CARACAS (AP) — The new constitutional assembly assumed even more power in Venezuela by declaring itself as the superior body to all other governmental institutions, including the opposition-controlled Congress.
That decree came Tuesday just hours after the assembly delegates took control of a legislative chamber and put up pictures of the late President Hugo Chavez, who installed Venezuela’s socialist system.
Delcy Rodriguez, the head of the ruling socialist party and leader of the body, said the unanimously approved decree prohibits lawmakers in Congress from taking any action that would interfere with laws passed by the newly installed constitutional assembly.
“We are not threatening anyone,” said Aristobulo Isturiz, the constitutional assembly’s first vice president. “We are looking for ways to coexist.”
Leaders of Congress, which previously voted not to recognize any of the new super-body’s decrees, said lawmakers would try to meet in the gold-domed legislative palace Wednesday, but there were questions whether security officers guarding the building would let them in.
The opposition to President Nicolas Maduro also faced another fight Wednesday before the government-stacked Supreme Court, which scheduled a hearing on charges against a Caracas-area opposition mayor. The judges convicted another mayor Tuesday for failing to move against protesters during four months of political unrest.
In calling the July 30 election for the constitutional assembly, Maduro said a new constitution would help resolve the nation’s political standoff, but opposition leaders view it as a power grab and the president’s allies have said they will go after his opponents. Before its decree declaring itself all-powerful, the assembly ousted Venezuela’s outspoken chief prosecutor, established a “truth commission” expected to target Maduro’s foes and pledged “support and solidarity” with the unpopular president.
The latest surge of protests began in early April in reaction to a quickly rescinded attempt by the government-supporting Supreme Court to strip the National Assembly of its powers. But the unrest ballooned into a widespread movement fed by anger over Venezuela’s triple-digest inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and high crime.
Opposition lawmakers said security forces led by Rodriguez broke into the congress building late Monday and seized control of an unused, ceremonial chamber almost identical to the one where lawmakers meet.
“This government invades the spaces that it is not capable of legitimately winning,” Stalin Gonzalez, an opposition lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, alluding to the opposition’s overwhelming victory in the 2015 congressional elections.
Before the assembly met Tuesday, the pro-government Supreme Court sentenced a Caracas-area mayor to 15 months in prison for not following an order to remove barricades set up during anti-government demonstrations. Read the rest of this entry »
Rich Lowry writes: Venezuela is a woeful reminder that no country is so rich that it can’t be driven into the ground by revolutionary socialism.
People are now literally starving — about three-quarters of the population lost weight last year — in what once was the fourth-richest country in the world on a per-capita basis. A country that has more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia is suffering shortages of basic supplies. Venezuela now totters on the brink of bankruptcy and civil war, in the national catastrophe known as the Bolivarian Revolution.
The phrase is the coinage of the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, succeeded by the current Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. The Western Hemisphere’s answer to Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Maduro has instituted an ongoing self-coup to make his country a one-party state.
The Chavistas have worked from the typical Communist playbook of romanticizing the masses while immiserating them. Runaway spending, price controls, nationalization of companies, corruption and the end of the rule of law — it’s been a master class in how to destroy an economy.
The result is a sharp, yearslong recession, runaway inflation and unsustainable debt. The suffering of ordinary people is staggering, while the thieves and killers who are Chavista officials have made off with hundreds of billions of dollars. At this rate — The Economist calls the country’s economic decline “the steepest in modern Latin American history” — there will be nothing left to steal.
Any government in a democratic country that failed this spectacularly would have been relegated to the dustbin of history long ago. Maduro is getting around this problem by ending Venezuela’s democracy.
The Chávistas slipped up a year or two by allowing real elections for the country’s National Assembly, which were swept by the opposition. They then undertook a war against the assembly, stripping it of its powers and culminating in a rigged vote this week to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The opposition boycotted the vote, and outside observers estimate less than 20 percent of the electorate participated. Read the rest of this entry »
Remember last time an oil economy crashed catastrophically?
Anders Aslund writes: Venezuela is not the first developed country to put itself on track to fall into a catastrophic economic crisis. But it is in the relatively unusual situation of having done so while in possession of enormous oil assets. There aren’t many precedents to help understand how this could have happened and what is likely to happen next.
There is, however, at least one — the Soviet Union’s similar devastation in the late 1980s. Its fate may be instructive for Venezuela — which is not to suggest Venezuelans, least of all the regime of Nicolás Maduro, will like what it portends.
