Opinion

Venezuela's socialist hell

Venezuela is a nightmare hellscape where people are starving. Blame socialism.

Venezuela cannot wake up from its socialist nightmare.

The Venezuelan opposition just staged a massive protest against the government, which the government repressed with military force, leading to at least three deaths, The New York Times reports. Detained opposition activists say the authorities tortured them, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, across the country, people are starving.

Venezuela, a beautiful, oil-rich country, once one of the wealthiest nations in the Southern Hemisphere, is only sinking further into economic devastation and chaotic, corrupt authoritarianism. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro increasingly looks like a "Bolivarian" version of Vladimir Putin, holding power through corrupt patronage, fear, and the smothering of alternative voices and power centers. The protests were triggered by further moves by the executive to consolidate power. Maduro has banned a main opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, from holding political office.

Meanwhile, the economy keeps rotting. Venezuela has topped Bloomberg's Economic Misery Index, a benchmark whose title is self-explanatory, for three years running. The economy shrank by 18 percent last year, with unemployment at 25 percent, and inflation slated to be 750 percent this year and 2,000 percent the next, according to the International Monetary Fund (Venezuelan government statistics are, of course, made up, so third-party figures are more reliable).

But it's other statistics that show the real extent of the misery, and make one's stomach truly churn. Over the past year, 74 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of nearly 20 pounds each, reports The Economist. The military controls the country's food supply, and the result is widespread malnourishment and, of course, corruption. Venezuela's hospitals have more in common with those in Aleppo than with those of an oil-rich, emerging economy. As the Guardian reported last year, children are suffering from malnourishment for the first time in the country's modern history; there are outbreaks of scabies, a disease easily prevented with basic hygienic practices; hospitals are running out of even basic drugs. Caracas is the murder capital of the world. Corruption has infected the country wholesale even as it has created a new class of kleptocratic oligarchs linked to the security services.

Put all of this together, and it's not just that the economy is doing terribly. The whole of Venezuelan society is breaking down at a fundamental level. We are witnessing the collapse of a once-proud, beautiful country with a rich culture and countless assets. It is truly heartbreaking.

This was wholly preventable. And I blame socialism.

Venezuela's previous president, Hugo Chavez, set the stage for the country's destruction by spending Venezuela's oil money on social programs designed to boost his popularity even as he set about wrecking the country's assets, expropriating most valuable private companies, sometimes to turn them into bureaucracies and sometimes to give them to friends, implementing price and retail controls that ensured people wouldn't have access to basic necessities and capital controls that caused inflation to rise, shutting down alternative voices in the media, Putin- and Erdogan-style, and winking at top-to-bottom corruption.

When global oil prices declined, the house of cards fell.

Of course, rich-world socialists will quibble over semantics and say that Chavez's policies of nationalization, price controls, capital controls, and authoritarianism are not socialism. This is debatable. What isn't is that the collapse was wholly self-inflicted, and it was obvious from the start to anyone who was paying attention and was grounded in reality that this would be the outcome; you didn't have to be a conservative to know this would end badly (although, in fact, conservatives saw it first and were louder about it). And now it's Venezuelans, especially the poorest and more marginal among them, who are paying the price for this madness.

Let us now hope that they, and the rest of the world, will remember for a long time.

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