Property is the basic building block of all business interactions that occur in our daily lives. But as a recent report from The Property Rights Alliance shows, the lack of secure property rights is holding many countries back from reaching their true economic potential.
Long before the United Nation’s enshrined it as a human right, property has been the medium through which we trade. Without the right to property, an individual is left with no means to securing the basic necessities and is left reliant on others. When property rights are secure, we have the freedom to seek innovative business opportunities. Through property rights, we are able to invest in our future, improve our circumstances, and, in turn, contribute to the growth of the market and economy in which we function.
As an extension of this human right, small businesses and entrepreneurs must have secure rights to their property. Peruvian economist and expert in the informal sector and property rights Hernando de Soto has termed the absence of such security “dead capital.” He pointed out that even though a business might have the physical resources such as land or a building, its hands are tied in putting it to work unless property rights to such resources are well established and secure. When such assurances are absent, businesses and individuals are forced to operate in the informal sector, costing all parties in potential revenues in the forms of taxes and the subsequent services from the state.
As we have seen through countless studies and recent articles, property rights go hand in hand with the development of families, communities, and nations – especially women’s ownership. When women own their property, they invest more in food, education, and the security of the next generation. Yet, in many places around the world today, property rights are under siege and women’s property rights are not guaranteed because of inheritance laws or through outright gendered policies favoring men.
It is within this context that The Property Rights Alliance released its 2013 International Property Rights Index (IPRI). The IPRI report is an annual evaluation of 131 nations on their performance in property rights in four categories: overall property rights, the legal and political environment, physical property rights, and intellectual property rights. The IPRI report demonstrates the connection between a nation’s property rights and its economic development. In this year’s Index, Finland receives the highest overall score of 8.6 (out of 10), while Yemen is ranked last at number 131.
Nicolas Maduro soon after his narrow election win was announced. (Photo: Washington Post)
By Aurelio Concheso
On Sunday, April 14, Venezuelans went to the polls to elect a president to complete Hugo Chavez´s six-year term, following his death on March 5. The speed with which the election was called had to do with constitutional mandates, but even more with the ruling party’s hope that the pro-Chavez sentiment and bereavement of his followers, coupled with the blatant use of government resources, air time, and voter intimidation, which had become a rule of elections in the times of Chavismo, would permit a comfortable triumph for his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro.
The presidential inauguration in Venezuela has come and gone and President Chavez was a no-show, still presumably recuperating from a post-operative respiratory infection after his fourth surgery to “remove malignant cells” from his pelvic area. In reality, little is officially known about his actual medical condition and whether he will ever be able to return and reclaim the presidency. He has not been seen in public since December 11.
Until Wednesday’s decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, the lack of information about what would happen on inauguration day left Venezuelans unsettled. Police and military were in the streets of Caracas to fend off any disturbances that might occur.
Unsurprisingly, the court ruled in favor of viewing the inauguration as a formality and saw no legal obstacle to Chavez continuing as head of state for an unspecified period of time. The decision provoked an outcry from opposition forces that claimed a rupture in constitutional democracy in the country. However, former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles accepted the decision calmly, claiming that the opposition “can’t be seen as trying to gain via a technicality what we have yet to achieve via the vote.”
The private sector has a long history of involvement in Venezuelan politics, some of it quite controversial. For this reason, the peak organization representing the private sector, Fedecámaras, was very careful about maintaining an appropriate profile during this year’s presidential election process.
The president of the organization held a press conference before the election calling upon the Venezuelan people to vote in this very important election. After the election, in which Hugo Chávez was re-elected for a fourth term despite a record showing by the opposition, the Fedecámaras president hailed the peacefulness of the process and asked for the country to seek a path in which private initiative and the state could cooperate in stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
Looking well beyond the election outcome, in August, Fedecámaras introduced “Progress and Well-Being,” a program that they had planned to implement regardless of the election outcome. The program’s goal is to develop a path through which Venezuela can depart from a state-oriented approach to development and replace it with a shared vision for a future that will generate a million jobs in three years and triple private investment in the country.
Last week I was invited by the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) in Venezuela to serve as an election observer in the presidential elections where Hugo Chavez was seeking reelection after 14 years in office against the opposition candidate, the young, marathon-running Henrique Capriles Radonski. By the time Sunday dawned, there were high hopes that the Capriles candidacy could make great strides in obtaining votes, and perhaps win the election.