Venezuela has been ailing ever since the decline in oil prices that started in June 2014, and there is no reason to think this trend will shift anytime soon. Energy prices move in long quarter-century circles of one decade of high prices and one decade of low prices, so another decade of low prices is likely. Similarly, the biggest economic blow to the Soviet Union was the fall in oil prices that started in 1981 and got worse from there.
“Maduro seems intent on printing money like crazy, so the next step will be hyperinflation.”
But the deeper problem for the Soviet Union wasn’t the oil price collapse; it’s what came before. In his book Collapse of an Empire, Russia’s great post-Soviet reformer Yegor Gaidar pointed out that during the long preceding oil boom, Soviet policymakers thought that they could walk on water and that the usual laws of economic gravity did not apply to them. Soviet policymakers didn’t bother developing a theory to make sense of their spending. They didn’t even bother paying attention to their results. The math seemed to work out, so they just assumed there was a good reason.
This is as true of the current Venezuelan leaders as it was of the Soviet leaders. The Venezuelan government, though it doesn’t claim to be full-fledged in its devotion to Marxism-Leninism, has been pursuing as absurd an economic policy mix as its Soviet predecessor. It has insisted for years on maintaining drastic price controls on a wide range of basic goods, including food staples such as meat and bread, for which it pays enormous subsidies. Nonetheless the Venezuelan government, like the Soviet Union’s, has always felt it could afford these subsidies because of its oil revenues.
But as the oil price has fallen by slightly more than half since mid-2014, oil incomes have fallen accordingly. And rather than increase oil production, the Venezuelan government has been forced to watch it decline because of its mismanagement of the dominant state-owned oil company, PDVSA.
And now Venezuela seems intent on repeating the Soviet folly of the late 1980s by refusing to change course. This is allowing the budget deficit to swell and putting the country on track toward ultimate devastation.
The Soviet Union in its latter years had a skyrocketing budget deficit, too. In 1986 it exceeded 6 percent of GDP, and by 1991 it reached an extraordinary one-third of GDP. Venezuela is now following suit. The Soviet Union used its currency reserves to pay for imports, but when those reserves shrank, the government financed the budget deficit by printing money. The inevitable result was skyrocketing inflation.
It seems as if President Nicolás Maduro has adopted this tried-and-failed combination of fiscal and monetary policy. Venezuela already is dealing with massive shortages as a result of its controlled prices, because the government can no longer afford its own subsidies. But it will get worse from here.
Maduro seems intent on printing money like crazy, so the next step will be hyperinflation. Inflation is already believed to have reached 700 percent a year, and it is heading toward official hyperinflation, that is, an inflation rate of at least 50 percent a month. Read the rest of this entry »
Venezuela Supreme Court Assumes Powers of Opposition-Controlled Congress.
CARACAS, Venezuela—Venezuela‘s Supreme Court has assumed all powers of the opposition-controlled congress, a move lawyers and rights activists said amounted to the effective dissolution of the legislature in Latin America’s largest oil producer.
“This ruling marks the point of no return for the dictatorship,” National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara said. Assembly President Julio Borges called the act a coup and urged Venezuelans to rally on Saturday to defend the country’s democracy.
“This is despotic rule. There is absolutely no counterweighting [to Mr. Maduro].”
— Michael Shifter of policy group Inter-American Dialogue
The Supreme Court, which is packed with allies of President Nicolás Maduro, ruled late Wednesday that the congress was in contempt of court for having sworn in three lawmakers from the remote Amazonas state whom the ruling party had accused of electoral fraud. The court said it takes over all “parliamentary capacities” until the conflict is resolved.
“Maduro now has all powers in his hands, without any checks and balances,” Mr. Borges said. “This is the action of a desperate man who knows the whole world is turning against him.”
Several opposition lawmakers who tried to enter the Supreme Court building Thursday afternoon were blocked by soldiers in riot gear and manhandled by government supporters shouting “get out.”
Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski called the court’s action unacceptable and recalled his country’s ambassador to Venezuela on Thursday. In Washington, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States called for an urgent meeting of member states to discuss “the subversion of democratic order” in Venezuela.
Since then, however, Mr. Maduro has marshaled allied judges and prosecutors to jail dozens of opposition officials and activists, torpedo a recall referendum on the president, and indefinitely postpone all scheduled elections for posts ranging from state governors to labor union heads.
Mr. Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party, or PSUV, never presented any evidence of wrongdoing by the three opposition lawmakers, and government-appointed prosecutors still haven’t requested voting data 16 months after the start of an investigation, according to electoral officials. Read the rest of this entry »
Venezuela this Christmas is sunk in misery, as it was last Christmas, and the Christmas before that.
