In the Neo-Liberal Ruins: Why Venezuela Matters

Jeffrey Sachs had the wit to foresee the doom in his own economic remedies for Bolivia in the mid-1980s. The crisis then was hyper-inflation. “If you’re bold,” he remembers telling Bolivians in power, “you could turn a poor, land-locked, hyper-inflated country into a poor, land-locked country with stable prices.” The problem that free markets, free trade and foreign direct investment didn’t solve over the next twenty years was majority poverty in a pigmentocracy, as Sachs put it on Open Source two years ago. Bolivia was “a society of division, a society of conquest,” in which the 10-percent elite of white skin and European blood had never been impelled to invest in the impoverished Indian masses.

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Julia Buxton here (20 minutes, 9 mb mp3)

Julia Buxton, Bradford University

With a bit of a vengeance, Julia Buxton here picks up the history of the unraveling of the so-called “Washington consensus” of free-market cures for Latin economies. Inequality in fact widened in most of Latin America under the investment rules of the 1990s. The rules had to change “because the model wasn’t working,” she says. But it was homegrown politics — “this constituency of resistance,” as Julia Buxton calls it — that drove the undoing of policy: in Venezuela (which elected Hugo Chavez president in 1998), Bolivia (where the neo-socialist and “cocalero” Evo Morales won election in 2005) and Ecuador (where Rafael Correa took power in 2006). Venezuela remains for Professor Buxton the world model of the post-Washington development reality: the regeneration of community politics and economic development go ever hand-in-hand; and the Washington connection is discounted, if not unplugged.

Julia Buxton teaches at Bradford University in the U.K. She writes on openDemocracy. And she cleared the air at Brown’s “Changes in the Andes” conference with a PowerPoint stemwinder that triggered this conversation.

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  • Brilliant!!! Kudos to you Julia Buxton for your extraordinary vision, insightful, searing perspective and delightful voice of reason. And thank you Chris for amplifying this voice and perspective.

  • jordon

    Increasingly, it seems that Open Source is the only venue for intelligent, non-ideological discussion about the revolution going on in Latin America. Thank god you guys are back on the air.

  • chena

    Julia Buxton is one of several academics bent on excusing Hugo Chavez’s dictatorship–to paraphrase Stephen Colbert– believing on Wednesday the exact things they believed on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday.

    Buxton’s statement that Chavez is “very tightly constrained” by democratic institutions is preposterous and reveals a suspension of disbelief on her part that borders on intellectual negligence.

    For example, associating Chavez’s revolution with the musical achievements of “El Sistema” is part and parcel of the apologists’ association of positive outcomes with Chavez. Follow the url given for the program “El Cambio: Latin America’s “Change,” and Ours” to Alice O’Keeffe’s article “Scaling the heights. The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela” and you can verify for yourself that José Antonio Abreu, the founder of ‘El Sistema’ started the program 30 years ago and that “…It has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.”

    But Buxton needs to cling to whatever is available to justify Chavez’s misrule.

    The simple truth is that the model that both Chavez and Evo Morales, as far as being replicated in other countries, is dependent on either sitting on top of huge natural gas reserves, or some of the richest oil fields in the world.

    All South Americans know and understand that Chavez owes his influence to Venezuela’s membership in OPEC (and as far as Ecuador’s Correa, add him too to the list of OPEC members with grandiose plans). This is the chief reason no Latin American scholars join the chorus of American and European apologists (see for an example of pro-Chavez propaganda).

    Chavez has nothing to ‘teach’ Mexico, Peru or Brazil. Which is exactly the reason the governments of these three countries have had to warn Chavez to quit meddling in their own internal political affairs through the spread of his petro-dollars.

    But why take the word of anyone who can be dismissed as a reactionary capitalist, bourgeois pig, etc., etc.?

    How about we start taking our role in shaping the public mood seriously and take seriously the opinion of intellectually honest, politically disinterested parties? Why not listen to coherent, eloquent, persuasive thinkers? Say, why not listen to an organization like Reporters without Borders?

    Are Reporters Without Borders agents of the CIA? Are they they the puppets of Uncle Sam? If you do believe they are, then dump them right along the side of the road with the “Miami Venezuelan Trash” that Hugo Chavez so piquantly dismisses.

