My professional life has been in banking. Since the mid 1970s I worked at the Banco Venezolano de Crédito, Universal Bank and was its president from June 1983 to the date of my resignation in June of last year.
The bank was founded in 1925. As an institution, it has earned its prestige through hard work, innovation, and weathering the multiple crises taking place in the country. I have always taken an uncompromisingly straightforward stance toward government administrations, something unusual among banking institutions, which almost by definition are dependent on government favors. This situation is especially prevalent in Venezuela.
Nevertheless, we were uncompromisingly straightforward. Banking is a cold business and needs to anticipate the outcome of business and all kinds of relationships. In 2000 ominous clouds darkened our country’s horizon. We chose to make our voice heard loud and clear and created a project named “A Dream for Venezuela”. We prepared an extensive diagnosis of Venezuela’s modern history, the roots of its real problems, and we laid out a map of sorts to guide us into a future of prosperity and development. And we named it “A Dream for Venezuela”.
The book was a smashing hit. Over 70,000 copies were printed, and we toured the country sharing it and explaining it. The government ignored it and took the opposite path. Retracing those steps will be imperative.
However, the bank has contributed more than this book to Venezuela. For decades, we have been crystal-clear in our business ethics and our relations with customers, management, employees and shareholders, even upholding a policy of not doing business with the government. We restrict our operations to the private sector of the economy, which is not an easy task. We only transact business with the public sector in operations with the oil industry with which we had worked with before it reverted to state ownership.
In my many years as a banker, I have always followed a personal rule to talk plainly and candidly, not only to fellow board members in the bank, but also to shareholders at assemblies, and to the general public through articles and conferences. I have published two books: Unwilling Chronicle of an Unfinished Crisis, which basically addresses the catastrophic banking crisis of the 1990s, the worst in the world in terms of the gross domestic product, and Comments on the Brink of Chaos, a compilation of the numerous articles that I have published.
Furthermore, from the NGOs “Leadership and Vision” and “CEDICE” (Spanish initials for Center for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge), I played an active part in such campaigns as “An Owners’ Country”, in the defense of private property. This campaign caused controversy and was banned. I was subpoenaed and questioned at the Sebin 1 headquarters for defending that natural right. I also took part in the lawsuit to overturn the Central Bank of Venezuela Reform Bill, whereby this public law institution was allowed to indefinitely finance the government with the inflationary consequences that affect us all.
Evidently, and as those who care about me and know me told me repeatedly, this would end up with complications. I was the target of attacks from many different fronts and in the long run had to fold my sails.
Each passing day, I see the country’s situation worsening. Each passing day, it pains me more. Principles are not only to be spouted; they are to be lived by, and that is difficult because it involves sacrifice. But the dream lives and we are working on it: the students continue their struggle and so many brave Venezuelans such as Leopoldo, María Corina and Ceballos, continue their fight for freedom above everything else.