Jeff Jacoby writes: When the Cold War ended 25 years ago, the Soviet Union vanished into the ash heap of history. That left the West’s “useful idiots” — Lenin’s term for the ideologues and toadies who could always be relied on to justify or praise whatever Moscow did — in search of other socialist thugs to fawn over. Many found a new heartthrob in Hugo Chavez, the anti-Yanqui rabble-rouser who was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 and in short order had transformed the country from a successful social democracy into a grim and corrupt autocracy.
“Violent crime is out of control. Shoppers are forced to stand in lines for hours outside drugstores and supermarkets — lines that routinely lead to empty shelves, or that break down in fistfights, muggings, and mob looting. Just last week the government deployed 3,000 troops to restore order after frantic rioters rampaged through shops and homes in the southeastern state of Bolivar.”
An avowed Marxist and protégé of Fidel Castro, Chavez gradually seized control of every lever of state power in Venezuela. The constitution was rewritten to strip the legislature and judiciary of their independence, authorize censorship of the press, and allow Chavez to legislate by decree. Before long, the government acquired a stranglehold over the economy, including the huge and profitable energy sector. (Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world.)
“In the beautiful country that used to boast the highest standard of living in Latin America, patients now die in hospitals for lack of basic health care staples: soap, gloves, oxygen, drugs. In some medical wards, there isn’t even water to wash the blood from operating tables.”
With petrodollars pouring in, Chavez had free rein to put his statist prescriptions into effect. The so-called Bolivarian revolution over which he — and later his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro — presided, was an unfettered, real-world example of anticapitalist socialism in action.
Venezuela since at least the 1970s had been Latin America’s most affluent nation. Now it was a showpiece for command-and-control economics: price and currency controls, wealth redistribution, ramped-up government spending, expropriation of land, and the nationalization of private banks, mines, and oil companies.
And the useful idiots ate it up.
In a Salon piece titled “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle,” David Sirota declared that the Venezuelan ruler, with his “full-throated advocacy of socialism,” had “racked up an economic record that . . . American president[s] could only dream of achieving.” The Guardian offered “Three cheers for Chavez.” Moviemaker Oliver Stone filmed a documentary gushing over “the positive changes that have happened economically in all of South America” because of Venezuela’s socialist government. And when Chavez died in 2013, Jimmy Carterextolled the strongman for “improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen.”
In the real world, however, socialism has transformed Venezuela into a Third World dystopia.
Venezuela this Christmas is sunk in misery, as it was last Christmas, and the Christmas before that. Venezuelans, their economy wrecked by statism, face crippling shortages of everything from food and medicine to toilet paper and electricity. Read the rest of this entry »
With hunger and violent crime gripping the country and the opposition calling for his head, this is Maduro’s new strategy for winning hearts and minds. That is an uphill battle; most Venezuelans would like him to leave power.
Caracas (AFP) – Venezuelans are running short of food, medicine and patience, but fear not: President Nicolas Maduro is here to cheer them up — by dancing salsa.
“People say I’m crazy for dancing salsa.”
— President Nicolas Maduro
Grinning under his black mustache, the burly, towering socialist swivels his hips and twirls his wife Cilia Flores in front of the cameras.
“Hands up everybody who dances salsa! Admit it, we’re all crazy!”
“People say I’m crazy for dancing salsa,” he said on one recent broadcast.
“Hands up everybody who dances salsa! Admit it, we’re all crazy!”
With hunger and violent crime gripping the country and the opposition calling for his head, this is Maduro’s new strategy for winning hearts and minds. That is an uphill battle; most Venezuelans would like him to leave power.
“He is ridiculous. It’s offensive. He is laughing at the people. Instead of spending money on television programs, he should be bringing us medicine.”
— Euro Bermudez, 62, coming out of a bank in Caracas after collecting his pension
Wednesday was a case in point as Maduro celebrated his 54th birthday with a live performance by old-school salsa greats El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico.
“What a surprise!” the president exclaimed before taking the first lady for a spin, dancing to the classic “Me libere.”
A former bus driver, Maduro has often sung and danced at campaign rallies.
But his continued capering amid the crisis, and his recent launch of a dedicated salsa radio show, seem like bad taste to some weary citizens.
“He is ridiculous. It’s offensive. He is laughing at the people,” said Euro Bermudez, 62, coming out of a bank in Caracas after collecting his pension.
“Instead of spending money on television programs, he should be bringing us medicine.”
