Friday, May 25, 2007

It is not what you do, but how you do it. 

One thing that I’ve always liked about Spanish language television is that its soap operas, called telenovelas or just novelas, mercifully end after a few months. They are not like the North American variety that often drag on for decades, even outliving a good share of their audience.

And true to form, the “novela” that the RCTV case has become is about to mercifully end this weekend. Of course, like a good novela it is having a somewhat climatic ending with all sorts of pronouncements, and rallies, and other assorted goings on. Of course, the outcome is already known – just as in novelas the good, but poor, girl almost always wins so to in RCTVs novela we can rest assured the good guys will win and RCTV will be off the air come Sunday night.

Given the all but certain outcome I’ve been having a hard time getting excited about this. But there is one angle I found sort of interesting – the reaction of various “human rights” organizations to RCTV's license not being renewed. Interestingly, between Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International it seems to be sort of a split decision.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Venezuelan government for not renewing the license saying among other things:

Washington, DC, May 22, 2007)—The Venezuelan government’s politically motivated decision not to renew a television broadcasting license is a serious setback for freedom of expression in Venezuela, Human Rights Watch said today. The decision will shut down Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), the country’s oldest private channel, when its license expires on May 27, 2007.
President Hugo Chávez has repeatedly threatened to cancel RCTV’s license ever since he accused it of supporting an April 2002 coup attempt. On December 28, 2006, he announced during a military ceremony that the order not to renew the channel’s 20-year license had already been drafted.

“President Hugo Chávez is misusing the state’s regulatory authority to punish a media outlet for its criticism of the government,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The move to shut down RCTV is a serious blow to freedom of expression in Venezuela.”

I have to say, I think this whole “freedom of expression” tact that some take shows how little they’ve ever really thought about this. If you have to have a broadcast license for your “freedom of expression” to be respected then only .000000001% of the population enjoys freedom of expression. I don’t own a TV station so I guess I don’t, what I write on this blog notwithstanding.

Personally, I think if ensuring freedom of expression was something they wanted to promote then private ownership would be banned. How does having media owned by a tiny handful of rich people allow for “freedom of expression”? Obviously it doesn’t, unless of course you think freedom of expression should apply only to billionaires or Fortune 500 corporations. I think if Human Rights Watch wants to promote “freedom of expression” then they should back some sort of truly democratically controlled public media.

Almost as funny, they criticize the government because they are taking this action without convicting RCTV of any crime. That is silly, they aren’t putting anyone in jail. They are simply not renewing a concession. When giving out a concession a government is free to pick who it wants – just for example that one contractor built the new bridge to Caracas doesn’t mean they are automatically get picked to build the next bridge.

The government is free to pick who it thinks is best and it is quite understandable to me that they wouldn’t want to pick a broadcaster who ran commercial after commercial calling on people not to pay taxes and handed their airwaves over to rebellious military officers during a coup so that they could direct the coup via TV. Do you think if it turns out that the contractor that is building the new viaduct makes it intentionally defective so that it collapses and embarrasses the government they will get future contracts to build bridges? As the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on..."

Be all that as it may, Human Rights Watch is free to think the non-renewal is wrong if they want.

Amnesty International on the other hand seems to think differently. While I haven’t read what they have specifically said about the RCTV case I thought this similar case from last year was was revealing:

Israeli air raids on 22 July hit several transmission stations used by Lebanese television and radio stations. These included Future TV, New TV, and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBCI), none of which had any links with Hizbullah, as well as the Hizbullah-backed al-Manar TV. They were also used by mobile phone networks. One LBCI official, Suleyman Shidiac, Chief Engineer at the relay station at Fatqa in the Kesrwan mountains north-east of Beirut, was killed and two others were injured.

Israeli forces have repeatedly targeted Hizbullah’s al-Manar television station, for example with three strikes in as many days from 14 July. The transmitters and relay stations of several other Lebanese television stations have also been attacked. According to the IDF: "Al Manar has for many years served as the main tool for propaganda and incitement by Hezbollah, and has also helped the organization recruit people into its ranks. Hezbollah operates undisturbed from within Lebanon, and constitutes a severe terrorist threat to the people of Israel and to IDF soldiers." An IDF official told Amnesty International delegates that al-Manar was being used for military communications, but failed to provide any evidence to support this claim when questioned.

