Saturday, November 05, 2005

Stay tuned - Poleo in the hot seat 

Four people have been charged as intellectual authors of the murder of state prosecutor Danilo Anderson. Anderson, who was investigating the people behind the coup of April 2002, was killed when his SUV was blown up with C4 explosive last year.

The four people include Patricia Poleo who is a very strident anti-Chavez columnist who works for her fathers extremely radical anti-Chavez newspaper. They have consistently advocated civil disobedience and even violence against the government. She was previously convicted of defaming Interior Minister Jessie Chacon by publishing what she alleged was a picture of him having killed someone. It turned out the picture was of someone else. In any event she claims she won’t flee the country and will face the charges which given her personality she probably even relishes.

In any event this is likely to be a very controversial event that we will be hearing a lot about going forward. So stay tuned. And for those who read Spanish Lubrio blog is already on the case with more details.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Chavez packs them in 

Some of you may have noticed there is a little hemispheric summit going on down in Argentina. Both Bush and Chavez are in attendance. But they seem to be getting starkly different receptions as Chavez is speaking to stadiums packed with adoring fans while Bush just hopes to make it out alive. For excellent updates on the goings on down there (in Spanish) you can read here and here.

It is not surprising that Bush isn’t popular in Latin American. It’s not just his imperial arrogance that does him in. Rather it’s the two decades worth of failed economic policies that the U.S. has foisted on Latin America that has created much bitterness. Lets recall just half a decade ago the Argentine economy was joined at the hip with the U.S. dollar at the urging of the “we know what’s best for you” economists of the IMF and the U.S. government. Of course, all that accomplished was to completely devastate the Argentine economy and make anything emanating from Gringolandia not too popular, Bush being no exception. What’s more, Bush isn’t even too popular in his own country. So the rude reception he is receiving is no surprise.

None of that, however, explains the rock star status of Hugo Chavez. Why exactly is he so popular throughout Latin America – so much so that he regularly upstages other Latin American leaders in their own countries? To understand that I think we have to look at what is going on in Venezuela, and look at it not in isolation but in comparison with the rest of Latin America. That is, how do Venezuelan’s perceive their country vis-à-vis how other Latin Americans perceive their own countries?

That is not something easy to do but fortunately a Chilean polling firm, Corporacion Latinobarometro, did it by carrying out extensive polling in 18 Latin American countries the results of which were published in Ultimas Noticias on Wednesday. Lets take a look at some of what they found out.

First they asked people how democratic they thought their country was on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most democratic). Venezuelans, more than any other Latin Americans, consider their country to be democratic giving it a rating of 7.6. That was followed by Uruguay with 7.1, Costa Rica with 6.5, Chile 6.2, the Dominican Republic 6.1 and Colombia 5.8. So Venezuelans know they live in a vibrant democracy.

Another key question asked in all countries was do people view their own countries as “progressing”. In Latin America as a whole only 32% thought that their countries were progressing. Chile had the highest percentage at 62% while Venezuela was second with 54%. So it is also clear many more Venezuelans think their country is progressing than is the norm in Latin America.

The third key question was whether people approved of the current government in their countries. In Venezuela the percentage approving the governments performance was 65% (note how closely this matches the many Venezuelan polls which give Chavez a 70% approval rating). That was fourth highest in Latin America after Uruguay with 72%, Argentina with 71% and Colombia with 69%.

So when other Latin Americans look to Venezuela what do they see? Not only a country with a booming economy and improving social welfare indicators but also one of the most, if not THE most, democratic countries, a country that is “progressing”, and a government that enjoys the support of a large majority of its citizens. Tell me who wouldn’t want to emulate that!

And in fact that is what we are witnessing in the pictures from Uruguay. Latin Americans are tired of right wing governments that care more about selling off everything the government owns than whether or not the average person has enough to eat. And they are even more tired of so called “leftist” politicans who turn far to the right as soon as they take office (and Venezuela had LOTS of them before Chavez came to power).

What people want is a break from the orthodoxy of the “Washington consensus” that has done nothing but enrich a corrupt few while impoverishing millions for two decades now. They want politicians who actually govern as they campaign. And they want leaders who are strong enough to stand up to the furey of the old elites when their privileges are challenged in the interest of helping the 80% who have always been marginalized.

The see that in Chavez. But not only do they see him challenging the right wing orthodoxy, standing up to rabid elites, and doing what he promised to do all along – they see him actually being successful in doing all that. The economy booms, poverty is down, and people who were never worth a hill of beans to previous governments are now the complete focus of this government. In other words, Chavez didn’t just kick in the door of the old rancid and corrupt political and economic systems. He is actually building something better in its place. If I were a Mexican, Brazilian, Honduran, Ecuadorian, or Bolivian I think I’d be looking on with a bit of envy too. Heck, I might even make my way down and join the adoring crowd:

In case you are wondering, yes that is Diego Maradona. My apologies to any British football fans who may be reading!


One I can't just let go by... 

... from the excellent Venezuelan blogger Rosemary Delgado:

PS, for those who don't know the brain dead women being referred to was Terri Schiavo on whose behalf Bush actually convened a special session of Congress just to pass a law specifically for her to keep her on life support.


Another piece to the puzzle 

The U.S., which we just saw does have military contingency plans for invading Venezuela and is in fact updating and expanding them, now is trying to to put an arms embargo on Venezuela. It previously got Spain not to sell Venezuela some aircraft and it has now gotten Israel not not sell Venezuela and military equipment at all:

Israeli sources in Washington told "Globes" that US demands that Israel refrain from arms deals with Venezuela “were not relevant” to Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz’s talks in Washington.
The sources said that Mofaz’s main mission was rehabilitating Israel’s strategic relations with the US, but that the question of military transactions between Israel and Venezuela were not part of those relations. “Nothing but a bunch of technical licensing problems are involved, which should be discussed at a lower level, not by ministers,” the sources remarked.

In a talk with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Friday, Mofaz will discuss issues involving strategic relations, including settling future agenda for joint Israel-US work teams and renewal of Israeli participation in the design of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Israeli sources in Washington belittled the importance of closing the Venezuelan defense market to Israeli defense industries, saying that their point of view on the issue was not the only one to be considered.

As reported in October, the US is refusing to allow Israel to upgrade the Venezuelan Air Force’s F-16s because of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s anti-US policy. The ban is legitimate, because the upgrade requires the purchase of US parts, and relies on US technology, both of which require permission from the US.

The US, however, is demanding more. Israeli officials quoted in the new issue of “Defense News” say that a State Department letter to Israel late this summer demanded an indefinite freeze in potential arms deals between Israel and Venezuela, and the cancellation of defense deals that had already been signed.

A senior Ministry of Defense official told “Defense News” that the military embargo that the US wanted Israel to impose on Venezuela also includes purely Israeli technology and systems that had been developed with no US inputs, which ostensibly do not require a US export permit.

Why the arms embargo against Venezuela. Has Venezuela invaded someone? Have they even threatend to militarily attack anyone? No. Clearly any arms Venezuela purchases are for use in defending Venezuela.

So why would the U.S. be opposed to Venezuela being able to defend itself? Guesses anyone?


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What the money people say 

I'm just a lowly little blogger. So who is going to take it seriously when I say a lot of good things are happening with the Venezuelan economy? But when the worlds largest market research guide sings their praises people - well...they notice:

The Chavez government’s expanding regional and global ties outweigh deteriorating relations with the U.S., making geopolitical risk low. President Chavez’s popularity at home has led to repeated electoral victories in the past several years. Chavez and his allies will easily win upcoming legislative elections while President Chavez will win reelection in late 2006. This, combined with the collapse of the domestic anti-Chavez opposition, will ensure continued political and social stability. Political and social stability will underpin continued strong economic growth in 2006. More importantly, Venezuela’s budding alliance with Iran and Russia will support international oil prices. Political, social and economic growth risks are low. Fiscal and balance of payments risks are also low. High oil prices will contain the central government deficit and support very strong export growth again in 2006. Public sector debt and total external debt levels are low and will decline further in 2006 while foreign exchange reserves will increase. Investment risk in Venezuela is low and will remain low through 2006.

And I have to say these people got it right in that one of the biggest factors in creating the rapid growth of the Venezuelan economy is the collapse of the opposition. Good things happen when thsoe jerks aren't able to trash the economy. Thank god they don't have their hands on the oil valves anymore.


In the cross-hairs 

When President Chavez visited the United States in September he stated, in a televised interview, that Venezuela had to be concerned about the possibility of being invaded by the United States. The host, looking a little perplexed, asked how he could make such an assertion. Chavez responded by saying that Venezuela had first hand knowledge of U.S. military planning for a potential invasion of the United States. He later presented that evidence which was largely based on a war game scenario, Operation Balboa, in which the U.S. and Colombia seized the oil rich western part of Venezuela. Of course, the significance of this was played down by some.