Spoof photo “memes” of Maduro online have shown him dancing in various inappropriate settings: at the scene of a crime or in a long queue for food. Read the rest of this entry »
Democratic socialism. It’s not the same as socialism socialism, because it’s democratic. Right? Or something, right? People are buying that; people buy that now, right? Apparently. As though adding the word “democratic” in front of a word changes what it means. Just because we toss something to a vote doesn’t change what that something is, nor does it alter whether that something is inherently good or bad.
A couple of examples, because I know you’ll ask: Hamas was democratically elected as the government in Gaza – despite the fact that the destruction of not only Israel, but the eradication of all Jews, is in their official charter. Robert Mugabe, or Bobby Mugabe if you prefer, was democratically elected by a loving majority in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe! How’s that working out?
Venezuela? Well, Hugo Chavez, noted personal favorite friend of Sean Penn, to whom he constantly pointed as being unfairly characterized as a dictator when, in fact, he was democratically elected as a socialist.
Well, how’d that workout for Venezuela? Well, it’s now on the brink of collapse despite it being one of the most resource rich nations in the entire world. Basic things like eggs, milk, flour, and toilet paper are either too expensive for the average Venezuelan or simply out of stock… out of stock, mind you… democratically. I know, some of you will say, “Well that’s not fair, because really we knew all along it technically was a dictatorship.” Ok – that’s fair; let’s move on to example number two.
Denmark? Ok, here’s the time where you point to an entirely homogenous population about one sixtieth the size of America’s, and you point to that as the blueprint? Ok – let’s go there. This is a place where the middle class can’t even afford a car because of the 180% new-car tax. And the Prime Minister was so fed up with Americans pointing to it as a beacon for socialist success that he felt compelled to clarify, “I would like to make one thing clear: Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy; Denmark is a market economy.”
Sweden? I love Sweden! Ok, great bikini team, and thanks to that country my armoire now doubles as a bookcase. Speaking of which, the founder of IKEA – let’s be honest, the only real cool export from Sweden aside from a few good hockey players – left Sweden because of the stifling high tax rate. So, Sweden – good place, not bad people – but a successful model for a viable economy in today’s global market? Incorrect.
The fact is that, over time, the greatest enemy of socialism is reality. The reality that human nature will invariably pull certain people toward individualism and success and others toward laziness and collectivism. The tension between the makers and the takers always – always! – leads to socialism’s inevitable collapse. But I know that I can give you examples of failed socialist economies until I’m blue in the face, and you won’t care. Because at least socialism is inherently more morally altruistic than the evil, greedy capitalistic war mongering seen in the West.
Greed? What’s more greedy than wanting to take from someone else something that you haven’t earned? Unlike capitalism – free enterprise, which can only occur truly through voluntary transaction – socialism can only occur at gunpoint. That’s what it comes down to. If you don’t pay your taxes, once you get through the IRS and the auditing and the lawyers and the PR stunts, people make you give the government your money, increasing amount of your money the more successful you are, or they send in scary men with guns to take you away.
Now, so long as the people having their stuff taken away at gunpoint are in the minority, and the majority feels that they’ll get to benefit from more said taken stuff, you’ll always be able to win that decision through a popular vote and claim the moral high ground through democracy. Read the rest of this entry »
Caracas (AFP) – Venezuela‘s President Nicolas Maduro threatened on Friday to jail his political opponents if they follow through on their vow of launching a legislative trial to remove him from power.
Shrugging off a partially-observed strike which the opposition called to raise pressure on him, the socialist president went on the counterattack.
Maduro sharpened the tone in a volatile political and economic crisis that has sparked food shortages and riots in the South American oil producer.
“If they launch a supposed political trial, which is not in our constitution, the state prosecution service must bring legal action in the courts and put in jail anyone who violates the constitution, even if they are members of Congress,” Maduro said in a speech Friday.
Friday’s strike was called after authorities blocked a bid by the center right-dominated MUD coalition to hold a referendum on removing Maduro from power.
After that move, the crisis heated up this week. Opposition lawmakers vowed to put Maduro on trial and exchanged accusations of coup-mongering with the mustachioed president.
Friday’s strike seemed to be only partially observed.
In the capital Caracas and cities such as Maracaibo and San Cristobal, the streets were quieter than normal but public transport was running and banks and some schools opened as usual.
Clashes broke out in recent days between riot police and pro- and anti-government protesters around the country.
Maduro earlier threatened to break the strike by sending the army to take over firms that took part in it.
The center-right coalition’s latest move to pressure the unpopular leftist leader came after anti-government protests drew hundreds of thousands of people on Wednesday.
The confrontation occurred at a routine political event just days after thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to call for Nicolás Maduro’s ouster.
