A new op-ed in the Guardian by Ricardo Hausmann portrays a dystopian fictional Venezuela, one in which the Venezuelan government has run the economy into the ground despite abundant oil wealth, but yet its charismatic president continues to be re-elected through some sort of sinister trickery.
Sound familiar? It should: it’s the same tired story repeated in the U.S. and U.K. media almost every day, but in this case Hausmann was apparently given free rein to present his own set of “facts.” It isn’t surprising that Hausmann would write something so divorced from reality; he went to elaborate lengths to invent a conspiracy theory about supposed fraud in Venezuela’s 2004 recall referendum by relying on fake exit polls. An independent panel of statisticians selected by the Carter Center determined that Hausmann and his colleague Roberto Rigobón had in fact found no evidence of fraud. [PDF]
But let’s get back to Hausmann’s latest Guardian piece, starting with the economy. Hausmann writes, "Since 1999, the year [Chávez] took over the presidency, Venezuela has had the lowest average GDP growth rate and the highest inflation of any Latin American country except Haiti."
The source for this “lowest average GDP growth rate” to which Hausmann links is a highly opinionated BBC article which in turn quotes a colleague of Hausmann’s from the Center for International Development at Harvard University who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. Had Hausmann consulted official government data, or growth numbers for the region from the IMF, he would have found a very different set of facts.
In fact, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and other countries all had lower average GDP growth than did Venezuela since 1999, according to IMF data.
Hausmann’s next sentence reads: “[Venezuela] has also seen a fivefold increase in assassinations to arguably the highest murder rate in the world.”
Why does Hausmann want to “argue” the case for Venezuela having the “highest murder rate” in the world? Because the U.N. keeps track of such figures, and at 91 per hundred thousand, post-coup Honduras’ homicide rate is about twice as high as Venezuela’s; El Salvador’s is also much higher.
Hausmann then makes the usual claims about Chávez “eliminat[ing] checks and balances” and describes – without providing any evidence – “a very large civilian army of political activists that are handsomely compensated by the state for their party work.” Such distortions of Venezuela’s democracy belittle both the many elections in which voters have overwhelmingly chosen pro-Chávez legislators and state and local officials, and the bottom-up nature of much of the transformative processes occurring in Venezuela. Hausmann then claims that Chávez “dominate[s] the airwaves,” even though Venezuelan state television has a 5.4 percent audience share while more than 94 percent of the TV seen by Venezuelans is not pro-government.
As Hausmann himself writes, “in choosing your narrative, be creative. Don't be limited by truth, reality or common sense. …Whenever you fail, blame a conspiracy.” Hausmann has provided an excellent demonstration of the former with his Guardian op-ed, just as his post-recall referendum fantasy stories were a great example of the latter.