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The Programa Venezolano de Educacion – Accion en Derechos Humanos [Venezuelan Program for Education and Action on Human Rights] (PROVEA) is an NGO that works to promote human rights in Venezuela through the tracking and dissemination of social, economic and cultural information.

Last night, PROVEA representatives spoke before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and pointed out that poverty levels in Venezuela today are the same they were in the year 2000, effectively erasing all of the gains made by Hugo Chavez to lessen its stranglehold on Venezuelan families.

Rafael Uzcategui, PROVEA’s coordinator, said:

In three years, Nicolas Maduro has dismantled the social advanced that his predecessor achieved over 12 year. Venezuela will end 2015 with a number of poor similar to what it saw in 2000.

Uzcategui pointed out that in the year 2000, 46.3% of Venezuelans – approximately 11 million people – were poor. Chavez’s numerous poverty-reduction initiatives lowered the number to 33% in a few years, and by 2012 21.2% of Venezuelans were poor. The downward trend in poverty ended in 2013, when the rate shot up to 27%, roughly equal to 9.2 million people.

In 2014, the government stopped releasing official poverty figures, leaving organizations like PROVEA with the task of collecting their own data. According Uzcategui, PROVEA’s research points to approximately 10 million people living in poverty in Venezuela today.

During the same meeting, the former head of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, lamented the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela, and said that there were no more checks on the government, effectively rendering it all-powerful.

Opposition Deputy Demands PDVSA Scandal be Addressed

Accion Democratica National Assembly Deputy Cesar Rincones called on the government today to finally address allegations that PDVSA and her executives were involved in money laundering schemes through the Banca Privada D’Andorra. The Venezuelan government has yet to acknowledge the allegations by the United States Treasury Department.

Rincones accused the government of creating a smokescreen to divert people’s attention from the allegations, saying:

Defending our sovereignty shouldn’t be something we use to cover up corruption, as is the case with what the government has done by saying that we’re going to defend ourselves against an alleged North American invasion. What the government really has to do is explain if PDVSA is really laundering money and if that money is really in U.S. dollars in banks overseas, because that really does hurt the nation.

Smuggling Continues to Pose Challenges

The Associated Press published an article today documenting Venezuela’s struggles with smuggling and corruption as the economic crisis intensifies unabated.

The article’s author, Jacobo Garcia, explains how goods such as rice, toothpaste, and flour can be smuggled into Colombia and sold at exuberant profits. For example, Garcia notes that while a kilogram of rice in Caracas sells for 26 bolivares, it can sell for up to 15 times more in Colombia.

The lure of profit is so big irresistible that authorities have stopped 120,000 tons of goods from being smuggled across into Colombia over the last six months.

Goods sold in Venezuela re subject to a number of regulations that determine their price. The Ley de Precios Justos [Fair Price Law], while aimed at ensuring even the poorest Venezuelans have access to basic necessities, create the kinds of economic distortions that make smuggling a lucrative option for many struggling citizens.

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4 thoughts on “03.18.15: Two Steps Back

  1. I am also critical of the political regime of Venezuela. However I do not have a bias to acknowledge things that have been done right and wrong in your country. You should check the UN and the World Bank statistics of poverty in Venezuela… you might find them interesting, even coming from the WB! Your main source: PROVEA is an ONG that has had a history of opposition against your government, hence already bias. But that is not all, in 2013 Venezuela’s Ombudsman exposed PROVEA’s actions to deny a fact that a health centre had been attacked by Radical oppositors. Not surprising at all…

    “Me parece grave que una ONG, se dedique en lugar de corroborar las denuncias tan graves como es un ataque a un centro de salud, ellos se dedicaron a desmentir las denuncias. Actuando contra sus propios principios como organización de recursos humanos”

    These violent opponents of the regime were also exposed by the British world wide known diary: THE GUARDIAN in the following article:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/20/venezuela-revolt-truth-not-terror-campaign

    Have a good day mate, and I hope that in the future you would be able to build your arguments with a base different than mere dogmatism.

    • Hello David! Thank you for your comment and for your observations.

      I will say the following things regarding your post:

      1. You most certainly have a bias when it comes to Venezuela — and any other topic, for that matter. We all have biases, and they’re not bad per se. What’s important about biases is to recognize that we have them, and constantly ask ourselves, “How are my biases affecting my opinion of this topic?”. I ask myself this question on a daily basis as I write these updates.

      2. Nowhere in the post to which you’re replying do I say that Chavez did not help to reduce poverty in Venezuela. In fact, I believe (and say) the opposite. As you’ll see in the post, PROVEA’s coordinator recognizes that Chavez achieved “social advances” over a twelve year period. PROVEA quotes figures that clearly show that poverty rates in Venezuela decreased under Chavez. With the lack of official government numbers, PROVEA is left to its own devices, and arrives at the conclusion (based on its own research) that poverty rates are increasing. In other words, saying “PROVEA is biased (against my own biases), so you shouldn’t quote them” is simply wrong. Learn to recognize the bias so that you may draw your own conclusions.