President Nicolás Maduro was chased at a routine political event by angry protesters banging on pots and yelling that they were hungry.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Nicholas Casey reports: President Nicolás Maduro was chased at a routine political event by a crowd of angry protesters banging on pots and yelling that they were hungry, just days after thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to call for his ouster, local news media reported on Saturday.
At the height of the protests in late 2007, Goiceochea was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, “This is not a war of left and right,” adding, “We believe that Venezuela has to have democracy. Democracy means respect. Democracy means free expression. Democracy means saying what you want without repression.”
“In societies turning to socialism, there is no appreciation of scarcity. There is no appreciation that ‘things cannot all be done at the same time, that anyone of them can be achieved only at the sacrifice of others.’”
Mackay covered religious and political delusions, too. “We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple,” he recounts, “and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity.”
“The hard to give up delusion of socialists is that there are coercive plans that will benefit all. Venezuelans have seen the means of production nationalized in the name of the common good and with every intervention their standard of living fell further.”
When the history of this tragic period in Venezuela is written, the population will have plenty of “culprits” to blame. In blaming many will eschew their own responsibility. Some will blame Chavez; others will blame Maduro. Some will follow their beloved leaders and continue to blame the “elite” and the capitalists. The true believers will continue to insist there is no inherent flaw in socialism; they will simply say mistakes were made that will not be made again.
“Believing that the “coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority,” can coordinate and adjust our individual activities is delusional. With this delusion comes disbelief that a market economy can solve problems and advance society. Those who cherish such delusions may find themselves hungry.”
We are not the victims of the world we see. Our delusions, our beliefs have consequences. The fact that our delusions are often invisible to us does not make them any less powerful or any less consequential. Again, Mackay observed that a population subject to delusions “only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
The new idea of freedom “gave the socialists another word in common with the liberals and they exploited it to the full.
Venezuelans have not yet recovered their “senses.” Caracas radio host Glen Martinez stubbornly insists that the “reforms” that Chavez instituted will never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez said. Many share Martinez’s sentiments; daily the true believers still march and promise to spill their blood in support of the government.
“The fact that our delusions are often invisible to us does not make them any less powerful or any less consequential.”
There is no better book than Friedrich Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom to explain the popular delusions that helped to virtually eliminate the market economy and civil society in Venezuela. Writing during the depths of World War II, Hayek intended his book as a warning “to the socialists of all parties.” What happened in Venezuela can happen wherever a critical mass of the population begins to hold certain delusionary beliefs.
Popular Delusion 1: Freedom Means Freedom from Necessity
Hayek points out that freedom in Western countries traditionally meant “freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men.”
Socialists point to a “new freedom” which is “freedom from necessity” which releases us “from the compulsion of the circumstances which inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us.”
Hayek adds, “the demand for the new freedom was thus only another name for the old demand for an equal distribution of wealth.”
Believing that these two types of freedom can be combined is delusional. Hayek points out that the new idea of freedom “gave the socialists another word in common with the liberals and they exploited it to the full….Few people noticed [that the word freedom was being used differently] and still fewer asked themselves whether the two kinds of freedom promised really could be combined.”
Popular Delusion 2. Only Coercive Planning Can Coordinate Activity
Almost every individual and organization plans. Writes Hayek, there is no “dispute about whether we ought to employ foresight and systematic thinking and planning our common affairs.”
Hayek thought that to plan or not to plan is not “the real question.” Instead, we should ask if “the holder of coercive power should confine himself in general to creating conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals is given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully; or whether a rational utilization of our resources requires central direction and organization of all our activities according to some consciously constructed ‘blueprint.’”
Those who cherish such delusions may find themselves hungry.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: Fidel Castro turned 90 years old on Saturday, adding plausibility to the popular Cuban theory that even hell doesn’t want him. Meanwhile Cuba’s military dictatorship, now headed by his 83-year-old brother Raúl, is cracking down with renewed brutality on anyone who dares not conform to its totalitarian rule.
If President Obama’s December 2014 softening of U.S. policy toward Cuba was supposed to elicit some quid pro quo on human rights from Havana, it has so far failed. Independent groups that monitor civil liberties on the island say conditions have deteriorated in the 20 months since the Obama decision to normalize relations and ease Cuba trade and travel restrictions for Americans. Many dissident groups opposed any U.S. thaw without human-rights conditions attached and say they feel abandoned by the U.S., which they had long relied on for moral support.
“If President Obama’s December 2014 softening of U.S. policy toward Cuba was supposed to elicit some quid pro quo on human rights from Havana, it has so far failed.”
