Contradicting Viewpoints on the Transition: Liberalism Must Come First

Venezuelan economists Ricardo Hausmann and Quico Toro shared their views this week on how an eventual transition should go. One of them is wrong and it ain’t Hausmann, obviously, but our Executive Editor.

Photo: La Patilla

Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann just published the strongest retort to the idea of a transition led by a “light chavista” who forgets the crimes of those in power:

Given the humanitarian crisis, Venezuela needs a rapid economic recovery, which is unlikely unless property rights are credibly reestablished. But how is this possible in the context of majority rule? What will prevent a future electoral majority from grabbing assets again after the economy recovers, as happened in Zimbabwe during and after the 2008-2013 cohabitation agreement? And how can the system create relatively permanent property rights without entrenching the narco-bourgeoisie’s claims to the booty it has amassed under Chávez and Maduro?

[…] In Venezuela today, it will be impossible to reestablish liberal democracy if the current regime is allowed to return and expropriate again. Venezuela’s recovery depends on its capacity to translate the current catastrophe into a set of new social norms of the form: “never again shall we…”

Even Quico has given up on his Venezuelan transition ideal. He wants to punish chavista leaders (to watch them suffer), but is willing to trade that for an economic recovery. What a way to miss the point!

No, Quico, the reason we shouldn’t be okay with an uncertain transition organized around the needs of chavista leaders isn’t to please our desire for schadenfreude. It’s because we need to hold them accountable, to move forward as a liberal democracy.

Hausmann and I have one poignant question for you: what happens when an openly anti-liberal party with a lot of money is allowed to stay around with no consequences?

Liberalism is non-negotiable. We need to guarantee free speech and property rights, and work out some transitional justice — for the stolen bounty and crimes against the people. Else, even if Falcón were to muster the votes and convince the military to honor them (a big if), we will find ourselves facing powerful, wealthy, illiberal, chavista foes 5 years from now — or sooner.