BY MICHAEL ROWAN
In April, 1998, Hugo Chavez was running a distant fourth in the presidential race with only a few percent in the national polls - Irene Saez was the frontrunner with 60 percent in the polls. But she faded fast when voters listened to the powerful and angry Chavez message about ending poverty and corruption - by sharing Venezuela’s oil wealth with the poor. In May, 2006, Chavez is the frontrunner with 50 percent in the polls, and has relatively more power and money for his election campaign than any candidate in the democratic history of all the Americas, but he may be the Irene Saez of this campaign.
Voters want results, not propaganda. Poverty, corruption and insecurity have increased dramatically under Chavez. Chavez has succeeded at elections because no alternative leader or credible message to defeat poverty, corruption and insecurity has come forth. What the opposition has been trying to do is get rid of Chavez – and nothing more. But Venezuelans want to vote for - not just against. They don’t want an opposition – they want a proposition. And in 2006 they are going to hear a proposition.
The Salas Romer campaign of 1998 that offered no poverty program; the April, 2002 “coup d’etat” events that produced the flash presidency of Pedro Carmona; the national strike of 2003 that crippled the economy; the recall referendum of 2004 against Chavez; and the abstention by opposition parties in the national assembly election of December, 2005, all failed to answer the simple question: What are you trying to do? That has changed with this year’s crop of presidential candidates seeking to challenge Chavez.
All of the challengers are presenting constructive solutions for using oil wealth to defeat poverty, corruption and insecurity while restoring sanity to Venezuelan life. By July, one of them will emerge as the unified leader to offer voters the first real choice in an election in recent memory.
By providing the poor with 10 percent of government revenues in the next five years – from $40 to $50 billion – poverty can be eliminated in Venezuela. That direct investment would double the income of the bottom half of the population, freeing them to solve their economic problems in liberty and not depending on the state.
This solution has been applied elsewhere to develop open markets, free enterprise and rapid economic growth. An example is Alaska, where government finance of indigenous corporations in combination with annual direct oil fund payments to the population produced these results in one generation: poverty fell from 67 percent to 18 percent; the gap between rich and poor in Alaska became the smallest in all the 50 states; indigenous corporations earned over $30 billion; the oil companies invested a lot and earned a lot from a stable rule of law; and the Alaska economy boomed, adding two million barrels of oil a day to US production. Norway has a similar story with its oil fund dedicated to national health and pensions. The $30 billion Alaska oil fund and the $160 billion Norway oil fund have also helped stabilize their economies for growth.
The poor of Venezuela will hear a similar proposition in the 2006 presidential campaign. Poverty can be eliminated in five years; the economy can double in size as the poor invest $40 billion in wealth creation activities; government corruption and insecurity can be drastically curtailed; and PDVSA can get back on track as a professional oil company. The Chavez militarization of PDVSA has cut its production capacity to 2mbpd when it should be at 5mbpd and going to 8mbpd by 2010. The Chavez asymmetric war plan is to jack up the world oil price, create dependent client-states in Latin America against US power, and trigger a global oil recession against Mr. Danger of the Evil Empire. Whether the poor will vote for that over eliminating poverty is what we are about to see.
Michael Rowan, a former president of the International Association of Political Consultants, is a journalist living in Caracas. This article is excerpted from Getting Over Chavez and Poverty which is available at Michael.Rowan.email@example.com