AP: Chavez made "meager" gains, only reduced poverty, didn't build the world's tallest building

Associated Press business reporter Pamela Simpson wrote a terrible obit for Huge Chavez, writing

Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

Jim Naureckas has an appropriately scathing response:

In case you're curious about what kind of results this kooky agenda had, here's a chart (NACLA, 10/8/12) based on World Bank poverty stats–showing the proportion of Venezuelans living on less than $2 a day falling from 35 percent to 13 percent over three years. (For comparison purposes, there's a similar stat for Brazil, which made substantial but less dramatic progress against poverty over the same time period.)

Of course, during this time, the number of Venezuelans living in the world's tallest building went from 0 percent to 0 percent, while the number of copies of the Mona Lisa remained flat, at none. So you have to say that Chavez's presidency was overall pretty disappointing–at least by AP's standards.

AP: Chavez Wasted His Money on Healthcare When He Could Have Built Gigantic Skyscrapers (via Making Light)


  1. Yes, I heard about that absurdity on Democracy Now, where Amy Goodman interviewed a Venezuelan official to shed some light on what’s actually happening there now. That AP obit is an especially naked demonstration of the reflexive establishment effort in the US to always and everywhere paint Chavez with a negative brush. It’s useful in a way, though, because the absurd one-dimensionality shows what a threat he and his efforts have been to Western imperialism.

    1. what a threat he and his efforts have been to Western imperialism

      Yes, I’ll bet that Dick Cheney, Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, and Barack Obama cried themselves to sleep every night in fear of tubby Hugo.  Too bad he doesn’t look nearly as fetching on a t-shirt as does Che.

      1. millie fink wrote, “threat ….to Western imperialism.” Imperialism, not to imperialists :-) That means a threat to a *relationship* where a tiny plutocracy agrees to sell off national resources cheaply to multinational corporations and pocket the money in offshore accounts rather than distributing it to the owners, ie. the public, taxpayers, future generations. Whenever this imperialistic relationship becomes unsustainable, usually from democratic rebellions (Chile, Iran, et al) the US usually invokes a coup to put the plutocracy back in charge – like the one in 2002 against Chavez. The threat Chavez represented was the example that one could resist this relationship, and create a more egalitarian society which would make plutocracy and the looting that comes with it a part of history, thus threatening the existence of imperialism. Like Millie suggested.

  2. See, the trouble with Chavez is, he failed to create a staggeringly unequal society like Dubai.  Glittering, you see.  Glittering.  World’s tallest.

  3. Yeah, how DARE Chavez focus on caring for his people instead of his country’s GDP? How dare he not open up the markets wide to exploitative foreign investments (from the US, let’s be honest)?

    1. Besides the fact that he plundered the country’s infrastructure to buy votes, and that it’s likely to crash disastrously?

      1. Exactly. A lot of people seem to be reading just the first part of the story – he marginally reduced poverty. The second part is, he did it by investing in crazy projects (like his movie studio – http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/10/23/lights-camera-revoluci-n.html ) while letting the money-making oil infrastructure rot, leaving the country economically adrift. So it’s a short term gain. Like heating your house by burning the doors.

        It seems hip to be on the side of the down-trodden communist, but this guy was an egomaniacal psychopath.

      2. So improving people’s standard of living was buying votes? Aren’t poor people allowed to vote for their economic interests too?

        1. Handing out money is buying votes, yes. If you destroy the ability for future generations to make enough money to survive so that you can hand it out before an election, you’re not a friend of the people.

          1. A bit simplistic considering the alternative, uneducated masses with no access to health care to speak of and a deeper sense of class shame than can ever be imagined by someone who never experienced it.

            For once the thruth might be found in the middle.

          2. If we’re going to talk about the failures of American media the greatest is probably the lie that simply because two positions were stated means that the truth must be somewhere between.

