4 Feb 2009

Notes on a neo-con newspaper?

'Guardian' Comment Piece Falsifies Venezuelan Reality
[Vanessa Neumann's negative comment piece in today's Guardian ('No, Chávez is not the answer to Venezuela's poverty and inequality') contains a number of false claims, including that "praise for the president [Chávez] flies in the face of facts on literacy and other social indicators."]

Thanks to Pablo for this.
'Guardian' Comment Piece Falsifies Venezuelan Reality

February 4th 2009, by Venezuela Information Centre

Vanessa Neumann's negative comment piece in today's Guardian ('No, Chávez is not the answer to Venezuela's poverty and inequality') contains a number of false claims, including that "praise for the president [Chávez] flies in the face of facts on literacy and other social indicators." 5 of the key false claims in the piece, and the reality with regards to these, are below.

1) Claim: "None of Chávez's health and human development indicators are beyond that which is normal in the midst of the sort of oil boom which Venezuela recently enjoyed."

Reality: It is not the case that in all oil-exporting countries when oil prices go up that poverty or social inequality dramatically declines. The 1970s oil price increases were greater in real (inflation adjusted) terms than those recently. But in the 1970s, in Venezuela income per head fell relative to the average for the eight other largest South American economies, even though they did not have such oil wealth. To make use of oil price rises to decrease poverty, a country needs to have a strong state machinery capable of redistributing the wealth; something Chávez has gone about establishing in Venezuela. Additionally, the true scale of poverty reduction in Venezuela in recent years can't be underestimated – 75.5% percent of the population were in poverty in 1995.

2) Claim: There are "severe food shortages of staples such as milk, eggs, beans and rice."

Reality: Venezuela's National Nutrition Institute estimates that 98 per cent of Venezuelans eat three times per day thanks to government provision of subsidised food.

3) Claim: "In 2005 he [Chávez] announced that his Robinson programme had eliminated illiteracy…. That too looks false. A study conducted by Francisco Rodríguez (former chief economist of the Venezuelan national assembly) and Daniel Ortega (of Venezuela's IESA business school) found that at the end of 2005 there were more than 1 million illiterate Venezuelans, not significantly down from the 1.1 million in the first half of 2003, when the Robinson programme started."

Reality: Due to 'Mission Robinson' in Venezuela, 1.6 million Venezuelans have learnt to read and write. The Rodriguez/Ortega report quoted here has been discredited by the well-respected CEPR (see http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/literacy_2008_05.pdf) who argued it "has serious problems and their statistical tests lack power and are not robust. Even overlooking these issues, it is only by ignoring reasonable assumptions about the [illiteracy] program's reach that they can claim to show that the program was not a large-scale effort." Indeed, Rodriguez is hardly a reliable source on the current government, having been part of the previous regime.

4) Claim: Chávez is guilty of "economic mismanagement."

Reality: Since the Government gained control of PDVSA in 2003, Venezuela has had one of the highest growth rates in the region, a dramatic reduction in debt and an accumulation of currency reserves.

5) Claim: "The average share of the budget devoted to health, education and housing under Chávez (25%) is identical to that in the last eight years before his election" and "inflation rates for healthcare [are] around 65%."

Reality: Prior to 1998, no system of free healthcare for the mass of the population was developed. Now, the share of national income devoted to public health has more than doubled. This has meant infant mortality has been reduced, from 21.4 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 13.7 in 2007, with the World Health Organisation acknowledging "an accelerated decline in the infant mortality rate and prevalent childhood diseases." Additionally, the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans now have access to free public healthcare, rather than facing "inflation rates for healthcare."

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