But is the Left noticing?  While I was gone on Spring Break, a number of news stories came through showing both Hugo Chavez’s desperation for power and popularity in Venezuela, while the standard of living is predictably spiraling downward.

First, in response to a housing shortage, he declared that he’d nationalize the cement industry.  The first thing that happened as a result was that Cemex, the largest domestic supplier of cement in Venezuela, dropped almost 4% in Mexico’s stock market.  Apparently investors know a losing proposition when they see it.

Then, he renationalized the largest steelmaker in the country.  Their stock dropped 9% in New York.

And during all of this, the people are suffering.

Grimacing from contractions, expectant mother Castuca Marino had more on her mind than birth pangs. She was nervous about whether she and her newborn child would make it out of the hospital alive.

Interviewed as she stood in the emergency room of Concepcion Palacios Maternity Hospital here last week, Marino had heard news reports of six infant deaths there over a 24-hour period late last month. She knew that since the beginning of February, six mothers had died in the hospital during or after childbirth.

"What are poor people going to do?" said Marino, 20, as she was being admitted to this sprawling complex where, on average, 60 babies are born a day. "I’m just hoping that there are no complications and that everything goes well."
Palacios, Venezuela’s largest public maternity hospital and once the nation’s beacon of neonatal care, has fallen on hard times. Half of the anesthesiologists and pediatricians on staff two years ago have quit. Basic equipment such as respirators, ultrasound monitors and incubators are either broken or scarce. Six of 12 birth rooms have been shut.

On one day last month, five newborns were crowded into one incubator, said Dr. Jesus Mendez Quijada, a psychiatrist and Palacios staff member who is a past president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.

The deaths of the six infants "were not a case of bad luck, but the consequence of an accumulation of circumstances that have created this alarming situation," Mendez said.

He and others say the problems at Concepcion Palacios are symptoms of a variety of ills that have beset the public healthcare system under leftist firebrand President Hugo Chavez. Cases of malaria nearly doubled between 1998, the year before Chavez took office, and 2007. Incidents of dengue fever more than doubled over the same period.

Chavez is trying to counter this with his own, parallel, socialized medicine program, but he’s keeping prying eyes away from the innards.  "Please ignore the man behind the curtain."

Inaugurated nationwide in 2003, Barrio Adentro initially was so popular with the poor that it helped Chavez win a crucial 2004 referendum and hold on to power. It has brought basic healthcare to the barrios, providing free exams and medicine as well as eye operations that have saved the sight of thousands.

But the system siphons resources and equipment away from the public hospitals, which have four-fifths of the nation’s 45,000 hospital beds and where the public still goes for emergency and maternity care, as well as for most major and elective surgeries.

The finances and organization of Barrio Adentro are "a black box and not transparent, so it’s impossible to analyze it for efficiency," said Dr. Marino Gonzalez, professor of public policy at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, the capital.
A lack of openness has affected other facets of public health too. After the medical establishment blamed him for an outbreak of dengue fever last summer, Chavez halted weekly publication of an epidemiology report that for 50 years had tallied occurrences of infectious diseases nationwide.

Former Health Minister Rafael Orihuela says the loss of the weekly report has deprived the government of information needed for a quick response to outbreaks of disease.
"I am not talking about a failure of the government to adopt innovations in healthcare," said Orihuela, a Chavez critic. "I am talking about a failure to maintain basic healthcare standards."

And in the meantime, Chavez’s poll numbers are approaching George W. Bush lows…

Public support for President Hugo Chavez’s government has significantly declined, according to two polls published on Tuesday.

Some 34% of Venezuelans surveyed said they support Chavez’s government, down from a high of 67% in early 2005, to the lowest level in five years, a quarterly survey of 2,000 Venezuelans by Caracas pollster Datos found.

…and the economy is tanking.

Polls have consistently shown that rampant crime is a major concern to Venezuelans. Double-digit inflation has also accelerated, and sporadic shortages of milk and other food products persist.

While these polls are not as open as those in the US, they do show a general malaise among Venezuelans.  Bruce McQuain at Q&O believes that the power grabs are specifically because of the poll numbers.  Whether or not that’s true, the narrative of The Socialist Utopia(tm) and the bill of goods it sells continues on course, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people, and to the ignorance of Chavez’s buddies in the US.

[tags]Hugo Chavez,Venezuela,Cemex,socialism,socialized medicine[/tags]

Filed under: DougLiberalVenezuela

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