Guillermo Fariñas, a 54-year-old psychologist and winner of the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize, is one such disappointed Cuban.
“Independent groups that monitor civil liberties on the island say conditions have deteriorated in the 20 months since the Obama decision to normalize relations and ease Cuba trade and travel restrictions for Americans.”
In a July 20 letter to Gen. Castro, Mr. Fariñas announced “a hunger and thirst strike” until Castro “designate[s]” a vice president to meet with the opposition and declares an end to the state policy of torturing and arresting dissidents and confiscating their property. Mr. Fariñas has been taken to the local hospital in the city of Santa Clara twice for rehydration, but is now at home. He is gravely ill.
Mr. Amel, who was arrested in July, also sought an end to the state’s policy of beating and arresting dissidents. In his letter to Raúl Castro, Mr. Fariñas wrote that when he went to the police to inquire about charges against the hunger-striking Mr. Amel and another dissident, he was handcuffed and tortured.
Flirting with death is a sign of desperation and it is difficult not to see a connection between that and Mr. Obama’s decision to drop the longstanding U.S. commitment to the democracy movement on the island so that he can be on better terms with the despots. Mr. Fariñas also has personal reasons for feeling betrayed. Read the rest of this entry »
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Until recently, Julio Noguera worked at a bakery. Now he spends his evenings searching through the garbage for food.
“I come here looking for food because if I didn’t, I’d starve to death,” Noguera said as he sorted through a pile of moldy potatoes. “With things like they are, no one helps anyone and no one gives away meals.”
“We’re seeing terrible sacrifices across many sections of society. A few years ago, Venezuela didn’t have the kind of extreme poverty that would drive people to eat garbage.”
— Carlos Aponte, a sociology professor at the Central University of Venezuela.
Across town, unemployed people converge every dusk at a trash heap on a downtown Caracas sidewalk to pick through rotten fruit and vegetables tossed out by nearby shops. They are frequently joined by small business owners, college students and pensioners — people who consider themselves middle class even though their living standards have long ago been pulverized by triple-digit inflation, food shortages and a collapsing currency.
Venezuela’s poverty had eased during the administration of the late President Hugo Chavez. But a study by three leading Caracas universities found that 76 percent of Venezuelans are now under the poverty line, compared with 52 percent in 2014.
Staples such as corn flour and cooking oil are subsidized, costing pennies at the strongest of two official exchange rates. But fruit and vegetables have become an unaffordable luxury for many Venezuelan families.
“We’re seeing terrible sacrifices across many sections of society,” said Carlos Aponte, a sociology professor at the Central University of Venezuela. “A few years ago, Venezuela didn’t have the kind of extreme poverty that would drive people to eat garbage.”
While some search through the garbage piles for food they can eat, many more are drawn by the opportunity to fetch a few bolivar bills by rescuing and reselling bruised produce.
On a recent evening, Noguera managed to retrieve a dozen potatoes.
Chavez became the bugaboo of American politics because his full-throated advocacy of socialism and redistributionism at once represented a fundamental critique of neoliberal economics, and also delivered some indisputably positive results… When a country goes socialist and it craters, it is laughed off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics. When, by contrast, a country goes socialist and its economy does what Venezuela’s did, it is not perceived to be a laughing matter – and it is not so easy to write off or to ignore.
Last Sunday, Nicholas Casey of The New York Times reported in an article Dying Infants and No Medicine: Inside Venezuela’s Failing Hospitals,
By morning, three newborns were already dead. The day had begun with the usual hazards: chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions, even food. Then a blackout swept over the city, shutting down the respirators in the maternity ward. Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died… The economic crisis in this country has exploded into a public health emergency, claiming the lives of untold numbers of Venezuelans.
I start with these rather long quotations with a heavy heart. Contrary to Sirota’s glib prediction, I do not intend to laugh off as “harmless and forgettable” Venezuela’s “cautionary tale about the perils of command economics.” I do not find dying children laughable. But then, I did not laugh when I read about starving Ukrainians eating their children during Stalin’s Holodomor.
I did not laugh when I read of Khmer Rouge soldiers shooting infants off their bayonets in communist Cambodia. And I certainly did not laugh when I saw with my own two eyes children reduced to starvation by the Marxist dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. In fact, there is nothing laughable about the almost incomprehensible degree of suffering that socialism has heaped upon humanity wherever it’s been tried. Read the rest of this entry »
Caracas (AFP) – Marc Burleigh reports: If a visitor to Venezuela is unfortunate enough to pay for anything with a foreign credit card, the eye-watering cost might suggest they were in a city pricier than Tokyo or Zurich.
