viernes, 14 de diciembre de 2007

SOCIAL PROGRAMS IN VENEZUELA: MYTHS AND REALITIES



from left to right: Briceño-León, España and Rodriguez.

A superb forum on Venezuela: Social factors in the Bolivarian Republic.

*** Three Venezuelan university professors speak at CSIS on Venezuelan social issues

In the center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, in Washington DC, three Venezuelan university professors gave the audience an authoritative description of the Venezuelan social situation under Hugo Chavez. The professors: Francisco Rodriguez, a Harvard PhD in Economics and professor at Wesleyan University; Luis F. España, the director of the Institute for Economic and Social research at the Venezuelan Catholic University Andres Bello, in Caracas; and, Roberto Briceño-Leon, a PhD in Sociology and Director of the Laboratory for Social Sciences, LACSO, headquartered in Caracas. The professors dealt with the issues of poverty, education, health and crime during the nine years of the Hugo Chavez government.


THE PRESENTATIONS.
Francisco Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said that Hugo Chavez has followed a policy of sharing the oil wealth. This has been his aim, especially in the health and educational areas. Due to the significant oil income poverty has been reduced although the process has been inefficient. As income per capita has increased about 16% under Chavez, inequality has increased as shown by the Gini coefficients. There are high scarcity levels in the country. He mentioned sardines (86%), black beans (85%) and milk (65%) as examples of basic foods that cannot be easily obtained. I immediately thought that this situation was tied to the great corruption prevailing in Chavez’s government. Food distribution is in the hands of “private” companies such as ProArepa, reported to be the property of government bureaucrats who contract “with themselves”.
Talking about the “Misiones”, the social programs instituted in Venezuela in 2003 and 2004, at the suggestion of Fidel Castro, Rodríguez said that unreliable statistics, made it difficult to find out how effective they were. He said the government claimed to have eliminated illiteracy but this was not true. In fact, I add, the United Nations rejected this claim by the Chavez government. Rodriguez says that he found no credible evidence that this program, the so-called Mision Robinson, really works. Talking about the health situation Rodriguez said that the Venezuelan mortality rate had declined. However, he added, this was the continuation of a trend that had started in the 1940’s. He could not find any indication that this trend had accelerated during the last nine years. On the other hand, he added, the hospitals in Venezuela often lacked the most essential supplies while the Mision Barrio Adentro, staffed with some 16,000 Cubans, offered primary medical attention but little else in the poor urban sections of the country. Rodriguez mentioned the apparent increase in political participation, as shown by significant increases in voter’s enrollment. I think that a good portion of this increase is fraudulent. In the last 3 years some 3 million voters have been added to the Electoral Registry. This is an almost impossible growth that should be carefully audited. Thousands of voters registered lack addresses and proper identification while thousand others appear under the same name and date of birth but with different identity document, in fact allowing one person to vote multiple times. Since the organization seems unwilling to clean itself these irregularities have been reported to international organizations, so far with no results.
Rodriguez mentioned cases of political retaliation against citizens who oppose the government, the so-called Maisanta and Tascon lists, where Venezuelans who voted against Chavez are being subject to exclusion from government jobs and, I may add, from normal access to government services. Rodriguez mentioned the specific case of a newspaper that has been denied the printing paper (in fact, not one but two have been the object of retaliation).
Rodriguez mentioned that social spending has been great but if one deducts social security spending, the amounts of social spending under this government are actually declining. There is great inefficiency in this spending.