However, today we see that those who dismiss the idea of the U.S. taking military action against Venezuela are once again wrong. William Arkin, a military analyst and Washington Post columnist wrote the following in the Washington Post blog:

Venezuela: Fumbling A Pop Up
The Pentagon has begun contingency planning for potential military conflict with Venezuela as part of a broad post-Iraq evaluation of strategic threats to the United States.
The planning has been precipitated by general and specific directives issued by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his civilian policy assistants.
Internal documents associated with the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and preparation of the fiscal year 2008-2013 future defense plan identify five specific "threat" countries in three groups requiring "full-spectrum" planning.
The first group includes North Korea and Iran, both justified for their involvement in the development of weapons of mass destruction. China is listed as a "growing peer competitor" and threat of tomorrow. Syria and Venezuela are listed as "rogue nations."

Military sources ascribe Venezuela's emergence on a list of actual military threats as a reflection of an important post 9/11 war reality: The events themselves of September 11 provide justification -- and perceived need -- to take risks in thinking about unanticipated threats. "The Global War on Terror is rightfully our near-term focus, but we certainly don’t want to be caught flat-footed by a series of other possibilities," says one Defense Department planning document.
Oil rich Venezuela provides approximately 15 percent of the oil imported to the United States.


Julia Sweig, director of the Council on Foreign Relations Latin America program and author of the forthcoming Friendly Fire: Anti-Americanism Gone Global and What to Do About It, thinks the two countries remain on a collision course. She particularly worries about "the Cubanization of American policy towards Venezuela."
This is characterized, she says, by Chavez's rise and popularity partly attributable to a Cold War legacy in the hemisphere, while his behavior plays into the hands of those who are intent on polarization and concoction of military threats.
The good news, Sweig says, is also that "the two countries are stuck with each other," joined by oil and trade.
That strength ironically could also become the core strategic justifications for future war.
For the under-employed war planner Venezuela has everything to get the juices flowing: it has oil; it is leftist; it is critical of the United States; it is buying from the bad guys; it is in our own back yard. Sound familiar? Only communism separates the new Cuba in simple minds.

So now we see Venezuela has been fully classified as a rogue nation, on a par with Syria. Considering that the U.S. press has been full of speculation over the past couple of months regarding possible military action against Syria this being categorized with them is no small thing. Sure, there has previously been talk of “regime change” in Venezuela by U.S. think tanks with very close ties to the Pentagon. But this makes it very clear that high level military planning regarding Venezuela has occurred and that military action against that country is very much on the table as an option.

Given the very pressing problems that the U.S. military is having in the Middle East I still believe there is very little possibility of military action against Venezuela at this time. Nevertheless, that can certainly change and if nothing else this shows that Venezuela is very much in the cross-hairs of U.S. military planners. The Venezuelan government would be remiss if it didn’t make sure its military was prepared, its militia trained and armed, and contingency plans of its own drawn up.


Apparently Mr. Arkin was asked to provide some backup to his assertions. So this is part of what he wrote today:

I have been asked to identify the document that specifically identified Venezuela: It is an internal military briefing titled "The FY08-13 POM" and dated October 2005. POM stands for Program Objective Memorandum. According to the Defense Department, the POM is the primary document used by the services to submit programming proposals, analyze missions and justify allocation of resources.
Is it possible that the characterization of Venezuela as a "pop up" threat and as a "rogue" state will turn into nothing? That this is just the work of over-zealous or opportunistic or lazy staff officers looking to justify their existence, their budgets, and their proposals? It is possible. That is why I wrote about the thoughtless inclusion of Venezuela in war planning in the first place: to make the point that such floundering about for new threats, and such opportunism, demands the intervention of cooler heads.


Hitting home runs 

This article certainly doesn't need much commentary from me (hat tip Venezuelanalisis):

Economic Growth is a Home Run in Venezuela

By: Mark Weisbrot - Knight-Ridder News Service

CARACAS - "Viva Chavez," shouted Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, as the team celebrated its World Series sweep last week. Guillen is Venezuelan, and a national hero in this country of 25 million people who seem to believe that they too, along with Chicagoans, have won the World Series.

His cheer for the country's leftist President Hugo Chavez might have caused some reaction just a year or two ago. But these days it went largely unnoticed, despite the continuing hostility between the Chavez government and the Bush administration. Relations between the two governments have been sour since the Bush administration supported a military coup against Chavez in April 2002, as well as a failed attempt to recall him last year.