    But just in case you have the intellectual integrity and personal honesty to accept that Hugo Chavez is not the messiah of the downtrodden, take a look at what Reporters Without Borders had to tell Nicholas Sarkozy about Hugo Chavez when the latter intervened in the ransom talks to free the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt:

  • samizdat

    “Are Reporters Without Borders agents of the CIA? Are they they the puppets of Uncle Sam?”

    quite possibly

    Reporters Without Borders Unmasked

    Reporters Without Borders and Washington’s Coups

    The Reporters Without Borders Fraud

    Reporters Without Borders and RCTV

    The deceit of Reporters Without Borders

    not a reliable organization in my view, please stop quoting them like they are an authority on venezuela.

  • chena, when you make the comment “associating Chavez’s revolution with the musical achievements of “El Sistema” is part and parcel of the apologists’ association of positive outcomes with Chavez.” Can you please explain to whom you refer (besides Julia Buxton) as “the apologists’” and more importantly what they’re apologizing for?

  • rc21

    chena,havent you figured out that liberals love dictators,as long as they are anti-American.

    Why the long love fest with communist Cuba,China, and the former USSR,just to name a few.

  • chena

    Redistribution of Wealth, without Redistribution of Power:

    If you’re going to buy the Chomsky/ZNet view of the world (Chavez = Good, Reporters without Borders = Bad), then throw Amnesty International (AI) into the bag of discredited, neo-colonial, imperialist, counter-revolutionaries. Why? Because AI reported the following about Venezuela:

    “Human rights defenders

    Human rights defenders continued to be threatened and intimidated. In May the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reiterated its concern at threats and other open hostility towards human rights defenders by government officials who publicly referred to human rights defenders as “coup plotters” and agents of instability. ”


    Being against Chavez doesn’t mean being in bed with Dick Cheney.

    While you’re at it, cast aside the opinion of the Organization of American States–since we know they’re all just puppets of the United States:


    The government carried out its decision not to renew the concession of Radio Caracas Televisión to broadcast on public airwaves; in addition, on May 25, 2007, the Supreme Court of Justice, through a precautionary measure, granted a new public television channel the use of RCTV’s equipment without any payment whatsoever. Furthermore, on May 27, 2007, the TV concessions of the Venezolana de Televisión and Venevisión channels expired and were renewed by the government with no explanation of the reasons for the difference in treatment given to those stations and to RCTV. The Office of the Rapporteur also expresses its unease regarding different statements made by members of the media indicating that they have been subject to threats, assaults and prior censorship, and regarding legal processes against journalists that were initiated during the second quarter by public officials.”


    Do all of this, secure in the knowledge that Latin Americans can’t possibly know what’s best for them and that the region cannot produce any intellectually viable alternatives. Instead throw your support wholeheartedly behind a Venezuelan army ‘caudillo’ who’s repeatedly assured his followers that he will be president for life.

    Thinking’s too hard! Just go with the symbols and what appears to be a noble cause, never mind that the hungry, the poor and the destitute, go longer without real improvement in their lives.

    On the other hand, you could join the ranks of those of us disillusioned with Chavez because he does not represent real change and because the longer he clings to absolute power, the worse things get.

  • Louie G

    Dr. Buxton glossed over some important connections between East Asia and the US which took her discussion into partially incorrect directions. With here allusion to a good portion of foreign investment into China coming From Japan and Taiwan (the Taiwanese invest in China more than the South Koreans do), she made it sound like China’s rise and current growth is and was independent of the US economy, but this is not true. The goal of East Asian investment in China is not necessarily to supply domestic markets, but to continue to supply the United States with cheaper products, which they otherwise would not be able to do, due to an increase in workers’ wages and a decrease in blue-collar populations in these countries. Where did the factories exist in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and part of the 80’s? The answer: South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. The cheap labor pools in these countries gradually decreased (Japan making the shift into a knowledge economy first), and China has picked up the slack. Thus, despite the source of investment in China, the money is still ultimately genetic to the US — the products are still primarily being sent to the same place. (Where are your Sony dvd players made?) Therefore, The idea that Venezuela IS separating itself from the US economy by looking for foreign investment from China is not correct.

  • Louie G


    If you really think liberals are engage in a love affair with China, open your eyes towards the anti-China demonstrations occurring throughout the United States and the world. It seems to me the only people engaged in a love affair with China are the business people racking in the profits incurred through the use of cheap labor.