The fact that al-Manar television broadcasts propaganda in support of Hizbullah’s attacks against Israel does not render it a legitimate military objective. Only if the television station were being used to transmit orders to Hizbullah fighters or for other clearly military purposes could it be considered to be making "an effective contribution to military action". [emphasis mine -ow] Even then, Israel would need to take required precautions in attacking it and choose a manner aimed to avoid harm to civilians. Amnesty International is not aware of claims by Israel that the other stations were performing military functions.

This is interesting. If we take this as a precedent while it may not be ok for the Venezuelan government revoke a broadcast license it would seem that in the case of RCTV it would be ok if they bombed it off the air given RCTV’s use of its airwaves “to transmit orders” during the coup.

And of course there is plenty more historical precedent for this. The U.S. bombed Serb TV off the air (with lots of hapless Serbs inside when they did it too!). And as we speak, U.S. troops and their Iraqi puppets are busy trying to chase down and “put an end” to an Iraqi TV station.

So maybe this is one of those unfortunate situations where form trumps substance. Its not that RCTV being taken off the air that is problematic – it is the way it is being done. Hopefully the Venezuelan government will reconsider the way it is going about this and those Russian built fighter bombers will yet proof useful.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rumors of the private sectors death are greatly exaggerated 

In the previous post I showed how, contrary to what is commonly asserted by the opposition and in the media, investment in Venezuela is doing quite well. So well in fact that it is significantly higher than when Chavez first came into office.

However, objections were raised that while this may be true it is likely that most of this investment is by the government and that private investment is not doing well. Leaving aside the question of whether private investment is somehow supeior to public investment I thought it would be interesting to see if indeed investment by the private sector is moribund as claimed.

However, in the quest to answer this question we run into a problem - the Venezuelan Central Bank doesn't seem to break out investment by public sector versus private sector any more. Therefore, we can't get a straightfoward and complete answer.

Fortunatley, there are other numbers which we can use as proxies to determine how private investment is doing. One is how much the private sector is importing into Venezuela in capital goods. The reason that this number might be telling is that Venezuela has to import a lot of its capital goods. These capital good would be things like machine tools, control systems, computers, construction equipment, electrical machinery, etc, etc.

As you might imagine an awful lot of this equipment is not manufactured in Venezuela and therefore has to be imported. These imports are easy to track and fortunately the Venzuelan government does just that and has published them here.

The table lists all imports divided into different categories. It breaks imports into finished goods (TVs to be sold in stores for example), intermediate goods (fabric to be used to makes clothes for example, and capital goods (machine tools for example). As we want to look at capital goods this is helpful. Further, it breaks goods into whether they are for the oil or non-oil sector of the economy - we will look at non-oil numbers. Lastly, it breaks all of that down by public sector versus private sector.

So from this table we can tell how many capital goods are being imported by the Venezuelan private sector. This is not exactly equivalent to knowing what private sector investment is but it should give us a very good snapshot at what the private sector is doing in terms of investment and if it is going up or down. And what do we see? Here it is:

Fortunately this image doesn't need a lot of interpretation as it shows a pattern we've seen time and again. Imports of capital goods by the private sector were about $2.5 to $3 billion dollars per year before Chavez came to office. During his first several years in power they declined somewhat. Then came the coup and oil strike and they dropped to less than half of what they were when he took office.

Yet since then they have exploded going up to almost $8.5 billion last year. That is more than triple what they were before Chavez came to office.

Lets be clear on what this means - imports of machine tools, construction equipment, computer sytems, capital equipment, etc. by the PRIVATE SECTOR have about TRIPLED in the since Chavez came to office. Given that all the things they would have to import to stock new factories and construction sites have exploded how likely is it that, as some claim, private investment is not doing well? Not likely at all. Given that private sector imports of capital goods are way up it is virtually certain that private investment is way up.

To conclude, in the past two days we've seen that investment overall in Venezuela is way up and that private sector investment is almost certainly way up too. If there is something here to complain about it is hard to see what it is.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Apparently someone thinks there is money to be made in Venezuela 

How many times have you heard the following – “There is no investment in Venezuela”? If you follow the reporting on Venezuela closely you’ve probably heard it many times. So many times in fact that most people probably accept it as being true without ever bothering to check its validity.

However, with the new Venezuelan Gross Domestic Product numbers coming out recently I decided to check it for myself. Now when looking at economic statistics there is almost never a line called “investment” – instead they call it Gross Capital Formation. And sure enough the Venezuelan central bank publishes those numbers right here.

