YAR Travelogue from Venezuela No 4: A Chávez Supporter

After 3 blog posts describing conversations with Chávez opponents (or at least skeptics), its about time to offer a different perspective. Fortuantely, yesterday we arrived at the home of Andrés, a long-time friend of Charletta and a devoted Chávez supporter.

But before I get into more big picture politics, I’ll share my first-hand experience with the Venezuelan public healthcare system, the target of Chávez’s Mission Barrio Adentro (I hadn’t heard of it till I found this wikipedia entry). I went to a Integrated Diagnostic Centers (CDI in Spanish) in a poor neighborhood just outside of Maracaibo to have a throat infection looked at. Andrés explained that this was a level 3 clinic (level 1 being a doctor treating people in his or her own home). The system seemed fairly informal, but efficient. There were 20 people waiting in the lobby when we arrived. With no receptionist, Andrés simply went up to a doctor and asked her if they could examine me. She said yes and we sat and waited for 10 minutes. In that time, most of the people in the waiting room were moved through. And nobody paid any one or even talked to a receptionist.

Andrés explained that many of the doctors staffing these clinics are from Cuba. In exchange for Venezuelan oil, the Cuban government has sent 15,000 doctors and specialist to Venezuela (ref Wikipedia article above), paid for entirely by Cuba.

My experience of the clinic was very positive. After my 10 minute wait I was seen by a doctor who listened to my breathing, looked down my throat and gave me a prescription for Amoxicillin. As with the the British clinics that I am familiar with, there was no nurse who came to take my temperature and weight, etc or any second wait for the doctor to show up as I’m used to in the U.S. The whole visit (initial wait included) took no more than 15 minutes.

Andrés told us that despite the good salaries offered, many Venezuelan doctors refused to work at the clinics because they didn’t want to support Chávez. Which brings us back to the criticism of Chavez from my first Venezuela post. Emilio said that you had to have the right political opinions to get a government job or contract. To some extent, this appears to be a two way street as many of the Venezuelan elite don’t want to work for a Chávez government.

A good example of this is Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., the national Venezueland oil company. In late 2002, months after the attempted coup, many members of PVDSA went on strike against Chávez and halted oil production for 2 months. Andrés explained that, as a result, Chávez replaced 18,000 employees who had left their jobs with people who weren’t striking. Of course, critics say he fired them and hired people with the correct political views.

So the questions is, what part of this issue is anti-Chavez people refusing to work for his government and what part is the government not hiring people who disagree with it?

Andrés has so much to say about Chavez that I can’t fit it all in one post. In the next edition of YAR Travelogue from Venezuela:

  • The cooperative movement in Venezuela
  • the literacy campaign
  • subisidized groceries
  • industrias mixtas
  • a different view on corruption
  • the upcoming presidential elections in December