Venezuela’s failure to develop an effective strategy to reduce its
economy’s dependence on gas and oil threatens the social successes and
future viability of the Bolivarian project.
Over the 15 years of the Bolivarian government in Venezuela,
significant changes have taken place in the political culture, the
social and organisational fabric, and the material living conditions of
previously excluded low-income groups. Through multiple social policies
(known as “missions”) aimed at different sectors of the population,
levels of poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced significantly.
According to ECLAC, Venezuela has become – together with Uruguay –
one of the two countries with the lowest levels of inequality in Latin
America. People are better fed. Effective literacy programmes have been
carried out. With Cuban support, the Barrio Adentro mission has brought
primary medical care to rural and urban low-income groups throughout the
The state pensions system has been massively expanded to include
millions of older people. The increase in university enrolment has been
equally extraordinary. For the last few years, a housing programme for
people with low incomes has been taken forward. Unemployment has been
kept at a low level and informal-sector employment has been reduced from
51% in mid-1999 to 41% in mid-2014.
The amount spent on social investment between 1999 and 2013 is
estimated to total some US$650 billion. According to the UNDP,
Venezuela’s Human Development Index rose from 0.662 in the year 2000 to
0.748 in 2012, taking the country’s human development ranking from
medium to high.
This has been a time of dynamic grassroots organising and
participation, with the setting up of Water Committees and Community
Councils, Health Committees, Urban Land Committees, Communal Councils,
Communes... Most of this organisational dynamism was the result of
government policies expressly aimed at promoting these processes.
Equally important has been the weight of Venezuela’s experience –
particularly its constitutional reform process – in the progressive
shift or turn to the left that has taken place in Latin America over
these years. Its influence has also been important in the setting up of
various regional integration mechanisms – UNASUR, CELAC, Petrocaribe,
ALBA – that have strengthened the region’s autonomy and lessened its
historical dependence on the United States.
Nevertheless, the social changes that have taken place were not the
result of equally profound changes in the country’s economic structure.
On the contrary, the last fifteen years have seen a consolidation of the
rentier state model, with an increased dependency on revenue from oil
exports. Oil’s share of total export value rose from 68.7% in 1998 to
96% in the last few years. The value of non-oil exports and private
sector exports has fallen in absolute terms during this time. Industry’s
contribution to GDP shrank from 17% in 2000 to 13% in 2013. 
October 24, 2014