Thursday, February 02, 2006

Persona Non Grata

It was a big occasion. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Frias was to commemorate his seven years in government with a televised speech. It was a chance to tell his people about his revolutionary achievements. However, he chose instead to broadcast another episode of his anti-American soap opera.

In what was the most dramatic moment of his speech he announced to a frenzy audience that a US Military Attaché had been declared “persona non grata” and expelled from the country on the grounds of espionage.

“U.S. Navy Capitan John Correa must leave the country immediately” was the one line quoted by media all around the world.

As for the seventh anniversary, well, nobody remembers it now. Perhaps he meant so. There is no much to celebrate in Venezuela. Better to divert the attention and blame American imperialism for everything. After all, this little trick has long worked in Cuba.


At 9:50 PM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

"It was a big occasion. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Frias was to commemorate his seven years in government with a televised speech. It was a chance to tell his people about his revolutionary achievements."

How do you know that Chavez didn't talk about his government's achievements during the anniversary?

"There is no much to celebrate in Venezuela."

Oh really? In 2004, the Venezuelan economy grew 17%. In 2005, it grew 9%. It is now internationally recognized that poverty is on the decline in Venezuela. I think these are things to celebrate.

"Better to divert the attention and blame American imperialism for everything."

How do you know the U.S. Naval attaché wasn't involved in espionage?

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

You are right about one thing, economic growth is high, almost as high as the oil price.

Never, and this never is not rhetorical, has so much money got into Venezuela.

When Chavez took over the oil barrel was at nine dollars, it is now around 60.

Every dollar variation has a billion dollar impact in the national budget.

That is like wining the lottery every day for seven years in a row: Oil represents roughly 70% of Venezuela's income. That explains GDP growth.

Problem is, GDP per head is actually going down.

The National Institute of Statistics has a reputation only comparable to Enron's and even so their own numbers reckon poverty has increased from 43 percent to 54 percent of the population during Chávez's government.

And extreme poverty -- the percentage of the population that lives on less than $1 a day -- grew from 17 percent to 25 percent during the same period.

Those were Chavez's numbers until about six months ago, when he publicly summoned Elias Eljuri, his Statistics Chief for publishing inaccurate data and asked him to "redefine" poverty including "humanistic" elements.

I think you are actually following Venezuela so you know this, in any case let's finish the story for the sake of other readers.

Eljuri came up with a new recipe that included non-economical factors to measure poverty. Allow me to quote the guy himself: “Tradicionalmente, la pobreza se aborda sobre la base del ingreso, pero las mejoras en la calidad de vida a través de los planes sociales hace retroceder los niveles de este indicador. Ahora vemos la pobreza como un fenómeno multidimensional”.

Since then, alas, poverty started a slow decline.

About espionage, well I would only know if there was evidence. The case is so rotten that the American Embassy hasn't even been notified as of yet.

There were allegedly Venezuelan army officers involved in the case and they haven't been found guilty.

He didn't focus on his own people, he focused on the big enemy.

What works for Cuba works for Venezuela.

At 12:02 AM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

"The National Institute of Statistics has a reputation only comparable to Enron's and even so their own numbers reckon poverty has increased from 43 percent to 54 percent of the population during Chávez's government."

"And extreme poverty -- the percentage of the population that lives on less than $1 a day -- grew from 17 percent to 25 percent during the same period."

Your figures are wrong. The first problem is that your figures are old. Poverty did go up as a result of the opposition-led sabotage of the economy in 2002-2003, but you can hardly blame that on Chavez.

After the government took control of PDVSA and the economy turned around in 2004, poverty has been steadily declining.

Here's the data from the same source that you're using.

"Caracas, Venezuela, October 14, 2005—Venezuela's National Institute of Statistics (INE) says that poverty will drop by 8% points by the end of 2005, relative to the previous year. Similarly, unemployment dropped 0.6% points, from 12.1% in August, to 11.5% in September of this year."

"INE director Elias Eljuri made the announcement yesterday, saying that Venezuela's poverty rate is expected to drop to 35% by the end of the year, down from 47% for 2004. During the first half of 2005 poverty was calculated to be at 38.5%. Also, critical poverty, the level at which people cannot afford to cover their basic needs, dropped to 10.1% in the first half of 2005, down from 18% the previous year."

