“That thing you just said,” he growls, pointing right at me, “that Cadivi is a subsidy for the rich … that is FALSE!”
My dad’s friend is a smart, well-respected maracucho lawyer, someone I looked up to when I was growing up. He’s fired up at my comment, his voice raised in anger, but also trying to overcome the deafening sound of the AC.
“You don’t live here, so you don’t know the number of poor and middle class people that benefit from Cadivi. Just the other day, I helped my secretary fill out her paper work so she could go to Aruba and use her cupo.”
And then it hits me: I’m not 12 anymore. I can be barked into a corner, but I don’t have to take it. I raise my voice even more, and fight back.
“No, tío, you’re the one who doesn’t understand,” I say, my face flushing. “Whether or not a policy is a subsidy for the rich doesn’t depend on the number of anecdotes you can collect. This is a technical issue, and from all we know, the vast majority of the dollars that are sold in Cadivi are not sold to people like your secretary, but sold to the bankers, the military, and the well-connected, to the people claiming they need $100 million when in fact they need $20 million, all so they can pocket $80 million at below-market price. That is free money, and it is coming from the pockets of Venezuela’s poor, from the people paying IVA at the bodega.”
I calm down, and it hits me. Venezuela is full of back-asswards policies that supposedly favor the poor but, in fact, favor the rich. Cadivi is just the tip of a mammoth iceberg that includes the gasoline subsidy, the free tuition for Universities, the toll-less roads system, the subsidized electricity prices, y pare usted de contar.
It’s always going to be a challenge to explain these things to the poor. How can you make someone with a fifth-grade education understand that letting the price of gasoline go up … actually benefits them? It’s not easy.
But this is not el pueblo acting thick, that fails to see the basics of social costs and benefits of stupid, corruption-inducing policies.
With few exceptions, these are the elite: the wealthy, the educated, the fat cats who have lived through El Gran Viraje, and Recadi, and the Otac. These are the people that saw the failure of La Gran Venezuela, and Corpomercadeo, and the CVG. These people … we still have to convince them that rentism simply doesn’t work? That money the government gives to these guys is money that is not available for this kid? That Metro systems that don’t work are a huge waste of money, even if a few poor people use it?
How hard is it to understand that when the rich get perks, this only makes us poorer?
Because, rest assured, the elites will be the first ones lining up when a new government – if such a thing ever materializes – tries to untangle the chavista mess.
If we can’t even count on the elites to back us up, if they will be the first one trying to stab reform in the back, then what hope is there?