          3.  Exactly, Chavez was no saint and there are plenty of criticisms that leftists can and do levy against him. It’s funny though, to see mtdna complain about ‘two sides of the story’ and then just rattle off some rightish narrative…..

            Yes, he needed to buy the admiration of the masses, which is why a neoliberal coup by elites was so embraced by them……

            Those Venezuelans are “childlike” while our Republicans and Obama-Democrats are “smart” adults who repeatedly back every kind of horrible malfeasance as long as the people on their team are voting for it.

          4. So then nobody should criticize the populist Robert Mugabe? Or Ahmadinejad? How very condescending of you to think that we should pretend that any leader in the Third World, no matter how bad, should get a free pass from criticism.

          5. But your theory assumes the essential stupidity of most lower class voters. Which is very obviously untrue. They are often more capable of voting for a more sustainable system than the looting oligarchs that Chavez replaced. You also imply a form of elitism that most people don’t know what’s good for them, an idea that has underlaid so much of American foreign policy in the region.

          6.  Are you confusing Chavez with Manuel Rosales?

            During the 2006 presidential campaign, the signature pledge of Chávez’s opponent was to give 3,000,000 poor Venezuelans a black credit card (black as in the color of oil) from which they could withdraw up to $450 in cash a month, which would have drained over $16 billion dollars a year from the national treasury (call it neoliberal populism: give to the poor just enough to bankrupt the government and force the defunding of services). Over the years, there’s been a lot of heavy theoretically breathing by US academics about the miasma oil wealth creates in countries like Venezuela, lulling citizens into a dreamlike state that renders them into passive spectators. But in this election at least, Venezuelans managed to see through the mist. Chávez won with over 62 percent of the vote.


      3. I’ve never understood the “buying votes” argument against any elected official who provides services. Sooo… elected officials are supposed to ignore the needs of their constituents? Once you get elected you promptly just take tax and national resource revenue away from your nation and… do what with it? If you aren’t supposed to provide for your constituents, someone needs to tell the American Congress that they are doing it all wrong.

        And to the “trashed the economy” claims that most make about Chavez, he had partners in that from what I understand: an recalcitrant moneyed class that acted malevolently against their fellow citizens by blocking economic development, as they had for years before Chavez was even elected.

        1. I saw the “buying votes” angle pursued by BBC journalist Greg Palast. The charge was people were ‘given’ houses. What they really meant was something like the concept of council housing in the UK, ie. government owned and subsidised housing for the poor. Before they slept in a shack. Then they were ‘given’ a house.

          The stories about a closed media are also designed to obscure the opposite. The media owners involved in the 2002 coup to overthrow the democratically elected Chavez still own all the media – except the government channel, which is probably like the Parliament channel in the UK. Yawn. 

          I have seen clips of these channels. In one current affairs clip the pundits were discussing what to do about the Chavez/Castro pedophile ring! :-) Yes, it actually makes FOX look like journalism. I’m sure if you did a comparison, you’d see US (0.001%) news mirror Venezuela’s (0.001%) news. Their ridiculous propaganda becomes our ridiculous propaganda. Of course, if you live in Canada, the UK, the EU for example, Chavez would be some elected official to be yawned at. Without propaganda, he is barely news worthy.

          (In contrast, UK propaganda is basically anything that diverts attention from the economy, which has never worked better for 0.001% of the population, but is destroying life for the remaining 99.99% (and their children and grandchildren). Amazing but true: UK inequality will shortly surpass what it was in Dickens time.

      4. Reducing the proportion of the population below the national poverty line by half is marginal?

        A few days ago, on As It Happens, I listened to Carol Off interview Robert Bottome.  (It’s the first item.)

        Bottome warned that there would be violence, and decried the fact, as he reported it, that 62% of Venezuelans believed that Chavez was recovering/in good health.  “62%!”, he repeated, emphasizing that it was all a government plot.

        Yeah, I have no idea why they interviewed this arsewhole (oh, just google ‘Robert Bottome Venezuela’), either.

