Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Booming Oil Profits and the Social Programs - the truth

On March 14th The Times - the daily rag of choice for Tories who like trash - decided to publish an interview with Chavez's former mistress. In it the author described how 'Chavez arrived with a pocketful of booming Venezuelan oil profits and began what he called his evangelical “missions” to transform the lives of the poor.'

This comment is worth remarking on largely because it is unremarkable, because it has become an orthodoxy across the British and American press that investments made by the Bolivarian government in social welfare are fuelled by - indeed are absolutely bound up with - the rising oil prices that have sent us all into a fluster.

This version of events, though comfortable for those unwilling to give credit to Chavez, is hard to reconcile with the chronology of developements in Venezuela. This much you can see by clicking on my graph below (click again for a clearer image)

What this shows is that the most imprtant missions that have impacted on the welfare of poor Venezuelans were started in 2003. Mission Robinson which taught 1.5m Venezuelans how to read was started in July 2003; mision barrio adentro, responsible to providing healthcare in the mass of Venezuela which is impoverished started in March 2003, Mision Mercal (food subsidies)April 2003 and Mision Ribas (remedial high school education) November 2003. The point is that in this year oil prices hovered around the 30 dollar level - relatively good going by 1990s standards but just half of the current price of oil. More signifcantly, the year started with a massive act of managerial sabotage in full swing in the state oil company which resulted in a massive dip in oil production, with production levels taking time to recover once the action had been defeated.

The truth is that the transformation of ordinary people's lives in Venezuela cannot simply be understood in terms of the Chavez government getting lucky on the commodities market. Revenue has increased not just because of high oil prices but because Chavez had the cojones to ratchet up the duty paid by foreign companies extracting Venezuelan oil. The truth is that Mision Barrio adentro was extremely effective not as the result of enormous expenditure but because - in contrast to the chaotic suituation of GP allocation in Britain - thousands of Cuban doctors were sent where they were needed, into the pooorest communities in Venezuela. The truth is that change that Venezuela is experiencing cannot be explained merely in terms of prices and profits, but must be understood in terms of the kind of social innovation which makes Times' readers stomachs churn.



AN said...

The act of managerial sabotage that Reuben refers to was the withdrawl of thousands of managers and technical experts by the oil companies.
The response by the oil workers themselves of moving towards self management to keep production running is shown brilliantly in the video from Global Womens Strike.
The Bolivarian Revolution:
Produced by the Bolivarian Circle of the Global Women's Strike, July 2004
34 minutes Price: £5
Available as VHS Video (PAL or NTSC), or DVD,
in Spanish, or with English subtitles.

Reuben_the_communist said...

shame that the Bolivarian Circle of the Global Women's Strike are a bunch of nutters. Both of them that is.

AN said...

They speak very highly of you :o)
I don’t know them personally, but I don’t think the strike are much nuttier than any of the rest of us.
i) They have produced good material about Venezuela, and this video, letting oil workers speak for themselves is particularly good
ii) they have produced good anti-war resources
iii) They have done good solidarity work around Mumia and Aristide. Indeed we published an article about Selma James’s visit to Mumia:

Reuben_the_communist said...

i would definitely like to check out the video.

My main experience of the global women's sttrike bolivarian crew is their extremely disruptive impact in the early stages of the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign. At one of our first major public meetings they quite aggressively heckled the speaker as he was summing uop the meeting because he dared to describe chavez as having introduced 'moderate reforms' (they of course didnt consider them moderate). They played a similar role in organising meetings.

Reuben_the_communist said...

are they nuttier than the rest of us?

As far as I know the rest of us arent gong out on a limb to attack overspending on on HIV and defend the right of HIV+ mothers to breastfeed their babiese (potentially endangering their lives) 'Yet while 4% of child deaths are attributed to HIV/AIDS, 60% are caused by malnutrition, largely the result of mothers' lack of food and formula use. It is AIDS which (like war) attracts massive funding, not food security'

'Despite evidence that all babies thrive on breast milk, HIV+ mothers are accused of endangering their infants by breastfeeding. In some countries they can even lose custody of their children if they breastfeed. UN agencies, along with governments, are now distributing formula, and are themselves breaking the World Health Organisation's Code which regulates industry's marketing of formula.'

AN said...

This sounds like a complex area to get into, without specialist knowledge.

Isn't an infant whose mother had AIDS at the time of birth very likely to be HIV+ anyway?

Possibly it is true that the best health outcome could be preventing malnutrition and accepting the residual risk for those infants who escaped getting HIV at birth. I am not qualified to judge.

It is not necessarily nutty, but it is admittedly counter-intuitive.

Reuben_the_communist said...

yeah your probably right on this. it is a complex area filled with counter-intuitive aspects

Phugebrins said...

Just because oil revenues increased after social programmes were begun doesn't mean the claim can't be made that the programmes were helped by the vast amount of oil that Venezuela is sitting on.
That said, it's interesting to know that the 'increased prices' bit is rubbish.

LT said...

Hello all. As for AN's question about infection at birth, I've often heard a rate of 25%. As such, it's relatively high for an inevitably fatal disease; however, a mother with HIV is more likely than not to have a healthy baby. Subsequently, breastfeeding is a dangerous decision.

As for the chart Reuben, I have to be a bit sceptical. While Bolivar was certainly launched well before oil prices increased, the rate of projects launched improved dramatically after prices had effectively trippled. Thus, it would be inaccurate to describe Chavez's programs as simply the result of increased oil prices; however, it would be accurate to say that the scope of these programs and indeed the initiation of new programs have both occured in correlation with rapidly increasing petrol prices. Good research though.