Saturday, May 19, 2007

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Hugo Chavez approaches the Mugabe level of economic mismanagement

On Thursday the Wall Street Journal's Jose De Cordoba had a front-pager describing how Hugo Chávez's agricultural reforms are going:

Now Mr. Chavez is taking his revolution to the Venezuelan countryside. "We must end latifundios," he said in a televised speech in March, referring to large agrarian estates. "The people order it, and we will do it, whatever the cost." Then he announced the seizure of a land area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Since coming to power, The Chávez government has handed over 8.8 million acres, an area bigger than Maryland, for use by the poor. While much of this was state-owned land that was either idle or leased to ranchers, some 4.5 million acres were "recovered" from private owners, Mr. Chávez said recently. In some cases, the government compensated them. In most others... it has simply turned a blind eye to land invasions.

The government bills land reform as a way to make Venezuela self-sufficient infood. But so far, the effect has been to undercut production of beef, sugar and other foods, as productive land is handed over to city dwellers with no knowledge of farming. Established farmers and ranchers, fearing their land may be seized next, are cutting investment in their operations to a minimum.

The chaos in the countryside has contributed to shortages in basic items like milk and meat, a paradox in a country enjoying an economic boom traceable to high oil prices. Also spurring the shortages are price controls on certain foods that keep them prices below the cost of production. Meanwhile, 19%-plus inflation--as oil revenue floods the economy--spurs panic buying: purchasing price-controlled and other goods the shopper might not immediately need for fear of having higher prices in the future or not finding the items at all.

"You get up at dawn to hunt for a breast of chicken all over town. Housewives are in a foul mood." says Lucylde Gonzalez, a Caracas homemaker, who says she hasn't seen an egg in a week."

Chávez has now reached the Robert Mugabe level of economic incompetence by messing with the farm sector. Let's hope he does not move past that to the Mao Zedong/Great Leap Forward level of economic mismanagement.

posted by Dan on 05.19.07 at 09:49 AM


How about this one?

...But both Baric and Naguanagua are eagerly participating in one of Chávez's most far-reaching experiments -- community councils that, with money, government consent and popular support, could redraw the way government works in this country. Thousands of councils have been founded nationwide, and they have made decisions on almost everything from trash collection to school construction.

Though no one -- not even Chávez -- has said with certainty just how far community councils will go, many inside and outside government say the idea is to steer Venezuela away from municipal councils and mayors and hand funding and decision-making directly to the people. "If this works, community councils could bury city hall, but something better will be born," said Naguanagua, a teacher who, like Baric, belongs to the council of La Hacienda Maria, in Caracas, Venezuela's capital.

The councils have been buoyed by success stories in some neighborhoods and tarnished by cases of corruption and incompetence in others. But overall, the process of grass-roots decision-making is providing a street-level view into how one of Latin America's more intriguing leaders is trying to bring what he calls "a revolution" to his country.....

posted by: Joe M. on 05.19.07 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

i will just add, this is from the same article...

"For Venezuelans in poor barrios -- who felt excluded under the corrupt power-sharing system that ended with Chávez's election in 1998 -- the community councils are a means of empowerment. A December survey released by Latinobarometro, a Chilean polling firm, found that in all of Latin America, only Uruguayans had a more favorable view of their democratic institutions than Venezuelans."

posted by: Joe M. on 05.19.07 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

Chavez is willing to begin by emulating Robert Mugabe. Eventually, he is aiming for Pol Pot's style of socialist reform. The people have demanded it.

posted by: Bill R. on 05.19.07 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

Also on Saturday, the streets of Caracas were full of protesters who oppose the closing of VZ's only independent TV station. Chavez has accused RCTV of conspiring against the government (namely Hugo himself). Chavez has made it clear that it is HIS decision alone, he has made his decision, and the protesters are wasting their time. Danny Glover, please explain to me how a president can have that kind of power in a democracy.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 05.19.07 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

"community councils"

AKA "soviets"

Let's be fair, is Chavez giving the land to people with actual farming experience, or like Mugabe, to political/military cronies?

posted by: Karl on 05.19.07 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

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