      3. While accusing me of being biased, you quote the office of the ombudsman. This is fine, but you must realize that you’re engaging in the very behaviour you accuse me of doing. How easy would it be for me to say, “David, you’re engaging in dogmatism”! I accept the ombudsman’s quote, and you’ll find that I often use government sources in my daily updates. I try to not editorialize, but you must understand that taking the ombudsman’s words as true simply because they come for the government while dismissing PROVEA’s simply because they contradict your own views is not productive to healthy discourse.

      4. Thank you for linking the article from The Guardian. It was interesting, but flawed in a number of important ways. First, it’s important to note that it was written a year ago, and the situation in the country has deteriorated significantly since then. Also, even a superficial reading of the article will turn up troublesome assertions. For example, the author states:

      These people are not hurting – they’re doing very well. Their income has grown at a healthy pace since the Chávez government got control of the oil industry a decade ago

      I challenge you, or anyone else who believes that Venezuelans are doing “very well”, to stand in line in the sun and heat for hours outside a supermarket, as Venezuelans often have to do, to have a shot at finding even the most basic necessities. Moreover, the argument that Venezuelans get lots of wage increases is flawed and trite. In this article in particular, the author is happy to point out that income has grown at a healthy pace, but what Weisbort could not have known is that inflation has grown at a most unhealthy rate, essentially erasing wage increases in 2014. While the Banco Central de Venezuela has stopped posting inflation information, the rate for 2014 was somewhere around 68%. That means that the Venezuelans Weisbort observed doing “very well” a year ago are approximately 68% poorer today than last year.

      You need only look at the end of the article to see how wrong Weisbort was about his assertions:

      … the next election is a year-and-a-half away, and by that time, it’s likely that the economic shortages and inflation that have so increased over the past 15 months will have abated.

      Thanks again for your comment, David, and thanks for checking out the blog!

      • Thanks for your comment Giancarlo. Well if you put it that way, you are right everyone has an opinion about everything and will thereby choose a side. I actually criticize the Venezuelan Regime too, so we both may actually have the same bias. In my opinion Chavez also did things that I do not think were the most accurate for the situation. Once he arrived to power, he must have tried to establish a concession with the elites instead of fighting against them. Even if one dislikes the elites, they are part of the country and perhaps one tool would have been to have them on the vanguard of the revolution (of course the expropriation would have become a less powerful tool). When a country moves towards equality everyone gains, including the rich. The problem is to explain this to those who do not want to pay taxes. The contributions have to come from everyone. For more reference I would suggest to read Joseph Stiglitz’s article:

        http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105

        You were accurate in pointint out the government source that I used, as it was biased too. However the UN and WB statistics say something similar to what you are saying but in different numbers, all I am saying is that you could use those statistics instead of PROVEA’s because it is the same as if I was taking the statistics from the government. The important thing from the guardian’s article is that the world was aware about the fact that the right-wing elites were the ones leading the upheaval and not the middle nor the lower classes as the oppositors were claiming. Your arguments are very valid too, the inflation does affect a country badly but the causal relationship is not only due to the administration in your country but due to an economic blockade done by the US (Hence the lack of goods). What I do acknowledge about Chavez’s and Maduro’s regime is that they were able to show that the workers and peasants were also capable of becoming subjects in the political system and not just targets of subsides, charity and assitance from the government. I think that is a huge win in the whole South American region. Many thanks to you to for your response and valuable opinion.

      • Hi David,

        I agree with you in that both Chavez and Maduro have missed opportunities to “make things right” by, for example, encouraging a toxic rhetoric that has deeply divided the country in ways that will continue to be felt for years to come, regardless of what happens to the PSUV and Maduro. On the other hand, one of the good things chavismo has done – and you’ve pointed this out – is bring a previously marginalized demographic (the poor) into the political sphere.

        As for the matter of scarcity: the issue is a complicated one, but the United States does not have a “blockade” against Venezuela (as it has had, for example, against Cuba). The recently-announced U.S. sanctions target only a handful of high-level government officials, none with any role in the country’s industrial or financial sectors. Moreover, the sanctions in effect only bar the officials from entering the United States, and freezes any assets they have in the U.S. Maduro loves to talk about “economic wars”, but if you listen carefully, he never really explains what these wars actually look like.

        As I’ve said, the issue of scarcity in Venezuela is a very complex one, but I suspect that we might find answers to it not by looking at the United States, but by looking at the Venezuelan government’s currency and price controls. A number of business (including some from the United States, including Clorox) have been driven out of business in the country because they’ve essentially been forced to sell their products at a loss due to price controls. It might cost Clorox $1.00 to make a jug of cleaner, but they must sell it by law at $ 0.50 (I’m using fictitious figures as examples). Add to that the bureaucratic maze that is Venezuela’s currency exchange system (SIMADI), and you’ll find yourself into a lot of trouble really quickly if you’re trying to run a business.

        Thanks again for dropping by, David. I appreciate the comments.

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