Portugal successfully decriminalized drugs AND implemented a guaranteed minimum income program?! 12 YEARS AGO?!??
Hugo Chavez rules (Affirmative)
Hugo Chavez has received an overwhelming amount of negative criticism from American politicians and media outlets. But why? Is this criticism justified? Let’s not be distracted by exaggerated opinions and partisan journalism — what are the facts?
And before we talk about what made him such a popular candidate, let’s dispel some myths about some favorite criticisms: Venezuela’s rising crime rate, allegations of censorship, and an unstable economy.
Rise in crime
One of the strongest points brought against Chavez is the continuing rise in crime Venezuela has experienced during his presidency; but this is actually a non-issue. Venezuela’s crime rates have been rising since the 80s, they simply haven’t stopped under Chavez. That’s not to say that he hasn’t made headway on the issue of crime in Venezuela though. In 2008, Chavez implemented a national police force, the National Bolivarian Police, and an experimental security training university for them to attend. In the pilot areas the National Bolivarian Police patrolled around Caracas, robberies were reduced by 59%, murder by 60%, and gender-based violence by 66%.
Chavez behaved in ways that are totally contrary to this point. First of all, most media in Venezuela is privately owned and operated, which kills the “state-sponsored media” theory. He improved access to the Internet and mobile phones; by 2010 over ⅓ of the population actively used the Internet, and more than 95% had mobile phones. He promoted Twitter so ardently that by 2010 almost 21% of the population used Twitter — Venezuela became third globally in terms of Twitter prevalence. It would be quite counter-productive to have censorship on your agenda, and simultaneously promote tools and improve access for your people to communicate and organize with one another.
This is the most silly objection I’ve heard to Chavez’s popularity, because he acted so in accordance to this claim. Venezuela’s economy was unstable before he was elected; it was too reliant on oil revenues. It is true that over the course of his presidency a greater portion of the federal budget became oil revenues. But this is not because Chavez was making economically unsound moves; it is precisely because he realized this instability, increased oil prices to collect cash in the short-term, and made long-term investments with those profits in education, healthcare, and the eradication of poverty.
Let’s get back on point, shall we?
Hugo Chavez popularly elected
Hugo Chavez was popularly elected to power in 1998 with 56.4% of the vote. He was successfully re-elected in 2000, 2006, and 2012 — even winning the recall referendum led by his opposition after their failed coup in 2002. American media has devoted a lot of airtime to popularizing the idea that Chavez rigged the elections, despite a serious lack of evidence. It appears as though the media can’t comprehend how the Venezuelan people could support a leader like Chavez, but maybe they don’t understand the demographics Chavez is pandering to.
Before Chavez was elected in 1998 over half of the Venezuelan population lived below the poverty line. Much of the population was functionally illiterate. Even more were malnourished; almost 1500 people died every year from malnutrition in 1997. Chavez campaigned on a platform of education, healthcare, and ending poverty; and with a largely impoverished, illiterate, and malnourished voting populace, it’s not hard to imagine him actually being popular.
Did Chavez deliver?
One of President Chavez’s first orders of business was a new constitution for Venezuela. In it he establishes the rights of citizens to education, employment, housing, healthcare, and food. It increased protections for indigenous peoples and women. It increased requirements for government transparency, and increased localized, participatory democracy. It increased rights to timely and impartial information, community access to media, and participation in acts of civil disobedience. Sounds good, but even a new constitution is just talk: did his actions match his philosophies?
Chavez increased primary school enrollment by one million students within his first three years. By 2003 he would implement Mission Robinson, which taught almost 2 million illiterate adults how to read, write, and do arithmetic by 2012. In 1999, only 48% of children were enrolled in secondary education; by 2010 it was 72%. President Chavez all but eradicated illiteracy, and made the long-term investment in his country by increasing enrollment in primary and secondary schools, and by improving access to higher education.
Chavez implemented Mission Barrio Adentro in 2003, which provided free, high-quality healthcare to all Venezuelan citizens. Since then the program has been responsible for saving more than 300,000 lives, and improving the health of countless more. Infant mortality, 20.3 per thousand births before Chavez came to power, is now less than 13. There is no question President Chavez dramatically improved the health of his citizens.
