I was surprised and very dismayed by the Sergio Munoz opinion article, “The Santa of the tropics,” (March 5, 2006). It is disappointing to see a well respected newspaper allow its columnists to write such a poorly researched and factually incorrect article. I will just mention the most egregious errors and misstatements of the article.
The most important falsehood Munoz makes is the first one, which requires a formal correction from the paper. He writes that under Chavez poverty has increased and that its Human Development Index (HDI) has declined. There simply is no empirical basis for the idea that the poor have been made worse off under Chavez, and certainly the United Nations has not said that, but rather the opposite. If you look at the UNDP’s Human Development Reports, you will find that Venezuela’s HDI increased during his first three years in office, from o.765 in 1999 (the year Chavez took office) to 0.772 in 2001. It then declined slightly due to the economic effects of the coup and the opposition-motivated oil industry shutdown in 2002 and was back at its 2001 level in 2003 (the last year of available data). For 2004 and 2005 it is expected to rise far above its last high point, in 2001, to over 0.8 because of the country’s strong economic growth (more than 28 percent over the just the last two years).
Also, the UNHD Report shows that Venezuela’s extreme poverty indicators have improved: In 1999, 18.7 percent of the population lived on $1 per day, whereas in 2005 that number had fallen to 15 percent.
Second, Munoz states that Chavez is “profoundly anti-American,” when, in actuality, Chavez has repeatedly stressed that his quarrel is not against the U.S. as a country, but against the Bush administration. As a matter of fact, Chavez rarely said a critical word about the Bush administration for most of his presidency. It was not until a speech in February 2004 that he began criticizing Bush. (There is a good article about this by Eleazar Diaz Rangel, the editor of Venezuela’s largest circulation daily, Ultimas Noticias: http://www.noticierodigital.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=63639)
Third, Munoz claims, “Chavez has signed some ultra-generous bilateral trade agreements.” This is factually false for all cases he mentions except, perhaps, Bolivia. There are no discounts involved in the oil trade agreements with Argentina and Uruguay. Brazil produces its own oil and all agreements with Brazil involve future oil supply (in a joint venture between Petrobras and PDVSA) for the processing of extra-heavy crude from the Orinoco Oil Belt.
Fourth, Munoz lists as one of his further examples of Chavez’s generosity the Petrocaribe agreement. Actually, Petrocaribe expands on a very similar earlier agreement, the San José Pact, which was signed well before Chavez came into office, in 1980, to which Mexico and Venezuela both committed to provide favorable financing to Caribbean islands under preferential financing terms.
Fifth, Munoz falsely states that Telesur is funded exclusively by Venezuela. Actually, Venezuela provides only 51% of the financing, with the other three partners providing the other 49%.
As you must know, false statements about Venezuela have appeared a number of times in the editorial and opinion pages of the L.A. Times. Mr. Munoz has not only very extreme opinions but a very casual attitude towards facts.
I think that the Times should at the very least run corrections for those statements above which are factually false. The L.A. Times is normally a high-quality newspaper and its credibility will suffer if it continues to print false statements, even in opinion pieces like this one.
Just one more point: this business of using 2-3 year old data to describe an economy that has grown 28 percent over the last 2 years, as Niall Ferguson also did recently, is little different from outright lying. I could write a devastating op-ed about the U.S. economy under Bush by skipping the last 2 years, even showing him as the first President since Hoover to preside over a net job loss. But you wouldn’t print it, and if you did people would laugh at it. Skipping the last 2 years for Venezuela, from an economic point of view, is much more ridiculous.