19 March 2007

Tale of Two Oil Lands:Tragic Venezuela, Kurdistan Triumphant

In Venezuela, the people are sinking into a hellish quagmire of socialist decline.
Those economists say the inflation is a result of a surge in public spending by Mr. Chávez and increasingly jittery efforts by the wealthy to circumvent tightening controls on prices and foreign exchange.

“We’re witnessing policy in the form of window dressing, all carried out at the whim of one man whose strong point is not economics,” said Hugo Faría, an economist at the Institute of Higher Management Studies, a private business school here. “Anyone who sees a 12 ½-cent coin as a remedy for this country’s problems isn’t thinking too clearly.”

Inflation has been climbing rapidly since January when a sharp decline in the black-market value of the bolívar pushed up prices of imported goods. Since Mr. Chávez moved to nationalize major telephone and electricity companies in January, Venezuelans have rushed to take money out of the country, currency traders say. That exodus has caused the bolívar to weaken by about 20 percent to a level of 4,000 to the dollar on the black market, placing it among the world’s worst performing currencies this year.

Capital is fleeing Venezuela, and although the country's oil prevents the nation from going totally belly up, oil infrastructure in Venezuela is in rapid decline. Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cuba, North Korea--what do these failing countries have in common?

Meanwhile in Iraqi Kurdistan, business is booming.
The cabin erupted with applause when the wheels touched down on the runway. The pilot announced the weather (sunny and 60) in three languages and cheerfully told us all to have a great day. Have a great day may seem an odd thing to say to people who just arrived in Iraq, but this is Kurdistan. I did, indeed, have a great day.

....Nation-building is a hard and violent slog in the center and south of Iraq, and it might not ever work out. But in Kurdistan, in the north, it already is a reality.

Massive new construction projects are literally everywhere. Most of those that had started when I arrived for the first time are finished, and ambitious new projects are well underway.

....Iraqi Kurdistan is still a Third World country in many ways – there is no sewer system, for instance, and the electricity fails every day. Unemployment is high. But it’s a Third World country with hope, and it is rapidly moving upscale. New houses cost more in and around Erbil than they do in some parts of the United States. An average sized 200 square meter lot can cost as much as 150,000 dollars – and that’s before a house is built on it. There are literally thousands of brand new houses here in this city, and the population is still just a little bit shy of one million.

Arabs are moving up here from the center and south – when they can, and as long as they are cleared by internal security – and they’re hired to do menial jobs the Kurds no longer want. Sunni Arabs were once the oppressors of Kurds. Now they are reduced to the same low status as migrant Mexican workers in the United States.

You might say the problem with Iraq, is arabs. And while the middle and south of Iraq are flush with arab violence, the Kurds appear to be trying to enter the modern world of civil society.

There is only one country in the middle east that offers western standards of living, Israel. How nice it would be for a more peaceful vision of living to take hold in that part of the world, where death cults and blood-thirsty dictatorships such as Syria, Islamic Iran, and Saddam's Iraq traditionally hold sway.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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