Centro de Divulgación del Conocimiento Económico para la Libertad
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será cambiando las ideas" - Friedrich Hayek
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Hugo Chávez urgently requests an Anti-Corruption Comission

The government news agency, ABN, recently reported an urgent plea by Hugo Chávez for the creation of a Venezuelan Anti-Corruption Commission.

by Gustavo Coronel

The Venezuelan dictator claims that such a new group is required to “support the fight against corruption, inefficiency and bureaucracy.” The National Assembly should put the group together, says the dictator, adding that this commission would be given “a helicopter, security and transportation” and all the other necessary means to do their job. “They should denounce all who should be denounced,” he cried.

Eight years ago Hugo Chávez won the presidency of Venezuela on the strength of his promise to eradicate corruption. The popular frustration that led to his victory was due to the long standing problems Venezuelan society had been experiencing due to mismanagement and corruption in government.

It is hard to understand, therefore, that his urgent plea to do something about this Venezuelan main malady would only come in the eighth year of his presidency. During these eight years the fight against Venezuelan corruption has simply not existed. This fight should have started immediately after his coming into power and could have been extremely successful if it had been based on example rather than on rhetoric. In the traditional Venezuelan homes education has never been done by preaching but by example. If children are to learn how to eat properly they should watch how their parents sit and behave at the table and how they use the cutlery. It is of no value to them to be given a book on manners if they see their parents eating like cave persons. Collective behavior about corruption follows similar rules. If the leader and his collaborators do not live their lives in a transparent manner, if they do not teach integrity and honesty by example, their preaching will largely go unheeded.

In their eight years of progressively authoritarian rule, Hugo Chávez and his collaborators have set numerous examples of nepotism, abuse of power, illicit use of Venezuelan government funds, violations of the rule of law and overall disdain for civilized government practices. The people of Venezuela cannot possibly use these examples as valid lessons in civic decency and transparency.

Take the case of the petroleum income received by the country, estimated between US$185 and 220 billion during this time. The utilization of this significant amount of money remains largely unaccounted for in a country where bridges and roads have collapsed and hospitals lack the most essential equipment and medicines to serve the people. Close to $30 billion of this money has been given away or promised by Chávez to foreign governments and political groups, in exchange for their loyalty and support in international organizations such as the OAS and the United Nations. Some $5 billion have been used to buy weapons, including thousands of rifles that have been partly put in the hands of the Venezuelan youth. Much of the money has been diverted from its proper use in the petroleum company to ill-planned social programs designed for maximum propaganda value that do not solve the long term, deep seated needs of the Venezuelan people.

Or take the manner in which all government institutions have been put to work for a man and no longer represent the people of Venezuela. Chávez has led the politicization of both the armed forces and of the state petroleum company. Last February 4th, Chávez presided over a military parade in commemoration of the anniversary of his bloody, failed 1992 coup against democratic president Carlos Andres Perez. This use of the armed forces for partisan political purposes clearly violated the Constitution and the laws that regulate the Venezuelan military institutions. Last November, he and the minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons publicly said that all employees of the state-owned petroleum company should go to vote for his presidential candidacy, threatening dissenters with dismissal.

Equally reprehensible has been the manner in which scores of high-level bureaucrats have been sacking the national treasury. A new class of rich has emerged from the ranks of the revolution. A report I wrote last November, published by the CATO Institute, Corruption, Mismanagement, and Abuse of Power in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, describes in detail how the Chávez government has simply replaced an old elite of corrupt bureaucrats with a new one. This hyper-corruption has placed Venezuela among the 10 most corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International’s latest ranking.

Chávez has been directly responsible for acts of corruption. His presidential campaign took contributions of $1.5 million, both for the presidential campaign and for political activities carried out after he had been elected, from Spanish bank BBVA, in clear violation of Venezuelan laws. He ordered the acquisition of a $65 million presidential airplane without budgetary provisions. He raided the Venezuelan Central Bank’s international reserves, taking billions of dollars of those reserves to be used for current government expenditures.

Chávez ambassadors in four Latin American countries: Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina have been asked to leave for engaging in illegal political activities, and one was almost declared persona non grata by the Bolivian Congress.

Due to these and many other acts of financial, management and political corruption it seems highly hypocritical of Hugo Chávez to be asking, at this stage, for the structuring of an Anti-Corruption Commission, one that will most certainly be staffed with his unconditional followers and used for political propaganda purposes.

By engaging in a massive policy of handouts which give people an illusory and temporary sense of bonanza, including subsidized food and very low quality but free basic medical attention and education, Chávez still attracts many followers inside Venezuela, willing to exchange freedom and democracy for food on the table. However, this paid-for loyalty will only last as long as he has enough money to fulfill increasing popular expectations. Meanwhile, no structural or well-planned programs to combat poverty and to create self-starting citizens are being put in place.

Source: Venezuela Today

© 2001 Hispanic American Center for Economic Research