Investment – or Gross Capital Formation – is almost always measured as a percentage of GDP. The reason for that is that it is widely assumed that in order to maintain a healthy rate of growth in your economy you need an investment rate of at least 25% of GDP. Some hyper-growth economies such as China have rates over 40% which helps explain their very high growth rates.

How doe Venezuela stack up when compared to this? Lets take a look:

First a note on these numbers. I compared the first quarter of each year – not entire years. I did this as obviously for 2007 the only number available is the first quarter. Quarterly comparisons are perfectly valid as long as you always compare the same quarters of the years, which is what I did. The only exception to this is 1997 which for some reason they didn’t give by quarter but only for the full year. So the comparison for that year may not be exact but hopefully it is close.

Jumping right into these numbers we see that Venezuela has actually not done so bad. In fact, in 1997 and 1998 before Chavez came into office Venezuela had an investment rate of 25%. Pretty good as that would be enough to sustain growth.

Then came the early years of the Chavez administration and investment did drop – maybe he did scare some investors after all. However, by 2001 and 2002 investment recovered again to healthy levels as maybe investors realized that Chavez wasn’t so bad for the economy after all.

Then comes the deluge. In 2003 investment dropped to less than 15%. And remember, given that these are percentages of GDP the total drop in investment would have been even more dramatic as GDP itself dropped significantly. But of course we all know what the precipitating factor was behind this – the 2002/2003 opposition led oil strike.

Since 2003 the Venezuelan economy has recovered and investment has recovered along with it – quite dramatically in fact. Note that so far this year investment is almost a 32% of GDP. Not Chinas levels yet – but certainly getting up there. This is a very impressive number. And this certainly gives lie to the bogus assertion that investment is low in Venezuela. The reality is high, and climbing, in Venezuela.

So as it turns out, lack of investment is another one of those imaginary problems that exists mainly in the heads of people who don’t bother to look up the actual statistics.

Now, I do want to make another couple of points regarding these numbers.

First, many newspaper articles, particularly ones written by people who oppose Chavez like to make a big deal out of supposedly diminished private investment. However, these numbers are only total investment – I have never seen BCV numbers that separate private from public investment. However, what counts is total investment and by that score this government is doing well.

Second, it would be nice to be able to determine exactly what kinds of investments these are. The reason is that some investments, such as infrastructure, don’t tend to lead as much to additional revenue and income as other types of investments, such as new factory equipment. Again, the BCV does not present distinct numbers for those types of investments as far as I know.

A reasonable guess would be that with the Chavez government a lot of this investment is in infrastructure such as subways, highways, homes, hospitals and stadiums. But it is also likely that a fair amount is going for new factories as a large section of Venezuelan industry is currently operating at full capacity and as we previously saw manufacturing has expanded by over 30% so far under Chavez. What is more, it is also likely that a lot of the 25% of GDP that was investment in 1997 and 1998 was in the oil industry which was not exactly helpful to Venezuela’s economy.

In any event, what we can and do know is investment, like so much else, is way up in Venezuela. And that is definitely a good thing.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

It’s amazing what you can learn when you actually look at the data 

Last week Venezuelan Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers came out for the first quarter of 2007. Given that there is no more important measure of the state of an economy than GDP I generally rush to report the new numbers on the economy.

But of late I have to admit my enthusiasim for reporting these numbers has waned. It is not because they have somehow become less important – they still determine if Venezuelan’s are living better or living worse. It's just that in the case of Venezuela they have become so redundant – GDP increased blah blah percent, the private sector increased blah blah percent, commerce increased blah blah percent and on and on. After 14 quarters of this it gets old.

So this time I decided to do something different. But before getting to that let me give at least a perfunctory rundown of the just released GDP numbers: overall GDP grew by 8.8%; the private sector grew 10.3% while the public sector grew 1.7%. Non-petroleum GDP grew 10.6% led by construction which was up 26.5%, commerce up 20.8%, communications up 18.3% and transport up 16.4%. Manufacturing was up 7.8% and food processing up 12.5%.

So there you have the numbers. They are good, if boring.

Now here is the interesting analysis. Keeping in mind that the 1st Quarter of 2007 is the eigth anniversary of Chavez being in power (he assumed office in the beginning of 1999) I thought it would be interesting to compare the 1st Quarter of 2007 with the 1st Quarter of 1999 and see how the economy has fared under Chavez. Fortunately all the data is here so the analysis would be easy.

