[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Debating Venezuela inequality
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Mon Nov 20 22:04:08 GMT 2006
November 15, 2006 08:30 PM
As Venezuela approaches its presidential elections on December 3, the
predictable attacks on Hugo Chávez - that he is a dictator in the
making, a ballot rigger, a populist buffoon - are becoming increasingly
difficult to sustain. For sure, the eight years since Chávez was first
elected president have not been short of drama. Against the odds, he
managed to defeat a US backed coup in 2002 and an oil executives' strike
which brought the economy to its knees, and went on to win, fairly, a
recall referendum that threatened to cut short his term in office.
Many rulers (Bush and Blair spring to mind) might have responded by
suspending civil freedoms and elections. Yet instead, Chávez risked
invoking the wrath of his own supporters by sticking resolutely to the
constitution and the rule of law. No opposition newspapers or TV
stations were closed down, opposition political parties remained free to
organise and most extraordinarily of all, almost all of the participants
in the coup escaped prosecution. One of those who signed the decree that
abolished the National Assembly and democratic institutions was a little
known state governor from Zulia called Manuel Rosales. He is now the
opposition's presidential candidate.
As these basic facts about Venezuela become more widely known, so the
attacks on their Bolivarian Revolution have become more subtle and
sophisticated. Yesterday's Guardian was a case in point. Rory Carroll
penned a long piece which questioned the redistributive policies of the
Bolivarian Revolution. You can get a flavour of its contents from the
headline: "Welcome to the Chavez revolution - where the rich keep
Carroll spent what must have been a delightful afternoon at the Caracas
Country Club interviewing millionaires, all of whom claimed to have
become even richer under Chávez. Whilst this is probably good news for
the Guardian accounts department (which won't have to pick up the tab
for the "Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, the chef's famous flan and a round
of espressos"), it isn't, strictly speaking, true.
Whilst household income for all social classes is currently rising,
Datanalysis, the main opposition leaning pollster, reported in September
that the richest 5% have actually experienced a drop in income of 28% in
real terms over the entirety of the Chávez administration. By contrast,
the poorest 60% have seen their income rise by a staggering 45%. Voting
patterns mirror income changes, with 75% of the poor supporting Chávez,
compared with just 25% of the rich.
Welcome to the Chávez revolution - where the rich keep getting richer
Rory Carroll in Caracas
Monday November 13, 2006
The Caracas Country Club
The Caracas Country Club, which has been threatened with expropriation
of its land for social housing. The club hopes for an amicable solution.
Photograph: Leslie Mazoch/AP
Another agreeable lunch ended at the Caracas Country Club with a bottle
of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, the chef's famous flan and a round of
espressos served on a silver platter.
From their table in the sun-kissed courtyard the three businessmen
could hear only the fountain's gurgle, the murmur of other diners, the
clink of glasses and the swish of waiters in wine-coloured waistcoats. A
socialist revolution is supposed to be clanging through Venezuela but
from this oasis of wealth in the heart of the capital it is inaudible,
just like the traffic. "The revolution is blah blah blah. We don't feel
threatened," said one of the trio, a shoe factory owner.
Much of the country's elite, it seems, feel the same way. President Hugo
Chávez has warned that "capitalism will lead to the destruction of
humanity" but seldom has there been a better time to make, spend and
The economy is surging at 9.4% and banks and credit card companies are
reporting exponential increases in deposits and loans. Car sales are
expected to more than double this year to 300,000, many of them luxury
models, and property price rises rival Manhattan. The reason is oil. As
the world's fifth biggest exporter Venezuela has thrived as the barrel
price hovers around $60.
Unlike previous petro-booms, however, this one is supposed to be
different as there is a powerful president who wears a red beret, quotes
Che Guevara and praises Cuban communism. Mr Chávez has garnered global
attention with promises to "transform the structures of capitalism".
Billions of dollars have been spent on improving health care and
education for the country's poor and in the countryside a small minority
of sugar plantations and ranches have been turned into socialist
But property rights and the structure of the economy remain intact,
largely because the government does not want to impede its revenue,
prompting relief from the elite and grumbles from the radical left who
want greater redistribution of resources. "If you look at what it has
accomplished, it is a neoliberal government," Douglas Bravo, a former
Marxist guerrilla who was once close to Mr Chávez , lamented to the
daily El Nacional.
Mr Chávez has described his eight years in power as a transition and
promised a more radical phase, inspired partly by Fidel Castro's Cuba,
if he wins another term in an election next month. Polls predict a
Alberto Garrido, a historian and leading pundit, said there was
revolutionary intent but that an Americanised consumer culture in love
with baseball, McDonald's and designer labels obliged the government to
A notable example is golf. In August the mayor of Caracas and
presidential ally, Juan Barreto, threatened to expropriate swaths of
Caracas Country Club and Valle Arriba golf club to build houses for the
Three months later Chávismo has not conquered the fairways. The
vice-president, Vincente Rangel, scorned the idea and Mr Chávez, not
wanting to pick this particular fight in the run-up to an election, said
not a word, leaving the mayor to fight a lonely battle against the
Caracas Country Club, founded in 1918 and with 8,000 well-heeled
members, went on the offensive last week by claiming the expropriation
threat was based on fraudulent documents. "We feel it will be resolved
rationally, we are confident in the rule of law," said the club
president, Fernando Zozaya. Asked about the revolution Mr Zozaya was
wary, not wanting to provoke the government. "Let's say it's a very
special type of socialism."
The three businessmen lunching in the courtyard were more explicit in
mocking it as empty bluster. "It hasn't touched my work, I'm left
alone," said one.
That did not stop them loathing Mr Chávez, whom they blamed for
inflation, crime, corruption and a climate of intolerance which blocks
government critics from state jobs.
Tellingly, none of the trio wanted to give his name. "You don't know the
way it's going to end up so you don't want to jeopardise yourself," said
Stories abound of money being spirited abroad and of lobbying for US and
European visas, lest hasty emigration become necessary.
A US opinion pollster, Alex Evans, said the boom was insufficient reason
for the elite, comprising 5% of the population, to support the
incumbent. "They just don't like the guy."
There is a paradox that the more Mr Chávez denounces the United States,
which he calls an empire run by a devil, the closer the countries' two
Bilateral trade soared by over a third to $40bn (£21bn) last year. Most
was oil but it also included car production and financial services from
the likes of Halliburton, a company linked to the US vice-president,
The fruits were on display at a Caracas expo of luxury vehicles and
speedboats. Staff at six stands interviewed by the Guardian all said
business had never been so good.
"It's ironic, this revolution. The rich are even richer now," said Rene
Diaz, who was selling Humvee-type 4x4s which cost up to $150,000.
The most popular drink at the bar was the most expensive - an
18-year-old whisky. "They don't want the cheaper stuff," shrugged a barman.
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