Venezuela’s Tooth Fairy (ratoncito Perez)
HAVANA TIMES — Rafael is a man who I met in one of the very few jobs I’ve had here in Venezuela. For those who are still into fairy tales, his physical appearance might remind you of the Ratón Perez mouse, who once fell into the frying pan looking for onion candy… if it wasn’t for that, Rafael would go completely unnoticed, just one more guy.
Ever since I arrived at the office where we met, I was warned that people here steal. Even though I am used to the fact that taking others possessions is all too common here in Venezuela, I was very surprised that a place which was connected to such an important government figure would hire people who engaged in this illicit activity. The list was extensive in objects and time frame, from cellphones to laptops; for nearly 3 years now.
And nobody did anything?
I have slowly begun to discover that it is routine that when ministers are changed (which happens once or several times a year) many things to get “lost” in the process. A fleet of cars can disappear almost entirely, a set of computers, or just money. The new minister will blame the old management for these thefts and will take advantage of their new appointment to buy another large quantity of objects again which will only end up disappearing before the end of their term.
It is also common for a series of remodeling works to get underway in the building where their offices are found. The renovation is completely unnecessary, but they will hire a company at their convenience and everybody is happy. Imagine this process taking place at least twice a year, at every ministry of the 30 that currently exist in the Venezuelan government. Of course I am only mentioning a couple of habits; I’m not even going into the countless scams which are also a common occurrence to steal from every ministry’s annual budget.
One day, several police officers turned up at the office and took Rafael away. They disclosed evidence which proved that he was responsible for at least one of the office’s last robberies. People say he was beaten, kept in jail for a few days and then left on the street again. I don’t know whether he would have managed to get another government job.
Rafael used to live in a Caracas neighborhood and when we didn’t have a lot to do at the office, he used to tell us about his countless adventures, sometimes punishing delinquents, sometimes fleeing from the police himself. When they arrested him, he didn’t even lower his head and I’ve been told that he claimed that he would “clean” the office, that is to say that he would steal everything he could from there.
But, he didn’t realize that he was just a low-level thief at the end of the day, a poor man. And, for some reason, it’s the poor who always end up being caught out by “Justice”. Personally, I was offended by the fact that he was robbing his own colleagues, those he shared with and even seemed to be in solidarity with. However, at the end of the day, he’s not doing anything different to all those men and women who have a little bit of power in their hands.
It’s not anything different to what Nicolas Maduro’s government is doing these days by taking money from the poorest Venezuelans with all of this changing currency malarkey.
Even today, just a few days before this year draws to an end, hundreds of people who waited in long lines at the Venezuelan Central Bank to deposit 100 bolivar notes – which went out of circulation and then returned – are waiting for this money to become available in their different accounts in state-run and private banks.
The president has talked about a strong blow to Venezuelan mafias, while the government maintains the money, which isn’t theirs, at the Central Bank. However, Maduro and his men don’t believe in fairy tales, much less in the Perez mouse.
One thought on “Venezuela’s Tooth Fairy (ratoncito Perez)”
Government administration in these authoritarian countries tend not to just be corrupt but grossly inefficient. The institutions of government work best when they are checked. It is also best if they work as regulators versus producers. Venezuela is a case study in the failure of government take over of private sector. Government can do much good when it brings fairness to markets and when it helps citizens advance. When it replaces the market, it fails again and again. With corruption only getting worse as power is concentrated.
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