Democrats empowering Venezuela’s poor – for real


Now that Hugo Chávez’s old adversaries have taken over Venezuela’s Parliament, they are adopting one of his populist tactics and doing it better. They want to give away the deeds to hundreds of thousands of homes that Mr. Chávez and his movement built — and win the loyalties of the nation’s poor for years to come, The New York Times reports:

Residents of Ciudad Miranda say the area is now run by armed gangs, known locally as colectivos, that are aligned with Mr. Maduro’s party. Despite losing its majority in the legislature, the president’s party won in Ciudad Miranda.

“The opposition is trying to imitate the popular aspects of Chavismo,” said Francisco Rodríguez, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, referring to Mr. Chávez’s political movement…. Julio Borges, the legislator who is drafting the law, argues that the homes will give capital to the poor for the first time, drive activity to help ease Venezuela’s economic crisis, and let the poor determine their own fates from now on…..

Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard economist who worked for the government in the 1990s, sees other benefits, too. By creating homeownership for Venezuela’s poor, lawmakers would create capital for those who did not have it, something that could lead to long-term social mobility.

“Having property rights means you have an asset, you are empowered,” he said, referring to past projects that did the same with Argentine public housing. “The effects are huge: You save, you invest, you improve your home.”

“It gets at the heart of what the economic model should be in Venezuela,” said David Smilde, a sociologist at Tulane University who lives in Caracas. “Should it be about poor people deciding what to do with their own property, or should it be about the government ultimately making the decisions?”

Venezuela’s democrats still face the problem of an openly pro-Maduro Supreme Court, which is hearing a set of cases that could reduce the opposition’s majority on allegations of pre-electoral abuses that numerous observers—domestic and international—have accused the government of using for over a decade, notes Christopher Sabatini, editor of and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

In its past election accompanying trips, UNASUR has failed to call out the Venezuelan regime’s pre-election abuses, he writes for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Resurgent Dictatorships blog:

Will UNASUR raise its timid voice to point out the hypocrisy of the PSUV’s attempt to cut into the opposition’s supermajority on the same grounds? Unlikely, because truly ensuring a fair election means more than just accompanying the electoral authorities on voting day. It means objectively and independently monitoring pre-electoral conditions and continuing observation to ensure the popular will be respected. After having endorsed a deeply flawed electoral process, UNASUR has no moral authority to avert what may well become a post-Election Day conflict.

Over the coming months, political demographers will be closely watching the evolution of events in Venezuela, notes Richard Cincotta, a Wilson Center global fellow and director of the Global Political Demography Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, DC.

Why? Theorists in this field expect states to rise to stable levels of liberal democracy when they meet two criteria. One is demographic, the other political. For the first time, Venezuela meets both:

Political demographers have demonstrated that stable levels of liberal democracy – as measured by a “free” rating in Freedom House’s annual “Freedom in the World” assessment – are associated with a country’s position in the age-structural transition. As fertility declines below three children per woman, as it has in two-thirds of all states and most outside of Africa, populations dramatically shift from a youthful profile – where children, adolescents, and young adults are in the majority – to distributions dominated by adults and seniors….

Regime characteristics matter, too. The same age-structural theory recognizes that democratic timing is constrained by a rather small set of durable illiberal regime types: highly ideological single-party regimes, post-revolutionary regimes, and those run by charismatic reformers. Each of these appears to be nearly immune to the otherwise powerful social, economic, and demographic forces that are associated with the age-structural transition and appear to stimulate political liberalization.


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