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:
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Yarmouk: A Palestinian Refugee’s Journey from Izmir to Greece
John Laforge
Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Raise Calls for Denuclearization
Dave Lindorff
Moving Beyond the Sanders Campaign
Jill Richardson
There’s No Such Thing as a “Free Market”
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Moves Against the Gulen Movement in Turkey
Winslow Myers
Beyond Drift
Edward Martin - Mateo Pimentel
Who Are The Real Pariahs This Election?
Jan Oberg
The Clintons Celebrated, But Likely a Disaster for the Rest of the World
Johnny Gaunt
Brexit: the British Working Class has Just Yawned Awake
Mark Weisbrot
Attacking Trump for the Few Sensible Things He Says is Both Bad Politics and Bad Strategy
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Think Three’s a Crowd? Try 2,000
Corrine Fletcher
White Silence is Violence: How to be a White Accomplice
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail