Paul Jay: Now, some of the critique is coming from the left; it’s not all coming from the right or from the elite. And I guess one of the critiques is: why isn’t there more of a rainy day fund? You know, when oil was riding high, why wasn’t there more reserves established for this time when the crisis hits? And why isn’t Venezuela in better position for a recession?
Gregory Wilpert: Well, I think Chávez really bought into the idea of peak oil, that the oil was running out, and that the high price of oil that we had three years ago was going to stay for the indefinite future. And so they felt, you know, the price of oil and the revenues would just keep on going up, and they ended up spending just about everything that was coming in. So there was no rainy day fund, and this was really a problem. It was a miscalculation. That caused an economic problem, and I think that brought along with it the crime wave.
Paul Jay: Talk a bit about the crime wave. It probably was the biggest issue in the metropolitan centers, where the Socialist Party did not do so well. Why isn’t there a more effective policy on crime?
Gregory Wilpert: I think there are several reasons. One is that Chávez himself hasn’t taken that problem that seriously. He always assumed that crime would go down when the economy would do better, when there was less poverty, and that was proved to be a false assumption: poverty decreased, but crime did not decrease, and then with the economic recession it went up even more. So that’s an important reason. Another that Chávez has mentioned himself is that he doesn’t think that fighting crime with the police is the best way to solve the problem of insecurity, rather that it should be done with more unconventional means of better education, better incomes, and things like that. . . .
Paul Jay: Because in terms of the Millennium Development Goals and the objectives of reducing poverty and increasing literacy, Venezuela has actually done pretty well, which is a story that doesn’t get out very often.
Gregory Wilpert: Yes, Venezuela is actually one of the few countries in the world that are almost certainly going to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Paul Jay: But, as you say, crime has gone up, not down, over this last couple of years, partly as the recession hit. And I know when I was in Venezuela a few years ago, there was this joke that if you get held up by a robber in the streets, don’t yell, because a policeman might come. This idea of the corruption of the police force, how legitimate is that charge?
Gregory Wilpert: Yes, that’s an absolutely serious problem. One of the main reasons that they’ve been turning to this problem so late is that the police force itself is hopelessly corrupt, and you cannot fight crime with a corrupt police force. Only in the past two years has the government really recognized that the police force itself is a problem; and it has proposed and instituted now a new national police force, which is supposed to replace the local police. But that’s a very long process because it requires the retraining of police officers and the purging of the old police forces. It’s a very long and complicated process that’s slated to take at least five years, by which time, of course, Chávez could very well lose another election.
Gregory Wilpert is a sociologist, freelance journalist, editor of Venezuelanalysis.com, and author of the recently published book Changing Venezuela by Taking Power. This video was released by The Real News on 3 October 2010. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the interview. See, also, Gregory Wilpert, “A New Opportunity for Venezuela’s Socialists” (Venezuelanalysis, 1 October 2010); Mark Weisbrot, “Venezuelan Election: Neither Surprising Nor Game-Changing” (MRZine, 28 September 2010); Gregory Wilpert, “Venezuela Assembly Elections Too Close to Call” (The Real News, 7 September 2010); Samuel Grove, “Crocodile Tears?” (New Left Project, 17 August 2010); Mark Weisbrot, “The Venezuelan Economy: Media Sources Get It Wrong, Again” (Center for Economic and Policy Research, 11 September 2010); and Mark Weisbrot and Rebecca Ray, “Update on the Venezuelan Economy” (Center for Economic and Policy Research, September 2010); Mark Weisbrot, “Venezuela Is Not Greece” (MRZine, 7 May 2010); Mark Weisbrot, “Venezuela Needs an Economic Development Strategy” (MRZine, 16 April 2010).