I was reading an excellent post by Juan Cristóbal about Venezuela's useless elite. And I very much agree with what he said there: Venezuela's better-educated are not aware most of the subsidies are benefiting them the most - by far. And yet I thought again: but aren't we trying to go against the wind while oil prices keep going up 15-20% a year? Is it just the elite?
Don't we come up as technocrats who just think of numbers, of abstract concepts about sustainable development and so many other unpalatable or simply inedible things while others are enjoying the oil boom in Venezuela?
I read a study published yesterday in El Universal by Datos. I am not so sure about how reliable Datos as opinion pollster ix but the figures seem plausible to me. They say about 46% consider themselves pro-Chávez, 31% pro-oppo and 23% neutral. Among those "neutral" just a tiny majority tend towards the opposition, but just a bit. They also say that even if people feel the shortages of basic products like milk, sugar, maize flower and others and they are worried because of insecurity and unemployment, half the Venezuelans have a positive attitude towards the future.
How come? They say: "there are more Venezuelans with domestic appliances, more food, more income".
Rewind. Domestic appliances: as I wrote 8 months, this is going to have a big impact in Venezuela: the government is selling for a fraction of the price, sometimes just giving away, household appliances galore it has bought with the Chinese Fund, a fund that means Venezuela is selling China oil at an advantageous price for China for years and years to come. Miguel has written more on the Chinese fund here. As our gringo friend Steven says, the prices seem to be fairer than what many of us expected. And yet: the documents show how hungry for dolllars the Chávez government is. Chávez's supporters will say: of course, all to invest in social programmes. Bullocks. We got a loan for over 4 billion dollars last year to buy yet more Russian weapons and Venezuela is already the main importer of weapons in Latin America, number 8 on Earth.
José Rodríguez and María González in El Tocuyo or Los Guayos have some chance to get now a Haier washing machine at a tiny fraction of the price they would have to pay at a normal "capitalist" shop (never mind Haier is a capitalist company). They have some chance of getting a Haier refrigerator. They may get some US rice and Nicaraguan black beans and New Zealand or Lithuanian milk at Mercal.
About 60-70% of consumption is subsidized. 3.9 million people are state employees. 45% of households get some kind of "Misiones", most importantly food.
We used to export a little bit of agricultural products. Now we import even black beans from Nicaragua and virtually all the rest. Your farmer doesn't have a job as a farmer, but he can sell Chinese gadgets and Peruvian panties on the streets and perhaps his cousin works for the council and his children get black beans from Nicaragua, so: what's the problem?
Don't tell them they could have much better schools than they have now if they can't even imagine how those schools may look like. Don't tell them about really decent hospitals or libraries. What reference they have? When did they get such things? As for violent crime: incredibly, even if the murder rate has tripled, most poor - the most affected by crime - don't feel that's the government's responsibility.
Who has told them about making Venezuela a developed nation? Nobody.
Very few Venezuelans think about how oil prices will be next year. They are probably right for next year, and perhaps for the one after that. And those who do just count on oil prices remaining at the same level for years and years to come. Even the best informed think anything will just drive oil prices higher and higher for many decades to come. And how many of us will be alive in 2070? And who has done the maths about how many persons will be living in Venezuela in 2015 and how many barrels of oil we will not be consuming ourselves but exporting?
So: Juan and I will be seen as callous, grumpy men for a long time.
But Venezuelans will face other realities sooner than they think. After the elections.