Being back in Caracas for the fourth time in the last 5 years has given me the opportunity to gauge the evolution of the Revolución Bolivariana launched at the beginning of the Millennium.
I was indeed surprised when the CO told me that they will collect me at the airport, something that has never happened in the past. The Office also informed me that the head of an ongoing UN audit mission was arriving almost at the same time. The audit mission of UNDP Venezuela had started the previous week and now the head, a South African national, was arriving to manage things and close the mission within two weeks. For many COs, audit missions are a big challenge and a burden too, as auditors check every single piece of paper and are indeed after any evidence of bad practices, etc. In this case, the UN audit Mission were all non-Spanish speakers, a fact that made document revisions much more complicated and time consuming.
Once I quickly managed to go through emigration and customs, I was met by UNDP and UNDSS staff. The 20 kilometer trip from the airport to Caracas can take between 30 to 90 minutes depending on traffic. Due to increased insecurity in the city, all UN staff arriving after dusk must either be collected by their respective agency and accompanied by a UNDSS car to make the trip, or stay in one of the hotels close to airport that evening and then head to Caracas the following morning. Apparently, one UNDP staff who took a cab in Caracas was a victim of the infamous “express kidnapping” modality.
Security is becoming even a larger issues than before. UNDP staff are advised to be extremely careful while walking around in the city and avoid going out alone in the evenings. Since this was not Baghdad after all, I sort of disregarded the wise advice of UNDP but was always alert, using the knowledge from my Iraq security training course, while moving around in the city. Caracas is still a long way from being Guatemala City or Tegucigalpa.
The second big change I noticed this time around was the perception of people on the future of the Revolución. Election will be held at the end of 2012 and there is now higher probability that change might happen. The issue seems to be simple: although many people agreed with the main thrust of the Revolución and the ideas being out forward, the fact is that implementation is lagging far behind. Many public institutions seemingly do no have the internal capacity and expertise to deliver the goods in an effective and timely fashion, in spite of having the required financial resources to do so. The fact that ministers are frequently changed, and in most cases this implies that up to seven levels of top managers inside such ministries also change, does not help the situation. One local analyst pointed to me that this was almost the same as having elections every six to twelve months where opposition parties consistently win and thus proceed to clean house in key ministries and public institutions to deploy their own mandate.
However, the opposition in Venezuela is still heavily split. And it looks as if they will not be able to agree on one single candidate for the elections. As one taxi driver who is against the current government told me, “many of the potential opposition candidates are looking more after their own personal interests and benefits than anything else. In that sense, they are the same or worse than our current leader”.