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Hugo Chavez: Venezuela Ten Years After

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Economy: What, Me Worry? No matter whether you like or hate Hugo Chavez, a 24-page report released today points toward an indisputably historic economic expansion in Venezuela. 

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) posted numbers that make most countries economically envious. This eye-popping report laid it out like this: “The current economic expansion began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003. Since then, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually.”  What?  94.7%? 

Okay, you say. What about other aspects of the Venezuelan way of life? Well, how about oh, let’s say, education. CEPR offers this retort in the report. “Net enrollment at the basic (grades 1-9) level has risen from 85 percent to 93.6 percent, and secondary enrollment has risen even more, from one-fifth to over one-third of the population. The increase in basic education enrollment represents 8.6 percent of children age 5 through 14, or nearly a half-million children in school who would otherwise be without education. For secondary education, the increase means that 14.7 percent of children ages 15 through 19, or nearly 400,000 children, have been able to stay in school as a direct result of improved social investment.”  How do they do all that great education stuff?  Could it be they don’t spend billions for wars?   

So how about college?  Nothing but gains there, either.  According to the CEPR, “The largest gains have been seen in higher education: from the 1999-2000 school year to 2006-2007, enrollment increased by 86 percent; estimates for the 2007-2008 school year put the increase at 138 percent from the 1999-2000 base.”  Has the US ever had a 138% increase in higher education? 

As a unionist, I could not imagine labor in Venezuela could possibly be on the rise.  Boy, do I need to get out more often.  “There are now 2.9 million more jobs than in 1998, which represent a one-third increase. The unemployment rate has dropped from 11.3 percent to 7.8 percent; it rose to 19.2 percent in 2003, but has fallen by over half since that time. There has also been a significant increase in job quality, as measured by formal sector employment. Over half of the labor force – 51.8 percent – are now employed in the formal sector, up from 45.4 percent in 1998. Most of the job growth has been in the private sector, but both sectors have outpaced the growth in the labor force: the decade has seen a 47.2 percent increase in public-sector jobs and a 30.6 percent increase in private-sector jobs,” according to the robust report from CEPR. 

This is getting ridiculous.  Well, we have Social Security…Uh, so do they.  And guess what.  Yup.  Again, the CEPR drops a wake-up call bomb.  “Among the entire population, this figure (Venezuelan Social Security) has risen from 1.7 percent receiving benefits to 4.4 percent. As is the case for other indicators, social security’s performance was slow at the beginning of Chávez’s term, actually fell slightly during the oil strike, and has grown very rapidly since 2003, when Venezuela recovered from the oil strike and the government gained control over the oil sector.” 

So chide Hugo Chavez all you want.  Go ahead, view him as a ruthless dictator; the Devil incarnate.  But rhetoric aside, he has Venezuela going in the right economic direction.  One we know nothing of in America lately.  Up.

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Sam Rhodes is a union organizer living with his wife, Karen Hamilton, in Anchorage, Alaska. Sam's interests include photography, politics and writing.
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