Chavez's Record: An Oil Bonanza Squandered?
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) â¿¿ On the streets of Caracas, vast slums blanket the hillsides while squatters hang laundry in the windows of abandoned buildings. Trash-strewn alleys are riddled with potholes and lined with broken streetlamps. The city's main waterway, the polluted Guaire River, is known more for sewage than swimming.
While oil has ushered in spectacular construction projects for glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world's tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi, it's brought relatively meager changes to Venezuela, which holds the world's largest proven oil reserves.
Nearly 14 years after President Hugo Chavez took office, and despite the biggest oil bonanza in Venezuela's history, there's little outward sign of the nearly one trillion petrodollars that have flowed into the country.Venezuela has undoubtedly changed during Chavez's tenure. The populist president has used the oil wealth to buttress his support through cash handouts, state-run grocery stores and a gamut of other social programs. With more money in the economy, incomes are higher and the number of people living in poverty has fallen. Unemployment has dropped from more than 13 percent in 1999 to about 8 percent. The country has also achieved rapid improvement on the U.N. Human Development Index, which measures a range of indicators from living standards to life expectancy. "We're applying a successful program â¿¿ successful politically, successful socially, successful economically," Chavez said at a news conference. "With flaws, of course, but it's successful. We're laying the foundations of a historic project that will take our entire lifetime." All of which makes him a tough incumbent to beat in the upcoming Oct. 7 election. Yet some experts say Chavez could have done much more to improve the country's infrastructure, boost its economy and invest in the very oil industry that keeps Venezuela afloat.
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