Few groceries, fewer former leaders

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Importing wisdom
Importing wisdom

Typically, when discussing a particular country’s fortunes, Investment banks, NGOs, Multilateral Development Institutions, and society as a whole expect some of its former heads of state to speak out about the country’s challenges. Their wisdom is often used as a barometer, their opinion on how they might address problems is sought after when an electoral process takes place, and their vantage point is somewhat appreciated.

In Brazil, that honor is often placed on Fernando Henrique Cardoso, whose experience in steering the economy out of hyperinflation and dealing with a Balance of Payment crisis can provide guidelines as to how the Government can weather financial crises while keeping social programs up and running for the benefit of the poor.

When wondering about Mexico, the right guy to call would be Ernesto Zedillo, whose presidency paved the way for a democratic transition in the land of the Aztecs, and whose technocratic credentials tend to be heard carefully on economic policy and Globalization. For instance, President Zedillo has recently suggested that Mexico desperately needs three big things: Rule of law, Rule of law & Rule of law. The same goes for countries such as Spain where Felipe González is often the go-to guy, or Chile, where Ricardo Lagos serves as oracle of sorts.

Unfortunately, in Venezuela, scarcity levels are not just in basic groceries and public services, but also in the wisdom of former Presidents. Last Wednesday night, President Jaime Lusinchi passed away. Even though no one in their right mind would have dared ask Lusinchi for an opinion on current affairs in Venezuela or in Latin America for that matter, the country is left with no former presidents, aside from Ramon J Velasquez, who was interim president for less than a year, and was not elected at the ballot box.

This trait is a rather curious feature in places where democracy or presidential term-limits are not accustomed, and since chavismo’s tendency for dismantling or disregarding checks & balances, rule of law, presidential term limits or democracy for that matter has been the norm over the past 15 years, it is not a foolish thought to expect this to be the norm. In the land where “indefinite re-election” is seen as a (God-given?) right, expect to see fewer former presidents in the future unless something changes.

Yet given the quality of our leaders, maybe the absence of their “wisdom” is all for the better. Perhaps the last Venezuelan former President deemed worthy of mentioning and listening to would have been Rómulo Betancourt, given his famous Betancourt Doctrine stance against military dictatorships, his keen interest in consolidating a democratic system in Venezuela, and being aware of how the oil industry could serve both of these purposes.

Judging by the muted reaction to the death of Jaime Lusinchi, perhaps the wisdom of our former leaders, many of whom are directly responsible for this mess, is not all that missed.

1 COMMENT

  1. Interesting perspective. I beg to disagree on the last paragraph, I believe CAP should be listed as another ex-president worth listening to. Towards the end of his life while he lived here in NYC, I had the pleasure of his friendship and he had a keen understanding of Venezuelan politics and a healthy dose of self awareness about his role in it. Read his last speech and it will give you goose bumps (as recalled by the title of the book “La rebelion de los naufragos”

    • Thank you Roberto. I thought about including CAP given the fact that he had a keen interest in Latin America, geopolitics and such, but comparing him with Betancourt, I believe Romulo still had the upper hand. Regards

      • I have to disagree with Betancourt doctrine and betancourt itself, because first all RRII students learn that International politics are not the same as national politicis and you can not apply the same ideological stances when the national interest is related with them ( i believe that the aggresive campaign against Trujillo in the international sphere was a big factor in the action of his government against the unstable “democratic” venezuela).

        Also, the oil? well, opening and important asset to be missused by politicians as a weapon to mantain it political gains or it political base, all in name of an abstract concept of solidarity that hides a central planification structure ( no municipal elections until the 90s) is not the vision that i have for a good ex-president.

  2. “Judging by the muted reaction to the death of Jaime Lusinchi, perhaps the wisdom of our former leaders, many of whom are directly responsible for this mess, is not all that missed.”

    Hmm that sounds like you think that the majority is a good indicator of real wisdom, but I would remind you that the majority first elected Chavez.

    The fact that wisdom is not missed does not mean there was none there

  3. What are you talking about? We have former President for a day Diosdado Cabello, who can show you how to turn zero dollars into a billion much better than those suckers.

  4. “Unfortunately, in Venezuela, scarcity levels are not just in basic groceries and public services, but also in the wisdom of former Presidents. Last Wednesday night, President Jaime Lusinchi passed away”

    “Scarcity”
    (1) If the shelf is empty, the price hasn’t gone up!
    (2) When people can’t buy what’s not on the shelf, the balance of payments look better!
    (3) When people can buy the services they need, it also helps the balance of payments look better!
    (4) When people die for lack of care, there are fewer mouths to feed, and the balance of payments look better.
    (5) When infrastructure decays due to lack of maintenance, the balance of payments look better!
    (6) Dirty water, the balance of payments looks better!
    (7) When old presidents pass away, perhaps the current president looks better… but the truth is that things are much worse than they look!

  5. By definition, interim presidents are not elected at the ballot box. I don’t see the point of stressing the origin of their mandate as if they weren’t legitimate or whatnot. They are.

  6. society as a whole expect some of its former heads of state to speak out about the country’s challenges

    Not in the U.S. While former Presidents do have occasional public roles, no ex-President in living memory has engaged in this sort of commentary. The last ex-President to discourse on any domestic or policy issues was Hoover, who was appointed by Truman in1947-49 to chair a commission on the reorganization of the government. and again by Eisenhower in 1953-55.

    Of course, somewhat earlier, ex-Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland were candidates for return to the office, and as such spoke out on policy. But that’s not the same thing.

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