On Monday, Venezuelans celebrated the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of President Hugo Chávez to his first presidential term. Many Venezuelans consider this day to mark the commencement of the "Bolivarian Revolution," which has brought a new progressive constitution, sustained economic growth, and unprecedented expansion of health care and other social services to this OPEC nation.
'A country in the vanguard of the world'
Over the past ten years, "Venezuela went from being a disabled nation that was in the dirt, muzzled, and dominated, to being a country in the vanguard of the world," Chávez declared during an event in which each government ministry displayed its decade of achievements on Sunday.
According to the Education Ministry, enrollment in pre-schools has increased from 40.3 to 60 per cent, and in elementary schools from 78 to 93 per cent for males and from 85 per cent to 98 per cent for females over the past ten years. High school graduation rates have increased from 47 to 66 per cent, and university enrollment has increased from 676,515 students to 1.8 million students.
Also, through the educational program called Mission Robinson, more than a million Venezuelans were taught to read, bringing the illiteracy rate down to less than one percent. Last year, the United Nations Science, Education, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) announced that Venezuela is on track to achieve the Millenium Development Goals by 2015.
In health care, the government's unprecedented expansion of a public system of free clinics in local communities has made primary care accessible to nearly all Venezuelans, compared to a decade ago, when one fifth of Venezuelans had access to primary care. Also, infant mortality has dropped from 21 to 13 per one thousand.
Investing in the poor and excluded
During his talk show Sunday, journalist and former Vice President José Vicente Rangel outlined the government's progressive reforms of its investments.
"Ten years ago, the richest fifth of Venezuelans received 54 per cent of the GDP. Now, the same fifth receive 46 per cent of the country's total income and the other eight percent is directed toward the poorest sectors who were excluded for many years," said Rangel.
The re-direction of investments has saturated the agricultural sector, and created considerable growth in the small and medium-sized business sector, said Pedro Morejón, the Minister of Communal Economy, Sunday.
Democratizing the economy
Morejón also highlighted the new training programs in which the government has invested to promote cooperative businesses, social production enterprises, and other new forms of commerce through which Venezuelans "have assumed an important role in their participation and formation of businesses based on social property."
Along with the new types of businesses, the government has opened new spaces for political participation, as well as through the direct funding of tens of thousands of community councils that now manage local affairs in democratic assemblies.
The Director of Venezuela's National Statistics Institute (INE), Elías Eljuri, reported Sunday that domestic credit has increased from 12 to 21.4 per cent, and the percentage of the population working in the formal economy has risen from 45 per cent when Chávez took office to more than 56 per cent today.
This has helped the percentage of people living in extreme poverty to drop from 23.4 to 9.1 per cent over the past ten years, while the percentage in poverty has also decreased from 54.5 to 31.5 per cent, according to the INE.
Overall, the Venezuelan economy grew consistently for twenty consecutive trimesters, following a recession provoked by the U.S.-backed coup in April 2002 and the management-led oil industry shutdown that sought to topple Chávez's presidency in early 2003.
Also, unemployment hit a new low of 6.1 per cent last month, less than half of its peak of 14.6 per cent following the oil strike in 2003.
With these investments and growth, an increase in demand has surged, causing a hike in inflation over the past three years. Overall, annual inflation has averaged 22 per cent during the Chávez presidency, compared to 57.8 per cent during the presidency of Rafael Caldera during the mid-1990s.
Meanwhile, government-subsidized food markets called "Mercals" sell food at regulated prices to nearly 70 per cent of the poorest sectors of the population and 45 per cent of the middle and upper classes, helping to alleviate the effects of inflation.
Festivities mark anniversary
President Chávez announced a national day off work to commemorate the anniversary of his inauguration, and invited representatives from Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba and Dominica to join in the festivities after holding a summit of the regional trade group ALBA, one of the many integration initiatives the Chávez government has promoted as alternatives to U.S.-led free trade.
According to Nelson Maldonado, the president of the National Council of Commerce and Services, however, the day off was an "untimely" blow to productivity during a time of economic crisis, and an "irresponsible act that creates mistrust, insecurity, and indifference toward what is called efficiency."
Chávez responded by saying that the "this century will be one of gains for the people and loss for the bourgeoisie."
James Suggett is a contributor to http://venezuelanalysis.com, where this article originally appeared. It is reprinted with permission.
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