        Well, well, there was no riots in Venezuela this week and no one was killed because of the fact that the Venezualan government kept Chavez’s medical condition a bit of a mystery.

        Compare and contrast that lie with ‘We know for a fact that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction’…and how many tens of thousands of people were killed.

        In any case, God forbid that we let the Venezuelans decide who runs their country, right or wrong, eh, Antinous?

        1. God forbid that we let the Venezuelans decide who runs their country, right or wrong, eh, Antinous?

          I missed the part where I suggested intervention. Don’t you have to write some fan mail to Robert Mugabe right now?

      5. I thought you were making fun of the propaganda. Does no one know what it was like under the plutocracy that made 70% of the population peasants? You DO know NONE of this news plays anywhere outside the US. It makes the US look like the Soviet Union – except people actually buy the goofy stories in the “news”. Go ahead. Invade if you must.

        1. Are you unaware that under Chavez, no oil profits were reinvested into infrastructure and there won’t be any oil dollars in a few years?

  4. I don’t know, it seems a little too perfect, like a line from The Daily Show or Colbert.  A bit of subversion I hope?  But maybe one of the authors is just a crazed Ayn Rand-ite.

    1. Given that Dubai is treated as a glittering neoliberal city upon a hill(which, if you aren’t unlucky enough to be one of the southeast asian slave laborers, or a local who might actually want a political voice because he can’t just fly home to London or New York when it suits him, it just might be), I’m guessing complete sincerity. Quite possibly not even a recognition that the statement would strike anybody as unusual.

        1. I wouldn’t want to be a lady
          or gay, or an atheist, or a Christian, or a Jew

          in Dubai
          or Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Kuwait, or “Palestine”

          1. Yes, well, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Kuwait or Palestine aren’t really germane to the conversation, are they? I mean, Dubai was the subject at hand.

          2.  Well, there’s some very orthodox folk there who’d take issue with that there too, but ain’t it the same all over. Not a good place to be an arab either, so there’s that.

      1. Seriously, built by abused and exploited slave laborers and governed by an elite monarchical family. An unintentional indictment against neoliberalism that the author was too stupid to even notice he was making. At its heart this kind of libertarianism and neoliberalism is a defense of elite autocratic rule, which is why they love such places so much. Hilarious! Those dummies in Venezuela!

  5. Incidentally, I wonder if Pamela Simpson is good enough at what she does to kneel in awe of flashy prestige projects in this context and dismiss the gigantic infrastructure undertakings that China and various other nominally-communist countries have a taste for as economically unjustified white-elephant stuff?

    That is what really separates the hacks who merely like shiny things from the masters of goodthink.

  6. I have no admiration for Chavez, but jeez! She could at least try to nail him for what he did wrong (press restrictions, interference with the judiciary, his cult of personality and interminable 5-hour presidential videocasts, using oil wealth as a political weapon, etc), rather than for what he did right (trying to raise his people out of poverty, and telling the neoliberal Powers That Be to ‘do one’).

    You’d think we lived in a world where William Gibson had never written “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”, where Davis & Monk had never compiled “Evil Paradises”, where Sudjik never wrote “The Edifice Complex”, and where the proverb ‘wealth sleeps uneasy in a bed of poverty’ didn’t exist.

    1. If I’ve never read them, that’s the same as their not having been written, right?

      1.  I was torn whether to ‘like’ your comment or not. It’s kinda trite, but the turn of phrase gave me a satisfying chuckle. :)

    2. It’s telling that ol’ Hugo is now going to be pickled and placed on display for future generations to adulate.

      I doubt that he had any more intent to “raise his people out of poverty” than did his fellow pickled thugs in Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang.  They all talked a good line, fooled a few rubes in the West, but all wound up causing more starvation than their predecessors or successors.

      1. This is what drives me mad. I am a communist. He was neither a communist or a socialist. The Castros are. Evo Morales is. Rafael Correa is. But Mr. Chavez was just a power-hungry dictator.

