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The Venezuela of Hugo Chávez: The truth in numbers

By Gustavo Coronel

07.03.05 | In parallel with the Venezuela of words and promises that Hugo Chávez expertly delivers both inside and outside the country, there is a real Venezuela that is well known to Venezuelans but only vaguely known to the outside world. This real Venezuela is a sad country, where streets and avenues remain dark at night because cables and bulbs are vandalized or stolen, where the public art works of recently deceased Venezuelan master Jesus Soto are dismantled by scavengers to be sold as scrap metal (remember the environment portrayed in Mel Gibson's The Road Warrior or Mad Max?) and where thousands of street children drug themselves and sleep half naked in the sidewalks of our cities.

No matter how many times I describe these horrors and write about the tragic social involution generated by the authoritarian and now socialist regime of Hugo Chávez, there will always be many honest and idealistic people located outside Venezuela who will say: "This guy is exaggerating or, worse, he is lying. He probably lost his privileges when Chávez came into power. For all I know he is a corrupt member of the elite that Chávez is trying to dismantle." Therefore, I am trying now to present numbers, which corroborate this dismal picture of my country. Of course, people can always say that the numbers are not real, that the statistics serve to prove almost anything. Although this is true, I believe that many more people will pay attention to the Venezuelan tragedy generated by Hugo Chávez if I mention some numbers, almost all of which come from a source that is very credible: The Venezuelan Central Bank. These numbers came out before the President of the Bank was ousted by Chávez because he refused to hand over to the Chávez government the monies that properly belong in the Bank, since they represent a portion of the country's international reserves.

The numbers pertain to the six years, 1999 to 2004, of the Chávez period and show the chaotic economic performance of the Chávez regime.

1. The petroleum income during this period has been the highest in Venezuelan History.

The last five presidents of Venezuela have received the following amounts of money from petroleum production and sales:

Luis Herrera

USD $80.3 billion

Jaime Lusinchi

$51.4 billion

Carlos Andrés Pérez

$57.8 billion

Rafael Caldera

$73.3 billion

Hugo Chávez

$120.9 billion

Source: Venezuelan Central Bank

The Bank has also said that the Chávez income could be significantly greater as the government has failed to deposit petroleum income in the Bank, as the law dictates.

Where has this money gone?

2. During the same period the Gross Domestic Product has fallen 11%.

Meanwhile, during the period,

3. The expenditures of the government increased 323%.

And the public debt increased significantly, as follows:




Internal Debt

$4.2 billion

$20.0 billion

External Debt

$23.3 billion

$24.8 billion

The total debt has increased by 63% in these six years, in spite of the highest petroleum income ever.

The volume of petroleum exports has fallen, due to the collapse of PDVSA in the hands of the regime.

5. In 1999 exports of petroleum were over 2.8 million barrels per day (b/d). In 2004 petroleum exports were of 2.4 million b/d, a drop of about 400,000 b/d, representing a loss to the country of some USD $6 billion only during that year and of some USD $25 billion during the Chávez period.

What we have had, then, is an inexplicable and unjustifiable situation, as follows:

6. During the period the Petroleum income has increased 142%, the national debt has increased 66%, public expenditure has grown 323% and the per capita Gross Domestic Product has decreased 11%.

But inflation is the highest in Latin America.

7. Accumulated inflation during 1998-2004 has been 292% but, worse, the inflation related to food costs has been 383%.

Workers salaries have remained far below food related inflation.

8. From 2002 onwards the gap between salaries and food inflation have widened. The word for this is impoverishment.

Unemployment is the highest in Latin America.

9. In December 1997 the rate of unemployment was 10.5%, 15% in December 1999, 19.5% in June 2003 and 16.7% in June 2004. These figures are official Venezuelan Central Bank figures but the Venezuelan Business and Labor associations claim that the real rates are always 3 to 4% higher. The rate of under-employment is close to 50% (including the people working as street peddlers).

Venezuela is one of the top ten countries in the world where hunger prevails. The growth of underfed population in these countries is as follows, 2000-2002:



% of growth of underfed




Congo Democratic Republic


North Korea
















Source: United Nations

These are some of the numbers that I felt were pertinent, in order to show what the reality of Venezuela has been under the self-proclaimed defender of the poor, Hugo Chávez. The reality is that our country, Venezuela, has been into a steep descent into chaos. What started out, six years ago, as a democratic feast has turned into a horrendous national tragedy characterized by inefficiency, corruption and ideological logorrhea. Six years ago Hugo Chávez said to Venezuelans that he would solve the political problems first and then he would tackle the social and economic problems. This sounded logical at the time but, six years later, he is still muddling through political problems artificially created by his egocentric manners, while the social and economic afflictions of Venezuelans have grown much worse. One of his cronies, Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, in an effort to defend the increasingly authoritarian nature of the regime, claims that Latin Americans, given to choose between democracy and the solution of their economic problems would choose the latter. What he says is true since a survey of UNDP suggests that slightly more than half of Latin Americans feel that way. But this is not what we are experiencing in Venezuela. In our poor country we are witnessing a tragic double whammy of lack of democracy combined with galloping poverty.

This is a combination that no one in Latin America or anywhere else wants to experience.

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