Thursday, August 28, 1997

Dreams and visions for Venezuela´s year 2000

To only think of the possibility that my three pretty, intelligent daughters must, together with their other Venezuelan companions, cross the threshold of the next century holding hands with any of the current options we have for the next presidential election, creates a lump in my throat. By saying this I do not wish to imply that none of these options are based on efficient and well meaning people. It’s just that until now, none of them have managed to present an inspiring vision or dream.

This country is in dire need of dreams and visions of the future. Without them, we will not be able to stimulate neither the efforts nor the sacrifices required to elevate Venezuela into the ranks of the truly developed nations. Evidently, there are no perfect prescriptions to achieve this development, but I do remember that an old Chinese proverb recommends that we aim for the sky, since even if we don’t reach it, we will surely have achieved more that if we had aimed at a lower target.

Let’s analyze an example of a dream. In Malaysia, a country with a population of 20 million living in an area one third the size of Venezuela, authorities recently launched an initiative to create an information technology park at an estimated cost of US$ 20 billion. This park, located somewhere between the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the international airport on a plot of land of about 50 square kilometers, will consist of two new cities, the installation of fiber optic communications networks of immense capacity and the promise to develop both government as well as a series of laws designed for the management of this cybernetic reality - basically a cybernetic bubble.

Some of the main technological firms of the world have been invited to occupy this park and will be incentivated to participate in a series of futuristic projects such as the creation of “intelligent schools”, teledirected medicine and the design of electronic procedures that will eliminate the use of paper in government.

Until now, based on benefits such as fiscal incentives, protection of intellectual property and guaranteed freedom from censure (something extremely important in the world of Internet), a number of important firms have shown serious interest in joining this project.

Without making judgment as to the validity or not of this Malaysian plan, Venezuela definitely has nothing even similar. If we were to analyze the current local supply of dreams and visions, we would find that we have a depressingly poor selection, headed by the possibility of an intelligent identification system with cédulas with 4K memory chips.

Even in the case of the much heralded and promised train to Cúa, the latter’s recent rebirth is based on publicity calling it a “solution to Caracas’ problems” rather than the initiation of development and progress. In dreams of previous times, when trains criss-crossed the entire country, plans for a train station in Cúa probably didn’t even exist.

Audacious plans, for example the use of the resources obtained during the recent bids in the oil patch to equip four million students with modern computers, offering them total access to information and opening the possibility of a real educational and social revolution, are schemes that are not even being considered as possibilities.

On the contrary, these resources from the oil aperture, obtained by sacking the future flows that really belong to our children and grandchildren, will most probably be used to satisfy and cover the labor costs of a bloated bureaucracy, which, maybe anticipating the Malaysian experiment, seems to have also eliminated the use of paper, even when not by design but by sheer logistical incapacity. What egghead could be happy when confronted by the fact that the international reserves of the Central Bank have now reached US$ 18 billion when the country’s real reserves, its youth, is deprived and undernourished, both physically as well as mentally.

As a nation, I consider that we all have the immediate responsibility to develop plans and visions for the future that would provide not only a sense of direction but that would also satisfy the need for illusion and dream so proper of youth. We must expect and more importantly, require, from our leaders the capacity to understand these plans and visions, to assimilate them and to convert them to reality.

I hope to God that when December 31st, 1999 rolls around, I will not have to announce to my daughters that we will be moving to a successful park in Malaysia. I hope to God that the illusions twinkling in their eyes will include Venezuela.