Home / Thoook News / Father Raymond J. de Souza: Venezuela is a time capsule of Soviet dysfunction, despair

Father Raymond J. de Souza: Venezuela is a time capsule of Soviet dysfunction, despair

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Venezuela is a poor country where starving people are rummaging through the garbage in order to eat. But it has not been afflicted by a tragedy, like Hurricane Maria overwhelming Puerto Rico. Indeed, Puerto Rico is better off; properties can be rebuilt and normality can return. In Venezuela it is the normality that is causing immense human suffering.

Last fall marked the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution which, aside from its murderous core and totalitarian assault on human rights, was the world’s most effective poverty-expansion program. Communism did many things poorly, but it had no rival when it came to making people who should be affluent poor and keeping them that way.

It’s been almost 40 years since China set aside strict communist economics, and more than 25 years since the Soviet Union was set aside altogether. The evil empire lies upon the ash heap of history, yet the evil it wrought still lurks abroad. Communism is still making and keeping people poor. It is the principal cause of instability on the Korean peninsula, which gets a lot attention, and it is killing Venezuelans every day, which does not.

A youth moves quickly to collect grains of corn that fell from a truck that was looted outside the port in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, on Jan. 23, 2018.

The economic facts are startling. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves and is rich in other natural resources, including gold, iron and diamonds. It should be prosperous, like Canada, but without snow.

And it was. Then came Hugo Chavez in 1999, promoting Chavismo, a “petro-socialism” modelled on the last days of Soviet communism, where Russian oil reserves were the only thing of value on the export market. Wrapping himself in Latin America’s toxic mix of Bolivarian nationalism and a Peronesque cult of the leader, Chavez swaggered across the continent, the national exchequer bulging from the increase in oil prices.

Chavez used the cataract of cash to send oil for free to leftist allies — Cuba to begin with — and to keep gasoline, electricity and even food below market prices. The regime instituted strict foreign exchange controls, and extended nationalization beyond energy to the agriculture and food sectors.

Jorge Rodriguez, Venezuela’s information minister, from right, speaks while Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, and Diosdado Cabello, second-in-command of the United Socialist Party, gesture during a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 23, 2018.

State control of the economy was a product of Chavez’s megalomania, and facilitated his restriction of political and civil liberties.

Of course it could not work. Even as oil prices soared, oil production in Venezuela contracted, the state-run oil company operating with customary communist efficiency. The country soon began to lack sufficient food production, so oil revenues were diverted to importing food through the national oil company. As the role of Petroleos de Venezuela expanded, massive embezzlement followed, lining the pockets of the Chavez cronies who were installed to run it.

Chavez died in 2013, succeeded by Nicolas Maduro, who operates the same regime without the charisma. And most critically, with the oil revenues. Chavismo made Venezuela economically precarious when oil prices were high; the collapse in the price of oil impoverished it immediately.

Venezuela’s currency is essentially worthless. The official rate was, until Monday, 10 Venezuelan bolivars to the U.S. dollar. Only friends of the regime got this rate. With the actual exchange rate on the street at a staggering 250,000 bolivars to the U.S. dollar, foreign exchange was basically a way to transfer what little wealth the nation had left to the regime and its friends. On Monday, Venezuela abandoned the 10 bolivar rate in favour of a 3,345 bolivar rate, but the same dynamics remain.

The collapse of the bolivar means that government subsidies to the poor now amount to a few dollars a month. The national minimum wage, raised six times last year, amounts to $5/month. Inflation hit 2,616 per cent last year, and the IMF estimates it might hit 13,000 per cent this year.

While Venezuela’s prosperity was being flushed down an ideological toilet, the country began to run short of toilet paper a few years ago. That was messy. Now it is running short of food and basic medicines. That is deadly.

Venezuelans have had enough, taking to the streets all throughout last year. Maduro’s thugs shot the protesters, killing more than 150 of them. Last July, he created a “national constituent assembly” to rewrite the constitution in his favour.

Last week, presidential elections scheduled for later in the year were moved up to April, with Maduro explaining that he wants “to get it over with.” Given that he has already decided the results, it makes sense to get the bothersome voting out of the way.

Maduro’s illegal “constituent assembly,” which has replaced the national parliament and seized control of the judiciary, passed an “anti-hate speech” law, criminalizing criticism of the regime. This month Maduro called for the prosecution of Catholic bishops for criticizing his regime. The bishops have been a leading civil society opposition to the regime for years.

Those Venezuelans who can are fleeing. Neighbouring Colombia now deals with an influx of refugees, and wealthier Venezuelans are heading abroad.

Economic impoverishment, state murders, unconstitutional abolition of liberty, and catastrophic human misery. None of it is a surprise in a communist country. The surprise is that is still happening in 2018.

National Post

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