Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - Page 9 News List

New dawn for left-wing leaders in Latin America

To speak of ‘the left’ in Latin America, post-Chavez, makes no sense. There is no one single vision uniting the new left-wing leaders — they display the same complexity, nuances and different aspects of the continent itself.

By Hector Abad

It is possible that the old, white, shamefully corrupt elite deserved a lesson from a traditionally marginalized sector. However, does it make sense to expel the productive and corporate apparatus from the country? Nationalizing industry, farms, taking land away from productive landowners, scaring off all those who are, indiscriminately and without nuances, called “the rich” (when they are people who have simply built up capital by dint of hard work and good ideas) — is this advisable for a country?

Perhaps Marxist theory says “yes,” but as time goes by, does this work? Are the poor necessarily more good, more ethical, more deserving of all favors, and should the rich, the merchants, be expelled from the temple of the nation?

It is very appealing — and in Europe this is celebrated — not to be ruled by the crass incompetence of the yuppies from the World Bank, ridiculous in their cynical call for austericide. However, nor is the Chavez economic recipe very successful.

Let us see: The official exchange rate is 6 bolivars to the dollar, but on the street a dollar costs 18. Eighty percent of goods are imported, including food, and it is far easier to find whiskey or caviar than eggs and milk. Oil production went from 3.5 million barrels a year, with 32,000 workers, to 2.4 million, with 105,000 state workers. After an unprecedented oil bonanza, revenue from oil rose — despite the decrease in production — from US$14 billion to US$60 billion a year. Despite these astronomical sums, Venezuela’s external debt is 10 times bigger today than it was 10 years ago and the fiscal deficit exceeds 20 percent.

During his years in government Chavez received, from oil alone, more than US$500 billion: This was enough for him to carry out projects in his country, and to finance like-minded candidates and movements abroad. To some, this was internationalist generosity; to others, populist squandering. He did also reduced extreme poverty, inequality, child mortality and unemployment. The figures corroborate this. However, it is one thing to reduce poverty by offering work and education, and another to do so by giving things away.

Today, Chavez is being deified by his Venezuelan and international supporters as a new liberator of the Americas. In reality, there is a far more grim side to his figure, and after the euphoric paradox of the mourning period will come the backlash of reality. There will be new elections, which Maduro will probably win. However, the model of an oil caudillo cannot be exported to the rest of Latin America. It is not possible; and if it were, it would not be advisable.

Hector Abad is a Colombian novelist and journalist. His award-winning 2006 book Oblivion, A Memoir recounts his father’s fight for social justice and his subsequent death at the hands of paramilitaries in Medellin in 1987.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2013

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