Living in the U.S., it is hard to grasp how important private property rights are. Whenever we buy, sell, or produce something we automatically assume that we own it. We don’t think about it because we live in a country where the government guarantees the right to private property. This is not, however,the case in other parts of the world. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has launched a mission to restrict and expropriate private property. Every day the headlines in the local newspapers in Venezuela talk about how government has “nationalized” a bank, a supermarket or a factory. One brave organization has gained international recognition for defending property rights in Venezuela as a basic human right.
While most people have not been able to do much about the Venezuelan government’s move to wipe out private property in the country, CIPE’s long-time partner the Center for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge (CEDICE) put together an aggressive media campaign to defend what they consider the most fundamental human right–the right to own property. Yesterday at a ceremony in Washington D.C., CEDICE received its 2010 Templeton Freedom award in the category of “Ethics and Values” for their brave efforts in protecting private property in Venezuela.
After the event, I had the opportunity to talk to the president of CEDICE, Rafael Alfonzo, and he explained to me: “The problem in our countries is that people don’t really know their rights.” That is why CEDICE decided to explore ways to promote awareness among Venezuelans about their right to own property. Mr. Alfonzo also told me that what he sees in Venezuela is a contradiction: while the government has taken a hard line against private property, regular Venezuelans do not want to live in a country like Cuba where there is no private property. Mr. Alfonzo explained, “We conducted focus groups of Venezuelans from all walks of life and found out that 80 percent of them appreciate private property.”
Based on the results of the focus groups, CEDICE came up with a number of powerful media advertisements defending private property. Some of the ads targeted a new Law on Social Property explaining, “The law of social property will take away what is yours.” Another set of ads focused on regular Venezuelans who have placed their life’s work into building a small business. The ads featured testimonials saying, “My dad has worked for 50 years to build his business through tireless efforts–Don’t mess with my dad, I will defend his right to private property!”
The media campaign had a tremendous impact on the hearts and minds of ordinary Venezuelans, and forced the government to retract on some of its more aggressive moves. Yet the success of the ads has also elicited a hard response from the government, which decided to find ways to censor CEDICE’s campaign.
For their continuing courage, please join me in congratulating CEDICE on its very well earned prize.