSR (corporate social revolution) budget, of around $4.5 billion a year, PDVSA is going all out to save the poor with its social missions and spending on literacy, healthcare and the general well-being of our millions of poor people in the barrios.

After all everyone must contribute to the 21st century socialist revolution in his or her own way, and oil is what drives us. Not much else is left alive, business-wise, since the private farmers often vote against the government and are so being driven to the wall as the authorities keep records of how everyone votes and fires them if they don’t play ball.

Still, you can’t make a socialist omelette without breaking a few (white) eggs, as comrade Robert M likes to tell our Indian from Barinas, Senior Chavez. Decrying the oligarchs who used to run the country we’ve recently started expropriating farms and handing them over to the poor to farm as smallholdings.

Often the farms are owned by descendents of the former oppressor, the Spanish, or by imperialist foreigners in general, like the British or the Italians, so it’s no great loss if we just tear up their property rights.

After all, it’s all for the good of the nation, eh chamo (mate). And the new farm occupiers from the cities will often just flog the land back to the original owners and head back to our coastal cities, where just about everybody lives.

Playing the ethno-nationalism card has worked well for Chavez. Our mestizo (mixed race) population, some 70-80% of us being extremely poor, have eagerly jumped on the chance to pinch some land, houses or whole companies from the imperialist oligarchs and make them our own.

There’s a new sense of hope in the barrios, it’s true. Thousands of new co-operatives have been set up with government money and the poor have more money in their pockets. Literacy is up, child mortality is down (thanks to those 20,000 Cuban doctors) and more people are employed here now, albeit all by the government.

All the international oil companies now only have minority shares in joint ventures with the government rather than their own subsidiaries. All those sacked PDVSA engineers snapped up by the multi-nationals are being fired by PDVSA all over again, since the government controls the new “joint” ventures.

Freshening the board room

Government funded co-management worker firms are now running our previously bankrupt heavy industries and what is left of the business sectors here may be given little choice but to accept government board members and part ownership soon.

Still, it’s all for the good of el presidente, eh? Sorry, I mean the people. Other multi-national companies could soon face the same fate here. Nothing like nationalisation to encourage a bit of foreign direct investment, not that we need it of course.

While many of us say there’s nothing wrong with helping our long-neglected poor and putting two fingers up to the kind of laissez-faire capitalism the rich countries don’t practice, the problem is that we’ve thrown the development rulebook out the window.

Since 1998 we’ve thrust control of our electoral commission, legislature, courts, civil service and all other arms of the government into the hands of government cronies.

These can now cream off all that government-generated GDP fat, and are doing so in spades.

Our poor will now be totally dependent on government handouts for their survival, and their co-operative license to operate. Better not start making too many profits then.

I must go now; I need to head off to the airport in Caracas. It used to take 40 minutes to get there but it’s now a three to four hour journey on a single lane road through bandit country.

We’ve been too busy interfering in Mexican, Peruvian, Bolivian, Colombian, Cuban, and Argentinean politics, while centralising domestic power, to repair the 50 year old bridge that links us to the airport. Oh well, we can rebuild it by 2010, apparently, even though we knew it was in trouble thirty odd years ago.

Who needs to spend money on roads, bridges and oil wells when you can hand it out to your friends?

Better call me soon on the old number for a proper chat, before the phone system collapses or gets expropriated from Telefonica.

Adios for now. Viva la revolucion!

The author prefers to remain anonymous



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