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An instrument to secure Venezuela's future
Posted: Monday, November 25, 2002 editorial commentary (c) by Gustavo Coronel

An instrument to secure Venezuela's future
... not merely be a way to survive the present

Monday, November 25, 2002 -- A group of more than 250 Venezuelans of the most diverse expertise and political tendencies has answered an initiative by former Presidential candidate Henrique Salas Romer to convene a Congress entitled "A Project For Venezuela" which will aim to establish a 15-year plan for Venezuela ... road maps which could be utilized by any political leader in charge, to assist in policy-making.

For years now, Venezuela has lacked a clear sense of direction ... a Plan which could serve the country to become a harmonious society and an integral part of the 21st century.

The "Project For Venezuela" Congress is, thus far, a virtual one inasmuch as participants are distributed all over Venezuela but divided into five main sectors: Social Development (as in Quality of Life); Balance between the cities and rural areas; Sustainable Development; National Security, and The State for the 21st century.

Each sector, in turn, includes 4-5 round tables each of which have a Coordinator, a Secretary and 10 members ... although anyone interested in the different topics could contribute to the tables.

I have accepted the coordination of the Round Table in Petroleum, Mining, Tourism & Environment. Initially, these topics would seem to be quite unrelated and, yet, they have a common denominator in sustainable development.

Venezuela has lived for too many years with the exploitation of petroleum and minerals, which are of a non-renewable nature. Tourism, on the other hand, is a renewable resource where the environment and its preservation should be one of the most common concerns.

The Petroleum, Mining, Tourism & Environment Round Table has already started its work, on the basic premise that the economic well-being of the Venezuela of the future should rely on renewable resources rather than in resources which have a finite life span. Petroleum & Mining will continue to be very important contributors to the Venezuelan economy but not any more as the only, or even, the most important resources.

Although the methodology of the Congress' work of has not yet definitely been agreed, we have already started to work on the basis that Venezuela is sick and tired of diagnoses and that what we urgently require is the cure.

Hundreds of thousands of pages have been written about Venezuela's ailments and many of my fellow countrymen seem to feel that the more voluminous the diagnosis, the better. They forget that the Ten Command-ments occupy only half a page. We Venezuelans are experts on the WHY but very little has been done about the WHAT and the HOW ... what in the planning terminology is usually called OBJECTIVES and STRATEGIES. Our work will emphasize the Objectives & Strategies rather than repeating the diagnoses for yet another time. While Objectives, as they are identified for every area of work, should rather be few and permanent in timeframe ... Strategies can and probably should be numerous and flexible. I would like to give just one example of the task we are just starting to accomplish...

The first Objective we have visualized is for the Venezuelan petroleum sector and reads:

"To provide the Nation with optimum income for the longest period of time....."

Although this is a short statement, it contains much substance. For example, it talks about optimum, not maximum income. For many years now the tendency of Venezuelan governments has been to obtain of maximum income. However, the Nation could be much better served by an optimum income over the longest possible time ... even if that income is not the maximum theoretically obtainable at any given time. Another concept contained in the statement is that of Nation. In Venezuela, petroleum has never really been the property of the Nation but the property of the State ... a very different thing! The Nation is all of us! The State is usually confused with the Government! Petroleum income has been, and is being handled by the Government ... which often has very different priorities to those of the Nation. Furthermore, the fact that petroleum income is handled by the Government (Executive Power only due to the weakness of the other powers) and usually with minimum transparence, has historically been one of the greatest sources of Venezuelan corruption.

It is easy to see, therefore, that the Strategies to accomplish the Objective should be flexible, devoid of rigidities usually associated with ideological dogmas. We have created a "religion" around petroleum. It should be totally controlled by the State is one of those dogmas. Why? Isn't the private sector more efficient? We should always belong to OPEC. Why? Is an alliance between producers necessarily better than an alliance with consumers?

Perhaps the crux of the matter is that we have to maintain a strategic balance between our loyalties to one group and to the other. But we must never insist on a dogmatic, inflexible approach. This is just an example of the type of considerations we are dealing with in the "Project For Venezuela" Congress and the outcome of this effort could be used by anyone. It will emphasize the rationale over the dogmatic.

It should, at least, serve to incite many more Venezuelans to think instead of fighting.

It will be an instrument designed to secure Venezuela's future and not merely be a way to survive the present.

Gustavo Coronel is the founder and president of Agrupacion Pro Calidad de Vida (The Pro-Quality of Life Alliance), a Caracas-based organization devoted to fighting corruption and the promotion of civic education in Latin America, primarily Venezuela. A member of the first board of directors (1975-1979) of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), following nationalization of Venezuela's oil industry, Coronel has worked in the oil industry for 28 years in the United States, Holland, Indonesia, Algiers and in Venezuela. He is a Distinguished alumnus of the University of Tulsa (USA) where he was a Trustee from 1987 to 1999. Coronel led the Hydrocarbons Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in Washington DC for 5 years. The author of three books and many articles on Venezuela ("Curbing Corruption in Venezuela." Journal of Democracy, Vol. 7, No. 3, July, 1996, pp. 157-163), he is a fellow of Harvard University and a member of the Harvard faculty from 1981 to 1983. In 1998, he was presidential election campaign manager for Henrique Salas Romer and now lives in retirement on the Caribbean island of Margarita where he runs a leading Hotel-Resort.

You may contact Gustavo Coronel at email

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