Luis P. España.
España started by saying that Venezuela has grown economically during the last nine years. He said that people now have more income, so that income based poverty has been reduced from 64% in 1998 to about 45% in 2006. This, he said, is the same trend that exists in most of Latin America and warned that, while in other countries improvement had been the product of a diversified economic activity economic activity, in Venezuela it was due to greater public expenditure. He said that, although there is more income per capita, structural conditions remain the same: low school attendance, a stagnant health system, increasing subsidies, and the highest unemployment in Latin America. There are, he said, more public employees than ever, and real unemployment is masked by the fact that Venezuelans enrolled in educational programs are counted as employed. More than 56% of all citizens able to work are in the informal sector, about six million Venezuelans.
After five years, he said, the Misiones are weakening both in penetration and efficiency. Although a majority of Venezuelans know about them just a minor proportion receive their benefits. Probably the one with the most reach, Mercal (subsidized or free food distribution), has been deteriorating. The impact of the Misiones cannot be properly evaluated because of the short time involved but they constitute social services, not structural programs. They help to solve the citizen’s daily problem but not the deep-seated, structural problems. I might add that, in fact, they worsen the deep-seated problems, as they tend to make citizens more dependent in the paternalistic state. The Misiones, España says, lack transparency and are very centralized and politicized.
In spite of the higher income per capita España finds no evidence of an improved income distribution. This in line with Rodriguez’s assertion that inequality has increased. España expressed his opinion that, any government that had received the same income this one has received, would have probably performed a lot better.

Roberto Briceño-Leon.
In 1980 Venezuela had a murder rate of about 9 per 100,000 people. This increased to 20-30 per 100,000 people in the 1990’s but today is over 50 per 100,000 people. It doubled in the last ten years. Other countries with similar murder rates in the past such as Mexico and Brazil do not show this sudden growth. Briceño-Leon says that the Venezuelan rates have two explanations. The first half, he says, has a social explanation: inequality, poverty, idleness, machismo, drug trading, alcohol, and marginal urban conditions. But the other half says Briceño-Leon is political, responds to a fracture in the capacity of society to coexist peacefully. This is due, I say, to the sowing of hate, racial tension and class resentment by Hugo Chavez. Systematically he has preached that the rich and the white are to blame for poverty in the country. He says that “we are in a war”, that “stealing is OK”, he speaks in military terms calling his revolution “armed”, he delivers AK-47 guns to civilians, he thunders against the “oligarchs”. There is little doubt that the increase in murder rates in the country has mucho to do with this aggressive attitude of the president. In addition the police is inefficient and lax and Chavez has ordered them not to repress, even if this means letting citizens be murdered on the streets with impunity.
Briceño-Leon says that violence has been glorified by the regime. He mentions the example of a Maracaibo hospital bearing the name of a Virgin being renamed as Che Guevara, until a popular protest made him to withdraw the proposal.

An officer from the Venezuelan Embassy tried to argue against the data presented by Francisco Rodriguez, saying that the Venezuelan debt had been fully paid. Rodriguez answered that this was not true and that the external debt had increased by $10 billion since Chavez arrived in power. In fact, total national debt has tripled since Chavez became president.

Due to the quality of the presenters and of the data they brought with them this program on Venezuela is the best I have attended in 2007 on Venezuelan issues. I sincerely congratulate the three professors and CSIS for giving us so much good information on the myths and realities of Chavez’s social programs and policies.


22 comentarios:

Unknown dijo...

Congratulations.

You have a great blog site. Is very well organized and easy to read.

I see you people have up to date information on Venezuela, except for the lack of democracy. There has been repeated fraud in the last five voting processes, including the latest referendum, even though the new constitution was rejected.

Corruption had never been so widespread and accepted as a normal procedure.

Just about everybody who does not openly support the dictatorship is banned from receiving any government benefit, even medical assistance.

Not one court or a single judge in the country dares to prosecute a government official, and if someone files a suit against them, it is this person who is then prosecuted, on any grounds.

Political prisoners, about 50 so far. Plus many expatriated by circumstances.

Social media are under pressure not to make public any info that can be considered against "El proceso revolucionario".

Chavez handles public wealth as if it were his personal estate, giving money away abroad, ignoring our laws, in exchange for international political support. That only should be enough to have him arrested. Insanity, however evident, is no excuse.

We need help.
We wonder when United Nations are going to make up their minds and do something against the dictatorship in Venezuela.

Please keep up the good work, and regards from Maracaibo en Venezuela

Anónimo dijo...

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