U.S. Congressman Hyde’s Visit to Venezuela Contributes to Bureaucratic Equality

Was the airport delay of a US Congressional Delegation to Venezuela yet another plot by Chávez to insult the US or the latest advance toward equality in the South American country?

Caracas, November 30, 2005—Venezuela is making vast strides toward equality. Forget the increased educational funding, free medical care, and subsidized food that have given many disenfranchised people hope for their futures. What really gets me is the socialization of bureaucratic foul-ups.

Now the government of Venezuela has made it official. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what power you wield in the world, bureaucracy can affect you.

I’m referring, of course, to what is by now being billed as another show of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías’ hostility toward the U.S. A delegation of five Congressional Representatives and 22 staffers, headed by Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Il) waited for more than an hour to get off its plane before becoming impatient and heading to Aruba for the night. “The delegation members expressed their profound disappointment in the Venezuelan Government’s capricious and unexplained decision,” the delegation later said in a press release.

Decision? It’s doubtful there was a decision; they had just entered a land of equal opportunity aggravation.

Two months ago, the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. was forced to wait an hour and a half for his bags in the Caracas airport as they, along with the rest of the flights’ luggage, had apparently been temporarily misplaced. Yesterday, a Ministry of Culture screening of a Venezuelan movie was delayed by almost an hour, because no one, it seemed, had remembered to pick up the film being shown. The office responsible for issuing visas to Venezuela has shut down until January, causing another delay in the wildly disorganized visa process. Examples of bureaucratic inefficiency abound.

So, those of us whose every inconvenience won’t be taken by the majority of Congressional Representatives “as a slap in the face,” as one Washington-based political analyst described the delay, see Venezuela’s explanation of technical problems as not only within the realm of reality, but typical of it.

That explanation, which came out in a statement from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC, is that a plane being used by the Spanish Ministry of Defense was at the gate designated for use by official visitors, inhibiting Hyde’s plane from disembarking.

That sounds about right. Someone had booked two official planes to be in the same place at the same time, and government officials were slow in responding to the situation.

The delegation responded to Venezuela’s statement by saying that they were not allowed to take a bus off the plane, so they went to Aruba. It’s not hard to see why they were irked.

Gone are the days when a plane full of U.S. diplomats could fly straight into the center of Caracas. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías, two years ago, prohibited charter planes from using a convenient military base as a landing field. Now all civilians, no matter how wealthy or powerful, must make the 40-minute drive from the airport into the city. And, too, they must deal with the mix-ups that occur at the large international airport.

Apparently Hyde is not a fan of egalitarian bureaucracy, but then, he’s never appeared to be a fan of egalitarian anything in Latin America.

In 2002, Hyde wrote a letter to Bush, stating his opposition to Chávez and left-leaning presidential candidates in Brazil and Ecuador. It seems that people who campaigned for office on promises of steps toward economic equality posed a threat to world safety. “There is a real prospect that Castro, Chavez, and Lula da Silva could constitute an axis of evil in the Americas, which might soon have nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.”

That hasn’t happened, but the man was made to wait at an airport. Surely he’ll find a way to spin it so that it seems almost as bad.

Bureaucratic mishaps are not, of course, unique to Venezuela. It took me, for instance, 3 months to get a Canadian passport, which was mailed the day before my international flight to Vermont instead of to DC, where I lived. After I bought a Sprint cell phone, the company declared itself my parents’ landline service carrier, and started mailing me (in another state) their bill. My rental company in Washington kept withdrawing rent money from my bank account after I had moved out and they had rented to place to someone else. But I am not a Congressman, so I’m used to these time-consuming irritations.

And that’s what makes Venezuela unique. The government’s new slogan “Venezuela: Ahora es de todos” (“Venezuela: Today it’s everyone’s”) seems to be becoming universally true. Bureaucracy and all. For everyone.

Now that’s equality.