18 Feb 2009
The clip above is Part One of an Al Jazeera interview conducted by Riz Khan. Watch Part Two of the interview here.
On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a referendum for a constitutional amendment to lift the country's presidential term limit, paving the way for him to run again in 2013. Electoral Authorities say that 54% of the electorate approved the amendment to the constitution to remove the presidential term limit. Chavez's critics, who include former Venezuelan trade and industry minister, Moisés Naím, interviewed here by Al Jazeera, contend that the country is opening itself to the threat of a military dictatorship.
Chavez is celebrated for bringing cheap food, free education and health care to the poor in Venezuela. But opposition commentators argue that the global decrease in oil prices will affect his ability to cater for the needs of his constituency, as 55% of Venezuelan revenue is generated from oil. He is also being criticised for steam rolling this referendum through before the effects of the plummeting oil prices upset his ability to make good on his social promises.
Chavez is also blamed for Venezuela’s high inflation, at 30%, the highest in Latin America.
However, in an article penned by Patrick Irelan, it is argued that research conducted by the Washington DC-based Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), reveals that inflation hasn’t really grown during Chavez’s term, it’s the same as it was when he was first elected.
Irelan’s article also quotes some social indicators of success from a study conducted by the CEPR - The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators.
“During the current economic expansion, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent.”
“From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one-third. The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access.”
“There have been substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where gross enrolment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008.”
“The labour market also improved substantially over the last decade, with unemployment dropping from 11.3 percent to 7.8 percent. During the current expansion it has fallen by more than half. Other labour market indicators also show substantial gains.”
Chavez’s opponents argue that lifting the presidential term limit is a threat to democracy. But, as one caller to the studio pointed out during the Al Jazeera interview, in much of Europe, there are no presidential term limits and the matter is a non-issue over there. And, as Irelan points out in his article, there is no term limit for people in the American senate, either.
One imagines that the Venezuelan electorate who put Chavez in power would be wise enough to remove him, should they feel the need to.
Who is Moises Naim?
There is nothing wrong with showing many sides to a debate, but it would be helpful if SACSIS also let people know the background of those participating in the debate. Moises Naim was a key member of Carlos Andrez Perez's cabinet. It is true that he was instrumental in bringing 'economic reforms' - but in the era of neo-liberalism we know well what that means: job losses, sharp declines in the living standards of the majority, and concentration of wealth amongst an elite (see http://oilwars.blogspot.com/2007/04/bright-lights-that-brought-venezuela-to.html for some figures on the sharp rise in poverty in Venuzuela in the 24 years up to when Chavez was elected into power). Naim and others like him from 'the opposition' are part of this elite, and have a lot of avenues for spreading their anti-Chavez messages. Should SACSIS be providing them with yet another platform?