Some personal thoughts on Venezuela

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As I have watched sad events unfolding in Venezuela—the Spanish translation of the conquistadors’ Little Venice—I have wanted to record a few personal thoughts about that beautiful Latin American country, which has contributed many names to the list of Miss Universe contest winners.

Up until my family took up residence in the United Kingdom, my experience with Venezuela was limited to my geography textbooks. From them I learned that Venezuela essentially was about three things— the Andes mountain range, the mighty Orinoco River and Lake Maracaibo. The waters of Lake Macaraibo are where the world’s fourth largest oil deposits are found.

Then came London. In Britain’s capital city my family came to know —and to become very friendly—with Frank Alcock, his wife and some Jimmy and Frank Jr. The older Frank Alcock, who was then in his fifties, was a successful British businessman who had married Matilde,  a Venezuelan lass who was raised in the upper-class British manner.

The situation of the Alcock family was my first personal brush with dictatorship outside the communist world. Mr. Alcock, who had come to love the native country of his wife, decided to take his family out of Venezuela and back to England upon the establishment of the dictatorial regime of Marcos Perez Jimenez. Mr. Alcock had reached the conclusion that life in Venezuela under former general Perez Jimenez had become unhealthy for a British couple and their two sons. The fact that Matilde Alcock’s Venezuelan kinfolk, the Perez Mattoses,’ were opponents of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship did not help matters any.

Frank and Matilde Alcock and their son Jimmy—three of the finest people I have ever known—must be turning in their graves because of what has been happening in Venezuela during the past decade. Under President Nicolas Maduro, the oil-rich Latin American country has moved from democracy to mild socialism to full-blown socialism. Disdainful of criticism and democratic processes, antipathetic toward the Western countries, suspicious of foreign capital and very friendly to Cuba, Maduro has brought the Venezuelan economy, once one of Latin America’s strongest, into virtual free-fall, with dwindling external reserves, exploding government deficits and shortages of even the most basic consumer items.

Frank Alcock Jr., the only surviving member of his immediate family, has witnessed two dictatorships in his mother’s country during his lifetime. Truly a case of déjà vu, he must be tolling himself.

My other personal thoughts about Little Venice involve my sister Raquel, who, during her service with the Department of Foreign Affairs, was posted to the Philippine embassy in Caracas. That embassy was once merely an adjunct of the Philippine embassy in Brasilia, with the ambassador to Brazil serving concurrently as non-resident ambassador to Venezuela. Subsequently, DFA decided that Venezuela was sufficiently important —it is one of the founding members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries—to merit a Philippine embassy of its own. During Raquel’s time in Venezuela, the chief of mission was the able Jocelyn Garcia, who had previously been posted to a number of other Philippine embassies.

It goes without saying that every conversation I had with my diplomat sister during her Caracas assignment eventually turned to the deteriorating geopolitical situation in Venezuela under Chavismo, the politico-social movement started by Hugo Chavez. Raquel invariably expressed the view that the general situation was not good and appeared to be getting worse.

Raquel is back in Manila safe and sound, and my family is happy. But for the country she left behind things got worse.

Hugo Chavez governed Venezuela like a virtual dictator, and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, recently took the crucial step of ordering the election of a new National Assembly that he calculates will be amenable to the writing of a new Constitution with a termless-presidency provision.

These personal associations that I have with Venezuela make me feel sad about the bad times upon which that beautiful country has fallen and hopeful that it will be able to resolve its problems without descending into full-blown civil war.

The Venezuelan situation embodies a big lesson for this country. Filipinos who lived through the Edsa Revolution must make absolutely sure that they do not experience another dictatorship in their lifetime. One Ferdinand Marcos in a lifetime is quite enough.

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