A Wake-Up Call for Venezuela?

by MARK WEISBROT

After a short but bitterly fought, insult-laden campaign, Chavista standard-bearer Nicolás Maduro defeated challenger Henrique Capriles, thus assuring continuity in Venezuela after the death of President Hugo Chávez last month.  But the election was much closer than the polls predicted: a margin of just 1.6 percentage points, or about 275,000 votes.

Capriles is demanding an audit of 100 percent of all votes; Maduro has apparently agreed.  But the audit is unlikely to change the outcome. Unlike in the United States, where in a close election we really don’t know who won, the Venezuelan system is very secure. Since there are two records of every vote (machine and paper ballot), it is nearly impossible to rig the machines and stuff the ballot boxes to match. Jimmy Carter called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world.”

Polling data published by Reuters at the end of the campaign showed a close correlation between support for Maduro and Venezuelans’ contact with the “misiones,” or social programs established by Chávez that provide everything from health care and subsidized food to college education. Capriles, who mostly attacked Maduro for not being Chávez, pledged to maintain and expand the misiones. But this was not sufficient to win over enough of the swing voters who, while numerous enough to determine the outcome, probably did not believe that a scion of Venezuela’s wealthy elite who hailed from a right-wing party (Primero Justicia, or Justice First) would keep that promise.

Of course it was not just the success of the misiones that won Chavismo another seven years of the presidency.  There were major improvements in Venezuelans’ living standards during the Chávez years. After the government got control over the national oil industry, poverty was reduced by half and extreme poverty by about 70 percent. Real income per person grew by about 2.5 percent annually from 2004-2012, and inequality fell sharply. Unemployment was 8 percent in 2012, as opposed to 14.5 percent when Chávez took office.

These numbers are not in dispute among economists or other experts, nor among international agencies such as the World Bank, IMF, or the U.N.  But they are rarely reported in the major Western media.

In their ongoing efforts to de-legitimize Venezuela’s government, the punditry and press often portray the Chavistas as having an unfair advantage in these elections. But this election, like the presidential election in October, was conducted on about as level a playing field as any in the region. The Chavistas have the government, but the opposition has most of the wealth and income of the country, as well as the majority of the media.  State TV has about a 6 percent share of the audience (and they actually aired Capriles campaign ads last week), and the opposition has a clear advantage in both print and radio.  Compare that with Mexico’s last two presidential elections, where the left-of-center candidate had little chance against a right-wing media duopoly that determined the outcome of the election (if it wasn’t stolen altogether in 2006).

Most of the Western press has been unsuccessfully forecasting imminent economic collapse in Venezuela for 14 years, and this theme has been prominent lately.  The press, which relies almost completely on opposition sources, will be wrong again.

But the new government does face serious challenges, and the closeness of this election should be a wake-up call for them.  They need to fix the exchange rate system and bring down inflation, and resolve the problem of shortages – these three problems are closely related.  Hopefully they will resist the temptation to lower inflation and reduce imports by shrinking the economy – it is important to maintain aggregate demand, growth, and employment, and the country very much needs more public investment in infrastructure. The economy has been growing for nearly three years now, after a downturn brought on by the world recession that ended in mid-2010, and until the last quarter of last year this accelerating growth was accompanied by falling inflation. It should be possible to return to this scenario with the right policies.

Maduro also pledged to bring down Venezuela’s high violent crime rate, and some efforts have already begun.  Governance and administration are the country’s major weaknesses. It remains to be seen if the new government can meet these challenges.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This essay originally appeared in The Guardian.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 05, 2015
John Eskow
The Fake Courage of Caitlyn Jenner
Mike Whitney
 The Brookings Institute Plan to Liquidate Syria 
John K. White
Life on the Layaway Plan: We’re All Greek Now
Ted Rall
14 Years Ago, a Woman Vindicated Me Now
Thomas Mountain
A Letter From Africa to #BlackLivesMatter
Roger Annis
Well-Known Canadian Journalist Visits Ukraine and Praises neo-Nazi
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times