In June 2009, I was asked to present at the Caracas Values in Business
Congress organised by Adolfo Jarrin, a CTT consultant based in Venezuela. I visited this nation where despite the efforts of visionary, brave and committed people, freedom of speech is being repressed under a corrupt government that came to power promising a better life for citizens. Like so many other governments in South America, it has badly lost its way.
I spoke to people and saw evidence myself of the sheer frustration of day to day existence in such a system. I was banned from leaving my central
Caracas hotel by myself due the real danger of being mugged or attacked.
On Sunday, I was driven around the city. Supporters of Globovision, an
independent TV station, were on the streets with buckets collecting money to pay a fine imposed by the government because the station dared to air
criticism of Hugo Chavez, the President. Almost all other stations had been
taken over by the government. That afternoon I watched part of the weekly,at least three hour long, live televised speech that Chavez delivers to the nation.
Before the congress, we conducted a national values assessment of the 320
congress participants. I must state that this means the results are not
statistically significant but they do provide a good indication of the culture and dire problems that are being faced.
The values in the top 10 Current Culture were corruption, conflict/aggression,crime/violence, bureaucracy, poverty, blame, uncertainty about the future,centralized government, wasted resources, and unemployment. It is also no wonder that freedom of speech was listed as a top value in the Desired Culture. The entropy score was 73% which is the highest we have ever seen in any nation. (Cultural Entropy is a measure of the percentage of limiting values. It shows the amount of non-productive or destructive energy in a system.) One of the most striking results was the word ‘hatred’ in the top 10 Current Culture values chosen by men. This is the first time we have seen this word in the top 10 and it signals to a deep cloud of fear that casts long shadows across Venezuela despite the sunny and warm climate of the country.
The list of daily difficulties went on and on. It does not come as a surprise
when restaurants and business are closed down a few times each year.
Government officials will visit the businesses and ‘find’ irregularities that
mean the business has to be closed. They are normally allowed to open again three or four days later. This happens even to the largest businesses. I was told that this was one of the ways the government demonstrates its power.
In Venezuela, exchange currency control seems to be administered by the
Government based on political reasons. Most people have to use the unofficial market and never know from day to day the price they will be expected to pay. A few people tried to explain the financial mess that this caused but I am not able to retell it here because it was just too confusing to comprehend.
I was due to present the results during my Congress presentation two days
later. I must admit that I had a couple of sleepless nights when I realized the significance and danger of the government control. The day came and the presentation was well received by the congress participants. When I showed the results of the survey, there was an emotional, energetic reaction: a literal buzz in the room.
We also shared the demographic cuts for Pro-government, Opposition and the Nis-Nis (Neither-Neither) groups. Many people are too fearful to oppose the government and the Nis-Nis movement has grown as a response to this fear and to a conviction that this society does not want to go back to the old way of politics either. The words in the current culture chosen by the Nis-Nis group (64% entropy) were close to the opposition group (79% entropy) and both were dramatically different to the pro-government results (22% entropy).
As I left the stage, I was approached by a lady who told me that I should
leave the country soon. She said that if any government officials had seen
my presentation or had heard about it, I could be in serious trouble. Later
Adolfo pointed out that not all people share this degree of fear. He said
”please keep in mind that this polarised situation has both extremes doing
wrong things……people that are against Chavez, in the other extreme, are
doing him a great favour”
Twenty four hours later, when I arrived at the airport for my flight home, two uniformed military officials were waiting to question me. It is highly unlikely that my speech and the questioning were related, but all the same it was a heart stopping moment. After five minutes of questioning, they let me go and I thankfully checked-in and went through security to get my flight. I consider myself to be a seasoned traveler but that experience in the airport was truly frightening.
In the last week, I have heard from friends in Venezuela that life is getting
more difficult by the day Adolfo wrote to me – “Yes my friend, life conditions have deteriorated badly.
Three weeks ago in the condo where I live, 10 armed people stepped in and hijacked a neighbour that lives three floors upstairs….My personal situation is not at all nice, knowing for a fact the high risk I face because of the visibility.
So I sadly recognize that my life condition is limited to where security allows me to be…so lots of common sense and a high conviction that we are on a mission…”
Another friend wrote a long letter that finishes – “I am sorry for the young
parents who don´t see a future for their children and cannot leave the
country because they don´t have the money and, otherwise, where can they have a new start? As an old lady, I don´t think (or better hope) I will not be bothered. But it makes me sad to think that after 40 years of living in
Venezuela, during which time I have come to like the people and love the
country, I now might have to go through a war as I did as a child in Germany.
I hope the world will see the similarity between Ch. and Hitler.”
Adolfo and his team carry on their mission to create values-driven business and society despite the enormous daily challenges and threats to personal safety. As the global CTT family grows, we all face our own daily challenges to achieve our individual and collective missions. Please spare a thought for your CTT friends and colleagues in parts of the world where the challenges require a special form of courage.
Adolfo Jarrin, David Gebler, Salvador García, Phil Clothier at the Caracas
Congress June 2009
Post Script – While reviewing this article, Adolfo sent me this note. I think it is fitting to close with his words
Dear Phil, I am convinced this is all part of the processes of unfoldment of the Venezuelan society we are part of. As of now, we face these conditions based on the resentment the people in power have. Partly we are responsible for that, but in spite of all this condition, I truly believe that out of this mess, it is our obligation, a moral and spiritual one, to be part of the solution. Have no doubt a new country will emerge, a more profound and sensible one. Just at the time when we all recognize that the crisis is affecting us all and is not financial….is precisely because we lack the spiritual dimension. What is happening in Venezuela is a tremendous invitation to develop the same. I hope time proves me not to be completely wrong. Adolfo