Sunday, March 16, 2003

An editorial from this week El Universal

Impending Humanitarian Crisis
Sunday 16, March 2003

[This translation appeared this week end. I do not need to add any comment]

Venezuela faces an impending cataclysm -whose epicenter is politics- that may result in devastating consequences for both economy and society and that is threatening to bring about the conditions for a humanitarian crisis. Even though the government skillfully tries to blame the crisis on opposition groups, people know that after four years of misgovernment and the squandering of $110 billion, the resulting economic disaster itself has justified civil protests. In 1998-2002, more than 4,000 factories and 12,000 businesses closed their doors, leaving almost one million Venezuelans unemployed and two million and a half people impoverished. Only in 2002, the Venezuelan economy dropped by 9 percent, inflation rate amounted to 32 percent and the Venezuelan bolivar fell to 1,402 bolivars per U.S. dollar from 780 bolivars per U.S. dollar.

As if that were not enough, economists estimate that the economic package implemented by the government may cause the economy to shrink by 15-25 percent this year, depending on the pace of the Venezuelan state-run oil conglomerate Petróleos de Venezuela's (Pdvsa) dismantling. Besides, according to several economists, unemployment rate may hit 30 percent. This would be a very damaging unemployment rate in a country where 85 percent of jobs are created by the private sector, precisely the sector that the government is determined to crush by closing down the foreign exchange market during more than 40 days now. In addition, the inflation rate hit a seven-year record high in February, and is expected to exceed 50 percent this year.

This scenario is turning explosive, as no assistance program to mitigate the threatening social disaster for the poorest sectors and -why not- for the middle working and professional class has been designed. Anybody can see that Venezuela is sliding into a humanitarian crisis besieging the poorest people in every aspect, including environment and health. The fact that Venezuela finds itself in the middle of this social anomie precisely when the country faces another type of anomie -the institutional anomie, where the lack of transparency has reached paroxysm- should not surprise anyone. Amartya Sena, a Nobel laureate in Economics, proved empirically in his book Development as Freedom that all famines during the 20th century occurred amid regimes with insufficient freedom and controls, with weak mass media, inclined to abuse and the lack of accountability.

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