A hamburger sold for 1,700 Venezuelan bolivares is $170, or a 69,000-bolivar hotel room is $6,900 a night, based on the official rate of 10 bolivares for $1.
But of course no merchant is pricing at the official rate imposed under currency controls. It’s the black market rate of 1,000 bolivares per dollar that’s applied.
But for Venezuelans paid in hyperinflation-hit bolivares, and living in an economy relying on mostly imported goods or raw materials, conditions are unthinkably expensive.
Even for the middle class, most of it sliding into poverty, hamburgers and hotels are out-of-reach excesses.
“Everybody is knocked low,” Michael Leal, a 34-year-old manager of an eyewear store in Caracas, told AFP. “We can’t breathe.”
In Chacao, a middle-class neighborhood in the capital, office workers lined up outside a nut store to buy the cheapest lunch they could afford. Nearby restaurants were all but empty.
Superficially it looked like the of any other major Latin American city: skyscrapers, dense traffic, pedestrians in short sleeves bustling along the sidewalks.
Hugo Chavez poses for a picture with his family in La Habana March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace
But look closely and you can see the economic malaise. Many stores, particularly those that sold electronics, were shuttered.
“It’s horrible now,” said Marta Gonzalez, the 69-year-old manager of a corner beauty products store.
“Nobody is buying anything really. Just food,” she said as a male customer used a debit card to pay for a couple of razor blades. Read the rest of this entry »
The country is poised between chaos and dictatorship
“THIS government is going to fall!” chanted hundreds of protesters alongside the Avenida Libertador in central Caracas. Staring them down were ranks of security forces—from the police, the national guard and the feared, black-uniformed SEBIN (secret police)—charged with making sure that does not happen. Looming above was a huge grinning portrait of the late president, Hugo Chávez.
March 2013…good times, good times.
The protesters’ aim on May 18th was, as it has been on two previous occasions this month, to march to the offices of the National Electoral Council (CNE). The supposedly independent, but nakedly biased, institution has been delaying its consideration of a petition it was handed weeks ago, the first stage of a process to recall Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, through a referendum. With government forces blocking all routes to the CNE, the protesters were never likely to get close.
When a handful broke through the cordon, some attacking the police, the authorities had the excuse they needed. Multiple, deafening volleys of acrid tear gas burst above the crowd. At least 18 people were wounded and 26 detained. Pamela, a retired agricultural engineer in her 70s, was standing outside her home overlooking the avenue, holding a small handwritten cardboard sign saying “Maduro. Resign Now!” Tears in her eyes, she retreated inside. “This breaks my heart,” she said.
The regime may feel the day was a success. The protests were not huge. The poor have yet to stream down from the barrios en masse to demand the president’s ouster. But they are enraged and the government is worried. Almost 70% of Venezuelans want Mr Maduro to leave office this year, according to a recent poll. That demand is fuelled by the appalling deterioration of living standards under his incompetent rule. Venezuela is suffering the world’s deepest recession. Self-defeating price and currency controls and rampant corruption are causing shortages of everything from medicines to rice. “I am here because I am sick of queuing from dawn,” said José Galeano, a protester who describes himself as a poor man. “This has to end.”
No food, but plenty of tear gas in reserve
Across Venezuela, small protests are now commonplace. Social media are awash with videos of shoppers plundering supermarkets and brawling with each other. As crime soars, the lynching of petty criminals is becoming more common.
The desperation such incidents reveal is dismissed by the increasingly delusional Mr Maduro during his endless television appearances. The shortages, he says, are the consequence of an “economic war” waged by enemies at home and abroad. Some in Caracas joke that he must be the only man who can claim to fight a fictional war, and then lose it. But they fear the direction his rule might now take. Read the rest of this entry »
The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence estimates there were 40 cases in 2014 of lynchings, usually defined as extrajudicial killings by mobs.
VALENCIA/CARACAS (Reuters) – Alexandra Ulmer and Diego Oré report: When a man they believed to be a thief sneaked into their parking lot in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, angry residents caught him, stripped him and beat him with fists, sticks and stones.
“The police can arrest criminals, but then the courts free them. As long as there’s no response from the state, lynchings will increase.”
— Elisio Guzman, the head of state police in the state of Miranda
They tied him up and doused him in gasoline, according to witnesses, in one of what rights groups and media reports say are an increasing number of mob beatings and lynchings in a country ravaged by crime.
That August night, as locals say is common, three people had sneaked into Valencia’s Kerdell residential block. In past such break-ins, thieves have made off with car tires, batteries and radios.
