Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Venezuela: Stay Hungry,

Hunger and Hummers - Plenty of Both

A top UN official gave a progress report, on Latin American countries committed to the 1996 Global Food Summit goals on reducing hunger by half by the year 2015. Buried in the EFE article, is news that the petro-kleptocracy in power in Venezuela, is lagging the furthest behind in meeting the goals among Latin Americans, joining Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay.

The UN agency (FAO)reported 11 percent of Venezuelans were suffering from malnourishment in 90-92, a number that went up by the late 90's and was at 18% in 2001 and 17% in 2002, already several years into Chavez rule. Since then, and with big fanfare, the Chavista government has enacted and financed all sorts of anti-poverty/anti-hunger schemes. On paper, it looks like the Petro-state, flush with oil revenue, has directed significant resources to try and tackle the problem. The Venezuelan supremo boasts about how much his government has helped the poor the past 9 years, a sentiment echoed by lemmings everywhere who loudly claim that socialism ala Venezuelais the alternative to "evil neo-liberalism." In places like Bolivia this is actually taken seriously.

But according to the regimes own publications, as of November of 06, the number of people suffering malnutrition was still hovering at 19 percent. So it looks like the present government has barely managed to catch up with the population growth, much less do anything to resolve such a basic problem.  Chavez is supposed to be an agent of change. Despite much lower oil prices, dealing with food riots, and coup-happy Teniente Coroneles, less Venezuelans went hungry under Chavez nemesis Carlos Andres Perez.

You can argue about the percentages and population increases, but you can't argue with oil prices: a barrel of oil was $25 dollars in 03, and it is nearing $100 now. The governments revenues wildly exceed its own forecasts, and it has more power over it than previous governments. It should have something to show for it. Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru - besides the usual chaos - at least have somewhat of an excuse, since they took a huge pounding with the Argentina/Brazil crisis, and are slowly recovering.

In a bizarre twist, Venezuelan writer, Marianella Salazar points out in this blog, Chavez petro-dollars somehow enabled miserable, broken, Cuba to meet its goals. Truth is, when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, two slices of bread a day counts as an improvement over one. But still is ironic, considering how backward the place is, that it still tops the country that bankrolls it.

It may be gifted with a once-in-a-lifetime oil bonanza, but disfunction, delusion, and plain waste sums up Chavez' Venezuela. A government that combines the efficiency, incentives, and rationality of central planned economies with the transparency and honesty of crony capitalism. A leader who boasts about being a large donor to eliminate hunger in Africa, but can't do it at home. Where price controls mean the poor do not find milk in stores, but imported cheese and whiskey are available with cash. Where subsidized oil means the rich fill up their Hummer(s) with gas for under a dime a gallon. Don't expect much to change, Chavez new constitution will simply enshrine his way of doing business permanently.