Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

Caracas, Venezuela Interview -

When you take the Avenue Casanova through the officially riskiest place in the world to live and do business the hills are covered in billboards (Marlboro Man, Polar Beer and ‘Super-Push-Up' bottom exercise classes) and dingy death-trap, shaky shacks. Several crunches through the gears and up the hillside tracks and you get the detail of the picture -- the disenchanted shanty town faces.

Impoverished, sad, they might as well be disenfranchised.

Oil made Venezuela the wealthiest Latin American country of the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties. The size of Texas and Oklahoma stuck together the nation, like the American states, was boom-time land, wildcat paradise. The rigs went up, the pumps went down and the oil and the money flowed.

In a land of military dictators General Juan Vincente Gomez was the 20th Century's first. He was also the most despotic of the five caudillos who ran ramrod over the people and the politics until what was amusingly known as the first democratic elections in 1947. Oil allowed Gomez to write a cheque for the national debt.

He wrote rather more for himself. He became the country's richest man. In what seems forever it has been a barrel-of-black-gold-for-them-and-half-a-dozen-barrels-for-me economy, a daily premiere league of kickbacks.

Driving through the capital of Caracas David Tatazopoulus, an American based here with Dow Jones for the past three years, explains the prevalent theory:' Being corrupt is being Venezuelan.' You ask his source. ‘My girlfriend -- she's Venezuelan.'

Today the nation is in crisis. Devaluation is imminent. At every other moment there is a murder or a financial ‘emergency'. Two years ago Banco Latino, the country's second biggest bank, collapsed. Depositors panicked. Money went overseas. Then, fiscal dominoes began.Banks began to break down like rickety Caracas taxis. At present the Government has taken over seventeen banks which is about half the banking sector.

Not exactly a businessman's haven. Up, over the Caribbean a few thousand miles, in Syracuse , New York , the research company Political Risk Services calculates the universe's hottest potential trouble spots. Venezuela tops the list. One item gets it in a capsule: ‘Turmoil Risk: Likelihood of large-scale protests, general strikes, terrorism, guerrilla warfare, civil war and cross-border war.'

Stability, you might surmise, is a problem.

Rich from oil but ailing from decades of corruption and mismanagement, this is a land and a disillusioned people that needs a leader. An honest head of State free from political patronage and cleverly calculated corruption.

Which is why the Evita card is so popular.

Irene Saez, 34, Miss Venezuela and then Miss Universe in 1981, a 6ft 1ins tall strawberry blonde with Beverly Hills teeth, an hour-glass figure with prominent ‘Super-Push-Up' bottom, is the one dealing. Off the top of the deck.

Four years ago she entered politics and was elected mayor of Chacao, a district of Caracas. She was just re-elected getting 96 percent of the vote in the most one-sided political victory in four decades of elections.

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