Courtesy Reuters

Revolutionary Road?

Debating Venezuela's Progress

HOW CHAVEZ HAS HELPED THE POOR

Bernardo Alvarez Herrera

When President Hugo Chávez was first elected, in 1998, his critics, many of whom have published in these pages, argued that he would slowly move Venezuela away from democracy. After 12 elections, including the December 2007 referendum, which he narrowly lost, that claim has finally crumbled under the evidence. Now the argument against Venezuela has shifted, and instead of being called undemocratic, Chávez's social programs are labeled as inefficient and his economic management categorized as catastrophic. Much like the first accusations against Chávez, the new criticisms, put forth by Francisco Rodríguez in "An Empty Revolution" (March/April 2008), simply do not stand up to the facts.

This much is undeniable: poverty has decreased in Venezuela under Chávez's administration. According to the 2007 Social Panorama of Latin America, a report released by the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, between 2002 and 2006 Venezuela decreased poverty by 18.4 percent and extreme poverty by 12.3 percent, an achievement second in the region only to that of Argentina. The report attributed these dramatic decreases to "rapid GDP growth and the ongoing implementation of broad social programs" and recognized that the "swift pace of progress considerably brightens the prospects for further reductions in poverty and significantly increases the feasibility of meeting the first target associated with the first Millennium Development Goal."

Rodríguez seeks to dismiss these advances not by claiming that they have not occurred but by arguing that they are just not good enough. He posits that the government's social-spending patterns have not changed from prior governments, that the social programs have not met their goals, and that Chávez's management of the country has not led to any significant redistribution of wealth. On all counts, he is wrong.

According to the Central Bank of Venezuela, social spending as a percentage of all government spending grew from 38.6 percent in 1997 to 44 percent in 2007. Looking more broadly, figures from the National Budget Office show that social

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