What Effect has 10 Years of Hugo Chávez Had on Venezuela? A Debate
February 3th 2009
::: Francisco Toro to Redmond O'Neill
Venezuelans who understand that democracy means more than just elections have little reason to celebrate today. Ten years into the Chávez era, Venezuela is a more violent, less tolerant and far more divided country than it was. Despite an oil boom that has brought an unprecedented gush of petrodollars, Venezuela's economy is more oil-dependent than ever.
And while the oil boom has brought a much needed decline in poverty, the price we've paid has been the gradual debasement of our democratic institutions, our public discourse, and our capacity to co-exist peacefully, side-by-side, with people whose political ideas we do not share.
Let's be clear: by 1999, Venezuela's democratic institutions had become ossified and corrupt. They were in dire need of reform; nobody sane
would deny that. Rather than reforming them, Chavez has relentlessly
undermined them, purging all but die-hard loyalists from every state
body right up to the supreme tribunal and leaving notionally independent
agencies unable to curb on a hyper-empowered executive. Egged on by a
relentlessly polarising discourse, the Venezuelan state has morphed into
an extension of a single man's will, where every dissenting idea is
presumed treasonous and where only unquestioning submission to the
president's ideology protects you from the increasingly brazen abuse of
::: Redmond O'Neill to Francisco Toro
Objective discussion of a serious topic requires a thorough examination of the relevant facts. If the facts contradict a theory it must be changed.
For the half century before the election of President Chávez, income per head in Venezuela rose just a quarter of the average rate of the other large Latin American economies. Since the Chávez-led government gained control of the national oil company in 2003, this disastrous economic performance has been transformed, with one of the highest growth rates in the region, a dramatic reduction in debt and an accumulation of currency reserves sufficient to offer significant protection from fluctuations in oil prices.
This economic success has been used to eradicate illiteracy, provide free healthcare to the majority of the population for the first time and radically reduce poverty.
Social progress has been accompanied by a dramatic expansion in democracy with more national electoral contests than virtually any other country in the world and respect for the outcomes, including the defeat of Chávez in last year's constitutional referendum.(click here to view entire debate)