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Saturday, August 27, 2005

President Chavez On His Accomplishments

In light of Bush ally, the so-called "Reverend", Pat Robinson's call for "taking out" President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, I thought it would be interesting to see how this (democratically-elected) "dictator" (as Robinson calls him) views his accomplishments after 1,500 days in office. Ironically, there is none of the swagger, boasting or drunk-with-power chest-beating that attends the "Reverend's" compassionate buddy in the White House. What a difference between the Hugo Chavez characterized by the vitriol of the Right-Wing and the Hugo Chavez presented here.

M: Can you talk a bit more about what your government has accomplished?

H: We’ve had 1,500 days in government, almost 4 years. Let’s take the balance of that time.In the health sector, we have dramatically reduced infant mortality. It was at 24 per 1,000 when I came to power, and it is now at 17 per thousand. We should put that into human terms and scale, because sometimes these numbers seem cold. Going from 24 to 17 means a 30% reduction, which translated into real numbers means that thousands of children’s lives have been saved and they have survived, where previously they died just for being poor, or not having access to health services. Before, many expecting mothers did not go to the hospital, or their baby wasn’t vaccinated after birth. We have greatly improved pre-natal care, and expanded the capability of hospitals. We’ve carried through a successful immunization plan, in order to really get at the causes of mortality.For the first time in Venezuelan history, a president has advanced massive child immunization campaigns against hepatitis B. We’ve brought down the infection rate by 15%. We’ve reduced school truancy, and school enrollment has gone up 30%—that’s 30% over what it was. With this increase, we have brought 90% of truant children into the school system. It’s a tremendous accomplishment. We’ve built schools all over the place. We’ve hired thousands of new teachers. We’ve raised the teacher salaries to their highest levels ever.We’ve initiated the Bolivarian Schools program. We have one of the first Bolivarian high schools opening this afternoon. It’s in Amazonas state, where I traveled two and a half years ago. While there, I was approached by a group of teenage boys, who complained about the lack of money for their school. It was a dirty school without running water or clean bathrooms. Today, it is a beautiful school! I’ll update you on our progress up to today. We’ve created hundreds of schools across the country. Schools that were operating at a third of their capacity, we’ve invested millions of bolivares into these schools; we’ve made them like new. School districts that used to serve only 3,000 kids now serve thousands more. We’ve reduced school absenteeism from 10% in 1998 to 3% today. For the first time in Venezuelan history, anyone can be an athlete. I suffered my whole life from lack of access to baseballs and other sporting equipment. There was no equipment; there were no baseball diamonds. We’ve redone all the sports facilities across the country. We have the most and the finest sports installations in all of Latin America. The focus of our investment [in these installations] is at the school level.In the educational field, we’ve opened up nearly 3,000 Bolivarian schools, which represents about 10% of the total number of schools in the country, where children learn only after having breakfast first. Before these schools [existed], kids would arrive at school without having eaten breakfast. There’s not much you can learn on an empty stomach! Now they eat first and then go to classes. They have mini libraries in each classroom. They no longer have to work out of tiny individual desks, now they work at larger tables with more legroom and where they can spread out, and have some ownership of their personal space. They can pour out their creativity, receive medical attention, they have computer labs with internet access. They have theatres for dance, plays, music, sports activities. Later in the day they eat lunch there and have a snack at tea time, even if it’s just a little juice and a pastry. Education is very important to me. I certainly care about the fiscal deficit, but I care about children even more.

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