You should keep up to date on your stats.

Also, it makes no sense whatsoever to argue that, while GDP went up 17% in 2004, income per head went down. That's mathematically impossible. In order for that to happen, you would have to have over 17% population growth in one year!

You shouldn't buy all the crap that the Chavez-bashers in the U.S. try to disseminate. Their assertions are generally just nonsensical.

At 12:11 AM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

One other thing. You say they changed the way they defined poverty. Well, with the introduction of the missions, that makes perfect sense. If, for example, the poor can buy food at cheaper, government-subsidized prices --as with the Mercal markets-- that represents a boost to their purchasing power. Same is true with health care provided through Barrio Adentro, and the assistance provided through other programs as well.

Chavez wouldn't have won the referendum if his programs weren't helping the poor. His popularity depends on the effectiveness of these social programs.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

Redefining poverty to fit an agenda is to cook the numbers.

Even if you like Eljuri's recipe you will find out that total poverty is larger in 2005 than it was in 1998. Of course, the opposition is to blame after seven years of government.

Populism has a temporary effect. One thing is to distribute wealth, another is to create wealth. Chavez is good at distributing petro-dollars (notably, as he himself accepts it, within a corrupt circle) but bad generating wealth.

Venezuela today depends more on oil than ever and is poorer than seven years ago, even in Bolivarian figures.

As for the referendum, I don't see how you can match popularity with good government. It’s like saying that Hitler was a good president because the German loved him.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

"Redefining poverty to fit an agenda is to cook the numbers."

It's not about redefining poverty. Your argument is about as logical as saying that, in calculating the levels of poverty in the United States, you should discount what someone receives in food stamps, for example. That just wouldn't make any sense.

Let's do the simple math, using a hypothetical example. Say that a poor Venezuelan household brings in $300 a month. And let's assume that 50% of their income goes toward basic food purchases. The introduction of a local government-subsidized market that reduces food costs by, say, 30%, represents a 15% increase in the household's income.

I'll even do the simple math for you.

50% of $300 = $300 * .5 = $150
30% of $150 = $150 * .3 = $45
$45/$300 = a 15% increase in household income

In other words, even if the family continues bringing in only $300 a month, the 30% decrease in food costs saves the household 15% of their income (which can be devoted to other purchases). In other words, the 30% decrease in food costs represents a 15% increase in the household's purchasing power.

It would be simply erroneous not to incorporate the decrease in food costs into one's calculation of poverty levels. The same holds true for health care and education programs aimed at the poor. The provision of free health care and education programs represents, in effect, similar boosts in the poors' income.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

Oranges are not apples.
MERCAL is not income.

Eljuri's concepts may work to measure economic impact of government projects. Although, even for that, they would need to include other factors they may not like.

Even if we accept these recipes, poverty has increased in the last seven years.

Of course, the opposition is to blame, and the US.

Changing a concept to fit an agenda is cooking the numbers. It doesn't matter how tasty ingredients are.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

"MERCAL is not income."

Uh, you're wrong. The math is quite simple.

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

MERCAL is a retail chain. They sell stuff. That is exactly the opposite to income.

Food stamps are a monetary instrument, like a bill.

A coin is not a meter.

Let's not mix things.

We can have a whole debate about the economic impact of the "misiones" and perhaps, as you argue, they have an impact on "inflation".

That is, however, another subject.

Again, Venezuelan’s today are poorer than seven years ago and you can quote Eljuri for that.

At 5:36 AM, Blogger Chromatius said...

So you don't believe the US is intervening/interfering in Venezuelan politics, that U.S. Naval Attachés are involved in espionage (begging the quesion, what do you think they do?), or that Bush's regime in concert with various industry and NGO groups is trying to intervening/interfering in Venezuelan politics? Do you believe there was an attempted coup against Chavez? Do you believe the US was involved?

I think Chavez' figures are holding up pretty well, given the ongoing media and political campaigns against him.

Out of interest, do you believe there is a history of such US involvement in Latin American politics? And if so, do you view it as benign?

At 7:12 PM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

Here we are playing Chavez's game. Blaming the US for everything. A non-brainer, considering W's international image.

That is exactly what Chavez wants, to divert the attention to the one arena were he has prevailed.

Indeed, to your point, if there has been US interventionism in Venezuela it has resulted in a stronger Chavez (his popularity was at 30 just before the failed coup attempt and jumped to 70 six months after, now that's below 50 he is putting his money were he has seen returns).

A US invasion is impossible with W current political capital.

However, Chavez insists in provoking the US because he sees the leverage: to be portrayed as the underdog, the leftist socialist from the third world so loved by developed world intellectuals.

At 9:21 PM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

I don't know where you get your poll figures, Camilo, but they're not accurate. I already explained on my own blog how the opposition press tends to distort these polls as well. Every poll in Venezuela that I know of shows Chavez way way ahead of any potential opposition candidate.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

What makes you think Datanálisis works for the oposition? The oposistion seems to think diferently:

In any case, can you share your numbers? I hope it's not the poll Jose Vicente Rangel is promoting via official media(with 77%, more than the official referendum figures!). February numbers are welcome. Would be nice to know who commissioned it.

I know he "has a shoe-in". But that doesn't mean he is not falling (double digits). He is leading because the competition is incapable.

Don't forget the parliamentary elections fiasco.

Do you really think the US is going to invade Venezuela as Chavez says?

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
On Poverty
By the way, I wanted to share with you guys this note I found online. Interesting stuff about creative statistics.

At 11:32 PM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

"What makes you think Datanálisis works for the oposition?"

Because the president of Datanalisis plainly admits it.
(see: )

"The oposistion seems to think diferently: "

Just because some rabid dogs in the opposition don't like the fact that Datanalisis still produces polls that show that the opposition is far behind doesn't mean that Datanalisis isn't aligned with the opposition. Datanalisis openly advises the opposition. Just read what the president of Datanalisis says.

At 12:26 AM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

Sorry Justin, I couldn't find the admission, and I read the text a few times.

The interviewed is playing with scenarios and says that to confront Chavismo a new leader should use an oppositionist message instead of a neutral one (A rather silly piece of advice by the way).

Just to avoid doubts I am pasting the text underscoring the lines you may have misinterpreted partisan (unless of course I missed something):

"El otro escenario describe algunas condiciones para recuperar los contrapesos, donde es fundamental el surgimiento de un LIDER carismático, MAS NO UN CANDIDATO DE OPOSICION O ANTICHAVISTA; sino una persona posicionada en construir y no en contradecir.

-¿Pero, al asumir esta posición (MEANING THIS LEADER) estaría automáticamente adoptando el papel de oposición?

-Sí, pero el mensaje central no es el de oposición."

One fact, Datanálisis has produced research for the government, notably a survey about the impact of the “misiones” highly criticized by the opposition "rabid dogs".

My take? He is with the money, and lately the money is with Chavez and his (allow me to use some passionate language) tamed puppies.

By the way I am really interested in getting some objective numbers.

Perhaps you have something you can share.

What makes you such a passionate chavista? Long time I hadn't met one.

At 12:28 AM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

Any comments on Oppenheimer's note?

At 3:57 AM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...


It's very obvious that Datanalisis advises the opposition. The bulk of the interview with Datanalisis' president is devoted to strategizing about what kind of candidate would be formidable in a race against Chavez.

You would never see a truly non-partisan pollster openly strategizing on behalf of one political side.

Datanalisis' president, Jose Antonio Gil Yepes, and director, Luis Vicente Leon, have been moonlighting as opposition pundits for years. I've watched and written about Datanalisis for years. They were so biased against Chavez that they actually refused to release their July 2004 poll numbers before the referendum. Presumably, they wouldn't release their numbers because they didn't want to further demoralize the opposition.

It is absurd to think that the Chavez government sponsored Datanalisis' polls about the Missions. Trust me, I really do speak from experience on this one. Chavez openly denounced Datanalisis' May 2004 poll results --which included poll results about the Missions-- because Datanalisis was predicting that Chavez would lose the referendum. I know this because, at the time, Chavez actually quoted one of my articles on national radio concerning the problems with Datanalisis' polling (see: and ).

Now, think about it. Would the Chavez government entrust a polling firm that is openly opposed to it to perform unbiased, methodologically-sound polling on the Missions? Of course not. There are other pollsters without a record of open partisanship against the government that it would commission to carry out such a task.

