Human Development and Economic Freedom are collapsing in Venezuela
By Gustavo Coronel
12.09.05 | International public opinion is very sensitive to impressionistic reports on the Venezuelan situation. When a journalist visits my country for a few days, he or she usually files a report in which an evaluation of the nation, good or bad, is based almost entirely upon a conversation with someone either working in a factory or selling razor blades on a street corner. If the person the journalist happens to talk to is an admirer of Chávez, the evaluation of the state of our nation comes out to be very favorable. If not, the report turns out gloomy. I have always felt that this is a disgraceful manner of reporting, what they call in the US a hatchet job, since it makes no attempt to convey the more objective reality. An assessment of the real situation of my country cannot depend on the visceral feelings of a Venezuelan citizen, chosen at random (or worse, chosen with the purpose of illustrating a pre-conceived idea).
Statistical surveys are more reliable indicators of the true situation in a country. Although they have their own problems and risks they do present the reader in search of the truth with a more balanced picture. In particular, the surveys strive to present a better measure of social well being by taking into account the complex interaction between social variables, the quality of data, methodological coherence and many other of such factors.
Human Development or Quality of Life is one of the most important concepts that these statistical surveys try to measure. There are about one dozen of these surveys in use today: The Well-Being Assessment, the UNCSD Indicators of Sustainable Development, UNDP's Human Development Index and others. These different surveys are analyzed in an excellent paper prepared at the Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies by Karen Frecker, from the University of Toronto ("Beyond GDP: Enabling Democracy with better measures of Social Well-being," June 2005). In this report, the author describes the twelve most important surveys in use and evaluates their strong and weak points. The Human Development Index of the United Nations is not the highest ranked survey in Frecker's study (the "Well-Being Assessment" is, although it is not in universal use as yet) but is considered to be "highly coherent, clearly presented" and its statistics, being drawn from the UN system, are generally taken to be credible. In fact, Frecker's report adds: "the Human Development Index has attained the dominant position in the global market for information on the social and economic world."
These comments are designed to document the fact that the Human Development Report is a valid tool to measure social well being.
The ranking of Venezuela in the Human Development Reports for 1999 and 2005.
In 1999, the first year of Hugo Chávez in power, Venezuela occupied position 48 in the ranking of the Human Development Index, which measures the quality of life in a society. This meant that Venezuelans enjoyed a quality of life higher than, say, the peoples of Panama, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, Albania, Estonia, Croatia, Thailand, Bulgaria and Saint Kitts and Nevis, among many other countries. Today, in 2005, Venezuela occupies place 75 in the ranking and is below all of the countries listed above. It is also below countries like Libya, Grenada, Trinidad Tobago and Costa Rica, to name just a few This collapse of 27 places in the ranking of the Human Development Index that Venezuela has suffered has two reasons: one, the fact that some countries are developing their quality of life faster than Venezuela and, two, the fact that Venezuela has actually declined in some of the key areas which make up the index, such as health, education and poverty levels. If we envision this index as a race, it is clear that some countries are leaving us behind while we go sluggishly around the oval.
Who is responsible for this collapse?
The report by Frecker makes it very clear that social performance is the responsibility of government. Civil society and markets, the paper adds: "cannot improve social performance without the help of public institutions". When governance fails social performance deteriorates. This is what has happening and continues to happen in Venezuela. Hugo Chávez has not been able to govern; he has not been capable of putting national resources to good use, for the well being of the people. The collapse of the Human Development Index in Venezuela mirrors the failure of the Chávez political regime. To blame the US or previous Venezuelan governments, as Chávez continues to do, is preposterous. The collapse of Venezuelan Quality of Life has taken place entirely within the seven years of Hugo Chávez's rule. Even the much heralded literacy campaign, financed with millions of dollars taken away from the petroleum industry and involving the presence of thousands of Cuban invaders to my country, has only been able (if we are to believe Chávez) to bring the literacy rate of Venezuela from 93-95% in the 1999-2001 period (a rate already documented) to 97% today (as claimed by the government), an asymptotic improvement. In contrast, the quality of primary education is collapsing, the so-called bolivarian universities are a fraud, hospitals lack the most essential equipment and medicines and infrastructure is rotting away. All what I say above can be documented and is, in fact, mostly documented already. Any person with a small, inexpensive, camera can take photos of the Venezuelan disaster. I can objectively say, without exaggeration and without making a political statement, that Hugo Chávez is the culprit of the dramatic collapse in the Venezuelan Quality of Life. And this is getting worse by the minute.
The Index of Economic Freedom.
The Fraser and the Cato Institutes, in cooperation with an important group of economic Institutes and Think Tanks all over the world, generate this index, which measures multiple variables that have to do with government controls, freedom of trade and property rights. The countries occupying the top positions: New Zealand, US, UK, Switzerland are democracies, although other countries high up, like Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates are not. In this index Venezuela occupied position 14 in 1980, position 52 in 1990 and occupies position 124 today. In fact, today Venezuela is one of the four world countries with least economic freedom, situated at the bottom of the pile. The countries below Venezuela are only three: Burundi, Congo and Zimbabwe.
I have to ask: what country having a small population, 25 million people, and one of the largest petroleum derived incomes in the world, some US$40 billion per year at current prices, can manage to be at the bottom of the economic pile, together with the most backward countries in the world? How can this anti-miracle, be accomplished? Who can manage this unbelievable tragedy? Ask no more, look no farther: Hugo Chávez.
Hugo Chávez is the modern version of an alchemist: he converts gold into garbage and excrement.
Similar Indexes of Economic Freedom, such as the one generated by the respectable Heritage Foundation, also carry the same message. In this index Venezuela also occupies one of the positions at the bottom of the ladder.
What can a man like Chávez say in the United Nations?
The man responsible for the two colossal failures, one social, one economic, described above is apparently coming to New York, to the General Assembly of the United Nations to be held September 15 and 16. As a Head of State he is entitled to be there and to speak (I suspect he will take more time than the protocol allows). He might also be invited to speak in Clinton's private meeting on poverty and terrorism that follows this UN general meeting. What can this man say to his captive audience? A man who has presided over the disaster of our small Venezuelan society is going to take the stand to tell the world how to progress? A man who rules a country where there are more violent deaths per year than in Iraq can advise the world on how to be safer? A man who controls a country where people die for lack of medical assistance can lecture the world on how to be healthier? A man who buys US$3 billion in arms to defend his revolution while our children are abandoned in the streets can pontificate on how to fight poverty? A man who arbitrarily gives away Venezuelan resources and sovereignty can advise the world on how to utilize resources in an optimal manner and how to remain dignified in the concert of nations?
Bullshit. If there was one child sitting in the General Assembly of the United Nations when Hugo Chávez started to talk he would burst out laughing and shouting; "He is naked, he has no clothes, and this is hilarious!"
I doubt this will happen. Children are not politically correct. Therefore, they are not allowed in important places.
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