But then I realized something even more interesting could be done with this – we could look at this same data for period before Chavez came to office. Originally I hoped to do it for the 8 years proceeding Chavez coming to office. However, in obtaining the actual data I was limited to going back to 1993 as that is as far as the BCV data went to. Still, comparing the 1st Quarter of 1993 to the 1st Quarter of 1999 covers a six year period and allows for a interesting and valid comparison. When the actual comparison was done to say it was illuminating is an understatement.

In the following graphs there will always be two numbers – the first is the percent change in the given segment of the economy from 1993 to 1999, before Chavez came to power, and the second is the change between 1999 and 2007, the period since Chavez came to office.

The first graph gives the percent growth of GDP over each of the periods:

Certainly there is quite a contrast – in the six years before Chavez came to office the Venezuelan economy grew a grand total of 2.1%. Remember, that is not 2.1% per year. That is a grand total of 2.1% in six years. That is right – the average yearly growth would have been less than .4% per year. Try not to blink, you might miss it.

In the 8 years since Chavez came to office the economy has grown by a total of 30.3% - or almost 4% per year. Those numbers may not set the world on fire but they are still quite good and they beat what the previous administrations did by a factor of 10!

There is one important observation that needs to be made based on this chart. The anti-Chavez opposition often claims that the current growth is unsustainable. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But it misses the point – at least there is growth now! Before Chavez came to office there was in effect no growth at all – sustainable or otherwise. It is certainly a more than a little rich of the opposition to critique Chavez’s economic growth as somehow being deficient when they themselves couldn’t get the economy to grow at all!!

Yet this will get even more interesting as we dig a little deeper into the numbers so on to the next graph which shows how the Non-Oil segment of the economy did:

Here the division between Chavez’s economy and what came before is even more stark. Under Chavez everything besides oil has grown almost 37% while before Chavez everything but oil actually shrank by 7.1%. Yes, that is right, the same people who now bitch about Chavez’s not doing enough to diversify the economy away from oil actually managed to shrink everything else when they were in office! Thankfully, Chavez has more than reversed what they screwed up but the nerve of what these people complain about given their extremely poor performance is something to behold.

But hold on to your hat, as the most breathtaking is yet to come. Here is the slide on how manufacturing has done:

From 1993 to 1999 manufacturing GDP declined a stunning 15.9%. From 1999 to 2007 it increased by 34.3%.

Now sit back and think about this for a moment. Virtually every day the opposition media screams that Venezuelan industry is being ruined by government. Then we have people like Simon Romero of the New York Times claiming that Venezuelan manufacturers are being “stymied” by Chavez. Listen to them and it is clear that Chavez is a one trick pony – it is all about oil as Chavez’s Venezuela makes less and less and instead most everything is imported.

Yet looking at the numbers we see that when it comes to those assertions down is up and up is down. It was the previous governments that trashed Venezuela’s manufacturing sector and put it in to a serious decline. Under Chavez that has been reversed as Venezuela produces 34% more now than when he came to office!

Remember that the next time you read some opposition newspaper or blog spouting off about how bad Chavez has been for Venezuela’s ability to make things besides oil – that assertion is flatly false and the people who say it are either ignorant of reality or lying. Rather it was THEY who ran the manufacturing sector into the ground. Gee, talk about projection!!!

Ok, now that the general trend has been established here maybe we can run through some of the rest of the of the data a bit more quickly.

Here is the percent change in construction GDP:

Same basic story line: Chavez is kicking but; his predecessors sucked.

Here is the percent change in commerce GPD:

Again, Chavez rocks, his predecessors were pretty lame.

Here is the percent change in transportation GDP

So as not to be too repetitive I won’t say anything – I’m sure people can draw their own conclusions.

Here is the percent change in government services:

Now on this one the opposition might be slick and say they were intentionally trying to reduce the size of government – you know like Ronald Reagan supposedly did. And if you believe that one….

Ok, surely the previous governments must have gotten some sectors of the economy to grow. To be fair they did. Looking at telecommunications we can see one they did a good job with:

Note the base on this graph is not zero and that in fact both the Chavez government and the previous administrations have gotten telecommunications to quite well with over 100% growth for both of them. What can you say – Venezuelans love their cell phones. Given that the pre-Chavez period is only six years compared to the eight year Chavez period the pre-Chavez period actually had the highest annual growth.

And prior governments did respectably in other areas too. Mining would is one example:

Electric production was another:

One might now ask, is there any area that grew under prior governments but shrank under Chavez? Indeed there is, the oil sector:

I’m sure some will be very counter-intuitive to some who will ask aren’t Venezuelan oil revenues much higher now? Indeed they are. But remember all these numbers are REAL GDP, meaning they factor out prices so that they are measuring actual activity in each sector. So what this graph shows is not how much revenue came from the oil industry – rather it measures oil industry activity and oil production.

