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Commentary & Opinion

Herbert London: Venezuelan Misery

Winston Churchill made the telling observation that socialism can provide equality, but it is the equality of misery; while capitalism offers the inequality of prosperity and plenty. History has reinforced this belief many times and now we are living through this nightmare yet again in a place Hugo Chavez of Venezuela a called socialist paradise.

This is a dark and dangerous period with an unprecedented level of desperation. The socialists have taken an economy that was among the most successful in South America and reduced it to an unrecognizable facsimile of itself. Admittedly class distinctions are gone, just as food stuff has disappeared from grocery shelves.

The average weight of a Venezuelan has been reduced by 20 pounds. Scarcity has led to violence and the violence on the streets has been accompanied by a government crackdown.

Millions of Venezuelans have signaled their disapproval of President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor. However, despite overwhelming disapproval, Maduro is intent on consolidating his power through a constituent assembly vote and the drafting of a new Constitution, one that presumably would give him dictatorial authority.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, recently released from prison and under house arrest, has been engaged in mobilizing voter opposition to Maduro’s initiative. Whether a protest movement can gain momentum remains to be seen. But tensions have soared with widespread food and medicine shortages and an inflation that doubles the price of food each week.

Most Venezuelans are persuaded Maduro’s plan to convene a constituent assembly is undemocratic, notwithstanding the government’s position that it is the basis for freedom. This is Maduro’s transparent power grab.

Recognizing the obvious, President Trump said, “Yet their strong and courageous actions (of the Venezuelan people) continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.” Trump has hinted at strong and swift economic actions, even though sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 2015 had little practical effect.

Economic actions launched against Venezuela play into Maduro’s hands since he will claim a U.S. economic war against his people and blow the whistle against the specter of interventionism. Maduro said the world should understand “the magnitude of the brutal threat contained in this imperial statement.”

Alas, that is precisely the anti-American language often used in Latin America and for which there is a rich history. The “caudillo” idea has not died; it has been transmogrified into leaders who campaign on democratic reform and govern as authoritarians.

When Venezuela operated on a partially free market arrangement, its oil reserves generated great wealth, admittedly distributed inequitably. In the ‘70’s Venezuela was going through an economic take off stage. A friend, who managed the National Oil Company, would wax lyrical about the economic opportunities than emerging. In some ways, this was like Argentina before the Perons when wealth made that nation the sixth richest in the world. Venezuela was on the same path prior to Chavez. But the leader’s dedication to socialism and his masters in Havana and Moscow led him to nationalize key industries, reward his friends, drive wealthy citizens from the country and engage in coercive measures against the opposition. Secret police jailed dissidents without trial, a practice that continues to this very day. In fact, it is estimated that more than 90 people have been killed by the government police since street demonstrations against Maduro began three months ago.

It is ironic that as the ugly face of Venezuelan socialism is evident, Americans in increasing number believe socialism can address what ails the American economy. Bernie Sanders rose to prominence in the last presidential election by arguing that socialism can provide free health care and free education. What Sanders didn’t point out is how expensive “free” services are. Nor did he suggest that if you want to see socialism at work visit Caracas today. Yes, here is a undeviating case of imposed equality and the horror of human misery.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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