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Venezuela Update - August 3, 2004

By Alexandra Beech, sixthrepublic.com

It´s not the economy, stupid. At least not in Venezuela. Against a backdrop of rising unemployment and violence, many of the country´s poor are planning to vote in favor of Chavez. So if it´s not the economy, then what is it? What factors are motivating many of the country´s poorest people to vote in favor of a president that has created more misery?

An important faction that plans to vote for Chavez are newly nationalized Venezuelans. On Sunday night, I interviewed a Colombian woman whose family was recently nationalized. Immediately after she, her husband, mother, and three children received temporary identification cards, or cedulas, they were fingerprinted and told where to vote. Yes, they were nationalized and registered to vote in one fell swoop. Years of illegal status, which had prevented her husband from holding a decent job, ended in one minute. Her children currently attend a public school. Whereas her mother´s medication had taxed the family for years, it is now completely free. Her son´s dental work, performed by a Cuban dentist, is also free. For them, Venezuela is literally, the Land of the Free. Everyone that she knows in her barrio, especially those who have been nationalized, are planning to vote in favor of Chavez. Twice a week, she checks the Gaceta Oficial, a list of newly nationalized citizens, to see if her daughter´s name has appeared. To date, she tells me, the government has published 24 (25th is due this week) Gaceta Oficiales with the names of new Venezuelans. The latest one has 24,141 names. That means that about 603,525 people have been nationalized recently. Even though her name didn´t appear on the electoral registry, this woman said that she doesn´t plan to vote. She´s scared that her name will appear on a list, which also shows how effective the government´s strategy has been in convincing the poor that their vote isn´t secret. Either that, or she was scared to tell me that her vote will favor Chavez. Either way, three votes in that family will not favor the opposition.

Another reason that many will vote in favor of Chavez is that many of the country´s poor fear that a new opposition government will put an end to the so-called missions, or social programs. When I ask opposition leaders, they assure me that the programs will persist. However, the opposition has failed, in my view, to address those concerns to the masses.

Speaking of foreigners in Venezuela...last night Chavez broke electoral norms once again by forcing the networks to broadcast his speech to the thousands of Cuban doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals who work in Barrio Adentro, yet another of his social programs. He complained that out of 13,000 doctors who work in the program, only 29 are Venezuelan. He chided Venezuelan doctors, saying that their profession was a "vocation", and not a way to make money. As he spoke, the Cubans cheered and clapped. Chavez campaigned for the No vote, to shouts of "Viva" throughout the Teresa Carreno theater. I have to wonder what he would say if an opposition leader spoke to thousands of opposition-funded Americans who yelled in favor of the Yes vote. I also have to wonder why television networks were forced to broadcast a speech to Cubans. Will they vote also?

Finally, I´d like to share figures that former Economic Planning Minister and Tal Cual director Teodoro Petkoff provided during his television program on Monday night. Citing the current devastating deficit in new housing for the country´s poor majority, Petkoff compared the past five years under Chavez with the prior five years under Caldera, and the five years before that under Carlos Andres Perez. Between 1989 and 1994, Carlos Andres Perez provided 313,409 new homes to the poor; between 1994 and 1998, Rafael Caldera provided 341,000 homes. During that past five years, Hugo Chavez has given away 100,569 homes.

In 1998, Caldera provided 62,000 new homes. In 1999, Hugo Chavez provided 31,000 homes; in 2000, Chavez gave away 23,523 homes; in 2001, he provided 22,800; in 2002, that number decreased to 14,700; in 2003, the number of new homes tumbled to 8,811. In 2004, out of the 25,000 homes which Chavez has promised, he has provided only 4,000.

Petkoff said that the government´s failure to provide housing has had devastating economic effects, since construction is an important source of employment and economic growth.

These numbers don´t lie, and Venezuelans know that Petkoff, in particular, doesn´t lie. However, these numbers will not make a dent in the upcoming referendum.

The opposition insists that the poor only care about employment, security, and unity. However, for the poor who receive benefits such as free food, education, and medical assistance, voting for a man who feeds and cures their children today is a safer bet that an unknown candidate who may or may not put food on their table in the future.



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