Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Venezuelan Hunger

Manuel Rueda published a story yesterday about the FAO giving an award to the Venezuelan government for its efforts to reduce hunger. The story was pretty sarcastic:

Despite going through food shortages that are so severe that people line up for hours outside supermarkets for basic staples like corn flour and chicken, Venezuela is making big strides in reducing hunger. Or so the UN says.

Two interesting (well, to me at least) and unrelated points.

First, food shortages and hunger reduction are two different issues and should not be lumped together. Lines for food may mean your government is inept, but it does not mean that you are starving. And when the UN talks about hunger, it means starving. Not "I'd prefer something different for dinner but can't because there are shortages" but rather "I have nothing to eat for dinner." This doesn't excuse the shortages, but rather separates them from the idea of getting nothing--or very little--at all.

Therefore it is an empirical question. Are fewer Venezuelan truly going hungry now than in the past? Through ECLAC's website, I was able to quickly generate this:

So yes, Venezuela has greatly reduced hunger. And yes, Venezuela has shortages.

Second, Manuel Rueda is on Twitter, and his story generated a discussion there. I still really enjoy the long form of blogging, but increasingly I find that Twitter is the place where interchange happens. The 140 character limitation is indeed, a limitation, but at the same time it forces you to get to the point quickly, and you can have pretty rapid discussion (as happened yesterday).


Justin Delacour 10:24 AM  

"The 140 character limitation is indeed, a limitation, but at the same time it forces you to get to the point quickly"

Indeed, so quickly that you ended up running with some false blurb you read on twitter about a supposed proposal to "ban" baby bottles in Venezuela. That proposal does not exist, which is perhaps a lesson in why scholars shouldn't be relying too much on twitter for information.

Pete 10:43 AM  


Justin Delacour 11:20 AM  

A lesson in why folks can't always rely on mainstream U.S. media either when it comes to Venezuelan politics. I repeat, there's no proposed ban on baby bottles. In fact, I'll give you the original passage from a Spanish-language EFE report about what this proposal to promote breast-feeding actually entails, and then I'll give you the short translation.

"El proyecto de ley prevé la prohibición de 'la promoción y publicidad de fórmulas lácteas adaptadas para niñas y niños, así como de teteros, tetinas y chupones y demás productos designados, en todos los medios de comunicación y demás medios publicitarios con accesibilidad en el territorio nacional.'"

Short translation: "The proposed law would prohibit 'the promotion and advertising of baby formula and of baby bottles in all mass media in the national territory."

The proposal is not to ban baby bottles or to remove them from store shelves but rather to prohibit the advertising and promotion of such products.

In fact, here's the next passage in the EFE report:

"Contempla medidas como la prohibición de la entrega gratuita de este tipo de artículos y de muestras promocionales."

Translation: "The plan contemplates measures such as the prohibition of the FREE distribution of these types of articles and of promotional displays."

In other words, there's nothing here about banning the sale of baby bottles and baby formula. Greg and a number of English-language media outlets have got the story wrong, and they ought to admit as much.

Now, there could well be some problems with some of the proposed legislation, but that doesn't give people license to falsely report about what the actual proposals entail.


Anonymous,  12:03 PM  

Here's a video from Venezuelan state TV with the legislator who is proposing the regulations.

Here's the transcript of what she says at the 55 second mark:
"con los teteros, con los biberones, se van a prohibir de todos tipos de ellos."

She goes on to list the only exceptions being granted by the ministry of health for the health or death of the mother.

Justin Delacour 1:52 PM  

Independently of what anyone thinks about these proposals to promote breast-feeding in Venezuela, the facts about them should be established before any scholar should launch into wild conjecture about the implications of the proposals. And the facts are that the Chavista sponsors of these proposals have already clarified loud and clear that there's no proposal on the table to ban baby bottles. Below, I will establish, beyond all reasonable doubt, that Greg and key English-language news outlets have been taken in by a run-of-the-mill disinformation campaign designed to generate a lot of hysteria. And, in my view, it is simply improper that any scholar would allow himself to be party to such a crass disinformation campaign, no matter who the sponsor of the disinformation is. Scholars are supposed to debate cases on their merits, not on the basis of disinformation.

Thus, setting aside the question of whether the proposals are good or bad, one must first must establish what the proposals do NOT envision.

Below, I will translate for you the relevant statements about the proposal from Kaustky Garcia, a key activist sponsor of the proposal to promote breast-feeding.

Garcia firstly explains to VTV the following: "The proposed reform is to develop what was already approved in 2007. The media have attempted to create the idea that this law is new and that it's going to prohibit baby bottles. That is absolutely false!"

Garcia then goes on to explain that any proposal to ban baby bottles or baby formula would be "impracticable" and would be contrary to the intent of the proposal's sponsors, who remain committed to the principle that "families freely choose the course for their children."

Garcia then goes on to explain that private media are denouncing the proposed reform without even knowing its text.

The bottom line is that, for those whom basic principles of veracity mean anything at all, you should stop repeating the lie that there's a proposal to ban baby bottles. It should go without saying that discussions of policy proposals should be about what the proposals actually entail.

For all you Spanish speakers, you can check out what Kaustky García and Luisa Calzada explained to VTV here: http://www.vtv.gob.ve/articulos/2013/06/17/madres-respaldan-reforma-ley-de-lactancia-y-denuncian-campana-mediatica-video-7976.html

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