A tough sell

Chavismo's take to brain drain.
Chavismo’s take on brain drain.

Recent polls have been conveying an alarming reality: 10% of Venezuelans are looking into emigrating. These same polls showed that in 2002 and 2004 only 4% harbored these ideas.

I don’t want to dwell on why people are leaving, as the reality is obvious. The question we need to ask ourselves is how we can make them come back.

To a great extent, chavismo has failed Venezuelans due to its inability to attract capable human capital. Chavismo today is a movement devoid of intellectual, thinkers, managers or technicians – in short, anyone who values the effort to implement policies or plans. Nobody in chavismo seems to value the journey of work, much less the attention to detail that is required to achieve some modicum of perfection.

A democratic alternative to chavismo has been posing itself as more capable, more technical. But the ranks within the movement are thinning every month that passes, and those who remain inside the country are simply not enough to tackle the immense structural crisis our country has sunk in since the 80s.

The Venezuelan diaspora is anywhere between half million to over a million. If you consider that we will not rid ourselves of the governing clan in at least a few years, and given the desire of Venezuelans to emigrate, those numbers are only going to increase. Thanks to the oil-sponsored brain drain called Misión Cadivi Estudiante, 44% of Venezuelans living in the OECD countries have a high level of education. In the US this has made the Venezuelan minority the group with the highest level of education among Hispanics. In fact, Venezuelans in the US beat the US average in terms of percentage of the population with high levels of education 49% to 27%!

If we are to deal with the structural problems in Venezuela, we need these people desperately. But we don’t need everyone.

We need the good ones, the bright ones. When looking at where certain types of Venezuelan have gone and the reputation we have in those places, one notices a few things. For instance, in Panama, Venezuelans have an awful reputation –  we’re basically lazy scammers. In Colombia it is quite the opposite: hard working, prepared, and entrepreneurial. The difference is the type of environment the two places have created. In Panama, you have a tax haven. In Colombia you have a nation in construction, with high taxes but real opportunities for growth.

The first challenge is to create that environment back home. What policies can we set forth to foster a productive environment? Do we want to be more like a tax haven or do we want to be more productive?

It won’t be enough for top-notch oilmen to come work for PDVSA. An environment that allows them to do what they did in Colombia and Canada will be crucial, one that allows them to invest and manage their own oil company. When it comes to the diaspora in academia, the answer is that professors deserve much more. If Venezuela is to have world-class academics, then the university budgetary situation needs a huge overhaul. That will require an open mind in order to completely rethink the model for university education. Entrepreneurs will ask for infrastructure, ports, grids, fast internet, and protection for their investment.

The second challenge is how to ask someone to come back to a country still suffering the same illnesses that made them leave. What can you offer?

One can offer that you will be valued, that your skills will matter. The talent needs to feel that their years of toiling anonymously in a strange land will be swapped for the feeling of being acknowledged in their homeland. We must pledge to voice the success stories of noble, outstanding Venezuelans. We won’t be able to offer a pay like that you have in the OECD home you have made. What Venezuela can offer to those that are gone is an insurmountable challenge. That, and that your mom will be able to see her grandchildren every Sunday.

But is that enough?

Venezuela’s path for development will be long and arduous. It will take years if the right people come back. But if they don’t, part of me thinks we will never get there.