Foreign Policy Blogs

Venezuelan Public Sector Now Employs One in Every Five Workers

When he first ran for office, Hugo Chávez declared that he wanted to reduce the size of government, and to make it more efficient. However, Venezuela’s National Institute of Statistics released figures showing that there are now 2,372,587 government workers, an increase of 70% during Chávez’s time in office. The percentage of all persons employed by the government rose from 15.5% in 1999 to its present level of 20%. More information is available within an article in El Universal, a major Venezuelan newspaper.

For the sake of comparison, consider public sector employment in the United States. According to the US Department of Labor, the US government employs 1.8 million (not including military), or just over 1% of the total of 154 million workers. There are often complaints of bureaucracy in Washington, but what would we say if one in every five US workers, or more than 30 million people were employed by the government?

How else can one interpret these recent statistics? The influence of the Venezuelan government, as the country’s primary employer, cannot be over-emphasized. It appears that it is extending influence not only through control of even greater portions of the economy and industry, but within the population as a whole. By creating a society that is more directly dependent on its policies, the administration will have workers who avoid biting the hand that feeds them.

The Venezuelan government’s control is exhibited in other ways: some employees are required to participate in marches supporting Chávez, and one of my contacts said she has a closet full of red shirts, attesting to the events she had to attend when working for a ministry.

When a friend applied for a job with PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, she more or less had to pass a loyalty test. For three hours separate interviewers reviewed her knowledge about Venezuelan independence heroes like Simón Bolívar, Sebastián Francisco de Miranda, and Juan Manuel Sucre, and asked about her opinion on the current administration. Only for the final hour did the interviewers discuss her work qualifications.

The interviewers also wanted to know if she had signed the 2004 referendum that served as a potential recall of President Chávez. The record of persons who signed against the government was later published on the internet by Luis Tascón, a National Assembly member who supported the president at that time. Any signatories are now blacklisted and unable to work for the government.



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.