        The problem is that people listen to what demagogues say rather than looking at who they are. Bob Mugabe, the people running Iran, even Putin sounded fairly reasonable at various points in their climbs to power. But they’ve all created totalitarian regimes. They’ve all manage to do an end-run around term limits. And they’ll all end up in glass coffins.

      2. So you are linking Chavez and a kind of Latin American democratic socialism not terribly different from the Nordic countries – which are widely regarded as the best places to live in the world – with totalitarian communist countries from history? WTF?

        The UN measures countries for wealth and quality of life, infrastructure, education, freedom, etc and recently finds Norway to be the best place to live. Previously it was Canada for 6 or 7 years. Canada modelled much of it’s political values on the Nordic Model too, so it’s not surprising. It is the model that quietly puts the Capitalist/Communist cold war dichotomy to the test and suggests that capitalism with democratic socialist values produces lives worth living in places worth living in. The cold war is over so we can let go of the cold war dichotomy. Hey, it’s working in Latin America.

  7. He was a little bit overweight, but I don’t know if calling him “Huge” is appropriate, Cory.  ^^;

    Good post, though – I am not at all surprised to see capitalists calling Hugo a failure…

  8. Without mentioning that the native population in the oil-rich gulf countries is just a few hundred thousands people, it’s easier to spread wealth on such a small nationals base indeed.

  9. Chavez was a corrupt narcissist whose country would’ve benefited by having a benign, democratic socialist (what he portrayed himself as), rather than what he appears to have been. Add just one more level of crazy and he becomes Qaddafi.  That’s the only thing he deserves credit for– he didn’t go completely nuts, take all the power, and drive his country into the ground.

      1. The problem is that when you finally get rid of a megalomaniac who covers himself with a veneer of “socialism”, what you get as the aftershock isn’t Sweden.  You get Putin, or the Chinese corruptocracy.

        1. “Putin” lmfao! Yeah, Putin’s a socialist…..
          The Russia of today is the fruit of neoliberal “shock treatmeant” Oligarchy, capitalism on roids.

          Are your posts some kind of elaborate avant garde art project?

    1.  I wonder if the thousands of Venezuelans that he lifted out of poverty would agree with you, or suggest that you’ve attained your own level of crazy for discounting the improvement in their lives.  Eating regularly is a habit they could get used to.

      1. Metaphorically, he took the seeds for next year’s crops and handed them out as food to get votes. He’s been taking money that should have gone into infrastructure for a future economy and tossing it up into the wind. Venezuela has no future because he’s put no money back into the country.

  10. I seem to recall our government, under Obama, handed out checks to people shortly after the financial collapse in 2008/9
    Considering our government created the financial crisis and enriched those who were responsible, the irony is astounding.

      1. Happened here already.  Check out the life of Huey Long, famous for throwing crumbs to the po’folks while stealing for himself and his campaign donors everything that wasn’t nailed down..  We could easily have a Long regime at the national level in America.

        1. Wasn’t that why the GOP pushed the ‘two terms’ thing, cos Roosevelt’s New Deal upset them, and he was looking difficult to unseat?

          1.  FDR wasn’t even -close- to Huey when it comes to corruption.

            And the two terms thing probably kept Reagan out of office for a third term, as well as Clinton. What goes around…..

        2.  As opposed to modern American leaders who steal for themselves and their donors, without bothering with the “crumbs” part of the act.

    1. No, there were two rounds of check-handing-out, both in the Bush years.  And it’s okay when a Republican does it.

      1. Um, could you make that one “Trump”, please?  We have a few Donalds in our BB community and I’m right fond of them.

  11. “showing the proportion of Venezuelans living on less than $2 a day falling from 35 percent to 13 percent over three years.”

    So, then, anyone living on exactly or slightly more than $2 is in good shape?

