Venezuela has been marching towards socialism for years. News reports now reveal, with daily urgency, that the country’s march has only accelerated further under the leadership of dictator-in-training President Hugo Chavez and his cohorts.
In the many abstract debates of the merits of socialism versus capitalism, it’s easy for those of us living under a capitalistic system to lose sight of the very real horrors suffered by those living under socialism.
The following words, however, from a Venezuelan college student named Corina, bring the issue closer to home. Her English may be garbled, but her reasoning is clear enough in blog posts like this one:
Before I turn 18, I was already went to several manifestations [political demonstrations], run from the military, smell the tear gas..., seen people die not only because of political violence but also for poverty, hungry and common delincuence.
In a subsequent post (titled “Too Late”) she writes:
Hard day, after spending about an hour reading the news. When you see a red assambly (used to be a parlament), that got together for a special session in the main square of Caracas (Bolívar square, the same one where we took the first step for our freedom from Spain, in 1810) and aproved a law that gives special powers to the president; surrounded by Chavez supporters that screamed [...] ‘larga vida al socialismo’ [long live socialism]; you know that if the democracy was in danger before, now it was killed for sure... in a very legal way. Of course, people should understand, that not all things legal are democratic or fair. The law its a tool, depends on how do you use it.”
Wise words, particularly from a young college student in an increasingly third-world country like Venezuela that is experiencing the growing hardships of a socialist revolution.
Shades of Soviet Russia
Increasingly frequent reports reveal that — in true 1960s Soviet style — grocery stores in Venezuela are no longer stocking items we would take for granted, such as sugar or black beans. These items, it happens, are staples of the traditional Venezuelan diet. However, because Chavez is so determined to “help the poor,” the socialist way, soon neither rich nor poor will be able to find such items in Venezuelan grocery stores.
Chavez’s price controls are having the same effects in Venezuela they’ve had everywhere else they’ve been tried. The Venezuelan President’s moral purity — he excoriates George Bush while cozying up to Iran’s puppet dictator — is, apparently, matched by an equal understanding of elementary economics. True to form, Chavez has threatened to jail price control violators.
The economic effects of these socialist programs speak for themselves. Per-capita GDP in Chile is $12,600 per year. In Argentina, it’s $15,000. In Mexico — not exactly a rich country, by any standard — it is $10,600. In Venezuela, the figure is $6,900, behind even the Dominican Republic at $8,000.
Remember, this is a country that supplies 11% of U.S. oil imports, and who received over $46 billion last year in oil receipts (assuming 2.55 mb/d at $50 per barrel). Of course, as oil production continues to decline, those numbers will worsen. Revenues for Venezuela will decrease, and exports will decrease, as Chavez continues to forego infrastructure investment in favor of social welfare spending.
No Quarter for Venezuela
In the 1960s, it was common for residents of New York City and other urban areas to use pay phones to call one another. Mobile phones, at the time, were largely limited to limousines.
Inserting a quarter into the pay phone would give you three minutes of talk time. When your time was up, a recorded monotone voice would come on the line to inform you, “Your three minutes are up.” At this point, you had the option of hanging up, or depositing more money to continue the conversation.
Often it signaled the end of your conversation. Before long, however, the expression “your three minutes are up” became a euphemism for someone whose impending death seemed inevitable.
Sadly, some citizens of Venezuela will be unable to deposit another quarter — or perhaps even to own quarters — in the near future. President Hugo Chavez and his supporters will make sure of that. Those who would be willing to pay a quarter — for a phone call, a slice of meat, or other things we commonly take for granted — will simply find those things not there.
This Is Not John Galt Speaking
Recently, Chavez and his socialist government goons decided to nationalize Venezuela’s telecommunications industry. Other industries had already received similar treatment, such as the de facto nationalization of TV and other media. When Chavez gives a speech, for example, all stations are required to interrupt their programming and broadcast his speech — in its entirety — live. That entirety sometimes lasts for hours.
In at least one instance, an opposing voice was able to briefly break through Chavez’s endless tirade. As Corina put it so eloquently on her blog:
[S]uddendly theres a line in the middle of the TV screen and the rebels TV Channels shows in the right side Chávez speaking and in the left side, a familiar street of Caracas downtown, some smoke and confusion and some letters that says “1 muerto..2 muertos” [1 death, 2 deaths] And then no TV at all, no Chavez, no streets, like the TV were damaged or something.”
These days, Venezuela could use its own John Galt to ensure opposing views aren’t completely suppressed. Alas, no such thing is likely to occur anytime soon.
On the contrary, soon no one in Venezuela will be allowed to say anything of which the government disapproves — even were they able to obtain a platform in the media. To help guarantee this, Venezuela’s National Assembly recently passed its “Law on the Social Responsibility of Radio and Television.”
Fatherland, Socialism or Death
Chavez and his gang have made no secret of their goals and plans. As the new law granting Chavez sweeping powers was enacted, for example, National Assembly President Cilia Flores declared, “Fatherland, socialism or death. We will prevail!”
Citizens of Nazi Germany would have found the rallying cry familiar. The word “Nazi,” after all, was a foreshortened German phrase for “National Socialism.” The Nazis failed in the end — but many people had to die first to bring that about.Your Time Is Up
In January 1969, Ayn Rand published an essay titled “The ‘Inexplicable Personal Alchemy,’” in which she discussed a New York Times editorial about the Soviet trial of several young dissidents. After hearing his sentence for the crime of merely speaking his mind about the Soviet Union’s then-recent invasion, one of the young men stated, “For three minutes in Red Square, I felt free. For that, I’m happy to take your three years.”
These words rang in my ears as I read Corina’s blog. History has an unfortunate way of repeating itself.
Venezuela’s three minutes are nearly up. Given the country’s current trajectory, it’s almost inevitable that many people will have to suffer and die, needlessly, before Chavez’s increasingly harsh and unworkable socialist policies are discarded. With luck, Corina in Caracas won’t be among them, for she and those like her are the country’s best hope for the future, if it is to have one.
Jeffrey Perren is a novelist seeking representation for his latest work, Cossacks in Paris, an historical novel set against the background of the Napoleonic Wars. He has published short stories at award-winning sites, such as Apollo's Lyre.