Fighting poverty by keeping people poor

EdoWhen Hugo Chávez was alive, sometimes, in his rare bouts of sanity, he made it sound as if the Revolution really had good intentions. “Socialism”, he would say, “is also for the middle class. This Revolution is for you!” (Note: Check out this video – in Spanish – for a reminder of the rhetorical brilliance of Chávez)

But it seems as though his heirs want nothing to do with middle-class values. During the presentation of the aptly called “Campaign to Fight Extreme Poverty”, Education Minister Héctor Rodríguez said this:

“…It’s not like we (the government) are gonna take the people out of poverty so they become middle class and then turn into escuálidos (term used by Chavistas to call opposition supporters)”.

He also said that poverty “…is very complex and difficult to measure”. So, that old argument about how the social missions defeated extreme poverty in Venezuela doesn’t quite fly, isn’t it?

Don’t be surprised if Mr. Rodríguez now pulls out a Vielma Mora: Saying that the words he previously said don’t really mean that at all. I give him no more than a day or two tops. Depending on the breaks…

The outburst by Rodríguez points to a radical contradiction inside chavismo: the idea that you can foster a communist society by giving away free stuff. The insane notion that people will grow to love communism through free washers, subsidized trips abroad, and free gas is self-defeating, because marxism is based on the notion that the material aspirations one typically associates with middle-class values are bourgeois, anathema to the “new man” they claim to want to create.

Only a rhetorical magician like Hugo Chávez could maintain the illusion that, yes, socialism meant improving your material standard of living. Without him to tame his minions into message discipline, the truth is going to spill out from time to time.

NOTE: For more on this topic, check out Willy McKey’s piece in Prodavinci, en español…

36 thoughts on “Fighting poverty by keeping people poor

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  1. The middle class makes a country stable and it is harder to overthrow the government. Communists know this. They just babble about helping the middle class to avoid the inevitable conflict as long as possible while they work their schemes to destroy it and make everybody poor. Ditto for Obama.


    • I remember hearing lines that were quickly dropped from the Obama 2008 stump speeches, they decried the American Dream of upward mobility as “middleclassism”. That kind of socialist rhetoric was probably hard for their handlers to keep suppressing.


  2. Chavez appealed to the middle class when he needed their votes. And now, their mask has fallen. This is a government for the poor, so they want them to remain poor. And it has always been like that.


  3. I’m surprised to my own reaction to this because every time (every day) they do something, I get more impressed by their assholeness.


  4. so the government, whose duty is to provide education for its constituents and opportunities for them to leave poverty behind, needs said constituents to remain ignorant and poor and depending on government handouts in order to remain in office… what a predicament. I wonder what the good socialist souls of Fidel and Godgiven and Raf-Ram will choose to do…


  5. Are we still going to use labels such as “socialism” and “communism”? Come on you guys, we can do better than that. Now you really sound like the stinking derecha venezolana label that the Chavistas have always used on us. Please do go beyond labels. There is not such a thing as socialism or fascism these days. These terms are very misleading. There are good governments and bad governments, that is all. The current Venezuelan government is lousy, inefficient and corrupt, to say the least. Yet there have been good “socialist” governments or even good socialist societies. Just look up at Canada, a country that -by the way- has a very strong middle class. Ooops… almost everyone is middle class up there in the north.


    • “No true Scotsman…”

      We use labels such as “socialism” and “communism” because the regime use them themselves. Chavez proclaimed himself a communist, and Maduro’s government is “building socialism”.


      • Sure enough, but we could perhaps point at the ridiculous contradictions of the whole system.

        Rob had a good comment down here.

        One of the problems is that there is a comprehensive literature on communism and socialism.

        Even in the Soviet Union leaders were not saying they lived under communism, even during Stalin times. Even then – thus, before things crumbled down and they had to look for an excuse – they were stating they were moving towards communism but they were in a socialist phase.

        And even within the socialist phase they had to switch words here and there to keep the lie: they turn from talking about “revolutionary socialism” to “developed socialism”…as they realised they had to move people into accepting a status quo. The implications to a change for what Lenin and Marx before had initially expected were neither palatable nor realistic for anyone.

        But here we just forget about all these theoretical stuff, you are having a hard time trying to explain someone with a minimum of understanding of what communism or socialism should be that Venezuela is a socialist country when
        the person complaining about that earns sometimes 12 times more than the average Venezuelan and has property that is valuable as 100 times more than that of the usual slum dweller.

        Yes, we have already an autocratic government full of commies. Yes, the economy is heavily dependent on the State and the ruling party is almost one with the State. Yes, we have scarcity economy just like in a socialist regime.

        And yet it is more of a feudal autocratic state ruled by socialists than something else.
        I think that is not only more exact but it would hurt more Chavistas if we said so
        because the signs of that are pretty evident when you see them driving around in their SUVs.


  6. The expansion of the middle class is the way to go, not only that but the living standards of the middle class has to develop as well. Ideology and pretty poetry have made a good job at disguising the obvious:

    The gap between poor and rich is getting larger every month, middle class is becoming inexistant.And all thanks to…A charismatic leader.

    Recite some more poetry


  7. @Pascal

    “Is not real socialism” is the excuse of those that care more about defending socialism than the violation of human rights that socialist regimes usually commit. Aka is what assholes say. Not True Scotsman is not considered a real argument for a reason.

    To the subject, this should show the pro-chavez base (whatever’s left of it, heh) the open contempt that the likes of Maduro, Diosdado, etc, have for them. I mean, even the worse than an oppo could say about a chavista is less degrading than the admission that they care more about votes than about getting people out of poverty.

    What people say show their priorities.


  8. This is not entirely unrelated to the article at hand.I’m still trying to get over this article.

    Can we all inform the nice people of Aljazeera what’s really going on?

    I can’t believe that such an irresponsible bit of “journalism” was published on that platform. I left a fairly lengthy response in the comment tackling only a few of the mistakes, cherry-picked facts and half-lies that this article puts forth, but I invite the rest of you all to do the same. People in the world need to see what’s really going on. As long as articles such as this are allowed to appear unchallenged, we continue to project this image to the world that things in Venezuela are really not bad at all, and we all know that’s not the case.


    • Surprised to see it on Al Jazeera? You gotta be kidding me, what else would you expect on that “platform” but propaganda and half truths?

      On this whole socialism/communism love affair that the “left” has with Cuba and other tyrannical regimes like the Venezuelan one, I recommend you read Marco Rubio’s reply with regards to Sen. Harkin’s recent trip to Cuba. The transcript is on Caracas Gringo’s site At least someone is starting to speak out…


  9. All good points. I would just also add that the remark reflects a paternalism and sense of entitlement you see in this regime that you might also see in say, 18th century french royalty….


  10. I’ve often figured that attacking the GINI numerator chasing the wealthy and educated away was the first step in income equality in Venezuela. The second step was to simply erode away the entire income structure through inflation such that everyone in Venezuela was inevitably equally poor. Of course, this ultimately leads to the third and final step, which I cannot name for fear of giving away the game here, but I’m sure you can imagine. In the Orwellian fashion that has risen of late in Venezuela, where things are the opposite of what they are, lets just call it good old-fashioned “Bolivarianism”.

    Hecho en socialismo indeed.


    • Speaking of Orwell, as part of our unit on 1984, my 10th graders just presented on world communist “leaders” and the overt similarities between “the party”, the “citizens”, and modern day communist countries… I can’t believe I forgot to add Chavez to the list!! UGH!!

      Btw, reading it this time around- with the crisis going on in Vzla- wow! talk about driving a point home!
      Even the kids- who are generally oblivious to current events, especially international, caught the drift!


  11. Remember all of those wonderful statistics produced by prominent UN agencies a few years back promoting the idea that a strong percentage of South America’s poor were finally rising out of poverty? Numbers don’t lie! Remember the subtle hints from said statistics which proudly pointed to this new wave of more socially responsible political leadership in South America? Within this news reportage there would usually be a photograph of a smiling/triumphant Chavez having just had over a trillion dollars flow through his fingers. A trillion. Perhaps more. They did it! They conquered poverty!

    Yet today, it’s ALL gone….Er, what’s left? And, what was accomplished? Today, with every turning of the printing press of the Central Bank of Venezuela, millions of brand new Bolivars are dumped onto the economy. They land with a thud all over the country. New ones. Freshly printed. There are so many of them that they flood over the border and into the streets of Cucuta. “Want em? Anyone want em?” Inflation is now, what? 50%? 70%? Who really knows. With each percentage increase in inflation, millions and millions of new people in Venezuela will be swept into a more devastating poverty than before. No question. It’s gonna be bad, real bad. What really too place in Venezuela over these ‘revolutionary’ years was an economic farce. It was grand theft on a human scale never before witnessed in history. Billions of petro dollars squandered away. Make no mistake, it will be the poor who will suffer the most. The NEW statistics,…..will not lie.


  12. Why would he assume that once people reach middle class they will not be chavistas anymore? I find that “peculiar”


    • Because in the chavistas mind, ANY power source that doesnt come from them is a risk of people becoming “squalid”.

      Even self-reliance. If you have a job, a real one, on a real industry or service, producing real goods, earning real money and being able to organize your life as yo use fit… what levers do they have to movilize you? You are now an independent variable, who knows what you may think?

      Better if you are fed ONLY if you go to the party rally…


  13. Actually, this statement by that man called my attention as well.
    Maduro’s apparatchiks are realising petrodollars in Venezuela are giving less value every day.
    They still probably don’t realise how much faster those petrodollars are losing their value now than before they came to power, but they realise they are just running out of
    cargo presents for the crowd.

    Now, I have to say that indeed this is still not socialism. I know you feel pissed off when socialists and commies always explain, after things go wrong, that that was not socialism. I will write about the whole thing in Spanish in my Spanish blog and send it to Venezuelans students, but here suffice it to say:

    Yes, it is still not socialism even if they are the usual crappy socialist autocrats (as opposed to good or bad social democrats one can see in Continental Europe).
    Now: Venezuela never was a capitalist country, even if many wanted it to be. It was a feudal, a petro-feudal country. And it is still one, but one with much more represition and zero real pluralism, which we did have before.

