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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I've noted previously the strangeness of a country with its own rampant poverty issues giving a country like ours charitable contributions (more of an in-kind trade for the publicity, but be that as it may...and not that we're not happy to take it) through Joe Kennedy's Citizens Energy. Here's Alvaro Vargas Llosa writing in The New Republic: Slum Lord - While Hugo Chavez brags about uplifting his country's poor, the people he's talking about continue to live in squalor.

CARACAS, Venezuela--After an extensive visit to the slums of this capital, I am convinced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lost the recent referendum that would have extended the time he could remain in office not because his countrymen value democracy so much, but because his social programs are crumbling. In the barrios of Petare, Catia, Baruta and other places, the nationalist/populist model is collapsing.

Through a network of "missions," the government has been using oil revenue to provide food, housing, cars, education and health care for millions of Venezuelans. In theory, Venezuelans are enjoying the "social justice" denied to them during decades of rule by the country's elites. In real life, the missions are plagued with corruption and inefficiency, and are severely hampered by the insecurity and the shortages that have become the hallmark of Venezuelan society.

The Barrio Adentro mission was originally run by about 30,000 Cuban doctors and medics. Many of those health centers are now closed; the rest are seriously understaffed. "The Cubans are leaving," explains Felix, a social worker from Baruta, "because they don't get paid, because they are the victims of rampant crime or simply because they have moved on--they only offered to serve in Venezuela as an excuse to get out of Cuba." In some cases, the government never provided the funds needed to finish the construction of clinics. In Baruta, a desolate construction site reminds the local neighborhood that there is, as Felix puts it, "a gulf separating reality from speeches." I was not surprised to learn that, according to Andres Bello University, 60 percent of the Barrio Adentro health centers are not functioning.

The Mercal mission, a series of supermarkets in which the poor can theoretically acquire food at extremely low prices, is not faring any better. Because of price controls, essential products are missing from the shelves. People stand in line for hours to buy food or milk. In some cases, as I was told in Petare, producers have been put off by price controls; in others, the people who manage the supermarkets sell essential products under the table to those able to pay more...

Etc...

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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