In today’s program, Maria Paez Victor joins us from Toronto, Canada, to speak about the political, economic and social crisis in Venezuela and provides her perspective on political and social forces at play in Venezuela and the implications of a possible regime change for the poor Venezuelans and the Afro-Venezuelan community in general (at least 1 million). She also highlights the importance of Africans (Diaspora included) in paying attention and perhaps, being proactively involved in these developments.
In the past week, Venezuelans have come out to protest en masse in cities across the country. Some say they are protesting against the country's poor official exchange rate, others say they’re protesting against an extremely unstable economy, lack of basic goods like staple foods and toilet paper, and high crime rates and violence, and so on.
Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, over 15 years ago, Venezuela has witnessed a seismic social, political and economic shift as a result of a massive redistribution of the country's wealth that has evened out somewhat the extremely uneven and disparate economic landscape.
During this time, the material conditions of poor Venezuelans improved vastly. The Chávez government, for example, provided free public education, housing and health services. In just one decade, Venezuela advanced 7 places in the UN Human Development Index.The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean declared Venezuela the least unequal country of the region (GINI Coefficient) having reduced inequality by 54%.
Poverty levels are at 21% and extreme poverty dropped from 40% to 7.3%. Infant mortality has been reduced from 25/1000 (1990) to 10/1000. Major efforts were made to address the plight of Afro-Venezuelans who had been marginalized decades and remain at the bottom of the economic ladder in the country.
The Venezuelan economy is also doing very well. Its oil exports in 2013 amounted to $94 billion while its imports only reached $59.3 billion – a historically low record. The national reserves are at $22 billion and the economy has a surplus of 2.9% of GDP. The country has no significant onerous national or foreign debts. The multinational bank, Wells Fargo, has recently declared that Venezuela is one of the emerging economies that is most protected against any possible financial crisis and the Bank of America Merrill Lynch has recommended to its investors to buy Venezuelan government bonds.
Meanwhile, Feb 21, 2014, also marked 49 years since the assassination of the legendary American leader and human rights champion, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz aka Malcolm X, on February 21, 1965. His death came shortly after his return from Africa where he had spent almost 5 months (from July 11 to November 24, 1964) - a journey that influenced and broadened his perspectives on the struggle for the rights of African Americans and consolidated his position on the need for greater collaboration and relations between African Americans and Africa.
With all the challenges in Africa and the state of relations between African Americans and Africa today, the question is what would Malcolm X make of current world developments, forty nine years later on? What would he do, or say?
- Maria Páez Victor is a Venezuelan born sociologist, analyst and member of the Board of Governors of the Law (Reform) Commission of Ontario. She was educated in Caracas, New York, Mexico City, England and Canada. Her recent book is titled Liberty or Death! The Life and Campaigns of Richard L Vowell, British Legionnaire and Commander, Hero and Patriot of the Americas was published in 2013.
- Basir Mchawi is an educator and activist. Professor/Lecturer at Queens College / CUNY and the immediate past Chairman at International African Arts Festival, 40 years strong and still growing. He is also the executive producer of Education at Crossroads, a radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM, NYC.
- Tseliso Thipanyane
- Wuyi Jacobs