Will Venezuela Make It to 2019?

Venezuela's retail and food sectors have been decimated by government expropriations.
Venezuela’s retail and food sectors have been decimated by government expropriations. (Tecnonautas.net)

EspañolBy Thays Peñalver

The situation before us is like a civil war. Hundreds of thousands of families have been uprooted. One million young people, 90 percent of them professionals, have left Venezuela. One million grandparents will not see their grandchildren grow up, and 1 million parents have been torn by the farewell at the airport.

At commencement ceremonies, celebrations soon turn to the grief of farewells. At least half of Venezuela’s students aren’t expecting a party for their graduation gift, but a plane ticket to start their lives abroad. It’s estimated that 60 percent of young Venezuelan graduates will leave the country by 2019.

School’s Out

My teacher colleagues who still remain share the same fate: at least one-third have already abandoned the profession, and more and more are retiring early. The doctor’s union has long lamented the stupidity of the Bolivarian Revolution and has now been proved right: according to its estimates, some 14,700 doctors have left the country since the last census in 2011.

It’s a shocking figure, given that the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) counted a total of 35,000 doctors in Venezuela in 2008. Forty one percent of our medical practitioners have left in seven years, and union estimates suggest that the figure for exiled doctors will rise to 20,000 by 2019.

Those medical students that remain are failing to register in sufficient numbers for crucial specialisms. Training rosters for cardiology, oncology, radiotherapy, pediatric surgery, and anesthesiology are all being left vacant. Those few private clinics that are left are also soon to face the revolutionary firing squad.

The exodus extends from the hospital to the academy. Nearly 270 doctorate holders in the sciences have left the country in a matter of years; Venezuela, according to Metropolitan University Rector Benjamin Scharifker, produces the fewest science PhDs in Latin America.

Nearly a thousand professors and university researchers will have gone overseas by the end of 2015. Venezuela’s amateur doctors, scientists, and engineers will soon all be graduates of nothing more than the university of life. By 2019, the words of José María Vargas will ring true: what will the intellectual achievements of the few serve for if the masses remain uneducated?

Market Failure

Of the 48 banks and private financial institutions that existed in 2005, only 17 are left. The rest are in the hands of the revolution, along with 33 percent of local bank branches. The publicly owned banking sector now encompasses 14 medium and small-sized banks, while the securities industry has been decimated and its managers imprisoned.

The stock exchange has all but disappeared, and now serves as little more than a vendor of dollars. If expropriations continue at their current rate, the revolution will hold 70 percent of the financial sector by 2019.

State seizures extend to the foodstuffs sector. Some 60 percent of Venezuela’s national arepa production, and 80 percent of rice, has fallen into state hands. Local production has been minimized, while imports spiral out of control and exports are down by 90 percent. If Venezuela’s oil were to suddenly dry up overnight, we’d export the same quantity of products as Rwanda. The situation will only worsen by 2019.

National trade guild Fedecámaras has reported that some 200,000 employers shut down prior to 2014. According to the commercial body, 77,939 companies ceased operations in 2014, with a similar figure expected by May 2015. Their employees will be fired and left to fend for themselves amid the worst economic crisis in Venezuela in decades. Where inflation in 2014 was at 68 percent, 2015’s three-digit rates and the so-called Fair Price Law will make their bankruptcy all the harder to bear.

Meanwhile, the retail distribution chain isn’t being expropriated — the authorities are merely occupying it by force in a “temporary” manner and imprisoning shop owners. If the trend continues, by 2019 there will be no medium-sized retailer able to run more than two outlets.

Media Control

The government claim that 949 media outlets are held by “private enterprise” obscures the fact that opposition voices are permitted in fewer than two dozen of them.

Of the 341 free radio stations Venezuela boasted in 1998, 240 have lost their license, and now only a few dozen dare to even mention the existence of political opposition. Of the 45 television broadcasters available in 2009, there are now only 27 left. Only three have escaped expropriation, purchase by government supporters, or transformation to the status of “family or cultural channel.”

Only three are brave enough to report on opposition activity. At least one of these is likely to close in 2015, and the others will continue to be threatened and harassed with unpayable fines.

Of more than 10 large print media chains in 1998, only three remain. They’re reduced to a tiny circulation and largely banished to the internet, in a country where only 30 percent of the population has web access at home. By 2019, few are likely to remain independent.

Health services, education, finance, food supply chains, retail outlets, and independent media: time is running out for all of them.

The only ones in Venezuela who appear content to wait until our presidential elections in 2019 are the political opposition, who refuse to consider using the constitutional mechanisms they could deploy to save Venezuela from the abyss. Maybe they should reflect on whether any of them will be free to rule in Venezuela by 2019.

Thays Peñalver is a Venezuelan lawyer and a newspaper columnist. This article was originally published in El Nacional, and is republished with the author’s permission. Follow @thayspenalver.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

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