Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Chavez’s Legacy, Global Growth Redux, and More

by Isobel Coleman
January 25, 2013

A man walks past a mural depicting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, January 9, 2013 (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Courtesy Reuters).


In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow covers stories from Latin America and the Middle East, as well as an IMF report. I hope you enjoy the selection.
  • Chavez’s Legacy: As Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez lingers in uncertain health, a New Yorker piece explores the capital city he is leaving behind. “After decades of neglect, poverty, corruption, and social upheaval,” it says, “Caracas has deteriorated beyond all measure.” Crime is rampant, trash and pollution widespread, and housing scarce. The article focuses on the government’s nebulous attitude toward property rights. Groups of squatters have invaded hundreds of buildings, including a half-finished skyscraper called the Tower of David. Some 3,000 people now live there, led by a Chavez partisan who paints himself as a benevolent manager but whom others call a thug. As the article says, many Caracas residents see the tower as “a byword for everything that is wrong with their society: a community of invaders living in their midst, controlled by armed gangsters with the tacit acquiescence of the Chavez government.”
  • Global Growth Redux: Like last week’s Global Economic Prospects report from the World Bank, this week’s IMF World Economic Outlook offers guarded optimism. “Global growth is projected to increase during 2013, as the factors underlying soft global activity are expected to subside,” it says. India’s growth should rise from 4.5 percent last year to 6.4 percent in 2014. Brazil is also set to rebound from 1 percent growth in 2012 to 4 percent next year and South Africa from 2.3 percent in 2012 to 4.1 percent in 2014. China’s growth should remain above 8 percent, up from 7.8 percent last year but down from 9.3 percent in 2011. Mexico is also projected to remain steady with 3.5 percent annual expansion. Meanwhile, the IMF expects the United States to grow more quickly than other major developed countries, with rates of 2 percent this year and 3 percent next. But all these projections depend on assumptions. Should excessive spending cuts take effect in Washington or the Eurozone’s recovery falter, the global outlook would darken.
  • Small Farmers and Supermarkets: Do small farmers benefit from selling their produce to large supermarket chains? An article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics (also summarized in a blog post by the author) suggests they do, but that only certain farmers get the chance. The study examines 396 farm households in Nicaragua, home to ten outlets of a national supermarket chain and an amazing seventy-eight Walmarts. It finds that farmers who join a supermarket supply chain achieve a gain in their “productive assets” (such as farm equipment and vehicles) of about 16 percent. This corresponds to a yearly income boost of around $200—some 15 percent of per capita GDP in 2012. Supplier agreements seem to unlock credit, helping farmers invest in more assets. However, a farm’s location and “access to year-round water” seem to determine whether it will be included in supply chains. While unsurprising, this result highlights the need to support farmers unlikely to receive such opportunities.
  • Democracy in Syria? Democracy’s prospects in a post-Assad Syria are uncertain. But it has apparently taken hold in the Oncupinar refugee camp in Turkey, where residents elected camp leaders last week. “For most of the 14,000 Syrians housed” at the camp, a Time article says, the vote “was the first free election in living memory.” Turkish officials came up with the idea for the vote and “provided the candidates with campaign materials, posters, flags, and balloons.” They also mandated that each camp district have a female candidate. According to the AP, Turkey’s economy minister called the elections “an important step that our Syrian brothers are taking on the path to democracy.” But as one refugee said, “this democracy here is very good, but it is more important to have it in Syria.”

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