Comparing Venezuela and Mexico

Mexico and Venezuela: Two “Dangerous” Fellows
By Luis Hernández Navarro. Translated from Spanish for Axis of Logic by James Hollander and Manuel Talens, Tlaxcala
Feb 9, 2007, 08:55

Diplomatic relations between Mexico and Venezuela seem to have become a sort of sequel to the famous Mexican film “Dos tipos de cuidado” (Two Dangerous Fellows) [*]. President Felipe Calderón even went so far as to imitate one of the most memorable moments in the film, the scene where Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete engage in an intense singing duel. Just last Friday, taking on the role of Jorge Negrete, the man from Michoacan dedicated a verse to Hugo Chávez: “We know not here such braggarts, but if needs be, a mighty will can fill our hearts.”

The Mexican leader seems to be obsessed with the president of Venezuela. Time and again he has tried to portray him as some new empire of evil. During the election campaign last year, he sought to undermine his opponent Andrés Manuel López Obrador by comparing him to Chávez. He once again lashed out at the Venezuelan without mentioning him by name early this year in El Salvador. During his recent trip to Europe, he went all out against Chávez.

Sources say that the Mexican’s aim is to spark a debate of ideas on the merits of free trade and the dangers of populism and state control. But it is striking how little substance can be found in Calderón’s attacks on the process of change in Venezuela. He does rely, however, on the dense cloud of lies and half-truths that’s been floating around about that country and distorting reality rather than explaining it.

Is it true that the Venezuelan economy is going off the rails and that is president is driving to country into hideous poverty? No, it isn’t. In opposition to the Washington Consensus, the Bolivarian Revolution has set in motion a series of highly successful policies. Oil revenue has been channelled into programs for education, health, subsidized food, diversification of industry and job creation. According to Joseph Stiglitz, Chávez “seems to have had success bringing health and education to the neighbourhoods of Caracas, where people had previously seen little benefit from the country’s rich petroleum resources.” (translated from Spanish).

The results are plain to see. The minimum wage in Venezuela is now $220 (along with benefits like a 3-month bonus) when just a few years ago it was barely $100. It is one of the highest in Latin America, and well above that received by Mexican workers: $137.

Venezuela can boast of the highest economic growth rate in South American in the last three years, nearly double the regional average. In 2004, the GDP grew by 17.3%. A year later, it grew by 9.3% and in 2006 by 10.3%. Projections for 2007 suggest it could grow by another 6%. This economic boom has gone hand-in-hand with high rates of employment, a significant recovery of real wages and a 17% increase in consumption.

If we measure Venezuela’s progress according to the UN’s Human Development Index, we’ll find that the country went from 75th place in 2005 to 72nd a year later. Life expectancy is now 73 years, and adult literacy is now an impressive 93%. Infant mortality has dropped to 16 for every thousand births. The poverty level fell from 55.1% in 2003 to 33.9% by the first quarter of 2006.

Despite Chavez’s nationalist rhetoric, the existing restrictions and Calderón’s call to transnational capital to leave Venezuela and come to Mexico, direct foreign investment keeps pouring into the Bolivarian Republic. In 2005, it increased by 85%. By the next year, it accounted for 4% of Venezuela’s GDP. Although the country’s trade relations have become more diversified, the United States is still the number one foreign investor.

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