FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail