The Georgetown University Center for Latin American Studies and the Latin American Leadership Program co-sponsored an event titled “Venezuela: Charting the Future” on February 23. The event was held in the Rafik B. Hariri Building and featured three panels focused on Venezuela’s most important issues and how to potentially solve them.
The first topic discussed at the symposium was the economy, with an emphasis on business, energy, and finance. Speakers for this section of the event included Ramon Espinasa, Luis Vicente Garcia, and Alejandro Werner. Espinasa works for the Inter-American Development Bank as lead oil and gas specialist and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Garcia currently lives in Venezuela and works for the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce. Werner is the director of the Western Hemisphere Department at the International Monetary Fund. These three distinguished men discussed the hyperinflation of the Venezuelan bolívar, the decrease in production and exports of petroleum (production is about half of what it was twenty years ago), and the contraction of the economy (down by about 40-50 percent in the last five years).
The second issue examined was the current state of politics and the potential prospects for stability and democracy. The panel included Juan Cruz, a member of the National Security Council of the United States working in Western Hemisphere Affairs. David Meyers, previously a professor at several universities in Venezuela and currently a professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University was in attendance. Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, also spoke during this panel. Cruz, Meyers, and Shifter all discussed the difficulties facing the future of Venezuela’s politics, specifically because of the government’s lack of interest in a peaceful and just end to the domestic conflict, as well as the current division in the opposition—due in large part to the April 22 presidential elections.
The third panel was focused on how Venezuela’s situation has impacted civil society and political participation. The two panelists were Carlos Ayala Corao and David Smilde. Ayala Corao is a professor of constitutional law and human rights at the Catholic university Andres Bello in Venezuela. David Smilde is a professor in the Department of Sociology at Tulane University. The discussion on social issues included the increasing rate of poverty (currently about 87 percent of the population) and the refugee crisis that has ensued in recent months.
While the focus of discussion at the event was primarily on understanding and analyzing the issues in Venezuela today, there was also an emphasis on the potential for improvement in the coming years and a sense of hope for a better Venezuela.