'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Things Are Getting Better Under Chavez 

So Bush and now Rice recently met with unelected Venezuelan citizen María Corina Machado, a representative of the opposition. What is lost in the corporate press's coverage of these meetings is the extent to which they are signs of desperation within the opposition; to be blunt, the opposition knows that it can't overthrow the government of Hugo Chavez without the help of the US. Chavez is extremely popular among Venezuelans right now. Oil Wars, a blog well worth reading, writes

One of the great imponderables for the Venezuelan opposition is how Chavez is so popular after nearly seven years in office when, according to them, the country is coming apart at the seems. The explanations range from the superficial ("it is all based on promises"), to the bizarre ("Chavez supporters don’t believe in rational things like improving their standard of living"), to the ostrich strategy ("most Venezuelans want him out -- I don’t care what all the polls say"). What the opposition will twist, and turn, and do anything to deny is the real explanation -- that things are getting better under Chavez and that it is this improvement in their standard of living that leads most Venezuelans (over 70%) to support him.

Backing up the above with hard numbers, Oil Wars cites a slide produced by the market research company, Datos Information Resources, for a presentation at the U.S-Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, not exactly a leftist organization:

[The slide characterizes] the poorest segment of Venezuelan society but also far and away the largest being made up of over 15 million people. Households are big with an average of over 6 people. Household cash incomes are low at less than $200 per month.

However, this slide also holds the key to understanding Chavez’s high level of popularity. In the lower left hand corner it says:"Increase in the average household income versus 2003 53% (33% in real terms)". In other words in 2004 the people in this group saw their incomes go up by a third even after inflation.

How is that possible? Partly the economy grew at a very high rate of over 17%. But that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. The other part is the huge social programs, called Missions, that give fee medical care, inexpensive food, educational opportunities, and stipends to millions of people. The Missions were begun under Chavez and he has spent Venezuela’s oil windfall funding them with billions and billions of dollars. It is this cash and non-cash assistance that has undoubtedly played a major role in the dramatic increase in the standard of living of Venezuela’s poor.

Machado's visit needs to be placed in this context to be understood.

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