During the last few years, running a business as an entrepreneur in Venezuela has become a titanic task, akin to those which superheroes carry out in those animated series we held dear as children.
Historically, Venezuelan business culture has consisted of two strains. On the one hand, you find the mercantilists, who aim to secure benefits from the government. These are groups with vested interests that hope to obtain a particular advantage in the market through lobbying and political connections.
On the other hand, you find the real entrepreneurs, who come up with an idea, develop it with effort, and manage to become competitive in the market.
The benefit-hunting, mercantilist businessmen prosper under the socialist or, in the best case scenario, interventionist economic system that has prevailed in Venezuela throughout the country’s economic history.
Sadly, the business sector is in a critical situation. The number of people willing to risk their time, capital, and effort to move the country forward is dwindling. Venezuelan entrepreneurs have suffered the abuses of a system that does not respect private property.
In Venezuela, regulations prevent companies from being efficient, and the government determines what companies can sell, as well as how, why, when, to whom, and at what price. If an apparatchik decides on a whim that the price of your product is unfair, you can land in jail or face expropriation.
Venezuelan entrepreneurs also have to carry on their backs the stigma of being portrayed as hoarders, usurers, speculators, pitiyanquis (Yankee sympathizers), or putschists. We are now used to hearing all those epithets on the radio and on television at any time of the day, broadcasts that prove how envy, resentment, and shallow criticism have overrun our society.
In Venezuela, entrepreneurship requires an overwhelming effort. This is a country where you have to coexist with socialism, a system that destroys everything that is productive in a matter of days or weeks. It is a country where the people, the most valuable capital, are running away from their misery. We are now used to a hopeless future, and we usually find ourselves saying: “it seems this won’t change.”
It is admirable that many businessmen who worked extremely hard for decades to build a company and create jobs still believe in Venezuela, a country which has vilified them, even as they endure 40 government inspections each month, as if they were criminals.
Without a doubt, it would be easier for them to shut their business down and take their money to any country that offered them better conditions. Wealth creators, after all, are human beings, and they seek a decent quality of life like everyone else.
It’s difficult to face the fact that, if you argue in public in favor of economic freedom as a means to boost Venezuela out of its current state of hunger and misery, you can end up in jail. Entrepreneurs, however, know that their task includes proving how their values — hard work, striving for excellence — can bring benefits to everyone.
This is why I feel so grateful toward Venezuelan entrepreneurs, men and women who wake up each day with the goal of improving others’ lives by creating jobs and high-quality products in the most hostile business environment. We might complain about the government’s crackdown on the private sector, but that truth is that, without the few brave businessmen that have stayed in the country, our situation would be much worse.
Many people were aware from the outset that the free market allows anyone to undertake a project and stand on their own feet without depending on welfare or the Venezuelan state’s miserable system of redistribution. But life under the Chavista regime has taught many others this lesson the hard way.
Under a better regime, entrepreneurs would be able to concentrate on creating products and jobs. Economic freedom and the rule of law would allow Venezuelans to become more productive, and the government would limit itself to guaranteeing an attractive environment for investment and entrepreneurship.
If we can achieve that, we will become citizens of a country that produces prosperity instead of subsidizing penury.
Adolfo Chacón is a lawyer and coordinator for the Youth Area with CEDICE Libertad Venezuela. Follow @_AdolfoChacon.