Navigating Venezuela’s Data Desert

The government’s spent years covering official data on Venezuela’s martyred economy. But there are alternatives out there. Here’s a guided tour.

Photo: Sputnik News retrieved

In March 2014, the then President of Venezuela’s Central Bank (BCV), Nelson Merentes, claimed that the “Scarcity Index” (which measures the prevalence of consumer good shortages) was being reported to President Nicolás Maduro, but that BCV wasn’t going to allow such information to be used as a political weapon. Long story short: BCV would stop publishing the index.

This launched a campaign to conceal socio-economic data that, according to the Venezuelan Constitution, must be disclosed and made public on a regular basis.

Now, Venezuela is going through the deepest economic crisis in its history and with no official indicators to quantify the crisis, millions of decisions are being made blindly… or not made at all.

Maduro’s government is always trying to sell the idea that any indicator not coming from the BCV or the National Institute of Statistics is unreliable, but unofficial data is widely available, and its calculation methodology is more transparent than any official figures.

Instead of crying my eyes out over the ever-missing official socio-economic indicators, I’ll just make a catalog of the best indicators we have access to:

Inflation and GDP

The opposition majority in the National Assembly started calculating and publishing a national Consumer Price Index (CPI) in January, 2017, and a Monthly Economic Activity Indicator (as a GDP proxy) in December, 2017. The latter uses publicly available data on things like active oil rigs, vehicle sales and bank balances to generate a proxy for the secret GDP number — a fuller explanation is here.

Ángel Alvarado, a member of the AN, publishes them regularly on his website. If you’d like a more detailed tracking of price increases, you can get the Inflaciómetro for Caracas, calculated by CEDICE Libertad, straight into your inbox every two weeks by subscribing here.

Cost of the basic food basket

The Center for Documentation and Social Analysis of the Venezuelan Teachers Federation (known as Cendas-FVM) calculates the cost of the CPI food basket, the shortage of certain basic consumption goods and even the average cost of a worker’s lunch.

Cendas-FVM will regularly distribute the information via press releases.

State of local industries

The Venezuelan Industrial Confederation (known as Conindustria) publishes the results of a quarterly qualitative survey on the state of local industries to identify, for example, the main factors restricting local production, which shows a high correlation with Venezuela’s YOY growth rate of real GDP.

Central Government Budget

The Central Government Budget long ago became a saludo a la bandera,  and on top of that it’s almost impossible to access it. This is why Transparencia Venezuela decided to share all the documents related to government budgets on their website.

This NGO also tracked budget expenditures up to 2016 and créditos adicionales up to 2017.

Official Gazette

During the second semester of 2015, the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela (IPYS Venezuela) and Transparencia Venezuela organized a multidisciplinary team to create Vendata, an online search platform that provides easier access to Venezuelan official data. Vendata has released data from Venezuela´s official gazettes related to, for instance, designations of public officials, the creation of state companies and entities, the approval of laws, sanctions, expropriations and military ascensions, as well as data contained in the performance reports of the public Prosecutor’s Office, the Comptroller General’s Office and the Ombudsman.

Living conditions

Three of the most important universities in Venezuela (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Universidad Central de Venezuela and Universidad Simón Bolívar) launched a yearly nationwide survey of living conditions (known as Encovi) in 2014, to document socio-economic issues, including income and employment. You can find the results here.

Public hospital conditions

NGO Médicos por la Salud launched a yearly nationwide survey of public hospital conditions (known as ENH) in 2014. You can find the results here.

Child malnutrition

Since October 2016, Cáritas Venezuela, a Catholic church charity, has monitored child malnutrition in some of the country’s poorest parishes. You can find the results here.

High profile businessmen and politicians

Poderopedia is a collaborative data journalism platform that maps who’s who in Venezuela. You find details about high profile businessmen, politicians and even student leaders.

Mandatory broadcasts

Mandatory TV and radio presidential broadcasts have become an almost daily event. CIC-UCAB and Monitoreo Ciudadano joined efforts to put a number on how much this costs, and you can see all the data registered since 2013 here.

Cotejo Info started registering this number in 2018, and you can get it here.