    As for this: it shows the contradictions indeed Chavistas are faced with. I doubt this bloke ever finished reading the short Communist Manifesto … if he ever read it.
    Under communism classes are bound to disappear.
    Marx talked about an initial dictatorship of workers.
    He thought that could happen only in a capitalist state.
    Fact was that it initially happened in a feudal state – Russia.
    So Lenin had to modify things retroactively. But he also pretended it was a workers’
    dictatorship. The only thing is that the “councils” – the soviets – rapidly, almost
    immediately in most cases, became a business of the party, which was and must be always centralised. And Stalin got this more entrenched still.

    Anyway, going back to this character from our story: of course, they are not as sophisticated as to understand any of this. They just noticed
    “no hay plata, güevón, y aquí los que mandamos somos nosotros”.

    So I think our students should be the ones to delve a little bit into the meaning of this whole rhetorical rubbish, ponder on that and explain that to the people by reaching out with those flyers – not in the Cota Mil but in the bus terminals with buses heading to urban centres where the regime still had the majority last December.

    I know Venezuelans tend to read little but just an article like this
    (or the translation of that into our language) could be helpful to give rhetorical ammunition for all those students once this apparatchik starts to recant or reformulate those very revealing words.


    • “But it seems as though his heirs want nothing to do with middle-class values…”
      Really? So this is something new? You make it sound like Maduro and his fellow party members are newly arrived to government. More than that, as if Chávez’s policies were sound, and it’s only now that Venezuela is being ruled by a bunch of cynical SOBs.
      ¡Qué vaina con la desmemoria del venezolano! ¿O es que aquí ya han olvidado que lo de que “Los pobres tendrán que seguir siendo pobres, los necesitamos así!” ya lo dijo el inefable Jorge Giordani, y además en presencia de Chávez? Que ahora descubro que es admirado por los de Caracas Chronicles…


      • The problem with Giordani’s infamous statement was that there was not a video evidence of it recorded anywhere, it was Guaicaipuro Lameda who said that Giordani spat that rubbish, so the hardcore or just cynical chavistas could just claim that Lameda was a traitor and shut their brains to the idea.
        But this time, thanks to this moron’s creativity, or just the impulse to troll that every chavista bureaucrat has, we have video evidence to support the idea that forms the core of chavismo: That they’re just a bunch of opportunist hypocrites (This guy uses Nike shoes, Adiddas and Tommy Hilfiger clothes, and a journalist at Globovision once shut him up by just poiting his wear choices)
        So, when any chavista tries to spew the idea that chavismo isn’t just an attack to middle class people on Venezuela, go and show them that video to shut them up.
        On the other hand, I guess saying something so damaging for the “process” image would easily cost thus guy the position he holds as minister today.


  14. The character who said that they will not take people out of poverty was quite correct. In fact the only mistake he made was to admit that was the case.
    The fundamental flaw with communism is that once the lives of the “disadvantaged” are supposedly improving, on the road to “normal”, who the hell thereafter needs communism ?
    And that is why communist countries keep the poor poor. It justifies their continued existence.

    I can only assume that Education Minister Héctor Rodríguez has only been half indoctrinated to the process and missed out the bit about not telling people the truth. I suspect he will soon learn part 2, a bit like that backtracking Governor a few days ago.


  15. There is a left wing ideological distrust of affluence as having a corrupting influence on people , goes back to the influence of Rousseau and the early puritans . Too much wellbeing and love of personal comfort can make people take to bourgois values and thus to the betrayal of socialist principles which formally sponsor ascetically unwordly lives of dedication to the collective values of universal philantrophy .

    Modern capitalism has made rampant consumerism into one of its foremost pillars , This perhaps explains the Ministers concern for giving poverty ridden people a better life but not one which will make them take to capitalist consumerist values . Ever wonder why they call Giordany ‘the Monk’.??

    In Cuba people are allowed barely to cover their basic life needs but not permitted or encouraged to seek to improve the quality of their life beyond a virtuous minimum, something that might make them concern themselves with the venal (capitalist) pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families. Venality is vilified and Wealth accumulation criminalized . People should be virtuously poor or rather live stuck in the fringes of a softened poverty for their own good.!!

    Venezuelans of all classes are all devoted consumerists , not excluding the boliburgeses and the higher reaches of the regimes nomenclatura , its going to be hard going for these govt ideological purists to convince the regime followers to accept to live in piously red monkish style..!! .


  16. I would redact one sentence in your post. Where you clarify the meaning of “escualidos,” I would add the adjective “pejorative.” It is important that the world sees the semantic wars that the gov used and the powerful effect they had on creating the divide that now exists in Venezuela, the us vs. them mentality that another post in the blog highlights.


  17. I think the worst part of the speech (maybe it’s just me) was when he said that they are going to change how they measure poverty. This new “necesidades satisfechas” system is very subjective and “guabinoso” to measure. I can imagine the government saying: “We give free healthcare, housing, we have mercal, etc etc.. so every citizen have their “necesidades satisfechas”! (Why nobody talks about this?)


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