Venezuela: Militarism and social rights

Rafael Uzcátegui

During this past April, the 2008 Report on the global transfer of weapons was presented by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent organization founded in 1966 to investigate the problems of peace and global conflicts, placing emphasis on limiting arms build-up and promoting disarmament. SIPRI has become a resource for the global pacifist movement.

Among the findings of the Report is that international trade in conventional arms increased 21% between 2004-2008. In 2004 it had reached the lowest level of the past four decades. The United States continues to be the main global exporter with 31% of exports. More than one third of the exports go to the Middle East, where Israel accounts for 13% of trade, a figure superseded only by South Korea with 15%. The second largest arms exporter is Russia with 25% of total sales. The principle purchasers of Russian arms are China (with 42% of sales) y India (21%). By pursuing an aggressive new strategy of conquering new markets, the Russians have increased exports to Africa by 200% and to Latin America by 900%. The principle factor responsible for the growth in exports to our continent has been the trade deals with Venezuela. According to SIPRI’s statistics, our country has jumped from 55th to 18th on the list of global importers of military armaments from 2004-2008, acquiring $2,038 million, of which $1,944 million were paid to Russia. These figures reflect a high level of arms expenditures for a country with no known military conflicts. Colombia, in comparison, ranks 56th in the global rankings. Venezuela has only been surpassed in Latin America by Chile, who ranked in 11th place.

One of the historical questions of the pacifist and anti-military movement is the amount of money spend on armed forces in contrast to social investment. We can compare the previous data with the National Budget for the army in fiscal year 2009 to check the importance given to the military sector in comparison to economic, social and cultural rights. To see if the funds designated for the different ministries have increased during the year by special resources, the initial figures are revealing of the tendencies and rankings. In the first version, passed at the end of last year, the share designated for the governmental offices was 8.7% to ministry of defense the fifth largest, in order of magnitude ministry of education (24.7%), work and social security (12%), higher education (11.1%) and health (9.2%). The money designated for the operation of the Armed Forces exceeded the moneys budgeted for among others the sectors of nutrition, housing, agriculture, culture and sports. This version of the 2009 budget, the amount allocated to the Ministry of Defense was 8,816.6 million bolivares fuertes, which contrasts with the 5,617.3 million allocated to the social ministries. Of that number Misión Alimentación was allocated (45 %), followed by Madres del Barrio (14 %), “Proyecto Social Especial” (10.7%), Misión Sucre (8.8%), Fundación Samuel Robinson (5.5 %), Negra Hipólita (4.9%), Barrio Adentro (3.7 %), Universidad Bolivariana (3.6%), Misión Cultura (1.1%), Misión Milagro (0.9%), Misión Barrio Adentro Deportivo (0.6%), José Gregorio Hernández (0.3%), Misión Identidad (0.2 %), Plan Bolívar 2000 (0.2%). If we compare these expenditures to previous periods, it calls attention to the symbolic importance of that was given to Misión Barrio Adentro and that little importance it was given in the budget.

There is a question of how the National Budget will be remembered; it was approved by the National Assembly but it was modified because it had been calculated based on an average price of oil exports at $60 dollars a barrel, an optimistic amount for the global decline in crude. A partial revision was published officially on the March 26th and although detailed motives for the first version is not available, the official changes reinforce the previously described tendencies. The list of 27 ministries, the Office of Defense’s figure is in the top seven (8,978,331,046 Bs) now exceeding the social rights. The differences provide ample material to reflect on. The Venezuela’s military expenditures are double those designated for participation, triple those for food and housing, four times larger than expenditures for environmental protection, nine times greater than the social sector and twelve times greater than those destined for promotion of sports. The biggest breach is the allocation for native communities, the approved amount for the Armed Forced is 58 times larger that the amount corresponding to Ministry of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples.