viernes, 20 de abril de 2012

Discrimination, for Venezuelan students abroad

It’s hard for someone overseas to understand how CADIVI –our control exchange system, established by this government – works. In short words, what it means, is that Venezuelans are not allowed to have the ammount of foreign currency they want; but we must adjust to the arbitrary quotas given by the government. Plus, in order to gain access to those quotas, we must go through a nightmare-like bureocratic process that includes preparing folders of uncanny personal documentation, to sign a jury declaration and to be prepared for a rejection of our right to access that currency, without further explanation.

There are several types of CADIVI quotas. One is for travelers. Every venezuelan soul that wants to travel abroad must own, first, a credit card. This credit card must be valid for at least six month before asking for your “CADIVI dollars” – as we all them. Travelers are authorized to spend, via their credit cards and on certain destinations, not more than $2500 per year plus $500 in cash. Depending on the place your are visiting and the time you are staying, you will get this maximun or, more probably, a lot less.

The other common CADIVI quota is for buying things online via credit card. Venezuelans are only allowed to spend $ 400 a year online. This was particulary troublesome when my boyfriend and I were applying to grad school since standarized test cost between $200 and $250 (and we had to take two of those, in my case TOEFL and GRE); and application fees for universities go anywhere between $50 and even $150. I had to send letters to the universities explaning them about CADIVI, why I couldn’t re-take the GRE in the same year, why I needed an application fee waiver...Not all institutions were able to understand this, and I don’t blame them. But this is usually the beggining for a very spined road for every Venezuelan who wants to pursue graduate studies abroad.

The third CADIVI quota I will talk about here (because there are many others) is the quota for students abroad. This quota has no other limits than the cost of your studies and your living expenses wathever you are but precisaly for that, the paperwork required is endless and must be renewed every six months. Usually, the students’ parents or relatives are the ones who do all the paperwork, which is yet another ilogical issue about this process. The CADIVI quota for students used to be open for anyone studying abroad, even for primary and highschool students.

Not anymore. For a while now, primary and highschool Venezuelan students abroad can’t access CADIVI dollars. For making things worse, a couple of days ago a new messure could possibly restrict access to “CADIVI Dollars” for students who are not studying what the government considers “priority areas”.

The ressolution is confusing. It doesnt’ say anywhere what it will deny access to CADIVI Dollars to anyone who’s not studying a “priority area” but it does not specify what will happen to them neither. The last paragraph of such messure establishes that any doubt that comes from this document will be solved by the “Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Educación Universitaria” which leaves space for more arbitrary moves, if possible.

The “Priority Areas” list are not surprising. The academic areas are mostly sciences (all basic sciences and virtually all engineering fields are included), some art (folk, dance and music), some social sciences (something called “social economy” and “criminology”) and education, mostly all fields. Most of the academic areas selected are not the kind who would prepare someone to be critical-political speaking.

This becomes more obvious as we list the most notorious fields excluded off the list. Journalism, law, sociology, psychology, economics, management and some fields of medicine.

So starting with journalism, you can see why. Journalist – even considering that Venezuela some terrible ones, but also many good ones – have given the government many headaches and thus, the Revolution has threatened them and put some in prison or send them to exile. Why let anyone else to prepare any further in journalism tecniques, comunication? To have more people demanding free speech? It is better to have more useful idiots studying dance (nothing wrong with studying dance, but I can’t believe my government establishes “dance” as a priority over “journalism”) than people able to tell the truth.

Then comes law. Law studies are probably another source of dissidence because this government never acts according to the law, or more likely, creates its own law and its own way to interpret it and follow it. Why in Earth does a Socialist Revolution wants people with a masters in Human Rights in their CV’s? Or international law? This government does not know a thing about diplomacy, Human Rights and well, law. Or, to use other words, they know everything about it, and they don’t like what they know. Is not convenient for them.

Sociology. Well, historically speaking sociologist are not exactly system and establishment friends. They study who we are, what do we think, of who we are against, why do we live in such circusntances and why do we relate to those people. There are many so- called “sociologist” in Venezuela who are nothing more than old fashioned pseudo communitsts who think that sociology is equal to sympatize to any so called marxist tendency just because..I’m not feeling politically correct today, just in case its not obvious by now. The fact is that in general, sociologist are critical, polemic, the nature of their work means to not always say what people want to hear. What the government want to hear.

Psychology was one of the few surprises I got from this resolution. Perhaps it its potential to be polemic or critical aswell. More likely, those who made the list consider that Venezuelans mental and phsychological well being is somehow, not important. Psychiatry is one of the few medical field excluded off the list.

Economy, administration, management... none of those fields earn a place either. Only “social economy” – wathever “social economy” is for them, it could be anywhere from marxist economy to social responsability. But if shouldn’t surprise why economy and finance in general are excluded. The country’ economy is chaotic, all economical messures (including CADIVI) this government makes soon prove to be terrible ideas. Our economy is missmanaged, uneficient, arbitrary, emocional even. It is obvious that an efficient manage of our resources in order to increase production, progress, wathever is not a government priority. Even worse, is not even our goverment’ work. So they don’t want anyone to study such non sense. Even less abroad.

Besides, the presidents have said, on numerous speeches that being rich is wrong, that having money is bad. No Venezuelan should want to pursue a career that can help them make more money than usual.

The last area excluded are some medical specialities, including gynecology. So we can only guess why they decided to include some medical specialities and excluded others. <

As I said early, we still don’t know if CADIVI dollars will be unavailable for students who do not met the “priority academic area” criteria. Or if it just mean that students excluded from the list might recieve less, or wait more for the foreign currency they need. What this resolution does says is that some students are more important than others. That there is shortcut where the state might decided which careers we should pursue and which ones should be avoided. The fact that they are already putting aside careers that encourage critical thinking is particulary disturbing for this blogger.

Of course, being CADIVI Dollars so limited and so hard to get, there is a black market that works exactly as any black market you might know: ilegal and ruled by speculation and overpricing. CADIVI Dollars cost half, and sometimes even less, than those Dollars you might find in the black market, without all the risks that comes with buying black dollars. This means that if after this resolution, some students do not get their CADIVI quota, their degrees will cost them now double, or more. <

With our low salaries, studying abroad without CADIVI is impossible for many, achievable only for very rich people. So if this government wants to be inclusive, to give CADIVI quotas only to some and not to all, is not exactly the best way to start. Many have called the measure “discriminatory”. Since the text is ambiguous, we will just have to wait and see.

sábado, 7 de abril de 2012

Blast from the past

My ex just recently added me on Facebook but this story has nothing to do with that. He added me, I accepted his invitation and checked his profile. No surprises. I knew him well, I knew exactly who he was going to be in ten years and that’s why I dumped him; we were on different paths, we still are and that’s good. While his profile wasn’t surprising, you can’t say the same about his best friend’ timeline. The name of his best friend – lets call him Bernardo – appeared on my timeline today, because of one message my ex and him exchanged. Out of pure curiosity – what lead us to look on Facebook’ profile if is not that? – I clicked and checked.

I remember Bernardo as a plain, regular and quite nice guy. In the two years that the relationship with my ex lasted, Bernardo and I surely had a lot of talks and movies and nights out. He had this cute girlfriend, younger than me, whom I also liked a lot. I’m trying to figure out if I’m remembering things correctly. It’s been so long. It was 2003… our first year of the university; 2005 when we lose touch. But as far as I can remember, he did not liked the current government. He even went with the group to a couple of demonstrations against it.

>So back to Facebook. By looking at his profile picture (and cover photo as well) you know he got married but not with the cute girl he used to date, although his wife looks cute and happy; wearing a long white dress with long lace sleeves and both posing next to a 50’s car on their wedding day. The next visible picture is one of a tiny baby. Good for him. So far, everything seems normal.

But then, more and more weird comments appear on his wall. The comments he make are 100% “Revolutionary”. He mocks at the opposition comparing Capriles in a photo to an ape. He disregards opposition’ primary results. He shares many links from prominent pro-government sites and calls United States, “The Empire”. As a final touch, he sends sentimental get better “pa’ lante comandante” wishes to the president. You can’t possible doubt his political inclinations.

I’m absolutely shocked and amazed. I tell my boyfriend about it – “You know I added my ex on Facebook the other day” – My boyfriend replies with a “Yeah… yeah…” – Obviously he doesn’t want to hear about anything involving my ex – “And I just discovered that his friend is now a Revolutionary” – “Was he when you were with your ex?” – “Of course not!” – I reply. Next, we have a conversation about lost hopes, about how things like that can happen. How can someone we believe to be in their best judgment support all this madness? Specially considering he did not support it before.

My boyfriend throws an hypothesis: it is all about the money. He’s probably getting a lot of money from the government – “who knows what’s he’s doing” – I never thought Bernardo could be corrupted that easily. Of course, we were 18- 20 years old, our characters were probably not fully developed yet neither tested back then. Still, I find it hard to believe. If it was all about the money, and nothing else he wouldn’t have the need to publish all that on Facebook; would suffice with keeping his account private and acting low profile. I will never know how and why did he change his mind. I keep wondering if something similar has happened to other people my age but there is no way to know that either.   

Facebook can’t give us much information about how a person really is. But it seems that he really believes on everything he posts, he is convinced this is the truth.

I know all this is so politically incorrect that you don’t know where to start. But it strikes me that even through we have the same age, come from a similar environment, similar education background; can’t share a vision of our country. For me, our country is falling apart: our salaries are a joke, food and medicine shortages make our daily life even harder and I don’t need to start talking about the insecurity situation. For most of this, government policies, as far as I’m concerned, are responsible for action or omission. If you add all the endless threats and actions against freedom and democracy; this post will be endless.

But Bernardo – if I’m allowed to judge only by what I saw on Facebook – sees everything differently. He likes the way things are. I don’t know which things. Maybe he’s focused on government social’ policies if any has worked. Maybe he’s aware of all the madness but doesn’t blame the government and believes in all the official justifications you hear on TV. Maybe he blames the old governments or the opposition instead.

It’s ok, I suppose. I do not own the truth and I can only speak from my own experience. My life experience has shaped somehow my political views. I’m not an experienced political analyst and on these matters, there is no science. I’m just, like I said before, shocked and amazed. When you get news from an old friend you tend to wish that all surprised you are going to get are about his relationship status, if he has children or not, family situation, career. You expect your old friends to be living different lives. But you don’t expect them to change their believes that much.

I don’t know if Bernardo was that committed to the opposition like I was. Perhaps he just went with us to the protests because he didn’t wanted to be the “different one”. I’m drawing, as you can see, many theories. But I will never get the answer of why my hell can be a paradise to others.