Carlos Seijas Meneses
Caracas, Oct 17 (EFE).- In Venezuela, secrecy surrounds official economic, social and health data, which experts describe as an opaque practice that prevents knowledge and analysis of the extent of the crisis and the needs of the country.
Opacity also damages the country’s image in the eyes of foreign institutions and investors, specialists say.
The Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) has not published on its website information about the overall economic behavior of 2022, nor has it specified the sources of data revealed in 2023 by President Nicolás Maduro, who claims a growth “above” 15% .
Official statistics on gross domestic product have not been updated since the first quarter of 2019, a year before the economic halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Economist Ronald Balza told EFE that the government “stopped publishing figures regularly in 2014” and the BCV “withdrew figures that were available with a very high level of detail.”
Meanwhile, other reports “have been completely discontinued,” such as the index of salaries in different sectors, which has not been updated for a decade.
The central bank’s files on the balance of payments, exports, imports, investment and external debt have also not been updated since the first quarter of 2019.
Delays and inaccuracies
Balza, Dean of Economic and Social Sciences at the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), pointed out that in recent years “some figures have appeared”, but in many cases they are incomplete and at unpredictable intervals.
For example, the BCV’s reports on inflation are generally not periodic, as was the case in October 2023, when the September and August figures were published simultaneously.
Moreover, some of the government’s information is imprecise, such as President Nicolás Maduro’s statement in September about the country’s “eight consecutive quarters” of economic growth, which didn’t include percentages.
According to the economist, this distorts the analysis of many of the country’s problems and makes it difficult to discuss issues such as salary increases.
It can also affect the search for international investment and the creation of alliances with foreign companies, which “need to be in a country where there is accountability.”
Faced with this secrecy, a group of economists and former opposition MPs created the Venezuelan Financial Observatory (OVF) in 2020 with the aim of “publishing figures that the Central Bank omits or no longer publishes.”
It also aims to “improve the analytical capacity” of citizens, as former anti-Chavista deputy José Guerra, a member of this autonomous body, told EFE.
He explained that the absence and delay in the publication of figures “complicates public policy decisions, creates uncertainty and leaves Venezuela outside many international institutions.”
The National Statistics Institute (INE) has also not updated figures on births or mortality, including suicide, on its website since 2012.
Data on the price of basic staples since 2014, food consumption since 2015, education and employment and unemployment since 2018, and poverty (due to unmet basic needs) since 2019.
Balza pointed out that “if it hadn’t been for the Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi)” prepared by the UCAB, “there would be no approximate information on any social variable,” including extreme poverty, which fell from 68 to 53.3%.
Regarding health data, the president of the Venezuelan Society of Infectious Diseases (SVI), Patricia Valenzuela, told EFE that the government “does not publish the epidemiological bulletin.”
This means that figures for fever, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, influenza-like infections, meningitis, measles, diphtheria, dengue, rural and urban yellow fever are not known.
Once these figures are available, it will be possible to “set up surveillance in the affected areas, optimize diagnosis, set up an epidemiological fence if necessary and provide care and support for the communities”. EFE