Once you realize that the graph makes perfect sense. The governments proceeding Chavez ramped up oil production as much as possible and opened up the oil industry to foreign investment which further increased activity in that sector. The Chavez government on the other hand significantly reduced oil production in order to comply with OPEC production quotas and it has pretty much put a stop to new investments by foreign oil companies.

Of course, it is not coincidental that the previous governments only really “outperformed” the Chavez government in this one sector. The reason is that because in reality they didn’t perform well by doing this. Ramping up production and busting OPEC quotas only serves to help crash prices, bring down oil revenues and help put the rest of the Venezuelan economy in a recession. Hence, even in the one area where it looks like the previous governments had some success in reality they failed.

I hope readers have found all this to be revealing as I have. I knew the Venezuelan economy as doing better under Chavez than under his immediate predecessors. Yet I truly had no inkling it was doing THAT much better, nor that his predecessors were such abject failures in many of the areas that they now try to critique Chavez on.

Given how much information we’ve gone over here maybe it would be good to see just one more time some of the most outstanding information:

Under Chavez the economy has boomed. Under his predecessors it didn’t grow at all. Not even in an “unsustainable” way.

When we factor out oil the contrast is even more stark. Chavez has overseen even a bigger boom while the opposition presided over an outright decline in everything but oil!!!! It’s a good thing Chavez gave them the boot – a decade or two more of that and Venezuelans would have been left with an oil industry and nothing more.

And here we have what really drives a stake through all the non-sense peddled by the opposition. “Venezuela needs to do things besides pump oil and under Chavez we are just becoming more and more dependent on oil”. Popycock. Under Chavez the manufacturing sector has experienced solid growth. Under his predecessors manufacturing withered.

Not exactly what you would expect after listening to Petkoff babble on for years, or reading what El Universal writes in its economics section everyday, nor even the non-sense about manufacturing being “stymied” that New York Times editors let slide by.

Such is the extent of the oppositions propaganda that even some people who should know better, like me, sometimes internalize some of it. That is why it is good to check our preconceptions against the cold hard reality that the actual data presents. And I hope other readers have benefited from this little exercise in looking at Venezuela’s economic reality as much as I have.


Venezuela: Not from the outside looking in; but from the inside looking out. 

The subject of scarcity has come up a lot recently in the context of Venezuela. Such is the level of scarcity that even books about Venezuela seem to sell out very quickly and are very hard to find. For example, even though I live in one of the publishing capitals of the world it took me weeks to finally get a copy of the book “Cowboy In Caracas – A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s Democratic Revolution” by Charles Hardy.

Having just finished reading it I’m probably supposed to write a book review. Thing is I’m not good at writing book reviews and any I wrote in this case would not do justice to the book. Suffice it to say, I found it to be an EXCELLENT book. Not only would I highly recommend it I would go so far as to insist anyone wanting to gain familiarity with current events in Venezuela needs to read this book.

This book is not written by a foreign academic who only knows the lives of average Venezuelans through statistics and the abstract concepts of social class. Nor is it like the writings of the Venezuelan elite who have never been near a barrio and whose interaction with average Venezuelans is probably limited to giving orders to their servants. What is unique, and so valuable, about this book is it is written not ABOUT the Venezuelan poor and working class, but it is written FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE and FROM THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS by a former Maryknoll missionary who lived with the Venezuelan poor for many years.

Just the first couple of pages give a sense of the unique perspective this book will give. And interestingly enough it also touches on a topic often discussed on this blog - the quality of housing built by this government or the quality of the government housing built by previous governments which Mr. Hardy got to experience first hand:

I first visited the barrio Nueva Tacagua in January 1985. It was a government project, constructed on the periphery of Caracas during the first term of President Carlos Andres Perez (1974 – 1979). The barrio was made up of various types of dwellings. There were pressed-cardboard-and-tin shacks in the form of barracks. A panel of cardboard was the only wall separating one home from another. There were apartment buildings, ranging from four to ten stories in height, none with elevators. Some people lived in “trailers” which were similar to metal ship containers and more like ovens when the heat bore down on them. There were also small cinder-block houses.

The barrio was constructed on unstable ground, causing continual landslides that regularly fractured the walls of the more permanent dwellings.

The barracks and trailers were considered “temporary”. In reality, all the structures were temporary because of the instability of the land. I often joked about this word “temporary”, saying that I had problems understanding Spanish. The structures had been there for over 10 years. What did “temporary” mean in Spanish?

After several months of language school in Bolivia and orientation in Venezuela, I was assigned to Nueva Tacagua and offered the possibility of living in one of the cardboard barracks, House Number 51 on Terrace B of Sector C. One day in August of that year, I took a public Yip there.

Suitcase in hand, I started to walk toward my future home. Luis, an eight-year-old boy, asked if he could help. I wasn’t exactly sure where Number 51 was located, although I had been there before. When we arrived, Luis stopped me from putting my suitcase on the ground, cautioning, “Caca!” That’s a word Venezuelans use to say “no” to their children. It also means “excrement”. Luis was using both meanings of the word.

I had just stepped into a mountain of fecal matter. I don’t think there was a square inch of Terrace B that had not been tainted by human waste or animal excrement at some time. The problem was threefold: lack of running water, lack of toilets, and lack of enclosed sewers. In front of my door, a stream of black water carried the sewage from my neighbors’ dwellings to the miniature black river behind my house. Soon I would cease to notice the stench. That day I did.

It would be best to stop and reflect on this situation before going further. Understanding that water and fecal material are essential to understanding Nueva Tacagua.

When Nueva Tacagua was first constructed, there were common toilets that were rendered useless by the lack of water. Because the toilets were of little value and totally unsanitary, the people tore them down and filled the vacant spaces with more shacks.

What does one do to take care of basic necessities when there are no toilets and no open fields? Urinating was no problem. Each home had a corner from which the urine ran below the cardboard wall and into a canal. But to defecate? It was senseless to use something like a potty since there was always a scarcity of water with which to clean it afterwards.

What the inhabitants did was use the newspaper. We would squat over the paper, defecate, wrap it up, and throw the contents down the hillside on which the terrace was located, or up the hillside behind my house.

In the morning, when neighbors walked out of their homes with the paper in their hands, no one spoke to each other. It was just a moment of ignominy. No word was adequate for what we felt, and even a “good morning” would have hurt.

The missionaries who lived in Number 51 before me had installed a toilet, the only I knew of on the entire terrace. It had no tank. It was simply something to use when there was water. The contents ran a few yards through a shallow underground pipe to the common ditch where it joined the urine of others. But often I did not have enough water to use it.

Water arrived on Terrace B in tank trucks with the words “DRINKING WATER” painted on their sides. They were old and dirty and the hoses that carried the water to our barrels were equally disgusting. We had to pay for each barrel of water. The price was much, much higher than what the wealthy in other parts of town paid for the same quantity, which they received through their faucets.

I originally had two barrels in Number 51 and later bought a third one. We never knew when the trucks would return. Sometimes more than a month passed without water. When it came, clothes were washed, baths were enjoyed, and the mood of the people was different. When it didn’t come, children didn’t attend school for lack of clean clothes, people tended to stay close to home, and one could feel the tension.

The Venezuelan is an extremely clean person. Body odor is not tolerated. The Venezuelan frequently jokes about the offensive smells of foreigners. I remember a cartoon showing some indigenous people watching the first Europeans stepping onto the shore of their "new world". One says to another: "Do you think they couldn't find any water in the ocean to take a bath with?"

Not having sufficient water and not knowing when it might come again was like torture. One day when a mother had beaten her child, I commented to a neighbor youth that everyone seemed so tense. He replied, “Charlie, have you forgotten that we haven’t had water for over a month?”

I don’t know about you but I would much rather live in this housing constructed by the Chavez government than in the sub-human junk built by previous governments. From that passage you can clearly see the absolute contempt that the Venezuelan ruling class had for its people. Yet that is only up to page 2 – the remaining 168 pages give ever more examples of the human degradation that Venezuelans were subjected to in their daily lives and to the vicious machinations used by the Venezuelan elite to make sure they stayed in their place.

A recurring theme of opposition propaganda was that everything in Venezuela was fine until Chavez came along – “Yes, there was too much corruption” they’ll say “but we all got along and everyone was happy. It is Chavez who has created so much division and hatred”. This book gives lie to that and no one who reads it will ever believe that non-sense for even one second.

Given that I will be ordering several more copies to give to people who I know that would benefit from reading this book I suggest that you get your own copy as soon as possible – like prime cuts it is flying off the shelves fast.


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