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"Promises" ... with inverted commas!

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VHeadline editor & publisher Roy S. Carson writes: Promises, promises, promises!  It's easy to understand why there's an uneasy electorate in disadvantaged sectors of Venezuela's economy after ten years of the progressive administration of President Hugo Chavez Frias and with -- from their perspective -- not much in the way of the progression they had fondly hoped for on the promises of local, regional and national politicians as well as selected government officials.

But, as is the way with politicians just about everywhere, "promises" in Venezuela are generally just that ... with inverted commas!

It is a peculiar quirk of the Venezuelan psyche that they are very much loathe to say a definitive NO! to anything.  It's as if they believe a dither on decision-making will somehow delay the inevitable consequences of a wrong decision; or perhaps they're leaving options open to re-visit the question at a later date, without regard for the almost certain negativity occasioned by vague responses. 

It certainly takes some getting used to ... if indeed you are prepared to!

It's somewhat similar to the way in which you need must become accustomed to dealing with even minor business executives and (even worse) with just about any level of Venezuela official administration.  Scheduled appointments have no meaning on a Venezuelan time-piece; you're left languishing in a (hopefully) air-conditioned reception for possibly hours on end to be allowed to enter the hallowed precincts of said executive's office although the appointment made by the gorgeous Miss Venezuela secretary out front may (officially) have been hours ago.

It's a measure of his 'macho' to keep you waiting, unless, of course, his urgency is greater than thine ... which would then usually mean him having to wait interminably with your Miss Venezuela clone in your office reception!

Venezuelan "promises" are, however, not meant to be kept!  Treat them exclusively as a temporary declaration of intent and you'll begin to understand that Venezuela definitely works on another timescale!  Call it a cultural "thing" perhaps, but it is most definitely NOT tick-tock to the tune of a Swiss-made watch.  President Chavez has himself remarked as much saying that Venezuela is NOT Switzerland and, apart from the Alps, you get the drift!

Rebellious peasants in the gold mining districts of southeastern Venezuela are more than just slightly peeved with government officials who traipzed through their dilapidated holdings more than a month ago giving "promises" backed by the President's famous three Rs -- �revise, rectify and reimpulse.'  They (the gold miners) complain that their state of illegality depends quite frankly on the impossibility of becoming legal through the intransigence of government officials who will not issue corresponding documentation, licenses or permits ... so, faced with the choice of waiting for unfulfilled promises to eventually disappear into oblivion (as is their wont) they just carry on coping with a day-to-day existence and to hell with government-imposed formalities anyway!

Meanwhile, back in Caracas business leaders are "promised" an easing of exchange controls ... as though it really mattered anyway!

With usual Venezuela inventiveness, businesses have long since adapted to draconian foreign exchange controls by side-stepping them altogether.  The black market US$ is worth very much more in local currency terms than the officially acquired US$ so there's a huge profit to be made from making sure you get paid in greenbacks that you can cash in to bolivares on the black market which you can then re-convert through official channels at only half the price.  Good business!  Especially now that formalities have been promised as virtually non-existent on amounts up to $50,000!

Side-stepping the foreign exchange debacle, President Chavez now says that Venezuela will earn $75 billion (twice its foreign debt load) in oil revenues this year ... and that's based on what he calls a "fair price" of $100 a barrel for oil instead of Wednesday's global market rate topping $136.

As the world's fifth-largest exporter of oil and with the most extensive reserves in the Americas, oil revenues total 90% of Venezuela's total exports, equal to around half the national budget.  Chavez says he will invest $257.7 billion in 90 major oil exploration projects in the Orinoco heavy oil belt, as well as production and  refining capacity, trade and supply in what is perhaps the largest investment plan in Venezuelan history. Fifty five of them worth $81.4 billion will be completed by 2013 while another 35 worth $176.3 billion are due for completion after 2013.

Mindful of the fact, however, that Venezuelan "promises" are frequently postponed until "manana" (which by Venezuelan definition simply means "not today") remains to be seen, especially after crucial November 23 regional and local elections which will certainly put Chavez' newly-invented coalition of the left, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to the test.  Fielding a voting corps of 2.5 million out of a declares membership of 6.5 million in recent party primaries ahead of November 23, the electoral showing against a total voter base of 16.5 million Vneezuelans in a population in excess of 25 million does NOT secure any significant majority, so Chavez' come-lately move to loosen a few economic controls could possibly be seen as extending a carrot at the end of the bargepole he usually uses to betract private business sectors, more often than not clearly identifiable with his most raucous political opposition.

Sugar at the tip of the carrot can also be viewed in a US$1 billion economic stimulus package to encourage joint public-private projects in food production, oil and manufacturing although he still has to resolve a serious impasse that has halted many critical mining projects including the extraction of gold from the fabulously rich Las Cristinas and associated gold fields in southeastern Bolivar where potential Chavez voters remain unrequited in their quest for any form of economic stability.  Promises given and promises taken away that necessarily have to be resolved very much ahead of Chavez' November 23 deadline.

A recent Presidential statement claiming that "the only purpose of capitalism has always been to obtain the most profits ... that is why company owners take the money that belongs to the Venezuelan people away overseas� naturally did little to enhance Chavez' personal profile with the gringos especially when he insisted that multinational corporations �really run the capitalist world, more than governments, legal systems, congresses and peoples.�

Boosting his 'macho', he feels he can let the gringos dangle on the fishing line awhile as he allows disparate interests within a clutch of ministries brawl over who's decision has more validity the one over the other. and ministers delays decisions just for the sheer hell of proving they can, for as long as it takes ... or as long as they survive in a shaky economic cabinet where 'macho' is only one of a myriad of factors at play in a no-man's land between personal 'face' and political ambition.

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Roy S. Carson is veteran foreign correspondent (45+ years in the business) currently editor & publisher of VHeadline Venezuela reporting on news & views from and about Venezuela in South America -- available for interviews -- call Houston (more...)
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