Tragedy and Lessons from Venezuela

While American politicians on both the political Left and Right continue to flirt with big government—policies that grow the cost, scope, and power of government, often in the name of defending the little guy—a look down south to Venezuela reveals the brutal truth of what life is like for middle and lower classes under such policies. 

The result of socialism is proving to be authoritarian control by a militaristic elite that will never willingly relinquish power no matter how much human starvation and suffering it causes.  Even the eyebrow-raising figure of 25% unemployment doesn’t begin to paint a picture of what Venezuela is facing.

For weeks, violent protest has erupted in Venezuela by ordinary citizens in response to President Nicolas Maduro’s ongoing attempts to solidify power and realize the goal of dictatorship started under his predecessor Hugo Chavez.  In a desperate attempt to save any chance of democracy in their homeland, the people of Venezuela want Maduro to step down. 

But if there is one thing that socialist regimes cannot stand, is people demanding basic human rights, economic opportunity, and democracy. The government response to peaceful protestors started with tear gas and water cannons, and moved on to gunshots and even tanks plowing through crowds of ordinary people.

At one point, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro literally dances while police forces in armored vehicles push back citizen protests.

The Venezuelan economy is crumbling despite having the largest oil reserves in the world.  The corrupt Maduro regime is fast running out of cash, with only $10.5 billion in foreign reserves left, according to recent data from its Central Bank, half of what it had just two years ago.  And the country has about $7.2 billion in unpaid debt payments.

Out of control government spending and a crashing currency have sparked high inflation in Venezuela. Inflation is expected to rise 1,660% this year and 2,880% in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund.  Hyperinflation has wiped out salaries and the value of the Bolivar, causing the huge pikes in prices. 

What this means for the masses of Venezuelans is an ongoing daily struggle for survival that at times resembles a dystopian sci-fi tragedy. Families forage, often in piles of trash, for food and medicine for sick loved ones as shortages and skyrocketing prices on all types of every day goods have become the norm. The health ministry said deaths of infants under the age of one soared by 30 percent in 2016.  All of this, it must be said, despite a minimum wage of 40% months ago.

Even in the face of such suffering, the socialist ideologues shamelessly make excuses, the low price of oil being the current favorite.  Venezuela has more oil reserves than any other country in the world, and oil shipments make up more than 90% of its total exports.

While the going rate for a barrel, half of what it was in 2014, may complicate debt payments and imports, it cannot account for the mishandling of the country’s infrastructure, political corruption, and authoritarian policies on all levels that were implemented under Hugo Chavez and are being taken to their logical conclusion by Maduro.

One can hope that this lesson will be learned by American media and politicians, especially considering how utterly wrong they have been about real-world economics.

In 2013, David Sirota, a writer for the left-wing publication Salon praised Hugo Chavez and his socialist policies in a piece titled “Hugo Chavez’s Economic Miracle.”  Sirota’s full-throated defense of socialist policies “that so rapidly reduced poverty.”

Similarly, Senator Bernie Sanders, who has long called himself a socialist and campaigned as such during his 2016 presidential campaign, wrote that “the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Venezuela, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger.”

Unlike what the wealthy Senators, and other authoritarian apologists, want us to believe, socialism is the driving force behind the massive unemployment, starvation, and lack of opportunity of countries that fall into its grip.  Rather than allowing average Venezuelans food and jobs—let alone true control over their own destiny—thugs like Nicolas Maduro provide the world yet another lesson in the inevitable collapse of socialist schemes.

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, an organization that advocates for public policy that promotes liberty, opportunity, and prosperity.