But Chavez' popularity is now among the highest of any president in Latin America, with a 77 percent approval rating, according to the latest polling.

A few economic statistics go a long way in explaining why the Venezuelan government is doing so well and the opposition, which still controls most of the media and has most of the country's income, is flagging.

After growing nearly 18 percent last year, the Venezuelan economy has expanded 9.3 percent for the first half of this year - the fastest economic growth in the hemisphere. Although the government's detractors like to say this is just a result of high oil prices, it is not so simple.

Oil prices were even higher and rose much faster in the 1970s. But Venezuela's income per person actually fell during the 1970s. In fact, for the 28 years that preceded the current government (1970-1998), Venezuela suffered one of the worst economic declines in Latin America and the world: per capita income fell by 35 percent. This is a worse decline than even sub-Saharan Africa suffered during this period, and shows how completely dysfunctional the economic policies of the old system had become.

Although Chavez talks about building "21st century socialism," the Venezuelan government's economic policies are gradualist reform, more akin to a European-style social democracy. The private sector is actually a larger share of the Venezuelan economy today than it was before Chavez took office.

One important reform, long advocated by the International Monetary Fund, has been the improvement of tax collection. By requiring both foreign and domestically-owned companies to pay the taxes they owe, the government actually increased tax collection even during the deep recession of 2003 -- a rare economic feat.

As a result, the government is currently running a budget surplus, despite billions of dollars of increased social spending that now provides subsidized food to 40 percent of the population, health care for millions of poor people, and greatly increased education spending. The official poverty rate has fallen to 38.5 percent from its most recent peak of 54 percent after the opposition oil strike. But this measures only cash income; if the food subsidies and health care were taken into account, it would be well under 30 percent.

The government's currency controls have also helped to stem the capital flight that had hurt the economy prior to 2003. The country's public debt and foreign debt are at moderate levels. With an accumulated $30 billion of reserves - perhaps twice what the country needs -- Venezuela is well-poised to maintain growth even if oil prices drop unexpectedly.

Of courses Venezuela still faces many of the challenges common to the region: the judicial system is weak, crime rates are high, and the rule of law is not well established. But the present government, which has had less than three years of political stability - attempts to overthrow the government through violence and large-scale economic sabotage did not cease until the oil strike collapsed in February 2003 -- has set the economy on a solid growth path. And it has kept its promise to share the nation's oil wealth with the poor.

In short, the vast majority of Venezuelans got what they voted for, and even some who voted against the government now seem to be satisfied with the result. It's a pretty good start, and whatever the Bush administration thinks of Chavez - who calls President Bush "Mr. Danger" - it's the way democracy is supposed to work


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What are friends for? 

Venezuela has purchased $1 billion worth of Argentine bonds this year according to news reports:

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela plans to buy a total of US$1 billion (euro830 million) in Argentine bonds before the end of the year, Venezuela's finance minister said Tuesday.

Finance Minister Nelson Merentes said Venezuela has bought US$950 million (euro791.14 million) in Argentine debt so far this year, and will make an additional US$50 million (euro41.64 million) purchase before Dec. 31.

The debt purchases are part of an ongoing initiative by President Hugo Chavez to foster a more cohesive and stronger financial system in South America, Merentes said.

Venezuela is looking at the possibility of buying debt from various other South American nations, including Ecuador, as it seeks to expand investments in the region.

Now, the opposition has previously condemned these bond purchases and will probably waste no time complaining about this one. Some how this is supposed to be something bad or sinister. But why?

Venezuela is not simply giving this money to Argentina. It is purchasing bonds which is equivalent to giving Argentina a loan. The money will be paid back, with interest. So this is not money that is simply being given away or somehow wasted.

And why not give it to Argentina? After all, Venezuela needs to save money and the saved money needs to be put somewhere. Traditionally, it is put in banks in the United States or they buy U.S. bonds (ie, they loan the U.S. money!). Yet there are many countries in Latin American that desperately need money. So why shouldn’t Venezuela loan the money to fellow Latin Americans who actually need the money instead of loaning it to gringos who are already quite well off and don’t really need it?

Further, when the U.S. or “multilateral” organizations such as the I.M.F. or World Bank loan money to Latin American countries they often attach onerous conditions to the loans. The receiver of the loan is often forced to implement draconian austerity measures and pursue free market economic policies that they might not want to follow. Venezuela imposes no such conditions.

