Saturday, February 12, 2005

Oil Revenue, TV and Choice of Policies

Hi Class,

Today, as I was doing my daily readings of Mexican and Latin American newspapers I found a piece in the Mexican newspaper La Crónica about Venezuela. I think it connects nicely with some of the topics that we have considered during our sessions.

The piece (I cannot put a permanent URL because of the way Crónica builds its website, but I will copy and paste the entire piece at the end of this post) talks about the decision of the government of Venezuela to constitute the Unidades de Defensa Popular (Popular Defense Units).

The creation of these units is a small part of the larger project presented by Chávez's government in November 2004 (you can get the full PDF file of the document in Spanish here). There is where you can find, among many other proposals, the idea to create TV Sur (the "Latin American Al-Jazeera"), the Universidad del Sur (Southern University), and many other ideas. Of course, all those things cost money. Venezuela has it (so far) since it has been able to cash into the current market of expensive oil.

However, the question remains. Are those projects the best policies to deal with Venezuela's and Latin America's problems. I am not so sure about that. As far as the media is concerned it is important to stress the fact that unlike what happened in the Arab world when Al-Jazeera came to exist, in Latin America we have had previous experiences of pan-Latin American TV channels that unfortunately have been unable to succeed. As I mentioned in class one was Eco, a venture of the Mexican firm Televisa. One more recent is a channel launched by the Organización de la Televisión Iberoamericana (you can see their scheduling here). They are trying something that Eco did in their last years on air. They broadcast the local newscasts from all the countries in the region as they were originally produced in the countries of origin.

Here in the US it is possible to get in Dish Network something similar to that. It is called Sur (interestingly the same name that Chávez proposed for his network)

As I mentioned in class you also can get CNN en Español, which is much more conservative than its sister network CNN International, mostly because of the dominance of Cuban journalists based in Miami. One problem I frequently have with CNN en Español is that for the most part their news about Mexico are old by the time they air them here in the U.S., although that is a bias of my own condition as newsjunkie and also of the fact that in the U.S. you can get both major networks from Mexico (Televisa and TV Azteca, plus almost all the newspapers).

That is the key difference with the Arab world, in Latin America the main issue is not censorship from the national governments (with the exception of Cuba) but the interest that the national publics have (or not) in getting their news from a continental media outlet as compared to a national or local one.

Moreover, you have very powerful private media in countries like Brazil (O'Globo), Venezuela (Venevisión), and Mexico (Televisa). These media outlets have agendas of their own and they do their best to pursue them. In Venezuela's case the media and Chávez have been on opposite sides of the table for most part of Chávez's tenure as President, however, you cannot assume that the same happens all over the region with the rulers.

Moreover, the question remains if the governments really need to outspend the private media outlets when trying to present their ideas. How much it costs? Is that the best use for the money? Where can we draw the lines between information and propaganda both for the private media outlets and the media outlets owned by the governments? Those are some of the questions that Venezuela's case prompts.

Take as an example the case of the Universidad del Sur, Southern University (page 20 of the document). It is interesting to observe that Chávez locates that proposal at the same level (Continue to impulse the new multipolar international system) than his proposals to create Petro-América and TV Sur.

Do we really need in Latin America yet another University? I do not think so. There are actually plenty of them, most of them in great need of cash.

Why he is interested in creating a new one? Why he is not offering, as an example, additional funds to existing (Venezuelan or Latin American) universities? What are the reasons behind the idea of creating an entirely new institution? Political? Educational? Geo-strategic? Unwillingness to follow academic rules and procedures?

Moreover, it is possible to find similar proposals and policies in many countries in the region. In the case of Mexico City, the mayor (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) decided to create a new public university. Now, you may think wow, that is cool, not? after all education is a good thing, but then the questions that his decision brings are many:

Why a new public university in a city that already concentrates the best public (and private institutions) in the country?

Why a new public university when all the other public universities (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Instituto Politécnico Nacional, etc.) in the city are facing severe problems with their finances?

Why not giving the funds to already existing public universities?

Why, on top of everything, his decision to neglect any requirement (like GPA or a standarized test) to attend this new university?

Moreover, the decision to create this new public university in the city (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México) contrasts with the unwillingness of the government of the city to share the fiscal burden of elementary and secondary education with the Mexican federal government, something that the rest of the states in Mexico do.

