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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.

‘€œNicolas 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.

‘€œNow 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.

‘€œThe government sees this as sabotage,‘€ Smilde said, ‘€œsees 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.

‘€œThe 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.

‘€œMy heart really goes out to them and it‘€™s one of the reasons that keeps me working on this issue,‘€ Smilde said. ‘€œThere‘€™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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Life without Lead: Contamination, Crisis, and Hope in Uruguay

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Join the Environmental Studies Program and the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University in welcoming Daniel Renfrew, West Virginia University, who will giving a talk titled Life without Lead: Contamination, Crisis, and Hope in Uruguay on Thursday, February 21 at 5:00 PM in the Stone Auditorium as part of the EVST Focus on the Environment (FOTE) Speaker Series.

Life without Lead examines the social, political and environmental dimensions of a devastating lead poisoning epidemic. Drawing from a political ecology of health perspective, Daniel Renfrew situates the Uruguayan lead contamination crisis in relation to neoliberal reform, globalization, and the resurgence of the political Left in Latin America. He traces the rise of an environmental social justice movement and the local and transnational circulation of environmental ideologies and contested science. Through fine-grained ethnographic analysis, this book shows how combating contamination intersected with class politics, explores the relationship of lead poisoning to poverty, and debates the best way to identify and manage an unprecedented local environmental health problem.

Daniel Renfrew is an associate professor of Anthropology. He received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Binghamton University, State University of New York in 2007. Dr. Renfrew joined the WVU faculty in Fall 2008 after a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Towson University. Dr. Renfrew’s research interests span the environmental, urban, critical medical and political anthropology sub-fields, and his research draws from and contributes to interdisciplinary scholarship on political ecology, social movements, science and technology studies, and Latin American studies. His research has focused in particular on anthropological and political ecological analyses of environmental conflicts.

CIPR Speaker Series Critical Issues in Democractic Governance welcomes Sara Niedzwiecki

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Join the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies in welcoming Dr. Sara Niedzwieckia as part of the spring speaker series Critical Issues in Democratic Governance, on Friday, February 22, in 110A Jones Hall. Dr. Niedzwiecki will give a talk entitled Uneven Social Policies: The Politics of Subnational Variation in Latin America. Social policies can transform the lives of the poor and marginalized, yet implementation often limits their access. By examining variation in political motivations, state capacity, and policy legacies, it explains why some social policies are implemented more effectively than others, why some deliver votes to incumbent governments while others do not, and why regionally elected executives block the implementation of some but not all national policies. This analysis combines case studies with statistical analysis of conditional cash transfers and health policies in Argentina and Brazil.

The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to cipr@tulane.edu.

Dr. Niedzwiecki is an assistant professor of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2014). Her research focuses on comparative welfare states, multilevel governance, and Latin America. She is interested in the process through which social policies are formed and implemented in Latin America and beyond. Additionally, she studies the territorial structure of government, with an emphasis on the measurement of the authority of regional governments across countries.

Dr. Niedzwiecki’s forthcoming book examines the conditions under which social policies are successfully implemented in decentralized countries. More specifically, she examines how politics and capacity at state and local levels shape the implementation of healthcare and Conditional Cash Transfers. It draws from extensive fieldwork conducted in Brazil and Argentina.

David Smilde to join TULASO and debate team to discuss Venezuelan politics and US involvement

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Tulane Undergraduate Latin American Studies Organization (TULASO) and the Tulane Debate Team are proud to present a debate on the recent political crisis in Venezuela on Tuesday, February 26th at 8:00 PM in Jones 102. Professor David Smilde, the Charles A. And Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations and a Senior Fellow for the Washington Office on Latin America, will be participating in the event. Professor Smilde will be providing his expertise to give a background on Venezuelan internal politics while the debate will focus on U.S. involvement in Venezuela.

All are welcome to come view and learn from the debate as well as enjoy some delicious Latin American food.

Email Sofia Zemser at szemser@tulane.edu for additional information.

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Exiles within Exiles: The Extraordinary Life of Herbert Daniel, Gay Brazilian Revolutionary

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Join us in welcoming James N. Green for a talk entitled Exiles within Exiles: The Extraordinary Life of Herbert Daniel, Gay Brazilian Revolutionary on Wednesday, February 27, at 4:00 PM in Jones Hall 100A.

The talk is free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Christopher Dunn.

James N. Green is the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Professor of Modern Latin American History and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies Director of the Brazil Initiative at Brown University. He received his doctorate in Latin American history, with a specialization in Brazil, at UCLA in 1996. He has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and lived eight years in Brazil. He served as the Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Brown University from 2005 to 2008. He is a past president of the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) and served as the President of the New England Council on Latin American Studies (NECLAS) in 2008 and 2009. He is currently the Director of Brown’s Brazil Initiative; the Executive Director of the Brazilian Studies Association, housed at Brown; and the Director of the Opening the Archives Project.

The event is sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and the Department of History.

Critical Issues in Democratic Governance: Spring 2019 CIPR Series

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Latin America faces major threats to democratic governance, but there are also new opportunities for grassroots mobilization and social policy expansion. In Critical Issues in Democratic Governance the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research will host speakers to discuss emerging issues that have surfaced in democratic governance in the region. In Brazil, the AIDS movement constructed a powerful new advocacy coalition, with coordination between bureaucrats and activities. In Argentina and Brazil, there are sharp contrasts in the social welfare policies that governors and mayors have implemented, with profound consequences for livelihood of the poor and marginalized. Finally, the outbreak of violence across Latin America, under democratic regimes raises questions about how criminal organizations compete for influence over transnational illicit networks and infiltrate the state.

Spring 2019 Schedule

February 8, 2019
State-Sponsored Activism: Bureaucrats and Social Movements in Democratic Brazil
Jessica Rich, Marquette University

February 22, 2019
4:00 – 6:00 PM
Greenleaf Conference Room in Jones 100A
Uneven Social Policies: The Politics of Subnational Variation in Latin America
Sara Niedzwiecki, University of California, Santa Cruz

April 5, 2019
Homicidal Ecologies: Illicit Economies and Complicit States in Latin America
Deborah Yashar, Princeton University

Please RSVP to cipr@tulane.edu.