Datanalisis did find that most Venezuelans supported the Missions, especially Mercal and Barrio Adentro. But their polls almost undoubtedly underestimated the level of popular support for the Missions. In any case, I'm sure the government didn't think Datanalisis' numbers were a sufficient reflection of the level of support.

Look, you don't have to be rocket scientist or a chavista to see why the Missions are popular. Folks in the barrios don't give a rats' ass if it's a Cuban doctor that's attending to them; they're just happy to have any medical attention at all. Only among the upper stratas --who have access to private health care-- are the Cuban doctors a concern, and these stratas represent less 20% of the country.

The same goes for Mercal. I mean, seriously, what poor barrio isn't going to be happy about having a new grocery store around the corner with rice, noodles, flour, sugar, etc. etc. at much cheaper prices??

You're more than welcome to call into question the microeconomic sustainability of such programs, but it's just plain silly to call into question the programs' popularity.

As for reliable polling, it's very hard to come by in Venezuela. But if you examine the polls closely, you see that even opposition pollsters find that Chavez is way ahead of any potential opposition candidate. Way ahead.

Well, I gotta go to bed. I'll see if I can stomach an Oppenheimer article tomorrow, but I'm sure I won't be impressed. I've never been impressed with anything he's written.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Camilo Pino said...

It's almost impossible to get objective numbers in Venezuela.

What I like about Datanálisis, and I must confess is not very scientific, it's that their figures are just between DATOS's and Jose Vicente Rangel's numbers. And also the fact that they are criticized by both, government and opposition. Nowadays in Venezuela that is a sign of sensibility.

I am convinced Chavez is falling as I am convinced he will come back, following the most populist year of his administration.

By the way, he is way ahead, I have never argued that. My point is that he is his worse enemy: ineficiency, overconfidence, corruption... The first person in acknowledging this has been Chavez himself. Remember the speech after the parliamentary fiasco.

My other point is that he needs a confrontation with the US to fuel his popularity. After seven years of government is hard to blame the opposition for everything.

As for Chavez's alliances, you would be surprised there. He has a long track record of closing deals with former enemies, notably "neo liberal" media mogul Gustavo Cisneros.

Of course the misiones are popular. Before them there was only neglect. Sustainability and economic impact are other issues.

One thing Justin, do you really believe in chavismo?

I understand your disliking the opposition and also your ideological closeness to a, let's be generous, "new left" model, but came on, Chavismo is just a neo-populism, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Justin Delacour said...

"He has a long track record of closing deals with former enemies, notably 'neo liberal' media mogul Gustavo Cisneros."

So what.

Of course Chavez negotiated with Cisneros. That doesn't mean that Cisneros isn't part of the opposition or that he isn't neoliberal. It's just that Cisneros has major business dealings in Venezuela; he looks after his own interests by negotiating with Chavez.

Not surprisingly, after the referendum, Cisneros' Venevision softened its tone toward the government. It's still an opposition television station, however.

If you watch Globovisión and see how ridiculously biased it is, you realize that for the opposition media to soften their tone would make them sound a lot more credible. Perhaps Cisneros figured that out, but I'm sure the change also had to do with his negotiations with Chavez.

It all goes to show how wealthy media owners in Venezuela use their media as mere tools to further their own interests. That's why the private media tend to trash Chavez so much; his politics doesn't sufficiently correspond to their economic interests. All this talk of "authoritarianism" is just subterfuge to hide the fact that the media owners are pursuing their own economic interests. If Chavez were truly authoritarian, the private media wouldn't be able to trash him so much.

"One thing Justin, do you really believe in chavismo?"

Well, I like Chavez, but it's obviously not ideal to formulate a political project around a personality. Nevertheless, in this world, we make our political assessments on the basis of what a project offers relative to the available alternatives. I think Chavismo is much much better than the available alternatives. The Chavez government has done a great deal to empower disenfranchised people. The opposition will do no such thing.

"Chavismo is just a neo-populism, and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that."

Yes, Chavez has some populist characteristics. So what? The Bolivarian project is doing a lot of good things for disenfranchised sectors of Venezuelan society. That's what matters most in my book.

My apologies that I wasn't able to get back to your email when you sent it. I accidentally erased it before I could respond. Anyway, I appreciate the cordial dialogue as well.



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