Posts Tagged ‘Hugo Chavez’s Record’

Another view of Hugo Chavez

March 18, 2013

I’m a provincial American.  I am not widely traveled, and I get most of my information about foreign countries by reading books and magazine articles.  Over the weekend I read a magazine article about the late Hugo Chavez that made me think that his attacks on civil liberties and his mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy were worse than I had assumed.

The writer, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, a journalist who divides his time between Venezuela and the United States, wrote as follows in the Boston Review.

chavez.bolivarIt did not take long for me to realize that, to Chávez, the country’s future did not have much use for its current middle class: hard-working men and women who were treated increasingly like enemies of the state. Much of my family started to leave Venezuela. The first wave was seeking greener pastures; later they would leave out of fear.

Yet while I may have disagreed with Chávez and disliked the direction he was steering the country, my real, personal struggle against the Venezuelan regime began with the demonstrations of May 2007.  Chávez had closed down Radio Caracas Television, thereby silencing the sole remaining national broadcaster critical of his government.  I joined thousands of protestors, mostly students, who descended on Caracas’s Plaza Brión.  While government loudspeakers warned us to remain calm, police fired teargas, rubber bullets, and water cannons into the crowd.

I staggered away from the chaos.  Although a vinegar-soaked rag covering my mouth and nose staved off total physical collapse, the mixture of teargas and sweat had caused me to expel my contact lenses.  Once the twin adrenaline shots of fear and indignation subsided, I faced a long, largely blind, walk home.  Squinting, crying, and filthy, I was reborn.  At that moment, I hated Hugo Chávez.  He wasn’t misguided, he wasn’t a comical buffoon, and he wasn’t a sign of change.   He was horrifying: a violent and cruel despot who ruthlessly crushed dissent, even from unarmed students, and threatened the human rights of anyone who disagreed with his policies.

Click on The Little That Hugo Chavez Got Right for the full article.

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Double click to enlarge

The problem with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela was the lack of the rule of law.  That was the problem both with his crackdowns on his enemies, and his expropriations of businesses.  Everything depended on the will and whim of a single individual.   An authoritarian government with extremely restrictive laws is less bad than an arbitrary government which leaves its citizens in doubt as to what is, and isn’t, against the law.

That is why the U.S. Constitution, even before it included the Bill of Rights amendments, prohibited ex post facto laws, bills of attainder and denial of the right of habeas corpus.   That means the government is forbidden to punish you for something that was legal at the time, it is forbidden to outlaw particular individuals or groups and it is forbidden to arrest people without taking them before a magistrate and telling them what law they are accused of violating.

But I think it is necessary to keep Hugo Chavez’s record in perspective.  Nothing happened in Venezuela during his administration that compared with the reigns of terror in Chile under General Pinochet, Argentina under General Videla or the various U.S.-backed Central American dictatorships.  There were no mass executions, no death squads, no “disappearances”.   Daniel Landsberg-Rodriguez continued to write a weekly column for a Venezuelan newspaper.

Venezuela’s economic growth during the Chavez era was due more to the worldwide rise in oil prices than the Chavez government’s expert management.  But many countries have amassed huge oil wealth without improving the well-being of their people.  Chavez’s Venezuela enjoyed not only good economic growth, but reduction in poverty and improvement in education and living standards.

My final thought about Hugo Chavez (for now) is that he was a leader who did good, but who did good badly.

Venezuela under Chavez: more numbers

March 13, 2013
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I came across this chart in a report by Jake Johnston and Sara Kozameh for the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.  Click on Venezuela: Economic and Social Performance Under Hugo Chavez, in Graphs for their complete report and more charts.  Johnston and Kozemeh make the point that Venezuela was devastated by a strike in 2002-2003 by workers in the Venzuelan government oil company.  It was only after the strike that the Venezuela economy really took off.

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Venezuela under Chavez: by the numbers

March 13, 2013
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Hugo Chavez, the radical left-wing President of Venezuela, died last week.   What was his legacy?  His admirers say his policies changed the lives of poor and working people in Venezuela greatly for the better.   His critics say he left the Venezuelan economy in a shambles.  I think the figures on these infographics are as close as you can come to an objective answer.

The first infographic is from The Guardian newspaper in England.   It indicates that, during the Chavez administration, there was a big drop in the number of poor and unemployed Venezuelans, and the number of Venezuelan children who died in childbirth.  The overall Venezuelan economy was strong.  The value of oil exports rose, and economic output (GDP) increased.

However, the Chavez government was unable to bring down the high rate of inflation, and the value of Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, fell against the U.S. dollar.   Chavez’s worst failure was the rise in violent crime.   The murder rate almost doubled.

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Double click to enlarge.

The next chart is from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.  It basically tells the same story, but puts it in historic perspective, by showing figures prior to 1998 when Chavez was first elected.   Economic growth was less under his predecessors, and inflation was even worse.   The Brookings analysts said he “all but silenced” the opposition, but the charts show the opposition received a substantial portion of the vote in all four elections, and a larger percentage in the fourth than in the first.

The last infographic, below, is from RIA Novosti, the official Russian news agency.  It shows that while Venezuela’s oil revenues increased under the Chavez administration, oil production languished.  Chavez’s admirers say that this was a policy decision, for the purpose of keeping oil prices high (by avoiding a glut on the market) rather than depleting a non-renewable resource.  Chavez’s critics say it was a result of a failure of the government-owned oil company to invest in keeping up oil production, which would bode poorly for Venezuela’s future.  Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.

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Are Venezuelans better off under Chavez?

June 19, 2012

Hugo Chavez is running for a third term as President of Venezuela in an election to be held Oct. 7.   Last week Al Jazeera English held a panel discussion on whether the radical left-wing President has done a good job.  The verdict was generally favorable.  One panelist didn’t think Chavez is radical enough—a view I wouldn’t expect to hear on U.S. television.

The panelists concluded that poor Venezuelans have better access to jobs, schooling, health care and housing under the administration of President Hugo Chavez than they would otherwise have.  But they note that Venezuela is troubled by a high inflation rate, a high rate of violent crime and excessive dependence on its oil industry.  Moreover, they say, Chavez’s Bolivarian movement is organized around the cult of Chavez’s personality, and might collapse if Chavez, because of ill health or for other reasons, might leave the scene.

They did not discuss Chavez’s deplorable human rights record, including his attacks on freedom of the Venezuelan press, which he said is controlled by the wealthy oligarchy which seeks his overthrow.  That is a problem in many countries, for which I don’t have a good answer, although I come down on the side of freedom of the press.

The ideal would be to have newspapers and broadcasters with diverse ownership—some owned by corporations, some by labor unions and farmers’ cooperatives, some by political parties, some by universities and the church.  But I don’t see a practical path to that ideal, and I’m not sure how stable the situation would be once achieved.

I think of Chavez as a Latin American equivalent of Louisiana’s Huey Long—a brass knuckle populist and demagogue  who has done a lot to improve the lives of ordinary people, but with little regard for due process of law or democratic procedures.  Concentration of arbitrary power into the hands of a single individual is a bad idea, even when the person uses the power for good, because some other individual can and probably will use that power to wipe out the good the first person has done.  But, like Huey Long, Chavez probably is no worse than his opponents.

Click on World Report 2012: Venezuela for Human Rights Watch’s report on Hugo Chavez’s bad human rights record.