So by making these investments in the rest of Latin America Venezuela is able to receive a good return on its money. But more importantly, it also gets the benefit of knowing its money is being used to help others in Latin America achieve their economic goals without having to put themselves under the thumb of the powers that be in Washington. In other words this is a good investment for Venezuela and a good policy for Latin America – come to think of it, no wonder it upsets the Venezuelan opposition so.


Chicken Hawk directory 

I was catching up on my blog reading when I ran accross of this listing of Chiken Hawks on Pacific Views. Notice any famous names here?:

George W. Bush - went AWOL from National Guard
Dick Cheney - 5 deferments, never served
Phil Gramm - 4 deferments, never served
John Ashcroft - 7 deferments, never served
Jeb Bush - never served
Karl Rove - never served
Dennis Hastert - never served
Bill Frist - never served
Dick Armey - never served
Tom DeLay - never served
Newt Gingrich - never served
Trent Lott - never served
Saxby Chambliss - claimed “bad knee,” never served
Mitch McConnell - did not serve.
Rick Santorum - did not serve.
Roy Blunt - never served
Richard Shelby - never served
Dana Rohrabacher - never served
John M. McHugh - never served
JC Watts - never served
Jack Kemp - never served becaue of “knee problem” that didn’t keep him from playing in NFL for 8 years
Arnold Schwarzenegger - went AWOL from Austrian army
George Pataki - never served
Spencer Abraham - never served
John Engler - never served
Elliott Abrams - never served
Paul Wolfowitz - never served
Vin Weber - never served
Richard Perle - never served
Douglas Feith - never served
Rudy Guiliani - never served
Kenneth Starr - never served
Antonin Scalia - never served
Clarence Thomas - never served
Ralph Reed - never served
Michael Medved - never served
Charlie Daniels - never served
Ted Nugent - never served
Jon Kyl - never served
Tim Hutchison - never served
Christopher Cox - never served
George Will - never served
Chris Matthews - never served
Bill O’Reilly - never served
Sean Hannity - never served
Rush Limbaugh - never served
Michael Savage - never served
Paul Gigot - never served
Bill Bennett - never served
Pat Buchanan - never served
Pat Robertson - never served
Bill Kristol - never served
Ann Coulter - never served

BTW, this brings up a thought. Maybe we should make a list of Venezuelan opposition Chicken Hawks. You know the ones calling for the opposition to violently overthrow the Chavez government while safely ensconced in London, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami, or Toronto!! I sure can think of a few names.


Monday, October 31, 2005

Chavez fights poverty, and succeeds – Part III 

A couple of weeks ago I did a post showing how according to the Venezuelan National Institute of Statistics (I.N.E.) poverty has now been decreased to below the levels of when Chavez first came to office. This accomplishment is all the more significant due to poverty having been artificially increased by the opposition coup and economic sabotage in 2002 and 2003.

Of course, the opposition types were not at all happy with the new numbers as they make the Chavez administration look, well, good. So they immediately set out to attack them. First they claimed that they were calculated using new metrics and therefore not at all comparable to the old numbers. But then one of them called up the I.N.E. and found out they were indeed calculated using the same metric as before – income. Then we were told they weren’t valid because we were just given them in newspaper interviews and they weren’t published on the I.N.E. web page, so presumably the government was hiding something.

This last, and rather bizarre, accusation prompted me to look at the I.N.E. web site and there they are – in a report under the “Indicadores Sociales” section. The report talks about the new poverty reporting system that is being worked on but also gives the current statistics and how they were calculated. So lets have a look:

This report, entitled “Poverty as a multidimensional phenomena”, starts off describing how a true measurement of poverty should include not only direct income but other benefits such as health care, education, housing and other factors.

It then goes on to describe how monetary poverty is defined and calculated. It is calculated based solely on income. According to the chart, income includes gross salary and any job related reimbursement, bonuses, tips, and commissions. It also includes such non-job income as interest, dividends, financial support from your family, scholarships, pensions, and rent from property among other items. All this is added up and it determines how much a persons income is.

