- Curbing Corruption In Venezuela
From 1983 to 1989, I was employed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, D.C., where I was in charge of hydrocarbons project analysis. In that capacity, I worked and lived in one of the most beautiful and developed cities in the world and traveled frequently to the Bank’s member countries, many of which were—and still are—severely underdeveloped. In fact, each time I visited those countries they seemed to be worse off than before, in spite of the significant monetary aid that was flowing into them from the IDB, the World Bank, and other multilateral aid agencies. I began to feel guilty, since the only situation I seemed to be improving was my own. I had a beautiful home in the affluent Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, with a swimming pool and all the amenities, and it became increasingly difficult for me to reconcile the high quality of life I enjoyed with the deteriorating conditions I observed in the countries I was supposed to be helping. As a result, in 1989 I resigned my position at the IDB and returned home to Venezuela, a country that was showing [End Page 157] signs of severe social and economic decline. I wanted to be an active participant in Venezuela’s recovery, to work directly with the population as an agent of development, for my experience at the IDB had taught me that development work cannot be accomplished effectively from afar, by “remote control.”
I returned to Venezuela with the idea of starting a group to improve the people’s quality of life—a concept that I found to be a much more valid indicator of progress and true development than economic growth, which had been virtually the only measure of development used in Venezuela. The reality was that, while Venezuela had enjoyed spectacular economic growth in the previous 20 years, the level of social development and the quality of life were still abysmal. Clearly, the road to true development lay elsewhere, and I wanted to help find it.
In March 1990, five other Venezuelans and I held an open meeting in a Caracas hotel to discuss these pressing problems of Venezuelan society. We had rented a conference room that would accommodate 60 people, but 15 minutes before the appointed time there were nearly 500 people at the door. That night, we founded the Agrupación Pro Calidad de Vida, whose primary mission would be improving the quality of life of Venezuelans. We had no office space, no telephones, and no secretarial help. It took us about six months to get organized, and by that time many of our original members had lost interest. When we began to collect a monthly membership fee, many more people decided to drop out. Eventually, the group dwindled to no more than 30 people.
In the meantime, however, we had identified the basic problems we wanted to solve. We were soon to discover that most of the problems related to underdevelopment in Venezuela were largely the result of very low levels of education, including civic education. This meant that, unfortunately, there was no magic, short-term cure. The good news was that tackling this major weakness of Venezuelan society did not require immense financial resources: more important was change in the attitudes of Venezuelans and a commitment by the government to redefining national priorities. We realized that a small organization like ours could make a difference, provided that we identified high-priority areas in which to concentrate our efforts and developed effective strategies to deal with those problems. Through a process of brainstorming, we settled on four specific problems of Venezuelan society on which to focus: 1) the country’s pervasive “culture” of corruption, 2) the absence of civic values, 3) low levels of citizen involvement in the community, and 4) a dearth of leadership.
Goals and Activities
In the six years since our organization’s first meeting, we have developed strategies to deal with each one of these pressing issues. In [End Page 158] all of our activities, our primary objective is education. For example, one of our major projects is a civic...