The Social Economy of Chavez, Not American and Not Cuban, The True Reality
Posted: 05 December 2007 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Venezuela: Not What You Think
by Robin Hahnel
December 05, 2007
 
In the case of Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution, the mainstream media and politicians in the United States have elevated their game of demonizing all who oppose US foreign policy and business interests to a higher level of absurdity than usual.  According to the mainstream media, the only newsworthy stories in Venezuela are one sided diatribes lifted from the discredited, opposition-owned media in Venezuela.  For example, we read about Chavez shutting down opposition TV stations.  We hear that Chavez is rewriting the Venezuelan Constitution so he can be President for life.  Chavez is a dictator, QED.
All the badly outgunned, alternative media in the US can do is try its best to rebut the bias in the storylines defined by the mainstream media.  The tiny fraction of Americans who visit the alternative media discover that Chavez has submitted a proposal to change the Venezuelan Constitution in a number of ways, one of which is to eliminate term limits on the office of President.  All changes will first have to be approved by the democratically elected Venezuelan National Assembly, and then also approved in a popular referendum before they become law.  Only Americans who search out the alternative media discover that Hugo Chavez was elected President by a comfortable margin in 1998, survived an opposition-sponsored recall in 2004, and most recently was re-elected in December 2006 with more than 60% of the vote.  International observers certified all three elections as fair and square.  George Bush, on the other hand, was selected President by a partisan Supreme Court after losing the popular vote in 2000, and won re-election only because enough black voters in Ohio were disenfranchised by a partisan Republican official to keep the Buckeye State in the Republican column in 2004.  Few observers believe Bush could survive a recall election today, but of course this basic element of democratic rule is not permitted by the US Constitution.  Nonetheless, the only storyline ninety-nine percent of Americans hear remains: Hugo Chavez is a dictator and George Bush is the democratically elected leader of the free world.

Similarly, only the small fraction of Americans who access the alternative media learn that RCTV was not shut down because it campaigns openly against the government—which it has for nine years.  Instead, when its license came up for renewal, its application was denied because it had violated 200 conditions of its licensing agreement—many violations having to do with its role in helping to organize a military coup that nearly toppled the duly elected President of the country.  Moreover, the station continues to broadcast on a cable network, and the opposition in Venezuela still broadcasts on more major TV channels than there are channels sympathetic to the government.  In stark contrast, the alternative media in the US cannot be viewed on any major channel.  Consequently the vast majority of Americans receive all their news from a mainstream media which never questions whether the US has any right to dominate other nations, but only debates the wisdom of alternative strategies for doing so, and would never dream of questioning the desirability of an economic system dominated by their corporate owners.  Nevertheless the storyline most Americans hear remains: Freedom of the press is dead in totalitarian Venezuela, but alive and well in the democratic United States.

It is important to distinguish between whether mainstream coverage of issues like amendments to the constitution and the TV license is biased, whether there are grounds for reproaching the Venezuelan government, and whether the policies are wise.  Clearly the mainstream media has failed to report relevant facts and their coverage has been grossly unfair.  From what I know, the procedure that led to non-renewal of the TV license was unobjectionable, and the proposed constitutional amendment will be decided by a thoroughly democratic process.  So while there are ample grounds for reproaching mainstream media coverage in the US, as far as I can see there are no grounds for reproaching the Venezuelan government in either case.  However, this does not mean the policies are necessarily wise.  Those in Venezuela who argue that the revolutionary government would be hammered by the imperial press in any case are surely correct.  On the other hand, that does not mean either initiative is good policy, independent of the news coverage it receives.  Moreover, giving one’s enemies an easy chance to focus on a negative storyline seems unwise—unless the policy has important benefits.

Unfortunately, the fact that only a tiny fraction of the American public are ever exposed to balanced coverage of the Venezuelan stories defined by our mainstream media is only one problem.  A larger problem is that practically nobody in the United States ever hears anything about truly newsworthy stories in Venezuela.  Stories about exciting new political and economic initiatives that are dramatically reducing poverty and challenging popular myths about the abilities of ordinary people to make good political and economic decisions for themselves go virtually uncovered in the United States.1

I speak fluent Spanish, have lived and worked in Latin America on two occasions, and have traveled extensively in Latin America for over forty years.  One of the few Latin American countries I had never visited before a year ago was Venezuela.  I have now made two trips to Venezuela in the past nine months at the invitation of the Centro Internacional Miranda.  I was in Caracas for one week in October 2006—before the December 2006 presidential elections that provided Chavez with a popular mandate to pursue a more aggressive socialist agenda.  During that visit I met with officials in the Planning Ministry and faculty and students in the Planning Ministry school.  I had long discussions with people at the Miranda Center working on projects in critical pedagogy, participatory budgeting, new models of production, human development through popular participation, new forms of political participation, and new models of socialism for the twenty-first century.  I also visited health clinics, subsidized food distribution centers, community radio stations, and adult education centers in poor neighborhoods in Caracas.  During a two-week visit in July 2007 I visited the rural state of Lara as well as Caracas.  In Caracas I participated in numerous seminars and meetings at the Miranda Center, attended an adult education class at the new Bolivarian University, met again with officials in the Planning Ministry and students in the Planning Ministry school, met with officials in the new Ministry for the Communal Economy, and visited with workers in a “recuperated” factory and activists in a “nucleus of endogenous development.”  In Lara I attended meetings of three rural communal councils, a meeting of spokespersons from ten other rural communal councils, a meeting of spokespersons from all the communal councils in the town of Carora, and talked with citizen directors of a communal bank.  I also met with the mayors of Carora (state of Lara) and Libertador (state of Carabobo) who pioneered participatory budgeting initiatives in their municipalities.  What follows is an account of some stories I believe many Americans would find truly newsworthy.

Economic Progress

Like most Latin American economies, the Venezuelan economy deteriorated during the 1980s and most of the 1990s.  From 1998 to 2003 real per capita GDP continued to stagnate while the Chavez government survived two general strikes by the largest Venezuelan business association, a military coup, and finally a devastating two month strike by the state owned oil company.  However, after Chavez survived the opposition sponsored recall election, annual economic growth was 18.3% in 2004, 10.3% in 2005, and 10.3% in 2006, and the unemployment rate fell from 18.4 % in June 2003 to 8.3% in June 2007.  Moreover, most of the growth was in the non-oil sectors of the economy, as the oil sector barely grew during 2005 and 2006.  While this impressive growth would not have been possible without the rise in international oil prices, it also would not have been possible had the Chavez government not ignored the warnings of neoliberal critics and pursued aggressive expansionary fiscal and monetary policies.

At the height of the oil strike the poverty rate rose to 55.1% of households and a startling 62.1% of the population.  However, by the end of 2006 the poverty rate had declined dramatically to 30.6% of households and 36.3% of the population, which compares favorably with a pre-Chavez rate of poverty in 1997 for households of 55.6% and for individuals of 60.9%.  While much of this decrease in poverty was due to strong economic growth, it was also due to a dramatic increase in social spending by the Chavez government.  Social spending per person by the central government increased by an average of 19% per year from 1998 to 2007.  However, this does not include social spending by the state-owned oil company.  If social spending by PDVSA is included, there was an increase of 35% per person per year since 1998.  The most dramatic increase in social spending was in the area of health care.  In 1998 there were over 14,000 Venezuelans for each primary healthcare physician, and few physicians worked in rural or poor urban areas.  By 2007 there was one primary healthcare physician for every 1,300 Venezuelans, and many of the new physicians were working in clinics in rural areas and poor barrios that had never had physicians before.2 There are also now 16,000 stores in poor areas throughout the country selling staples at a 30% discount on average.

Building the Social Economy

Reforms First: For eight years the Chavez governmen

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Posted: 05 December 2007 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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HavanAndrew,

VERY interesting information on Venezuela. Did you write this or did you pick it up on the web? Also, we have a limit of 6000 characters so some of your text got cut off. Can you re-post the remainder of the article?

Thanks

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Posted: 05 December 2007 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I agree that Chavez has been demonized by the US and that much of what we read/hear is slanted BUT I always have a problem with someone setting the stage to be made leader without end.
And since this is a cuban forum, I also see big time problems down the road with the way he interacts with Cuba
I believe one of the checks and balances is term limits.  And to keep it balanced, yes i have problems with our (Canadian) senate being appointed for life and US Senators who have been around forever.  Politics, in my opinion, should be a duty for a term, not a profession.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The whole article is at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=45&ItemID=14438
You or I may not like Chavez but the overall progress within Venezuela is about enabling everyone to make a positive social change. I believe that Chavez and friends have stumbled on to a system that can work well in Latin America, including Cuba. We might find out the meetings that Chavez has had with Fidel have to do more with things that do not work rather than with things that do work. I suspect that Fidel is helping Chavez re-shape the political landscape of Latin America by enabling everyone rather than just the very wealthy enabled by American covert actions. The de-centralizing and enabling of people at the local level has immediate benefits. Chavez could be a more respected man in the world if he would just stop the pointless verbal attacks on the United States. Actions speak louder than words.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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That is the problem and the blessings of Castros, and Chavezes (and Lenins).
Understand the Cuban doctors etc who were sent to help in Venezuela were appalled by the infrastructure which cancelled out any good they could do as fast as they could help.
When the elite neglect the masses, folks like above are the best thing that can happen to the country.  The problem is that once the masses have reached a “good” level, they don’t know how to let go and let freedoms dictate rather than they call all teh shots.  Then as time goes on the gap between those leaders and teh masses widens.
In my opinion, are the people still better off than they were when the “dictators”  took over - by al ongshot.
Again, in my opinion - would the people have reached that level anyway if the “elite’ were still running things - No way
Would the elite have let the same democatic processes and freedoms take course if they were still in control - Again no way.

Thus to me Chavez may be a very good thing for Venezuela today, but me the main problem of tomorrow.  If he can make his reforms while still maintaining teh checks and balances - I’d feel much more comfortable.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I can’t believe people here think Chavez is good for the people. The more leaders say it’s for the good of the people or the good of the children, the more I do not trust them.

Democrats use this tactic all the time. It’s all about power, not the people or the children.

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