March 5, 2012
Here’s a fun question to ask yourself: if you had to disappear and live out the rest of your days below the radar, where would you go?
Think about it seriously for a moment… it’s an interesting thought experiment. Assuming you had a dream team of angry creditors, bounty hunters, private investigators, and/or government agents chasing after you, where would you go?
There are several countries where disappearing is a relatively easy thing to do. We’ve talked about a few of them in the past– places like Morocco, Brazil, Lebanon, and the Philippines.
Venezuela is also one to consider.
Now, a country that’s known as the murder capital of the world and is run by a notoriously corrupt, populist dictator has a bit of a PR challenge. And frankly, this is a big advantage when trying to move off the reservation.
Like neighboring Colombia, there’s a terrible stigma about Venezuela. And also like neighboring Colombia, the stigma is way overblown.
Most foreigners (and especially North Americans) think that they’ll be kidnapped the second they set foot on Colombian soil. Or rounded up and shot upon arrival to Venezuela. This is obviously not true, but it’s enough to keep most people away.
Moreover, the population of Venezuela is nearly 30 million, with several million living here in Caracas. And like Brazil to the south, Venezuelans have a rich ethnic mix– African, European, indigenous, etc. Almost any westerner can pass as Venezuelan, so white or black, you don’t necessarily stick out.
Further, Hugo Chavez’s brand of National Socialism has created a largely cash society in Venezuela. There are few financial records from which anyone could be tracked, unlike in developed countries up north where constantly using your MasterCard pinpoints your exact location to any government agency paying attention.
Then there’s the bit about the extradition treaty. If you saw the Coen brothers 2008 film Burn After Reading [spoiler alert], you may remember George Clooney’s character hopping a flight to Venezuela at the end of the movie because the country has no extradition treaty with the United States.
This is actually incorrect. There is a US-Venezuela extradition treaty dating back to 1922. However it’s riddled with ambiguities and contains an extremely limited list of extraditable offenses (e.g. bigamy… seriously?) Even when the treaty does apply, Hugo Chavez rarely cooperates.
Under the terms of a 1988 UN Drug Convention agreement, narcotics trafficking and money laundering are considered to be extraditable offenses. However, once again, Hugo Chavez rarely cooperates, and it’s for this reason that a number of financial shadeballs are hiding out in Caracas… some even hoping to obtain citizenship.
Among the 350 articles from Venezuela’s most recent 1999 constitution– the one that changed the country’s name to ‘The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’– is one that expressly forbids the extradition of Venezuelan nationals.
(In case you’re wondering, it takes five years of residency to officially become a Venezuelan citizen, or about $20,000 and a few weeks to unofficially become one. I don’t recommend the latter.)
Anyhow, while Venezuela is not anywhere near the top of my list of places to spend meaningful amounts of time, there are definitely worse places to be.
In Caracas, the weather is fantastic. It’s never too hot, and it never gets cold. Venezuela itself is gorgeous with pristine mountains and beaches. And despite their reputation for being murderous thugs, Venezuelans are actually friendly people.
(As a matter of fact, Venezuelans tend to be close-talkers. It’s a cultural norm to invade personal space in conversation.)
I would also be remiss if I failed to mention that single people will be absolutely delighted down here, especially men. There seems to be a beauty pageant every other weekend with no shortage of gorgeous women vying for the title.
So if you’re expecting that proverbial knock-knock at the door from Big Brother… think about heading down to Caracas while you consider your options.