Venezuelans Square Off Over Race, Oil and a Populist Political Slogan

Por Venezuela Real - 13 de Noviembre, 2006, 12:12, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

 Nota: El Sr. Simón Romero basa su artículo en el argumento racial, que ya ni los chavistas creen! Lo único que vió en Venezuela fue la supuesta connotación despectiva racialmente en la propaganda de Mi Negra.
Su artículo está escrito obviamente para complacer los lectores afro-americanos y demócratas liberales que tanto valora su periódico. No sólo no entendió el alcance de Mi Negra, sino que decidió -estando en Venezuela- no enterarse del video "rojo-rojíto" del Ministro Rámirez.
En Caracas, Simón Romero sólo percibió el mensaje de amor de Chávez . ¿Podemos creer en la imparcialidad noticiosa del New York Times?

Simon Romero
New York Times
November 12, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 11 — “Mi negra” is an almost untranslatable term of endearment used in rich and poor households in this racially mixed country, with a definition somewhere between “My dark-skinned woman” and “My dear”

Manuel Rosales is the top opponent of President Hugo Chávez.

Now, it also has another meaning. In a reference to the color of oil, President Hugo Chávez’s main electoral challenger chose Mi Negra as the name of a banking card he proposes that would transfer oil revenues directly to the poor.

Few other projects point so succinctly to the populism that permeates the campaigns of both Mr. Chávez and the top contender to unseat him, Manuel Rosales, governor of the oil-producing Zulia State, leading to the elections on Dec. 3.

Mr. Rosales, a career politician who frequently checks his BlackBerry for messages and speaks with monotone disdain of Mr. Chávez’s militaristic populism, cultivates an image of managerial efficiency.
But he sounds strikingly similar to Mr. Chávez when he talks about distributing oil wealth to the poor, a perennial campaign issue in Venezuela. His advertisements use the image of Gladys Ascanio, a black social worker who lives in one of Venezuela’s largest slums, to celebrate the proposal.

“It’s come down to a choice between two populists without strategies for addressing the structural underpinnings of poverty,” said Juan Romero, a political scientist at the University of Zulia.

Chávez supporters have disparaged Mi Negra as an electoral ploy with condescendingly racial undertones in a country where as much as 30 percent of the population of 27 million is estimated to be of African ancestry. (Venezuela has traditionally paid relatively little attention to the legacies of slavery, which was not abolished here until the 1850s. Mr. Chávez, who is 52, has jolted racial dynamics somewhat by boasting of his own African and indigenous ancestry and strengthening relations with African countries.)

“Chávez also has his faults, but Mi Negra comes across as opportunist from someone out of the old political guard,” said Jesús García, director of the Afroamérica Foundation, a nongovernmental organization. “The proposal from Rosales is one of vulgarity, of condescension toward Afrodescendants.”

Meanwhile, political analysts and economists who are critical of the unchecked public spending under Mr. Chávez have described the proposal as similarly ruinous for government finances.
“We’re living in a period of political amnesia with an inability to remember the crisis in the ’80s when oil prices crashed,” said Michael Penfold-Becerra, an economist at the Institute of Higher Administrative Studies, a Caracas business school.

Mr. Rosales, 54, is from a political tradition different from that of Mr. Chávez, a former army officer who carried out a failed coup attempt in 1992. Mr. Rosales cut his teeth in Democratic Action, the party of Carlos Andrés Pérez, who governed the country during the late 1970s, when soaring oil prices allowed Venezuela to briefly dream of becoming a rich industrialized country.

Mr. Pérez’s grandiose spending on infrastructure projects and social programs ended in disaster when oil prices sharply fell in the 1980s.

Venezuela, which had per capita income roughly equal to that of Spain under Mr. Pérez, has since experienced growing resentment over a perceived inability to use oil resources to lift living standards.
The return of high oil prices, of course, has allowed Mr. Chávez to greatly increase outlays in the months before the election, with public spending climbing to almost 40 percent of gross domestic product, about double the level when his presidency began in 1999. His discretionary spending has largely been directed at social programs known as missions, which offer free services like eye surgery, and discounted groceries and housing. Mr. Chávez also gave Christmas bonuses to public servants a month early this year.

Such programs — not to mention Venezuela’s overall economic stability — depend on oil prices remaining high with oil production contributing about half of government revenues. Each $1 drop in the price per barrel of oil translates into a $1 billion drop in national income in Venezuela, according to Barclay’s Capital. Oil prices are down 25 percent since July, when they reached $78.40 a barrel.
Mr. Rosales, who is also a former mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest city, behind Caracas, said in an interview that he would keep many of Mr. Chávez’s projects if elected, though he would change their names. “It’s not populism but social justice,” Mr. Rosales said of Mi Negra. “It’s a way of improving people’s lives, of allowing a street vendor to become a shopkeeper.”

Mi Negra would essentially be directed at about three million impoverished Venezuelans, enabling purchases of $280 to $460 a month. Its supporters say it could depoliticize the distribution of oil revenues. Ana Julia Jatar, a political analyst and a critic of Mr. Chávez, said the idea was similar to Alaska’s distribution of part of oil royalties to state residents through an annual payment.
Polls show skepticism about the proposal, with 59 percent of respondents having a negative impression of it, Hinterlaces, a market research company here, said. Meanwhile, most opinion polls show Mr. Rosales trailing Mr. Chávez by about 20 points.

Mr. Rosales has focused on other themes, including fierce criticism of the alliances Mr. Chávez has made with countries on the fringes of American influence, like Iran and Cuba. But his campaign’s predominant message is that Mr. Chávez, despite his socialist talk, has failed to deliver oil wealth to the poor.

“Venezuela is one of the richest countries in the world,” Mr. Rosales told a rally of supporters recently in Maiquetía, a coastal city near Caracas. “But around here the petroleum is not sowed,” he said, making reference to a phrase coined in the 1930s by the Venezuelan writer Arturo Uslar Pietri about using oil revenues to build a diversified economy.

Mr. Chávez used a similar message in his first campaign for president in 1998 and again when he purged the national oil company of dissident employees after a strike in 2002 and 2003.

Now, as he runs against someone also positioning himself as a populist, Mr. Chávez has increased his outreach to the middle class.

He has recently begun moderating his language, going so far as composing a love poem to the Venezuelan people and appearing in advertisements dressed in blue shirts, the color that Mr. Rosales had adopted for his campaign, instead of his usual red. And he has lashed out at Mi Negra as racist, and pointed to official figures that show poverty has eased in the last two years.

“It disgusts me, this manipulation of what is the black color of the human being,” Mr. Chávez said in a speech last month. “I’ve seen people, candidates, who go into poor barrios shaking hands with people and then wash their hands with alcohol. That’s what’s happening with those who are manipulating this black lady.”

Mr. Chávez had earlier boasted of the antipoverty mission created this year that he named Negra Hipólita, in honor of a slave who was Simón Bolívar’s wet nurse.







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