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A view from Venezuela

Editor’s note: Nicolás Rubio ’01 (MBA) and ’99 (B.S. international business) returned to his native Venezuela last year and went to work as a corporate banking manager for Bank of the Caribbean. The South American nation – the world’s fifth largest oil exporter – has experienced significant political and economic turmoil in recent months, leading to the ouster of President Hugo Chavez, his subsequent return and massive anti-government protests. The situation was the subject of an e-mail Rubio sent to RIT President Simone.

To provide some perspective, Rubio allowed us to publish that letter and the following update.

To readers of The University Magazine:

"Politically speaking, the country is completely divided. We sometimes fear the worst, a civil war."

- Nicolas Rubio '01 and '99

On April 11, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators came out to rally against government policies and to ask the president of Venezuela to resign. The rally began peacefully, but toward the end of their journey, seventeen demonstrators were assassinated and more than 100 were injured in downtown Caracas within blocks of the presidential palace.

After that, a chain of very confusing events occurred including the unofficial “resignation” of the president, the installation of a provisional government, and the president’s return to power two days later.

Today, Venezuela faces the biggest political crisis in its contemporary history: an unhealthy economy and perhaps the deepest social division ever. I truly do not know what might happen between today and when you read this.

When I was asked to write an essay about events in my country, I decided that the best way to communicate my message was to publish the e-mail I wrote back in March.

Dear President Simone:

As you might know, Venezuela is going through a very difficult political and economic crisis that results in a huge social problem. The government made some decisions aimed at avoiding a total economic meltdown, but the consequences are affecting us greatly, especially because of the lack of fiscal responsibility and a sound economic program, and the absence of modern leadership. Politically speaking, the country is completely divided. We sometimes fear the worst, a civil war.

In February, our currency depreciated 20 percent in a single day. Since then, it has been going up and down like crazy. Interest rates went up to 100 percent and are still above 60 percent. The tricky part is that neither the government nor private companies will be able to increase salaries soon to compensate for the inflationary effects that the devaluation will surely have on prices, and this is the part that really makes everybody worried.

Naturally, these scenarios make our job at the bank even more difficult, but so far, we have been able to handle it all right. We know that companies cannot afford these very high interest rates in the long run, and the liquidity problem that the financial system faces will not stop until Venezuela becomes a safe place to invest.

Honestly, it is not only the way the government runs stuff around here, but also the way a lot of people in Venezuela think. It really does not matter how much money is available in a country: What matters is how people think and act. If people do not invest and/or save and just waste the money they have in things that do not produce any long-term benefit, we are just wasting our time. People should understand that creating wealth is the only way to minimize and finally overcome poverty, and that is through hard work – not by the government giving away stuff.

Venezuela has had tons of petro-dollars throughout the last 50 years, and today 80 percent of our people are poor and many of them have no chance of finding a better future. Underdevelopment is in people’s minds, and we have to change that mentality if we want to get anywhere as a society. This takes a great commitment from everybody because the only way that we can change things is through education, and of course responsible business decisions.

On my way to work every day, I see poverty, and I realize how lucky I have been. I feel I have a great responsibility because of the opportunities I have had so far in life, and I try to do my best on my job. I have a lot of ideas, but I know I am young and need to learn more before I can actually help produce a real change.

Nicolás Rubio ’01 and ’99
Caracas, Venezuela

If you would like to submit an essay, write to The University Magazine, University News Services, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY 14623, or send e-mail to umagwww@rit.edu. Please include your telephone number.