Red with envy

Hugo Chávez likes to boast that he is some sort of innovator when it comes to social policies and that the opposition has no answers. Never mind that his vaunted misiones, a half-baked hodgepodge of cash handouts, Cuban assistance and supply subsidies, have long ceased being effective. He has created his myth, and doggone it, he’s sticking with it.

Yet we know the opposition has finally turned a corner when, faced with reality, Chávez resorts to stealing their ideas.

As evidenced by the improvised, quasi-hysterical reaction to recent flooding, the government has run out of answers and ideas when it comes to helping Venezuela’s most vulnerable. What has Chávez thought of lately? The answer, my friend, is floating in the wind… of the La Carlota airbase.

Carlos Ocariz is the charismatic mayor of Sucre municipality in eastern Caracas. Experienced in the seldomly-practiced extreme sport of patear barrios, Ocariz has worked hard to implement social programs long the domain of larger, better-funded bureaucracies.

The schemes have proven so popular that Chávez is now stealing images from Sucre’s programs as advertisement … for his nonexistent social policy. I guess in his mind, these are his programs too – after all, isn’t that his Central Bank president’s signature on the back of those bills?

I spoke to one of the designers of the programs because, frankly, I had no idea what they were.

They have several. Many of them are boilerplate, in that they provide services unconditionally.  There is the provision of school equipment, a program named Equípate y Progresa; another, named Contrólate y Progresa, provides free checkups and nutritional assistance to more than 2,000 pregnant women; and another one, Aliméntate y Progresa, provides snacks for students in early stages of schooling.

Other programs are geared toward repairing public sports venues, providing day-care facilities, fixing neighborhood clinics, and maintaining senior-citizen centers.

These programs, while commendable, are not particularly groundbreaking. However, Sucre also has a conditional cash transfer program, similar to Bolsa Familia, that stands out.

Its name is Estudia y Progresa. It provides a cash stipend for mothers of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in municipally-held schools that can show their students are attending 85% of their classes.

My source tells me the rate of success has been good, and improving. In the first month, 75% of eligible mothers signed up for the program, with 33% of them not receiving the money due to their kids not reaching the attendance threshhold. By the fourth month, the number not reaching the threshhold was down to 12%.

Programs like these are leaving a mark, and are helping keep Ocariz at healthy levels of job approval. The experience we get from implementing these novel programs will prove valuable once this nightmare is over.

One can only hope Chávez imitates Ocariz’s ideas and policies, and not stick to just stealing his images.