La pobreza como condena / Antonio López Ortega

Poverty as a Curse

Material poverty, of course, but also infinite spiritual poverty. Times of misery but also times of the death of ideas, of anachronisms, of ideological survivals. What vision of the world today can validate concepts such as nutritional security, endogenous development, asymmetric warfare? The poverty of ideas is a reflection of the poverty of goods. “Poor poor country”—said the motto of a seminar promoted by the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello not long ago—. Our essential, primary, unavoidable theme is the theme of poverty. Poverty in all its facets: not only that of the beggar who asks from a wheelchair, of the street performer who entertains with balls of fire at stoplights, of the Wayúu Indian girl who crashes her little face against your car window; but also that of political leadership, of public institutions, of the educational system. Nothing escapes the putrefaction and each day we submerge ourselves more in the mud. A minister makes a declaration and his language is trash, a mayor speaks and his ideas are trash, a teacher gives a class and thinks his students learn something. It has already been decades of deterioration, malnutrition and mental dysfunction. Organic masses who wander, who spend their day rummaging through the trash, who collect cans in sacks.

In the 1960s the middle class, which is the one that makes a country grow, represented more than 20%; today it barely exceeds 10%. The most poverty-stricken [la clase E], on the other hand, make up more than 50% of the population according to recent surveys. There is no locomotive that will pull such a heavy and immobilizing load. If the statistics keep rising, if the deterioration is not contained, a wave of mendicancy will flood everything: properties, land, streets, gestures, beliefs, worldviews. There is no greater curse than poverty; or, better said, there can be no future without a reversal of poverty. But to add to the ills, in a period of oil earnings without precedents, the governmental rhetoric (or what is today understood as the State) actually disconnects itself from society. Just as in earlier periods, the “Petrostate” deploys its maximum splendor: the agenda does not include the social anxiety but rather a phantasmagoric rosary that includes assassinations, invasions, bilateral conflicts, internal enemies. The supposed great solution is no different from past formulas and has evolved very little beyond assistance formats, which is like keeping a dead person always at the edge of death.

It is convenient for a certain State that it all be this way, for a certain State occupied in other affairs it is convenient that the great masses remain ignorant, that they resign themselves to their crumbs, that they remain imprisoned within their daily misery, so that it can perpetuate its power and domain. Because the other option, the real and qualitative leap, the real and decisive inclusion, will always bring political risks. True sovereignty, at least in modern democracy, is individual sovereignty, the independence of spirit, the forging of criteria. We are speaking of an actual citizen, associated with work, with education for his children, immersed in the chain of economic circulation, and not this old-fashioned and battered collectivist rehearsal that confiscates properties, denigrates wealth and covers its own inefficiency by blaming those who produce it. It is easy to rule in poverty; what is difficult, because it is upright and worthy, is to rule amidst the prosperity of citizens. A society of the poor is equal to a poor government and poor discourses. An endless chain whose links continue to grow.

But these chains, as our National Anthem reiterates, can be broken, even if it is done unconsciously. The image of a man who during the Caracazo disturbances [in 1989] jumps onto a car, or carries a slab of beef ribs over his back, speaks not so much of looting but of re-appropriation. Poor Venezuelans can be in the most extreme misery but they associate the notion of progress with goods: the little piece of land, the little house, the little car. Material goods, their own, earned through sweat. Ignorance may be widespread but everyone coincides in recognizing a State, yesterday and today, as all-powerful as it is useless, as grandiloquent as it is incapable of generating sources of work and diversifying the economy. We suffer under the State because it has not exercised its essential role: to be the catalyst of social and economic change.

Old recipes are sold like new ones while the great evils remain. If the social explosions of past eras responded to causes that still remain, nothing allows us to think they can’t happen once again. Desperation gives bad advice and can take us through bad roads. But we would also have to understand that all human existence has limits and hunger is one of them. If the bulk of our society continues to sleep, doped up by misery, let us hope to God its awakening won’t be as violent as the ones from past eras.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 4 October 2005 }

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