Poderopedia does Venezuela

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.19.23 PMPoderopedia is an interesting concept. It’s a social network map of powerful people in one country or another. It started in Chile, which is a good place for it. Chile, despite scoring well on some measures of social mobility, isn’t really all that mobile at the very top end. The billionaire class is compact, made up of a long-lived oligarchy with massively overlapping interests. The social network map is crucial to understanding the country. We’re talking here about a country where the main respectable newspapers, El Mercurio, La Tercera and La Segunda, all devote multiple color pages EVERY DAY to social event photos. Social pages are, essentially, social network maps: who was talking to whom, and where.

Now, Poderopedia is off to Venezuela, where it faces a much more challenging task. Venezuela, in theory, has had middling social mobility, but the lived experience is that people can make it. Sure, there are still a few people around who are descended from the old aristocracy, but many of them have little to show for their fancy names. And today, we’ve been through the rise and fall of many newish dynasties along with big flash in the pan banks, booming retailers and new industrial players. The last decade has been especially important at creating huge new-money power centers from families that were, in some cases, living with dirt floors just a few years earlier. Within these groups, the connections are often hard to suss out. I once had the pleasure of asking someone about the reputation of a wealthy Venezuelan, only to later learn that the subject of my inquiries was, secretly, my source’s employer.

Who can handle the complicated task of mapping and tracking these bizarre complexities? Who better than César Batiz, the former investigative reporter at Cadena Capriles who, among other things, first broke the story of overpriced electricity plants provided by now-familiar names such as Ovarb and Derwick.

Poderopedia is gradually linking together the various people, companies, banks and agencies that make up the Venezuelan power structure, and already, the public is responding with massive attention. All of the “popular now” pages are Venezuelans: banker Victor Vargas, politician Henrique Capriles Radonsky, journalist-cum-politician Blanca Eekhout, and Alejandro Betancourt, whose career has been a bit too complicated for me to try and sum it up in just a few words.

Poderopedia-Venezuela is far from complete. I’d venture to say that it’s not completable, as the superficial links like sitting on a board of directors with someone, going to the same university or sharing a political party, are much less important there than the concealed connections through tiny companies in Panama, the Caymans and the Turks & Caicos. There’s no slot in Poderopedia for “these three guys’ private jets landed in and took off from Teterboro within hours of one another on occasions X Y and Z.” And the physical layout of the social network maps is pretty well unreadable, and seems to be stuck at a single hop, making it hard to run measures of centricity and other network analytics. But still, while there are connections to be made, I have faith that the site will make more than anyone can use. It’s certainly an interesting effort and one that deserves your clicks.

3 thoughts on “Poderopedia does Venezuela

    1. Tom ODonnell

      Steven – Excellent project! Thanks much for letting us all know.
      There were sociologists who made a big effort to do this in the USA in the 1970’s, and it was an important contribution to understanding the power structure in those days of mass movements and foreign wars (I can’t recall the names of the authors right now. Will look for it.).

      It will be interesting to see, in some objective manner, what is the new power structure that has grown up on the basis of the Bolivarian state. I wish there was an old map from the 1990’s to compare to now!

      Unfortunately, I get error messages when I try to register … but, I’ve written them to resolve whatever the problem is.
      Saludos desde Berlin

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