Whose Responsibility is it? # 23 – Ode to Venezuela: That’s what friends are for

For our younger readers, Venezuela may only have a distant image comprising oilfields and offshore drilling that many have only seen pictures of. Venezuela’s second image may be the beautiful entrants in Miss World or Miss Universe. In these days of modern air travel there are only three convenient routes; one via Miami; one via Panama; or one via Trinidad.

So for most Jamaicans it seems to be a long trip to a vast country that holds no memories for the under 60”s, and it was never taught in schools in a serious way in either history or geography. So our relationship remains remote (except for the few who know that the South American liberator Simon Bolivar was exiled for a time in Jamaica).

The development of the oil industry from about 1902 was interrupted by the two World Wars that increased the demand but also created shortages of capital equipment. The eventual proving of the world’s largest reserves created an economic inequity often referred to as “the Dutch disease” that widened the gap between the rich and the poor that has lingered until today and has been at the base of revolutionary upheavals (and seems set to do the same very soon). Agricultural production fell from over 30% to 10% of total production and the consequences are massive food shortages and growing unrest.

“Ten years from now, twenty years from now… oil will bring us ruin; it is the devil’s excrement” (J.P Perez Alfonzo former Venezuelan Oil Minister and founding member of OPEC).

Migration to Venezuela encompassed Haiti, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Dominica, Dutch Antilles, Cuba, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, among others. Many women left to work in domestic services for the new oil-wealthy expatriates.

In the 1950’s and 60’s many Venezuelans came to Jamaican high schools as boarders in order to become fluent in English. These schools included Immaculate, St. Andrews, Wolmer’s, Jamaica College, Munro, Hampton, among others. This fostered good friendships and even marriages, and this has lingered with the older generation of Jamaicans. So for many of us, the current situation of deprivation and hunger is of importance to us, while others say keep quiet because we owe them money through Petrocaribe.

The latter attitude is sheer ignorance, and I hope that a better understanding will improve our humanitarianism that we have lost to callous and selfish monetary influences. The essential move for us is to repay part of our debt through the export of many items urgently needed in Venezuela and reduce our debt to them.

This largely involves the private sector capacity, the government as an entrée facilitator, and an agreed incentive to promote debt repayment through export. It will produce jobs as a direct stimulus to our economy; it will expand our strategic approach to exporting; it will require greater US$ to purchase needed raw materials. Most of all it requires discipline (which can’t do us any harm).

The private sector has over 50% unused capacity (at 2 shifts) and about 70% (at 3 shifts). Assuming some volume efficiencies this could produce 20-40% more direct jobs, and others within their supply chain. My recommendation would be to start with food proteins that require no refrigeration, and sanitary paper products. The sheer volumes could encourage appropriate re-tooling.

A necessary caution has to be shipping, as many ships await payment releases before unloading at Venezuela’s ports. The fact that the Petrocaribe dollars are here and available for immediate local payment, may in fact be a comparative advantage. This could be a cheap warmup match for the Global Export World Cup.

Our succeeding Governments have been very cagey with regard to “their friends/comrades” in Venezuela. One side is swayed by the USA’s policies on Venezuela which have been largely political/economic reasons masked in democracy. The other has warmed to the old socialist glamour of “the revolutionary” and their love for those old images.

An old quotation: “what if I told you that the left wing and the right wing belong to the same bird?”

“America has no permanent friends or enemies; only interests” Henry Kissinger.

John Wayne on a horse and Che Guevara on a T-shirt rekindles their political fervor, not realizing that both are dead. Our politicians have no inclination to be dead heroes or heroines.

“Ghetto superstar what a way yu reach far; every lyrics whey u have mi seh a pure war; how yu tell a man fi lick shot; and yu neva get a lick fi feel how it hot” (Valton VC Craigie).

People have friends; and for many of us we have Venezuelan friends. They assisted us when they could and now is the time for reciprocation. There are major challenges that face Venezuela and member states within the Organization of American States (OAS), but the voices of the CARICOM are deafeningly silent. We cannot agree that punishment for the attempts to curtail human rights in Venezuela by their government, should demand the sentence of starvation and failing health and medical facilities. Say something Jamaica.

In my inner mind I can hear the whistling that starts Dionne Warwick and friends singing: “that’s what friends are for”. This is a human sentiment that speaks to the victory of good over evil, and right over wrong. It should distinguish us as Jamaicans.