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Oil proceeds: Venezuelan driver wins F1 race with $66 million from Chavez

Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA, sponsored Formula One champion Pastor Maldonado, stirring controversy over the PR campaign at home, writes a guest blogger.

By Juan Cristóbal NagelGuest blogger / May 17, 2012

Williams Formula One driver, Pastor Maldonado, from Venezuela, leads the race in front Ferrari's Fernando Alonso from Spain, background, during the Spanish Grand Prix at the Montmelo racetrack near Barcelona, Sunday May 13. Maldonado won the race.

Alvaro Barrientos/AP

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.

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There was a big Twitter-ruckus [this week] after the publication of Yon Goicoechea‘s latest column in El Universal (in Spanish). In it, Goicoechea criticizes Venezuelans for cheering and applauding Pastor Maldonado’s Formula 1 triumph last weekend. He reminds his readers how much Maldonado’s sponsorship has cost Venezuela, how PDVSA has no need to be “promoting” itself on race cars, and how it is issuing debt to, among other things, be able to pay for these exploits.

The backlash was as swift as it was unsurprising. This is a country where absolutely nobody understands the concept of opportunity cost.

Putting aside childish complaints about Goicoechea’s “tone” – I mean, really, after thirteen years of Chavismo you would think we would have developed a thicker skin – the main point of the article is absolutely, 100 percent accurate. Maldonado’s sponsorship is simply another very expensive peg in the Chavista propaganda machine, as the picture in the post attests.

The opposition’s mindless cheering, going along just to get along, is incredibly disappointing. Idiotic, some would say.

So yes, Goicoechea’s tone was harsh and provocative. So what? He got his point across.

Do you think a more measured article, in which he politely wondered out loud whether celebrating Maldonado was a good idea, would have gotten this much attention? As all polemicists do, he tried to convey his point by using attention-grabbing language. Good for him.

But it’s no surprise that Venezuelans want none of this “what did $66 million buy me” [stuff]. This is a country where beauty queens are lionized, and nobody stops to think what this says to little girls, what the consequences are for gender equality and for violence against women.

This is a country where people feel entitled to their Cadivi dollars without thinking how completely regressive a policy it is. This is a country where people think they “deserve” cheap gas because we have a lot of oil and, besides, there has to be some benefit from living in this hell-hole, right?

Next time you get mugged in Caracas, think about the teachers your mugger didn’t have, the cops you didn’t see on the street, or the judicial system that simply isn’t there to prevent the scumbag from being out on the streets. Think about how all of those things could have been bought with the $66 million that PDVSA gives Maldonado each year.

Then, only then, should you go back to celebrating Maldonado’s feat.

– Juan Nagel is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002.

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