jueves, octubre 16, 2008
Oil : "the Devil's Excrement": And the booty of politicians
Oil: "The Devil's Excrement"
And the booty of politicians
Alfredo Ascanio (askain)
Published 2008-10-16 16:13 (KST)
Christopher Columbus arrived in Venezuela in 1498. The name Venezuela is a distortion of "Little Venice"; the country was so called because Indians lived in huts built on stilts in shallow lagoons near the sea.
Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo was a Venezuelan minister of energy that popularized the phrase "oil: the devil's excrement" and the minister said that the oil corrupts the power.
In 1908 began the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gomez, nicknamed the Sorcerer of the catfish. He managed the country as a huge private estate, and built up a fortune estimated at $200 million. Gomez was a mestizo from the Venezuelan Andes, and never altogether learned to read and write; he never married, and had between eighty and ninety bastard children. Oil was discovered during the Gomez regime.
Power was taken over by Colonel (later General) Marcos Perez Jimenez (1948-1958). One of his major sources of power was a corrupt police state with spies and imprisonment and torture for opponents. He was ousted by a coup d'etat in 1958.
Perez Jimenez fled to Miami and set up residence there in a $300,000 house, with five automobiles, a yacht, and a team of body-guards, to say nothing of a fortune estimated by the authority of New York Times, Aug. 17, 1963 from $ 250 million to $700 million.
Dr. Arturo Uslar Pietri originated the phrase: "Sow the oil," so that the politicians were not stolen the Oil's fortune. Venezuela was the third biggest producer of oil in the world.
"This country is an oil factory," said President Raul Leoni.
Oil has been known since the 1870s, but the first large well did not come in till 1914, and the industry did not become commercial on a serious scale until the 1920s. The Venezuelans took the lead in 1960 in establishing the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
In spite of its stupendous wealth in oil, Venezuela has few oil millionaires in the private sector like those in Texas, but there are many in public sector. The number of corruption cases for seven presidential terms, as the psychiatrist Abraham Genis said, was:
Romulo Betancourt, 4
Raul Leoni, 13
Rafael Caldera, 14
Carlos Andres Perez (first period), 39
Luis Herrera Campins, 96
Jaime Lusinchi, 66
Carlos Andres Perez (second period), 26
The national press has said that the government with the highest rate of corruption is the government of Hugo Chavez. In addition, the Chavez government has given money to other countries in oil and cash worth estimated at $30,000 billion. The high price of oil has served to squander fortunes.
Due to the fragile psychological, social and cultural of many politicians Venezuelans, according to the psychiatrist Genis, they are sick of addition to power and money.
In primitive times, the evils of men came from nature: hunger, wild beasts and telluric phenomena. Today the evils come from some men, the "homo homini lupus" who want power to impact society and nature; and this means destroying itself while not knowing his own disaster.
Venezuela will have to make an about face in its traditional methods of oil policy and control of the foreign exchange obtained by the sale of oil, if it wishes to align itself with modern trends of honest and responsible countries like Denmark, for example.
Today, Venezuela is experiencing a political campaign to elect new governors and mayors. Political participation is the essence of elections and who will be responsible for the direction of the State.
The new politicians are mostly young people with good preparation. These new politicians want to put end to populism, excessive bureaucracy and corruption.
There is always a hope of a rational and appropriate change to the new times, but always there is uncertainty if "the devil's excrement" or the booty that proportion the oil, can continue may or may not still be a temptation for new politicians and their decisions. That is essentially the tragedy of Venezuela.
Alfredo Ascanio is a professor of economics at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela.