Sunday, March 10, 2013

Adiós, Amigo
Sweet Dreams

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died this week at 58 I certainly wanted to put in my two cents worth.

Hugo Chavez, Simon Bolivar - 2007 - Hosseini photo
The media would take the opportunity to repeat what it's been repeating about him since 1998; the Venezuelan economy is in shambles, there's double digit inflation and crime is rampant. They'll say one more time that Chavez was a strongman, a dictator, despite the fact that he was elected over and over again by wide margins in elections the Carter Center called the most transparent they've ever observed. They'll say he suppressed the opposition and stifled dissent, despite the fact that except for one small public station the media in Venezuela is all privately owned, by an oligarchy that hates Chavez and was free to issue daily diatribes against him, which it did. They'll ignore the fact that Chavez has cut inflation in half. They'll let you think that all of Venezuela's problems started yesterday.

Having long been a Chavista, knowing quite well the many things he did to improve the lives of the common people in Venezuela -- the thousands of clinics he built, the free universal health care, the vast increases in access to education, the eradication of illiteracy, the thousands of houses for the poor and on and on and on -- my impulse was to proclaim that despite the final, gloating attacks on Chavez you'll see in the media, especially the ones that point out the problems in this former colony that remain from when it was ruled by a tiny oligarchy who blithely left the masses to starve and left problems to fester, these things that Chavez did, these many, many things, although they will be ignored and discounted, are not in dispute. He did cut poverty in half. He did bring all those doctors from Cuba. He did prove that a nation's wealth, Venezuela's oil wealth, really can be wrestled from the hands of the greedy few and used to benefit the many. I wanted to say all that but didn't.

It's depressing to see someone like Chavez go. It introduces uncertainty. Who will take his place? Will what he accomplished be reversed? It's depressing and frustrating knowing that my two cents worth isn't worth much against the media and peoples' immense lack of knowledge and their biases against Socialism, and against people from that part of the world especially when they have tightly curled hair and look like they might have some, oh no, African blood in their veins.

I'm saddened by the death of Hugo Chavez. I'm in no mood to argue, but it's also that I don't think I have to defend Chavez. I'm satisfied that what he accomplished will remain, that he did what he set out to do, and what I hoped he would do, and that is to prove that there really is an alternative to American style, you're on your own, Capitalism. I might not convince anybody that he did that, but the record of what he did is there, and will remain, undiminished, next to that of the Castros in Cuba and Allende in Chile and Morales in Bolivia. Even now it lives in the minds and hearts of millions of common people in Venezuela and around the world.

You can argue that Chavez did it top down. Authoritarian style. You'd be partially and technically accurate, but you can just as easily say that he saw an opening and he took it. He used the power he had, not to benefit himself or the rich or imperialism, but the common people. He also instituted thousands of neighborhood councils where people are making their own decisions about what to do with the resources their elected government controls. He got things moving in the right direction. What else would you have had him do? What else could he do?

I will list, of course, for the record, the following list of 50 of Hugo Chavez' accomplishments that Venezuela Analysis translated and reprinted from the Spanish language publication Opera Mundi, and I'll reproduce some of the photographs of the procession of Chavistas who accompanied Chavez' body through Caracas.

I'll leave it up to history to set the record straight about Hugo Chavez, and I'll leave it up to those little Chavistas, who came out with their parents to celebrate the life of a great man, to finish the job of making his, and my, and all of our dreams of a better world come true.

 (Photos and content Opera Mundi)

1. Never in the history of Latin America, has a political leader had such incontestable democratic legitimacy. Since coming to power in 1999, there were 16 elections in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez won 15, the last on October 7, 2012. He defeated his rivals with a margin of 10-20 percentage points.
2. All international bodies, from the European Union to the Organization of American States, to the Union of South American Nations and the Carter Center, were unanimous in recognizing the transparency of the vote counts.
 3. James Carter, former U.S. President, declared that Venezuela's electoral system was "the best in the world."
4. Universal access to education introduced in 1998 had exceptional results. About 1.5 million Venezuelans learned to read and write thanks to the literacy campaign called Mission Robinson I.
5. In December 2005, UNESCO said that Venezuela had eradicated illiteracy.
6. The number of children attending school increased from 6 million in 1998 to 13 million in 2011 and the enrollment rate is now 93.2%.
 7. Mission Robinson II was launched to bring the entire population up to secondary level. Thus, the rate of secondary school enrollment rose from 53.6% in 2000 to 73.3% in 2011.
8. Missions Ribas and Sucre allowed tens of thousands of young adults to undertake university studies. Thus, the number of tertiary students increased from 895,000 in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2011, assisted by the creation of new universities.
9. With regard to health, they created the National Public System to ensure free access to health care for all Venezuelans. Between 2005 and 2012, 7873 new medical centers were created in Venezuela.
10. The number of doctors increased from 20 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 80 per 100,000 in 2010, or an increase of 400%.
11. Mission Barrio Adentro I provided 534 million medical consultations. About 17 million people were attended, while in 1998 less than 3 million people had regular access to health. 1.7 million lives were saved, between 2003 and 2011.
12. The infant mortality rate fell from 19.1 per thousand in 1999 to 10 per thousand in 2012, a reduction of 49%.

13. Average life expectancy increased from 72.2 years in 1999 to 74.3 years in 2011.
14. Thanks to Operation Miracle, launched in 2004, 1.5 million Venezuelans who were victims of cataracts or other eye diseases, regained their sight.
15. From 1999 to 2011, the poverty rate decreased from 42.8% to 26.5% and the rate of extreme poverty fell from 16.6% in 1999 to 7% in 2011.
16. In the rankings of the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP), Venezuela jumped from 83 in 2000 (0.656) at position 73 in 2011 (0.735), and entered into the category Nations with 'High HDI'.
17. The GINI coefficient, which allows calculation of inequality in a country, fell from 0.46 in 1999 to 0.39 in 2011.
18. According to the UNDP, Venezuela holds the lowest recorded Gini coefficient in Latin America, that is, Venezuela is the country in the region with the least inequality.
19. Child malnutrition was reduced by 40% since 1999.
20. In 1999, 82% of the population had access to safe drinking water. Now it is 95%.
21. Under President Chavez social expenditures increased by 60.6%.
22. Before 1999, only 387,000 elderly people received a pension. Now the figure is 2.1 million.
23. Since 1999, 700,000 homes have been built in Venezuela.
24. Since 1999, the government provided / returned more than one million hectares of land to Aboriginal people.

 25. Land reform enabled tens of thousands of farmers to own their land. In total, Venezuela distributed more than 3 million hectares.

26. In 1999, Venezuela was producing 51% of food consumed. In 2012, production was 71%, while food consumption increased by 81% since 1999. If consumption of 2012 was similar to that of 1999, Venezuela produced 140% of the food it consumed.
27. Since 1999, the average calories consumed by Venezuelans increased by 50% thanks to the Food Mission that created a chain of 22,000 food stores (MERCAL, Houses Food, Red PDVAL), where products are subsidized up to 30%. Meat consumption increased by 75% since 1999.
28. Five million children now receive free meals through the School Feeding Programme. The figure was 250,000 in 1999.
29. The malnutrition rate fell from 21% in 1998 to less than 3% in 2012.
30. According to the FAO, Venezuela is the most advanced country in Latin America and the Caribbean in the eradication of hunger.
31. The nationalization of the oil company PDVSA in 2003 allowed Venezuela to regain its energy sovereignty.
32. The nationalization of the electrical and telecommunications sectors (CANTV and Electricidad de Caracas) allowed the end of private monopolies and guaranteed universal access to these services.
33. Since 1999, more than 50,000 cooperatives have been created in all sectors of the economy.
34. The unemployment rate fell from 15.2% in 1998 to 6.4% in 2012, with the creation of more than 4 million jobs.
35. The minimum wage increased from 100 bolivars ($ 16) in 1998 to 247.52 bolivars ($ 330) in 2012, i.e., an increase of over 2,000%. This is the highest minimum wage in Latin America.
36. In 1999, 65% of the workforce earned the minimum wage. In 2012 only 21.1% of workers have only this level of pay.

37. Adults at a certain age who have never worked still get an income equivalent to 60% of the minimum wage.
38. Women without income and disabled people receive a pension equivalent to 80% of the minimum wage.
39. Working hours were reduced to 6 hours a day and 36 hours per week, without loss of pay.
40. Public debt fell from 45% of GDP in 1998 to 20% in 2011. Venezuela withdrew from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, after early repayment of all its debts.
41. In 2012, the growth rate was 5.5% in Venezuela, one of the highest in the world.
42. GDP per capita rose from $ 4,100 in 1999 to $ 10,810 in 2011.

43. According to the annual World Happiness 2012, Venezuela is the second happiest country in Latin America, behind Costa Rica, and the nineteenth worldwide, ahead of Germany and Spain.
44. Venezuela offers more direct support to the American continent than the United States. In 2007, Chávez spent more than 8,800 million dollars in grants, loans and energy aid as against 3,000 million from the Bush administration.
45. For the first time in its history, Venezuela has its own satellites (Bolivar and Miranda) and is now sovereign in the field of space technology. The entire country has internet and telecommunications coverage.
46. The creation of Petrocaribe in 2005 allows 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, or 90 million people, secure energy supply, by oil subsidies of between 40% to 60%.
47. Venezuela also provides assistance to disadvantaged communities in the United States by providing fuel at subsidized rates.
48. The creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in 2004 between Cuba and Venezuela laid the foundations of an inclusive alliance based on cooperation and reciprocity. It now comprises eight member countries which places the human being in the center of the social project, with the aim of combating poverty and social exclusion.
49. Hugo Chavez was at the heart of the creation in 2011 of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) which brings together for the first time the 33 nations of the region, emancipated from the tutelage of the United States and Canada.
50. Hugo Chavez played a key role in the peace process in Colombia. According to President Juan Manuel Santos, "if we go into a solid peace project, with clear and concrete progress, progress achieved ever before with the FARC, is also due to the dedication and commitment of Chavez and the government of Venezuela."



  1. This is a hell of writeup: kudos on a thorough listing of his accomplishments, something we're unlikely to see in the decidedly-*not*-liberal media.

    We lost a great man. Not perfect, certainly - the relationship with Ahmadinejad particularly vexed me - but he actually did something for the people most leaders don't give a damn about. He was one of them, and he knew what their lives were like.

  2. Thank you for that.

    I'm glad you mentioned the "decidedly-*not*-liberal media". As I'm sure you're aware (or you wouldn't have used the term) the meaning of Chavez, and everything else, is skewed by the belief that the decidedly-*not*-liberal media represents a liberal take on things, and that conservatives have managed to use the charge that the media is liberal to push the public discourse so far to the right that Obama is considered to be a Socialist.

    If you're interested, I came across an article today by Jeffery Webber that tries to counter some of the thrashing Chavez has received in the decidedly not liberal media.