This income is then compared against two metrics to determine if the person is considered poor or not. The metrics are the “Canasta Basica” (Basket of Basic Expenses) and the “Canasta Alimentaria” (Basket of Food Expenses). The “Food Basket” includes only the cost of purchasing the amount of foodstuffs that is considered necessary to keep a person healthy. As described in the above table any family that has income below the “Food Basket” is considered to be in Extreme Poverty. The “Basic Basket” includes all the foodstuffs from the “Food Basket” but also includes other necessities such as housing, transportation, and clothing. A family that earns enough to afford the “Food Basket” but not enough to purchase the “Basic Basket” is considered Poor. Those families that earn enough to purchase the “Basic Basket” are considered to not be poor at all.

So as this table shows the computation of poverty is very straightfoward – tabulate a families income and then see how that income compares to the various baskets to determine if a family is Extremely Poor, Poor, or not poor at all. This then leads us to the next page in the report:

In this page we first see a graph showing how Poverty and Extreme Poverty, as previously defined, have evolved since 1998. The gold colored line shows the percent who are extremely poor and the blue line shows those the percent who are poor. Please note it matches the table given in my previous posts and again shows the trend of poverty being reduced during Chavez’s first years in office, it shooting up during 2002 and 2003 as the opposition sabotaged the economy, and now going down again as the economy has been revitalized.

There are two other things to note about the graph. First, note that in the past year the number of people who are extremely poor has been sharply reduced whereas the number of those who are simply poor has actually even gone up a bit. This doesn’t mean that none of those who are poor are moving into the ranks of the non-poor. Rather, it means the number of people moving up from extreme poverty to poverty is greater than the number of poor moving into the ranks of non-poor. This is still good as the most pressing need is to get people out of extreme poverty which is in effect mal-nourishment. Later they will hopefully leave the ranks of the poor entirely.

Secondly, note that the numbers for the first semester of 2005, which come to a combined total of 38.5% are listed as being estimates. This may be a mistake. In both the newspaper accounts and the bullets above the graph the 38.5% for the first semester of 2005 is listed as a actual number while it is the 35% given for the second semester of 2005 which is listed as an estimate. Hopefully, someone will clarify that.

To some up, here is what we have learned over the past few weeks regarding poverty numbers in Venezuela. First, while new poverty metrics are being devised to take into account many of the new social programs such as Mercal and Barrio Adentro poverty is still being calculated the way it always has been – solely based on monetary income versus the amount of money needed to purchase basic goods. Using that measurement poverty trended down during the first several years of Chavez’s tenure as he implemented social programs and boosted oil income. Poverty then shot up sharply as the opposition coup and oil strike sent the economy into a depression. It is those higher numbers from 2003 that the opposition keeps trotting out in their haste to make anti-Chavez propaganda. However, as can now be seen, since the Venezuelan economy began its revitalization in 2004 poverty has dropped sharply and is now below the levels of when Chavez took office in 1999. And given the Venezuelan economy’s continued strong growth and the massive social programs being implemented it is reasonable to assume poverty will continue to decline significantly.

So Chavez has done exactly what he said he was going to do when he campaigned in 1998. He has fought poverty implacably. And it is clear that while poverty is far from being eradicated this war against poverty is one that Chavez and Venezuela are winning.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Mission accomplished 

One of the Missions, Venezuela’s famous social programs, appears headed for a successful conclusion. Mission Robinson in Venezuela’s literacy program has served its purpose now that Venezuela has been declared free of illiteracy.

That declaration was made by President Chavez late last week after the last of 1,482,533 people graduated from Mission Robinson. This largely solves Venezuela’s long festering problem of adult literacy. Of those who passed through Mission Robinson 61.7% were female and most were between the ages 41 and 50.

Unesco was on hand to congratulate Venezuela on this accomplishment. Maria Luisa Jauregui, Unesco’s representative, said that “the results seen in Venezuela are the fruit of an effort without precedent in which all segments of society participated”. “Having worked for many years in literacy programs and in education with youth and adults in Unesco, and having visited many literacy programs in many parts of the world, I want to tell you of my profound admiration of the work carried out here in Venezuela”, she added.

President singled out Cuba for special thanks for its technical and material assistance (Cuba donated 89,000 TVs and 80,000 VCRs) with the literacy program. 130,000 instructors participated in Mission Robinson and some of them will now work in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic to assist those countries in fighting illiteracy.

This certainly is a big step forward for Venezuela and a job well done by all involved. Of course, the obstructionist opponents of President Chavez will ignore or belittle this news. That is their right I suppose. But I think we can rest assured this won’t be ignored by the almost 1.5 million who received long overdue education. Nor are they likely to forget who it was that cared enough about them to push this initiative forward.


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