Typically, when discussing a particular country’s fortunes, Investment banks, NGOs, Multilateral Development Institutions, and society as a whole expect some of its former heads of state to speak out about the country’s challenges. Their wisdom is often used as a barometer, their opinion on how they might address problems is sought after when an electoral process takes place, and their vantage point is somewhat appreciated.
In Brazil, that honor is often placed on Fernando Henrique Cardoso, whose experience in steering the economy out of hyperinflation and dealing with a Balance of Payment crisis can provide guidelines as to how the Government can weather financial crises while keeping social programs up and running for the benefit of the poor.
When wondering about Mexico, the right guy to call would be Ernesto Zedillo, whose presidency paved the way for a democratic transition in the land of the Aztecs, and whose technocratic credentials tend to be heard carefully on economic policy and Globalization. For instance, President Zedillo has recently suggested that Mexico desperately needs three big things: Rule of law, Rule of law & Rule of law. The same goes for countries such as Spain where Felipe González is often the go-to guy, or Chile, where Ricardo Lagos serves as oracle of sorts.
Unfortunately, in Venezuela, scarcity levels are not just in basic groceries and public services, but also in the wisdom of former Presidents. Last Wednesday night, President Jaime Lusinchi passed away. Even though no one in their right mind would have dared ask Lusinchi for an opinion on current affairs in Venezuela or in Latin America for that matter, the country is left with no former presidents, aside from Ramon J Velasquez, who was interim president for less than a year, and was not elected at the ballot box.
This trait is a rather curious feature in places where democracy or presidential term-limits are not accustomed, and since chavismo’s tendency for dismantling or disregarding checks & balances, rule of law, presidential term limits or democracy for that matter has been the norm over the past 15 years, it is not a foolish thought to expect this to be the norm. In the land where “indefinite re-election” is seen as a (God-given?) right, expect to see fewer former presidents in the future unless something changes.
Yet given the quality of our leaders, maybe the absence of their “wisdom” is all for the better. Perhaps the last Venezuelan former President deemed worthy of mentioning and listening to would have been Rómulo Betancourt, given his famous Betancourt Doctrine stance against military dictatorships, his keen interest in consolidating a democratic system in Venezuela, and being aware of how the oil industry could serve both of these purposes.
Judging by the muted reaction to the death of Jaime Lusinchi, perhaps the wisdom of our former leaders, many of whom are directly responsible for this mess, is not all that missed.