Post by Marines Pocaterra [Proyectos Arqui 5]
The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 was a landmark achievement for the international community. They constitute one of the few globally-supported, (193 countries) comprehensive development commitments. They establish specific, measurable benchmarks and targets to eradicate extreme poverty and promote peace and security. The eight goals tackle poverty, education, gender equality, child and maternal mortality, HIV and other diseases, environmental sustainability and encourage a global partnership for development. The targets are set to be achieved by 2015.
If we search the web for Latin American countries that have accomplished MDGs you will find that Venezuela and Cuba excel for their advances. Cuba is a regime that has transformed a country into a concentration camp, not a reference to compare with the free world. Venezuela’s information in the MDGs page, instead of annual publications, shows only a link to a webpage with colorful and very positive news about social advances (updated 2008). Many programs called Misiones are proclaimed but no statistics or charts about results to back the statements, although Venezuela has had the same president for almost 14 years.
Venezuela´s regime manages an extraordinary oil income with no legal controls or limitations. Pedro Palma, ex-president of Economic Science Academy, wonders if there are evaluation mechanisms for the social investment, which according to the government, amounts $ 500.000 Million (USA $) over the last 12 years.
To begin with, the measure for poverty used in the MDG is the “dollar a day” guideline, which cannot be used in Venezuela, due to opaque policies of exchange, with multiple (preferential) rates. It is illegal to even mention the real equivalence of local currency. Thus, if an NGO is offered social financing for a program, it would be very difficult to accept, because any international currency must be transformed into local currency at overvalued rates. To tackle poverty, the government has channeled oil profits over the past few years into a broad range of social programs, including an adult literacy campaign, housing initiatives, soup kitchens, subsidized food items, free health and dentistry care, which have benefited many Venezuelans. The means are suspiciously political as well as the accountability.
Economist Luis España, who heads the “poverty research program” in the Andrés Bello Catholic University, told IPS (Inter Press Service) that while the poverty rate has been reduced, that has occurred “within a bubble inflated by sudden high oil earnings that are being spent heavily, and if this revenue drops, household income will fall again, and we will return to the same structural poverty rates.” (1)
The public system of education has been complemented by religious lead education in poor areas, these schools have been deprived of convened resources. Almost no new facilities in 14 years have created a huge lag in capacity, mainly for the lower income sector. The statistics are not supplied regularly by the ministry, and the quality of public schools, teachers and materials has diminished also.
The Health Sector for poor areas was initially reinforced by Cuban doctors supposed to live inside the slums, 4 years later the majority of these modules were abandoned and invaded. The public system was abandoned and the hospitals recentralized to depend on central administration with disastrous results resulting in absolute numbers of hospital beds receding 25 years. Local, experienced doctors were expelled from hospitals and direction assigned to Cubans of doubtful capacity, most public facilities have lost all technical systems and chirurgical capacity for lack of maintenance. The child mortality has risen on account of deteriorating infrastructure. Newborns death rate by bacteria present in operating rooms is denied by the regime.
Achievements (30 years back) against malaria, tuberculosis have disappeared. Epidemics are not even measured today. Large ecological reserves of animal life, were taken from private owners with the excuse of handing land to farmers, and have not produced in years.
Environmental achievement is very difficult to assess, because of secrecy imposed to functionaries and the media. Huge scandals have leaked when contamination of large sources of water affects large cities. Polluted water reserves, frequent oil leaks, without application of contingency plans, have let whole cities without drinking water for months. The health hazards have not been investigated but water reserves for more than 3 million people have proven to be of doubtful quality.
We have many examples of inclusive urban policies in Latin America, but not in Venezuela that has decided to mock advances of urban knowledge. In 1999 the country had structured programs aiming to reduce the proportion of people living in slums, by upgrading their areas which were dismantled soon after Chavez became president.
While many Latin American countries diversify instruments and mechanisms for acquisition, zoning and regulation of urban land; instead of partnering with the construction sector, Venezuela narrows the options, outlaws the private sector. The private housing production has to be sold to the official sector, who decides who the beneficiary will be. The regime´s monopoly on construction materials and risk of invasions promoted by functionaries raises costs of construction and fuels inflation due to inefficient production.
While developing countries are applying legal instruments to recover incremental value of properties, generated by administrative measures, making them available to municipalities, to finance urban improvements; Venezuelan policy devaluates touristic infrastructure forcing hotels to receive the homeless for years without any compensation, allows huge office structures to become vertical slums, bringing along the process of alienation, inequalities and poor services that are conditions that generate poverty and high crime rates.
On urban themes it cannot be worse: The selection of land for new housing projects is either detached from the cities in costly operations (Ciudad Caribia) or evicting commercial use in main avenues, twisting the urban zoning and vocation. Also improvising with student projects resulting in real size models not sufficiently developed or integrated to their surroundings.
The concept of Urban Development has evolved from Estate Monopoly to instrument of promotion of private sector participation. Venezuela has gone the opposite way, denying credits to local firms, favors outsourcing to transnationals or military related partners with huge projects (railroad, subway, irrigation, etc.) which are often halted or abandoned. Industry in general is choked or blackmailed for access to currency. Is this Socialism? A form of State capitalism? Or sheer hypocrisy?
Metropolitan areas require a high level of Coordination among local and central governments in urban planning and environmental sustainability. Our cities have become political ghettos, where the opposition municipalities are denied the legal resources, sacked from their headquarters and officially ignored in their requests or coordinating activities.
“Bridging the urban Divide” is the title slogan for UNHABITAT State of the World Cities Report 2010-2011. The right to the city encapsulates the 4 dimensions of equality- economic, political, social and cultural- which combined will guarantee inclusiveness and sustainability.
Venezuela has managed to apply a series of Practices that violate all dimensions of the rights to the city, not only for the poor; the action extends to all segments of society. These practices have led to open corruption, the highest crime rate in America, deterioration of the workman´s conditions and his participation on urban issues.
The Worst Practices have also led the country to the highest accumulated debt, while receiving the highest income in its history.