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David Smilde speaks to PRI about Venezuela's economic crisis

Listen to PRI’s The World speak with Tulane University professor David Smilde who lives in Caracas, where he also works with the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO. Smilde believes the immediate cause of the current crisis in Venezuela is the decline in oil prices. But he says at least 10 years of economic mismanagement are to blame, too.

July 06, 2016
By Daniel Ofman

Not too long ago Venezuela was an oil-rich nation, with a seemingly bright future filled with economic prospects and great potential for growth.

Now Venezuela has an 180 percent inflation rate — and there are shortages of food, basic goods and power.

Tulane University professor David Smilde lives in Caracas, where he also works with the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO. He believes the immediate cause of the current crisis in Venezuela is the decline in oil prices. But he says at least 10 years of economic mismanagement are to blame, too.

“Nicolas Maduro inherited a set of policies from Hugo Chávez that were created during the good times. These were policies that were completely unsustainable, they were based on continual growth of income from oil,” Smilde said.

According to Smilde, when oil prices were high in the early 2000s the national revenue was mismanaged through the so-called “Bolivarian missions,” a series of government-funded social programs which Chávez started and Maduro has continued.

The Bolivarian missions included anti-poverty initiatives, the construction of free medical clinics, educational campaigns, and the enactment of food and housing subsidies. Critics have called these initiatives irresponsible handouts that didn’t account for potential recessions.

“Now oil revenues have dropped and Venezuela has very little productive capacity, so it can’t produce its own food really and it doesn’t have enough money to import what it needs,” Smilde said.

Venezuela is also suffering because it lacks economic diversity. During the years when oil prices were high, the country relied on oil revenues and imported most of its food. Declining oil prices took down the nation’s economy as a whole.

Venezuela has also accumulated large debt, which is making it even more difficult for the country to climb out of the current crisis.

So far the government has been “making sure to pay its foreign creditors but it has really been reducing the number of dollars that are assigned to importing food and other basic goods. People are really suffering,” Smilde said.

People are standing in lines for hours just to buy food at the grocery store. Others go to the streets and protest, carrying signs demanding food. “Bachaqueros,” nicknamed for carpenter ants which carry big loads on their backs, sell black-market goods to fill the void and turn a profit.

They may be making the crisis more tolerable, but the government doesn’t approve of them.

“The government sees this as sabotage,” Smilde said, “sees these people as traitors and so it has tried to clamp down on this bachaquerismo.”

Instead the Venezuelan government has promoted committees on local production and supply that are charged with taking bags of food directly to people. However, the system is incredibly inefficient.

“The real problem is that there’s just not enough food,” Smilde said. “It’s not a distribution problem, it’s a production problem.”

And Smilde says the committees makes supermarket lines worse by pulling merchandise from their shelves. Looting is becoming an increasing threat. Since May there have been an average of 10 lootings a day.

Smilde is fortunate to be able to visit the United States frequently, where he can pack suitcases full of goods to live on. Most Venezuelans do not have that luxury.

“My heart really goes out to them and it’s one of the reasons that keeps me working on this issue,” Smilde said. “There’s not a night that I don’t think about this: ‘What’s going to happen in the next six months?’ Because things are really ugly right now, but they can get significantly worse.”

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Stone Center for Latin American Studies to host 11th annual Workshop on Field Research Methods

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Join us at the Stone Center for Latin American Studies for the 11th Annual Weekend Workshop on Field Research Methods on Saturday, January 26, 2019. The deadline to apply for the workshop is January 15, 2019.

How will you get the data you need for your thesis or dissertation? Do you envision immersing yourself for months in the local culture, or tromping the hills and farms seeking respondents? Sorting through dusty archives? Observing musicians at work in the plaza? Downloading and crunching numbers on a computer? For any of these approaches: How might you get there, from here?

This workshop aims to help you approach your data collection and analysis for your thesis or dissertation topic, and to adapt and refine your topic to be more feasible. You will take your research project ideas to the next stop—whatever that may be, include raising travel grants. Learn to:

  • Plan more efficiently, feasible, and rewarding fieldwork
  • Prepare more compelling and persuasive grant proposals
  • Navigate choices of research methods and course offerings on campus
  • Become a better research and fieldwork team-member

Format
This is an engaged, hands-on, informal workshop. Everyone shares ideas and participates. We will explore and compare research approaches, share experiences and brainstorm alternatives. You will be encouraged to think differently about your topic, questions, and study sites as well as language preparation, budgets, and logistics. The participatory format is intended to spark constructive new thinking, strategies, and student networks to continue learning about (and conducting) field research.

Who is leading this?
Laura Murphy, PhD, faculty in Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, and affiliate faculty to the Stone Center for Latin American Studies.

Who is this for?
This workshop is targeted to Stone Center graduate students as well as graduate students from other programs (GOHB, CCC, humanities, sciences, and others) if space is available. The workshop will be particularly helpful for those who envision research with human subjects.

Sign up
Sign up as soon as you can! Apply by January 15, 2019, at the latest to confirm your stop. Send an email with the following details:

  • Your name
  • Department and Degree program
  • Year at Tulane
  • Prior experience in research, especially field research
  • Academic training in research design and methods
  • Include a 1-paragraphy statement of your current research interests and immediate plans/needs (i.e. organize summer field research)

Light breakfast and lunch will be provided. Not for credit.

For more information and/or to apply: Contact Laura Murphy or Jimmy Huck.