Last week, Lorenzo Mendoza, CEO of Venezuela’s Empresas Polar, gave a speech to his factory workers and employees that was released on the internet, regarding the emigration of Venezuelan talent to other countries.
Mendoza began his speech by saying that he would not talk about politics, because he did not like to do so:
“I will not let anyone here do it; I ask those who would like to do it in these facilities not to. We all came here to work. And I do practice what I say. We came here to work and not to talk about those topics.”
What Mendoza has failed to realize is that his position with Empresas Polar inevitably involves him in politics. He is the CEO of a conglomerate that produces over 4 percent of Venezuela’s GDP and grosses an estimated US$7 billion in global sales, in a country under socialist dictates that have riddled it with an astounding amount of political corruption, money laundering, and drug trafficking.
Lorenzo Mendoza is the ideological (and thus political) counterpart of the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. He stands for socially responsible private enterprise, something that the “Bolivarian Revolution” has tried to squash since its birth with the late president Hugo Chávez.
Throughout his career, Mendoza has earned admiration and respect from people for his hard work, entrepreneurship, and moral values. He has managed to expand Empresas Polar at an international level, and its foundation, Fundación Polar, has helped thousands of people in need, inspiring thousands more to pursue their dreams and continue their studies in order to achieve them.
I understand that Mendoza’s speech was meant to convince young professionals to remain in Venezuela and pursue their careers there, to help stop the socioeconomic regression and promote growth. However, it took a prejudiced stance that offended many people living abroad, due to the guilt-tripping nature of his words.
Personally, I consider Lorenzo Mendoza to be an admirable man. He has consistently fought tooth and nail for everything he and his family have worked for. I have heard him speak on several occasions at different events, and admire his capacity to reach out to people, especially younger crowds.
But as a Venezuelan national living abroad, I found it hurtful for him to make me and others feel guilty for choosing to migrate to another country, while he deflected the reality that he has become a central figure in Venezuelan politics.
His speech caused a strong reaction and response from many Venezuelans living abroad, their families, and those who wish to leave, but cannot. In a strongly worded letter written by a Venezuelan woman living in Panama, Mendoza was accused of never having to go through the horrible day-to-day experiences of what it is to live in Venezuela — which is not true. Mendoza has suffered from a personal familial tragedy at the hands of this regime.
This woman’s response, though aggressive and misinformed, is further proof that Mendoza is involved in politics, now more than ever, as the situation in Venezuela has changed. The “us versus them” attitude that has infected our country for so long, no longer means “Chavistas and the opposition,” but now includes “those who can afford things and those who cannot.”
Mendoza represents capitalism and success; he is a defender of human rights, private property, workers’ rights, and enterprise. He is this regime’s natural enemy. We need him to unite people and inspire them to better themselves and create more human capital, to help our country to move forward.
We need Mendoza to inspire young people living at home to work harder and to encourage professionals abroad to hope to come back, more talented and prepared than ever — without making them feel guilty for not wanting to do so. We need Mendoza to stop people from viewing successful entrepreneurs as the enemy and start viewing them again as inspirations.
Mendoza is right: Venezuela does need smart and hardworking people, and we know that Venezuelans are capable of great things, but we do not need people telling us that what we expats have done is wrong.
Mendoza needs to use his place in politics — because, whether he likes it or not, he has one — to help further our country, and not further divides.
Edited by Fergus Hodgson.