The results of an annual study conducted by Chilean NGO Latinobarometer suggest that domestic support for the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and its socialist policies is much stronger than is understood outside of the country.
A report released over the weekend found Venezuelans outranked most of their Latin American neighbors in popular “support” for their government and in assessing “how democratic” their society has become.
2011 REPORT: “CHANGE WELL UNDERWAY”
Published last Friday, this year’s Latinobarometer highlighted important developments in democratic participation and improvements in the rights of people across the region. Calling into question preconceived notions about life in the Americas, the report’s authors suggest that “the greatest task for Latin America today may not be overall change, which is well underway, but changing the image the world has of the region”.
“While the world continues to see us (Latin America) through the stereotype-filled eyes of Hollywood,” the authors write, the region is living “the massification of rights including an expansion of health and education services”.
The realization of these “rights”, the authors affirm, plays a key role in the democratization of society “as it results in citizens pushing their political systems in a democratic direction…More democracy brings with it the demand for even more democracy” and “today, Latin America is demanding social equality”.
KEY INDICATORS: VENEZUELA TODAY
While this year’s study of public opinion in the region includes a diverse set of social, economic, and cultural indicators, one of the most telling is the so-called “perception of democracy indicator”. Asking those interviewed “how democratic” their country is, the 2011 report found that Venezuelans outranked almost all of their Latin American neighbours in this field.
Measured on a scale of 1 to 10 – with one (1) being “not at all democratic” and ten (10) being “absolutely democratic” – average Venezuelans ranked democracy in the country at 7.3, placing their county 3rd just behind Costa Rica (7.5) and Uruguay (7.7) in popular perception of living in a democratic society. The Brazilian people, who live in a country often celebrated as a “model” for socioeconomic development, ranked their society a 6.4 (the regional average) while Hondurans, who continue to suffer the results of a US-backed coup in 2009, ranked their country a 5.2 – the lowest result obtained in all of the Americas.
Asked if they support “presidential re-election” in general, a strong majority (61%) of Venezuelans said yes, placing them above the regional average of 53%. While the issue of presidential re-elections is often used to attack the Bolivarian Revolution and its leadership, even larger percentages of people in Argentina (77%), Brazil (72%), Uruguay (69%), Ecuador (66%), and Chile (66%) support the idea.
Presidential elections in Venezuela are scheduled for October 7, 2012, with socialist president Hugo Chavez expected to defeat any one of the numerous opposition candidates currently struggling through presidential primaries scheduled for February.
When asked about “the most important problem” facing the country, 61% of Venezuelans responded “public safety and delinquency” while only 10% said “unemployment”.
Often criticized by right-wing politicians and opposition media outlets for not doing enough to reduce crime in the country, the Venezuelan government has spent years developing the personnel needed to launch the recently- established National Bolivarian Police (PNB), a national police force trained in Human Rights, prevention of street violence, and combating corruption by local police agencies.
According to PNB Director Luis Fernandez, in its first six months of policing residential areas in and near Caracas, the PNB has helped reduce the murder rate by 60%, robberies by almost 59%, and gender-based violence by 66%. When asked if personal economic conditions “are insufficient and cause great difficulties”, only 10% of Venezuelans agreed with the statement. In comparison, 23% of people in the Dominican Republic and 19% of those in Honduras responded affirmatively to the same question.
Private media reports in Venezuela and abroad often describe the country’s economic situation as “unbearable”. While annual inflation in the country does average at around 30%, a range of public policies have been developed to combat the effects of the global economic crisis on the Venezuelan people. The Chavez government currently implements, among other things, annual wage increases, subsidized pricing for basic foods, and free health care services through the Barrio Adentro Social Mission, a revolutionary medical program supported by Cuban medical staff.
Also part of the report’s findings, 86% of people in Venezuela believe the state has the material and economic conditions needed to resolve society’s problems and 74% of respondents in the country feel the state is capable of resolving “all” or “a large part” of said problems.
Since first coming to power in 1998, the Bolivarian Revolution led by President Chavez has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure, national production, science and technology, sports, education and health services, as well as numerous social programs aimed at improving the quality of life for the most excluded sectors of Venezuelan society. Recent investments in housing, for example, are said to be largely responsible for a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 4.5 in 2011, up dramatically from -1.4 in 2010.
MEDIA PERCEPTION VS. REALITY: A DISCREPANCY
Noticing common contradictions between domestic support for national governments and international assessments of Latin American governments, the authors of Latinobarometer 2011 compared the current political and economic situations faced by the people and governments of Chile and Venezuela.
According to the report’s authors, while international capital and its financial advisors praise the “fiscal policies” of the Chilean government, “the (Chilean) people pour out into the streets by the hundreds of thousands, first on behalf of education, then for a number of different motives, and finally to make calls for structural change”.
“At the same time you have the opposite case in Venezuela, where the people respond positively to the governing actions of President Chavez but the world classifies him (Chavez) negatively”, the authors noted.
The international community, the report affirms, “focuses on things that aren’t what matter most to the people in the country”.
To produce its 112-page report, Chile’s Latinobarometer conducted 20,204 interviews between 15 July and 16 August 2011. To assure representative results, the authors of the report claim to have selected a diverse segment of each country’s population in all 18 countries included in the study.