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.
And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country. —
Taken from his “Message to Grassroots Speech,” 1964.
The United States has among the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, poverty, income inequality, and incarceration in the developed world.
How cool are we?