Food and Nutrition
Many of Venezuela’s citizens, being very poor, have limited access to food. By setting price ceilings for certain essential foods, establishing almost 6000 soup kitchens across the country, and opening a national chain of supermarkets to employ people and distribute food at highly discounted prices, Chavez was able to almost double total food consumption in Venezuela. But Chavez did not just increase food consumption, he increased healthy food consumption. Almost a quarter of Venezuelan citizens were malnourished before Chavez was elected; by 2009 it was just over one fiftieth. He cut malnutrition-related deaths in half by 2006.
The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, was 0.5 in 1998 — pretty bad. But by 2011 Chavez had gotten it down to 0.39, behind only Canada in the Western Hemisphere. Just between 2003 and 2006 family incomes grew more than 150%. 55.44% of the population was in poverty in 1998; by 2008 it was 28%. Extreme poverty fell by 72% over the course of Chavez’s presidency; and that doesn’t even count increased access to education and healthcare! No wonder they kept re-electing him.
Good Guy Gates, at it again.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
My cousin Bethany, who’s been awesome long before she gave me a place to stay in NY, bestowed upon me a copy of George Orwell’s somewhat autobiographical Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and it is phenomenal. Some quotes from the first two chapters:
“He couldn’t cope with rhymes and adjectives. You can’t, with only twopence halfpenny in your pocket.”
“For here was he, supposedly a ‘writer,’ and he couldn’t even ‘write’!”
“That noxious, horn-spectacled refinement! And the money that such refinement means! For after all, what is there behind it, except money? Money for the right kind of education, money for influential friends, money for leisure and peace of mind, money for trips to Italy. Money writes books, money sells them. Give me not righteousness, O Lord, give me money, only money.”
“If we did get a writer worth reading, should we know him when we saw him, so choked as we are with trash?”
“Of all types of human being, only the artist takes it upon him to say that he ‘cannot’ work.”
“Only five minutes ago his poem had still seemed to him a living thing; now he knew it unmistakably for the worthless tripe that it was. With a kind of nervous disgust he bundled the scattered sheets together, stacked them in an untidy heap and dumbed them on the other side of the table, under the aspidistra. He could not even bear to look at them any longer.”
In the hours I haven’t been aimlessly wandering the streets of Manhattan, getting caught in the snow and freezing my hands and ears to sterility, it’s touched my soul — a nice break from all that non-fiction I dirty myself with.
Again, I’ve only gotten past the first two chapters of the novel, but I’m fairly certain the aspidistra is a symbol for dreams. Pretty sweet stuff.
Let’s Talk About First World Problems…
Is your latte too hot? Mine was this morning. I was at the bustling Oasis shopping center in Kampala, Uganda, and I took one sip and then spilt it all over me. You know who else has these problems? The local Ugandans that frequent this shop, and make up the majority of it’s clientele.
As Africa stabilizes across the continent, Westerners forget that average daily problems in Europe or North America are not that far off from that of the African middle class. Our smart phones sometimes freeze up. That’s annoying. The DJ is playing shit, so we leave the club.
Which is not to say that there aren’t problems. It’s not to pretend that all of Kampala or Nairobi or Kigali is a paradise of African wealth where the biggest problem is a warm beer. There is real, stark, damaging poverty here. But there is similar poverty in Clichy Sous Bois in Paris. There is similar poverty in Brooklyn. In Chicago. The outskirts of Amsterdam.
The idea that an African can’t have similar issues to those living in London is a mistake. It is a mistake rooted in the idea that Europe is somehow superior or has vast amounts of wealth. In reality, the East African GDP has been steadily on the rise for years, whereas the economic outlook in both North America and Europe have been steadily declining. Angola just gave a loan to their former colonialists, Portugal. Our cities now have thumping clubs, eclectic cuisine and most of these places are owned and invested in by locals.
Stop feeling bad for Africa. It doesn’t need your pity.
If you want to do something to help those who survive on very little, try investing in it. Instead of buying Tom’s shoes which give away free shoes (and therefore remove jobs from hardworking Africans making shoes) invest in Sole Rebels. A woman-owned Ethiopian based shoe company that pays their workers a livable wage.
Tonight I am going with Ugandan friends and some expats to watch the Poland vs. England match, live on DSTV at my local pub. I will eat grilled tilapia and drink some beer. This is not an extraordinary life here. This is the new Kampala average. This continent is far from perfect. Uganda is far from perfect. But it is getting there, and if you think for one minute Africans do not experience massages, cupcake shops, foam on our coffee, car trouble, banking woes and hangovers after too much fun, you are dead wrong.
It’s not all flies on babies. Welcome to the real Africa.