    1.  Not knowing the facts WRT the poverty rate and cost of living in Venezuela and the data for that graph  I didn’t want to mention that $2 has change a lot in value over the Chavez years.  I sure hope that chart is using inflation-adjusted values.

    2.  I think a lot of Americans would like to see an actual increase in wealth instead of the stagnation or loss of it that the bulk of Americans have seen.

  12. The comment on towers is stupid, but the graph on poverty count is misleading. It starts in 2002, but If you go back to 1999 (when Chavez became president) the picture is quite different. Poverty INCREASED during 10 points during Chavez the first 4 years.

    1. What happened in Venezuela in 2002? What kind of policies did Chavez follow before and after that? How does the poverty graph map with the oil price graph?  My guess is you already know and are just throwing this out there to confuse people that don’t.

    2. Unemployment increased in the first Obama years too, due to the momentum he inherited.  On January 21, 2008, people were already blaming him for it.  But the fact is that economic policies normally take a few years to have an effect.

    3. From when he was elected, upto the coup attempt. As I recall, he turned more and more drastically left after that. Also, drastically authoritarian, and started making friends with all the world’s America haters.

      Probably a coincidence, but still…

      1. There are lots of people for whom “America hater” is just another way of saying “a friend I haven’t met yet”. 

        (Psst….I think a couple of them post here once in a while)

        1.  I love you guys, and you’ve made some great TV and some nifty software, but your foreign policy (and some of yer domestic) makes me has a sad… ;)

          1. It’s true. We all love all you guys.

            People say people are ‘anti-American’ which suggests they dislike something essential about America. In fact, they just dislike the foreign policy, which is a very tiny part of America, really. We don’t hate America, we just hate what America does when it’s high on foreign policy.

            I’m a Canadian which is just like an American, but with Norwegian social and political values. 

  13. FYI, it’s Pamela Sampson, not Pamela Simpson, who is completely blameless in this particular editorial fiasco.

  14. Driving through Venezuela a few weeks ago, I still saw nothing but concrete houses with tin roofs. I see new concrete walls with soon to be tin roofs being built. Same buildings and people were there in 2002. Only Chavez cronies have been bumped up to lush mansions and nice cars.

    Going to groceries stores that are empty except for corn flakes, fruit which is extremely expensive, naked kids in streets, etc. etc.

    Hell, there are the same potholes in the same road for the past decade. The only thing that has really changed is the inflation. Black market rate has been going insane last few months. My lunch is ~80 Bs, how is above poverty 12 Bs a day? I can barely get a carton of juice for that.

    1. A ruling thug can be as corrupt as Beelzebub himself, but if he knows how to spout the correct slogans with sincerity, the dimwitted will sing his praises nonetheless. 

      1.  I wouldn’t say that Bush or Obama were as corrupt as Beelzebub, but you’re right, they do have the slogans down to an art.

    2. I think some of you just don´t understand how bad poverty can be. 
      Concrete houses with tin roofs can be a huge advance when you and your parents always lived in the streets or in a garbage dump.

        1. Well, he said: “I see new concrete walls with soon to be tin roofs being built.” 

    3. Absolutely.

      Chavez squandered a decade of super high oil prices and what do the people of Venezuela have to show for it? Marginally fewer of them in abject poverty, crumbling infrastructure, entrenched and incompetent politicians who know nothing else of governing their country except charismatic dictatorship.

      I do not disagrees that the country’s natural resources belong to the people, and Chavez’s heart may have been in the right place, but he was a failure at carrying out his goal. A good leader must have a good vision but must also be a good manager.

      That is what the writer was saying about the “tallest building in the world.” Chavez would promise to use this immense wealth to build up the country and repeatedly fail to deliver. Well, except enormous wealth to his lackeys, who are now Russian style oligarchs, and his client states like Bolivia and Cuba.

    4. Have you ever done the calculations?”marginally” for millions of people is not “marginal” at all, even more when people is extremely poor, and you have the people who control prices in the opposition. Also, didn’t you know that food prices have been increasing since (if I recall correctly) 2008?
      As poverty decreases, consumption rises. And when demand rises, so do prices.
      Those, as you can see, are all factors that have a BIG impact in the internal economy.
      Yeah, it’s easy to do anything from your computer and/or mouth…

        1. More points to my argument, then. That, or you didn’t even read (or care about) what I wrote.
          artificial prices, controlled by opposition + rapidly increasing demand = products shortage, inflation
          Also, AFAIK, venezuela has always had high inflation…
          EDIT: it’s also well known that the CIA and local capitalists did exactly the same to Allende in chile, to try to destroy internal economy.
          And why would I read the NYTimes? There isn’t already lots of made up propaganda and counter-propaganda from neoliberals?

        2.  Which is why there was mass rioting against the neoliberal polices of Chavez’ predecessor and why he continuously enjoyed support throughout his years….even through a failed coup by those same elite neoliberals.

    5. This. Venezuela is a lot worse off than before Chavez came to power. Constant food shortages, there is a thriving black market for American dollars because the Venezuelan government refuses to exchange dollars. All the large business’ send agents to the airport looking to buy dollars from foreigners entering the country. Venezuela can barely refine their own oil, they send it overseas to be refined then buy it back at much higher prices than they sold the crude for, then turn around and sell it so cheap that you can fill a tank in a truck for about $1.

      I’ve got family that lives in Venezuela and trust me, things have not improved.

  15. Just because an AP reporter wrote a crappy article and the poor under Chavez’s regime went from being shit poor to dirt poor, it doesn’t make him any less of an oppressive tyrant that abused the legal system, wrongfully imprisoning innocent people, crushing freedom of speech, leeching the country’s coffers for his own gain and turning the government into a dictatorship ruled by fear.

  16. No, this is an actual downtick between 1999 and 2002. The graph goes up before that, comes down during that period, and then goes up again.

    But then again, the google data OP linked to is just two data points. For all we know, it zigged and zagged continuously throughout that period…

    EDIT: This was meant to be a reply to Boundegar above.

      1. I wouldn’t consider that too suspicious – Google public data is like that quite often. Lots of stats for even countries like the US and much of Europe are often missing or incomplete.

        All I’m saying is that two datapoints are not statistically significant.

    1. Totally agree.
      I mean, how stupid can people be, knowing that the mass-media and international “news” agencies are controlled by big holding corporations, kept in their place by corporate marketing and PR, yet they believe anything coming from the same mass-media?
      It’s really sad…

  17. I recall the same thing happening here and almost everywhere else.  Big dotcom boom leading up to 2000, big dip then recovery after 911 and the resulting ‘security’ and oil booms.  Hard to blame Chavez for the dotcom crash.

  18. Keep in mind that he also gave a lot of poor New England residents 100 gallons of free heating oil per winter for years.  May not mean much to you, but it kept a lot of kids and grandmothers from freezing to death.  Just sayin’.

    1. He offered free fuel to our transit system too.

      Working through Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Alderman Billy Ocasio, Venezuelan officials let the CTA know that they’d wanted to give Chicago what amounted to $15 million worth of free gas for its buses.

      The offer was intended to help the CTA keep fares low so that Chicago’s poor people could avoid fare hikes, Venezuelan officials said.

      There were two ways of looking at this. Chavez was trying to embarrass President George Bush—his ideological rival. Or he genuinely cared about the poor people of Chicago. Or maybe both.

      No matter what, $15 million worth of free gas was nothing to sneeze at. The CTA was in the midst of a budget crisis, with dire talk of services cuts and layoffs and so forth.

      Ultimately, Kruesi turned down the offer without even telling the board about it—on the grounds that he didn’t want to upset the Bush administration, who might retaliate by cutting Chicago’s federal transportation aid.

      And you thought Dennis Rodman was taking foreign policy into his own hands by traveling to North Korea.


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