On Sunday morning, October 7, my international group of observers was ready to set out. We had received our credentials from the MUD office, but the government electoral authority (CNE) did not recognize our electoral observer status. Only observers from friendly countries of the UNASUR pact were allowed: no Carter Center, no European Union, and no Organization of American States delegations were permitted full observer status. My group was hoping that the local polling stations would be open and friendly enough to allow us in, despite our compromised status.
That was a big assumption, given that we were headed to one of the biggest Chavez supporting areas of Caracas, La Vega, which also is very poor and sometimes violent. My group of Spaniards, Argentines and me, the lone American, were ready to take on our assignment. But we did not know what to expect.
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In the crush of international reporting on terrorism, civil war, and revolution, it’s easy to lose sight of the more incremental progress in the world. A few decades ago, few would have dreamed that a majority of states in the world would be democracies, or that democracy would be the only broadly legitimate form of government in the world. Neither would many have imagined that the United Nations General Assembly, which had made a habit of excusing if not celebrating tyrannies, would establish in 2007 an annual International Day of Democracy to intensify global resolve to promote and consolidate democracy. Even the date (just four days after September 11) is a not-so-subtle rebuke to those who see violence and extremism as the path to a more just world.
While democracy has made dramatic gains over the last four decades, it has also confronted a growing pace of challenges and setbacks, even in the face of the new hope generated by the Arab Spring. In each of the past six years, many more countries have declined in freedom than have gained, and the number of democracies in this period has also receded. There has been a rising tide of democratic breakdowns in the past twelve years, and autocrats have been emboldened by the growing power and self-confidence of China and the economic and political troubles of the advanced industrial democracies.
Yet, as we have seen in the Arab Spring, and before that the Color Revolutions of the post-communist states, authoritarian regimes are also facing acute challenges to their stability, and without the floor of intrinsic legitimacy that most democracies enjoy. A rising generation in Singapore expects more freedom and openness, and has helped to drive unprecedented opposition gains in recent elections. The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in Malaysia has seen its political dominance erode and could lose power altogether in the next elections there. In Burma, the military has launched a transitional process that could lead to a transition to democracy in the next scheduled national elections, in 2015.
A Venezuelan voter casts her ballot in Sunday's opposition primary. (Photo: Staff)
By 11am on Sunday, February 12, the sun was already beating down strongly on the many Venezuelan citizens waiting in line to vote. Despite the nearly unbearable heat, nobody was complaining. In fact, the exuberance of the people waiting for three, four, or five hours in line to vote for their candidate in the Democratic Unity Table presidential primary election was contagious. Nothing like this had happened any time recently in Venezuela history and the excitement in the air was palpable.
As an election observer invited by the party — here it’s referred to as the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) — I was lucky enough to experience what many hope will be an historic day for this country. The government of President Hugo Chávez had mounted a disinformation campaign that asked people not to vote in the opposition primary election organized by the MUD and forbade government workers and members of the Chavez political party PSUV from voting. The government told people that no more than 800,000 people would vote and the results would be insignificant. Even MUD supporters were fearful about low voter turnout given the risks many people might have to take in order to go to the polls. Government workers feared for their jobs, contractors thought they would lose their government contracts and business people worried that they would be persecuted by government authorities. Their most optimistic projections were that two million people would come out to the polls.
What happened that day was a remarkable exercise of the democratic process. People lost their fear and came out in droves. Young people mixed with octeganarians at polls I visited. Even some government workers decided that they preferred to honor their democratic rights rather than remain intimidated. The government here frowns on international electoral observers, but when we were introduced in the polling station both the staff and the voters broke out in applause. Even the military personnel who guarded the polls seem to get caught up in the optimism of the moment.
Other than the long lines the election process went very smoothly. In past elections, machines were used that did not provide paper receipts so verification of the results was impossible. New machines were present at this election that allowed each participant to check his or her vote before depositing it in the ballot box. Despite widespread fear that it would happen, no government intimidation happened at the polls I visited.
Last night at 9pm, the results were announced by the MUD — more than three million voters overcame their fears and voted. The winner with 1.8 million votes was Henrique Capriles Radonski, who has promised a government of unity for all Venezuelans. He invited all the candidates he ran against to join him on the stage to demonstrate the unity that exists within the MUD. It is expected that some of them will join his government should he win the election. Now, the challenging work for the MUD will begin: to build a winning campaign that might unseat Hugo Chavez, with his willingness to employ all the powers of the state to stay in office. But for this day, the Venezuelan people enjoyed a breath of fresh air and the promise of a new dialogue on where the country is headed.