Ultimately, the question goes back to what are the specific choices, the policies, that the governments (national and local) all over the region are making, and what will be the consequences of such choices. Can we think that funding the Popular Defense Units, the "Latin American Al-Jazeera", or the Southern University are the best choices for a country living an oil-related bonanza?

If we take the lessons from the same Venezuela during the years of the first presidency of Carlos Andrés Pérez, Mexico during the years of José López Portillo (who also created a University in Mexico City, among many other things), or Ecuador during much of its recent history, the answer will be no. However, we cannot outrule any possibility at this moment.

The good thing about the Venezuelan case, for future analysis of it, is that Chávez is displaying a great deal of autonomy, of agency, in his choice of policies, there will be no way for him to blame, as the Argentinean peronistas like to do, the International Monetary Fund for the future outcome of his decisions.

* * *

Oposición acusa a Chávez de impulsar "milicias populares"
Notimex en Caracas
La Crónica de Hoy, Ciudad de México

La creación de Unidades de Defensa Popular (UDP), anunciada por el gobierno venezolano, busca involucrar a la ciudadanía en "hipótesis de conflicto no tradicionales" con el fin de formar "milicias populares", advirtió hoy la oposición.

El vicepresidente del Frente Institucional Militar (FIM), Rafael Huizi, dijo a Notimex que la iniciativa responde a una nueva doctrina militar que "se pasea por hipótesis de conflicto no tradicionales" para comprometer a la población en la defensa de la soberanía.

"Estos cambios en realidad se iniciaron desde el comienzo del gobierno con la modificación del concepto de la seguridad nacional en la Constitución de 1999", afirmó el dirigente de la agrupación de militares retirados.

Huizi recordó que en la Carta Magna vigente se establece que la seguridad de la nación "no es de exclusiva competencia de la Fuerza Armada Nacional (FAN), sino corresponde a todos los ciudadanos".

Sostuvo que las continuas referencias del presidente venezolano Hugo Chávez a una eventual agresión de Estados Unidos, así como los cambios en la doctrina militar de la FAN y la creación de UDP, buscan formar "milicias populares similares a las de Cuba".

"Sería la aplicación de una guerra popular como en la que se entrenan los cubanos", afirmó el dirigente del FIM en alusión a los Comités de Defensa de la Revolución que estableció el presidente Fidel Castro.

En la celebración de su fallida intentona golpista de 1992 contra el entonces gobierno de Carlos Andrés Pérez, el presidente Chávez llamó a formar las UDP y a la vez advirtió sobre las consecuencias de una eventual agresión del "imperialismo".

"Si al imperialismo se le ocurriera meterse con Venezuela tendrían que verse con el pueblo de (el Libertador Simón) Bolívar que está dispuesto a defender su soberanía, su patria su dignidad, y su grandeza", advirtió el jefe de Estado.

"Allá en el barrio, en cada barrio, allá en la quebrada, allá en el campo, allá en la fábrica (...) en el núcleo endógeno, allí deben ir naciendo unidades de defensa popular", desde 10 hasta 500 o más personas, dijo Chávez ante miles de seguidores.

El gobernante venezolano anunció que asignará recursos extraordinarios para que las UDP "vayan naciendo y se sigan incrementando" y subrayó que asumirá directamente su mando y el de las reservas de la FAN, que estimó en 80 mil personas.

El ministro de Economía Popular, Elías Jaua, señaló en fecha reciente que el gobierno formará cooperativas agrícolas integradas por 147 mil "lanceros", campesinos a quienes se dará instrucción militar para que ejerzan la defensa de la soberanía nacional.

"Se va a dar capacitación militar como orden cerrado, maniobras militares, uso de armamentos y otras actividades propias en cualquier entrenamiento militar de una reserva en este y otros países", aseguró el funcionario en entrevista con un diario local.

Jaua agregó que la iniciativa "no debe ser motivo de alarma", pues "nuestra Constitución y la ley de la FAN estipulan el ejercicio de la reserva como un derecho y un deber de todos los venezolanos y eso es lo que ha venido aplicando este gobierno".

Desde hace cuatro años, dirigentes opositores y militares disidentes acusan a Chávez de pretender crear "milicias" al servicio de su "revolución pacífica y democrática" y de reorientar políticamente a la reserva para que sea fiel al mandatario.

"La revolución busca conformar un ejército paralelo, una milicia, pues Chávez desconfía de la Fuerza Armada", advirtió el general retirado del Ejército, Juan Herrera.

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