There was a country that once had extreme wealth. The citizens of this nation lived relatively well, a burgeoning middle class was in the works.
Even the poorest residents had money to spend – maybe not as much as others who took advantage of this country’s boom years, but it was enough for them to purchase the finer consumer goods that were available on the market, making them feel good even if it was just for the short run.
In the poor shanty town areas neighbours had the latest televisions, appliances and electronic items inside their makeshift shacks. The flowing money quickly turned this nation into a consumer society. Those who were more fortunate could make trips abroad to other countries, such as the United States, where they partook in even more shopping sprees. Yes, corruption was also rampant but there was little concern that public officials were illicitly profiting where they shouldn’t have been tinkering. As long as people had their own cash to spend, they didn't care much about the manner in which parties and government conducted business. Only the most outrageous, blatant cases of graft were prosecuted during these lavish years and even then, only a few eyebrows were raised.
The wealth that was being spread had been generated by just one industry. The government spent the money it received unwisely on overburdening infrastructure, such as overpriced roads and bridges, through contracts given to friends and cronies whose budgets swelled before the final project was completed. Investments in education, health and R-D industries were ignored. Then all at once, it seemed, it all came crashing down. The industry which had changed people’s lives and kept their pockets filled, imploded because of global turbulences. Jobs were lost, shortages began and the citizens began pointing fingers at their government leaders.
Needing a bailout, the government’s leaders went to the IMF, which was happy to help them out, but with some painful strings attached. Food and energy prices would soar and taxes were hiked. The boom years went ka-boom. Then the violence began. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in every different city to loot shops, and steal from those who seemed to have taken advantage of the situation. Vandals destroyed bank branch offices and government buildings. The crime rate soared to unprecedented levels, and the political situation became so unbearable that citizens desperately began seeking out “a messiah” – someone who would take them back to the wonder years.
This is what took place in Venezuela during the 1980s and 1990s. The developments that occurred in an almost 20-year period are not unique. We have seen many of these ingredients for upheaval repeated and still being played out in Spain as society struggles to understand what is happening and the government desperately looks for ways to keep the nation from sinking.
Venezuela took advantage of its oil industry as much as Spain placed all its bets on construction and real estate. Both sectors in these countries were hit hard by different crises and neither Venezuela nor Spain had anything to fall back on. Both governments sought out external help but at an agonizing price. Violence has already begun this year in several Spanish cities, and we can expect more blowups in the autumn when prices go up and the most severe cutbacks take effect.
As Der Spiegel asked in an excellent report about Spain appearing in its English edition on Monday: “Is this stable democracy, this reliable European Union partner often praised as the alliance's “southern anchor”, the fourth-largest economy in the euro zone, after Germany, France and Italy, at a crossroads? And could it even see a return to authoritarian, nationalist times, 37 years after the death of former dictator Francisco Franco?”
It is difficult to conceive that a Spanish “messiah” in the likeness of a Hugo Chávez will appear on the political scene. Spaniards still remember their dark Francoist past too vividly to even consider seeking out a nationalist leader. The economic and political developments occurring across Europe are ones that have not been seen in many years. Only drastic measures and radical change through the combined efforts of EU leaders will get us out of this mess.
By Martin Delfin. Martin writes for the English language version of El Pais