2016-08-11 / Opinion

Editorial Roundup

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Aug. 2:

There have been some heartbreaking images along the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

Closed down a year ago by the Venezuelan government for concerns about smuggling, the 1,378-mile border was reopened on weekends recently.

Why? Many Venezuelans are hungry, impoverished and ill. They hope to find the food and medicine they desperately need in Colombia, because they can’t find proper quantities of these vitally important items in their own country.

According to Fox News Latino on July 17, “shortages have continued to mount in Venezuela amid triple-digit inflation, currency controls that have restricted imports and investment and a collapse in the oil prices that fund government spending.”

There is also a lack of food staples like flour and milk, massive unemployment, escalating crime rates, high levels of corruption, and an inflation rate above 100 percent.

How did this happen to an oil-rich nation that once had a thriving middle class? In 1998, Venezuelans voted for Hugo Chavez, an authoritarian leader who strongly supported socialism and isolationism.

Chavez, who won re-election three times and died in office in 2013, was a perplexing puzzle of left-wing ideologies and theories.

He was a socialist inspired by the Marxist historian Federico Brito Figueroa, along with revolutionaries like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He also supported Bolivarianism, named after Simon Bolivar, a 19th century Venezuelan general who liberated his country from Spanish rule. Chavez’s personal use of Bolivarianism combined a mixture of left-wing theories, including anti-imperialism, redistribution of resources and economic autonomy.

Chavez’s socialist agenda systematically destroyed his nation from 1999 to 2013.

He nationalized the Banco de Venezuela, along with the telephone and electrical utilities industries. He took temporary control of rice and coffee plants. He significantly reduced the amount of foreign ownership. He placed lofty price controls on food. He redistributed land and wealth like it was going out of style.

He also used oil revenues as a means of creating political and economic autonomy from Western democracies like the U.S. That’s why Venezuela currently suffers from “Dutch disease,” or an over-reliance on one economic sector at the expense of all others. It was so bad, in fact, that Gilberto Gudino Millan, president of the Trade Union and Business Services in the Zulia State, described the departure of 490,000 companies during the Chavez era as a “business holocaust.”

Meanwhile, Chavez linked up with socialist governments in Latin America, communist countries like Cuba and China, and tyrants such as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Chavez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, hasn’t been much better. A former union leader and bus driver, he has continued to steer the socialist, Bolivarian legacy that crippled Venezuela with its left-wing blinkers flashing nonstop.

Some Venezuelans have finally had enough. Last December’s elections led to the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a big-tent coalition of anti-Chavez/Maduro parties on the left and right, getting a supermajority in the National Assembly. Unfortunately, Maduro remains president, and is strongly backed by military cronies as well the Supreme Court.

Political change, it seems, is going to be as slow as pouring molasses.

By opposing and/or restricting free markets, private enterprise, trade liberalization, capitalism, the global economy and individual rights and liberties for nearly two decades, Venezuela has become a political and economic wasteland. It is a sad example of what socialism, isolationism and authoritarianism can do to a nation and its people.

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