A politician's guide to the gas price increase

How much of our GDP went down the drain in this line?
How much of our GDP went down the drain in this line?

OK, opposition politicians, listen up. Here at Caracas Chronicles we enjoy beating up on you from time to time, but you might be surprised to learn that we don’t always enjoy it. We *want* you guys (and gal) to do well, and we honestly look for opportunities to root for you.

Most of the time you make it extremely hard.

So, with that in mind, I want to give you some advice on how to navigate the tricky rhetorical waters of the coming increase in the price of gas.

First, the facts: the rise in the price of gas … is a good thing for the country. Billions of dollars are wasted every year in a subsidy that disproportionately benefits the better off. There is simply no moral justification for giving away gas for free – none.

Free gas benefits the rich and the smugglers in the border; it clogs our roads and hurts the environment. The money that goes to the gas subsidy is money that’s not available for schools or hospitals. It’s really that simple.

Furthermore, it’s not a question of choice anymore – the country simply cannot afford to give away gas for free anymore. It’s come to a point where we can make the argument that the gas subsidy is directly related to our crumbling road network, our shabby electricity grid, our understaffed courts and prisons, the lack of shampoo in supermarkets … y pare usted de contar.

Now, I understand you guys are politicians, and you can’t really go out and say “the rise in the price of gas is a good thing.” You guys need to remain popular, and avoid the scourge of an entire country that thinks “it’s the only benefit we get from living in this hell hole” is a valid political opinion (how many times have we heard that today?). Politicians, understandably enough, are terrified of this issue. Not even Hugo Chávez himself dared slay this dragon.

So, in order to help you navigate the rhetorical waters you are about to inmerse yourselves in, I want to offer some tips.

If you want to relate the price of gas to, say,the subsidies to Cuba, you need to thread the needle. It’s OK to say things like

  • “the reason they are raising the price of gas is because they need to continue subsidizing Cuba;”
  • “they are raising the price of gas in order to continue stealing;” or
  • “they are raising the price of gas because the economy is bankrupt.”

All those things are technically true, and they make for solid talking points. I have no quibble with that.

However, it’s very different to say:

  • “we shouldn’t raise the price of gas until we end the subsidies to Cuba;”
  • “we can’t raise the price of gas until there is transparency in the government’s accounts;” or
  •  “the government claims there are plenty of dollars, so there is no need to raise the price of gas.”

All of those statements are highly misleading, and some are patently false.

The price of gas has to rise whether we subsidize Cuba or not. True, the Cuban subsidy is salt on the wounds of the middle class, but it’s not an either-or proposition anymore. And yes, we all want transparency, but if we wait for transparency to come, our economy will collapse – and transparency doesn’t come naturally to bankrupt countries.

Finally – of course the government doesn’t have dollars. They are lying, so there no need to repeat their lies and make them sound like they’re true.

Put it simply, discussing the price of gas as if it was something avoidable, or a choice we still have, is facetious. It is a sign of intellectual dishonesty to say that the government doesn’t need to do something when, deep down, you know it does. If it goes through with this, the government will be doing something that the opposition, had they been in power, would have been required to do anyway.

In raising the price of gas, the government is doing the dirty work of starting to clean up the mess they have created. That benefits you. There is no need to waste that capital by saying something stupid, by ruining your credibility on this very important topic. Criticizing them from the wrong angle, as if it was something that could be avoided, will only supply delicious YouTube nuggets that the government will use against you if, God willing, some day you are in power and have to raise the price of gas.

Anyway, guerra avisada and all that. Be careful with how discuss this issue. From this humble little corner of the Internet, we will be listening carefully, and we stand ready to pounce.

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