[GLOBAL EYE]Politics more than left or rightIt was more than a decade ago that Mr. A bought two apartments in downtown Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. His family lived in one of them, and he rented out the other. Although his tenants changed constantly, rent payments continued to be deposited into Mr. A’s bank account month after month. He saved enough money to buy another apartment, which he also rented out.
At the end of last month, Mr. A was faced with a sudden turn of luck. The Municipal Council of Caracas branded the likes of Mr. A as “savage capitalists” pursuing their own interests and decided to seize such properties. All apartments that had been rented out for more than 10 years by the same owner are to be converted into “public facilities.” According to the measure, the titles of 153 apartment buildings in downtown Caracas will be transferred to the city. The city council plans to let the existing tenants in the seized apartments continue to live there and subsidize 10 to 20 percent of their rents.
Working class citizens suffering from the burden of soaring rents welcomed the drastic move by the municipal council. Mr. A, on the other hand, is preparing to institute legal proceedings regarding the constitutionality of the measure, arguing that it violates the right to private property guaranteed by the Constitution. However, it is doubtful whether the judiciary, overwhelmed by the authority of President Hugo Chavez, will side with Mr. A. This is a cross section of the type of 21st century socialism advocated by Mr. Chavez.
According to a report recently published by the Heritage Foundation, a U.S.-based conservative think tank, the economic liberty of Venezuela is ranked 152nd among 157 nations around the world. It means that oppression on economic activities is very severe. The report reckoned the lack of protection of private properties as one of the factors contributing to economic oppression, along with government regulation, protectionist trade policies and barriers against foreign investment. Although the report was drafted by a group representing the conservative perspective in the United States, which looks at the Chavez administration with a jaundiced eye, the logic of capitalism is solemn. Since the Chavez administration came into power, foreign corporations have left Venezuela, one after another. Most Korean companies withdrew from there, and today, only Samsung and LG remain.
While Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world, 70 percent of its citizens are destitute. The cause of their poverty can be found in the deeply rooted corruption of high class citizens in past administrations. Because those concerned only focused on seeking their own profit, the livelihood of the commoners was sacrificed. In the 1998 presidential election, Mr. Chavez presented eradication of corruption as his foremost promise. The lower class took hope from the charismatic former military officer and supported him in the election but various scandals involving cronies of Mr. Chavez have been revealed one after another. Nevertheless, Mr. Chavez hasn’t been able to punish them properly out of fear of losing his base of loyalty. This is another perspective illustrating the 21st century socialist revolution of Mr. Chavez.
The Venezuelan president is working hard to appease his support base through anti-market policies and by riding on the people’s antagonism against vested interests such as Mr. A. The rush of oil dollars from soaring oil prices has bolstered his pork barrel policies for currying favor with the people. However, who will the poor of Venezuela blame when the oil price drops and corruption continues?
While I came here in search of the leftist boom in Central and South America, I soon realized that the important thing is not whether an administration is left or right. The point is who can best provide truly better politics for citizens. So, what distinguishes a good government from a bad one? Is it unrealistic to say the difference is between the politics of relying on votes and those with a future vision? Anyway, it is meaningless to measure the tendency of a government with a yardstick.
“Politics is not a matter of right and left. The point is how you manage the economy,” said departing Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, as he stepped down on March 11 and handed over the healthiest economy in Latin America to his successor Michelle Bachelet.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok