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.