“President Nicolas Maduro’s administration often blames violence on political rivals seeking to sabotage the socialist government. Authorities have also accused foreign media of exaggerating crime in Venezuela.”
But this time, one resident spotted the trespassers and alerted other neighbors, according to the witnesses.
“‘Kill him, give it to him,’ they shouted,” recounted Trina Castro, 82, in this once middle-class and peaceful area that is now plagued with garbage and graffiti. One reads: “Get ready, thief, here we burn you. Regards, Kerdell.”
“I tried to stop the mob but the level of violence endangered anyone who opposed them,” said another witness, asking to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
The unconscious man, who was not torched, was evacuated and is now in the local hospital’s trauma ward, according to witnesses and Valencia’s police. The police said they had no further details and did not identify the man.
A source at the Interior Ministry, who asked to remain anonymous because the minister is the only person authorized to speak on the record, said it does not usually comment on cases under investigation. Venezuela’s state prosecutor’s office said it had not issued a statement on the incident. Read the rest of this entry »
Violent clashes flare in pockets of the country as citizens wait for hours for basics, such as milk and rice.
LA SIBUCARA, Venezuela— Maolis Castro and Kejal Vyas report: Hours after they looted and set fire to a National Guard command post in this sun-baked corner of Venezuela earlier this month, a mob infuriated by worsening food shortages rammed trucks into the smoldering edifice, reducing it mostly to rubble.
“In past years, when oil prices were high, Venezuela’s leftist government flooded markets with subsidized goods ranging from cooking oil to diapers. It gave citizens in border towns like La Sibucara not only access to cheap supplies, but also a source of income as many people trafficked products—including nearly free gasoline—to neighboring Colombia, drawing handsome profits.”
The incident was just one of numerous violent clashes that have flared in pockets around the country in recent weeks as Venezuelans wait for hours in long supermarket lines for basics like milk and rice. Shortages have made hunger a palpable concern for many Wayuu Indians who live here at the northern tip of Venezuela’s 1,300-mile border with Colombia.
“We are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot.”
—María Palma, 55, of La Sibucara
The soldiers had been deployed to stem rampant food smuggling and price speculation, which President Nicolás Maduro blames for triple-digit inflation and scarcity. But after they seize contraband goods, the troops themselves often become targets of increasingly desperate people.
“Food-supply problems in Venezuela underscore the increasingly precarious situation for Mr. Maduro’s socialist government, which according to the latest poll by Datanálisis is preferred by less than 20% of voters ahead of Dec. 6 parliamentary elections.”
“What’s certain is that we are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot,” said María Palma, a 55-year-old grandmother who on a recent blistering hot day had been standing in line at the grocery store since 3 a.m. before walking away empty-handed at midday.
“If people aren’t outside protesting, they’re outside standing in line for goods.”
—Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict
In a national survey, the pollster Consultores 21 found 30% of Venezuelans eating two or fewer meals a day during the second quarter of this year, up from 20% in the first quarter. Around 70% of people in the study also said they had stopped buying some basic food item because it had become unavailable or too expensive.
An authentic socialist candidate soars in popularity in the U.S., the citizens of Venezuela are feeling the Bern
“They’re committing treason against our country, taking food and crossing the border.”
—National Guard Gen. Manuel Graterol
Food-supply problems in Venezuela underscore the increasingly precarious situation for Mr. Maduro’s socialist government, which according to the latest poll by Datanálisis is preferred by less than 20% of voters ahead of Dec. 6 parliamentary elections. The critical situation threatens to plunge South America’s largest oil exporter into a wave of civil unrest reminiscent of last year’s nationwide demonstrations seeking Mr. Maduro’s ouster.
“It’s a national crisis,” said Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict, noting that unlike the political protests of last year, residents are now taking to the streets demanding social rights. Read the rest of this entry »
Once we take Hillary out of the equation, the game looks rather different. As potent as it might be on paper, the Democratic party’s present edge within the Electoral College is by no means infinite, and it does not obtain in a personality vacuum…
Charles C.W.Cooke writes: I’ll say it, happily: Democrats should be worried about Hillary Clinton, and moderately panicked about the immediate future of both their party and their cause.
This is not, of course, because Hillary’s latest scandale du jour is in any practical way going to “disqualify” her; and nor is it because leftward-leaning voters are likely to recall anything more from this rather awkward period in time than that the Clintons are as perennially sleazy as they ever were. Rather, it is because the last few days have underscored just how tenuous the Left’s grip on power and influence truly is in the waning days of the once-buoyant Obama era.
“The Democratic base that isn’t wedded to her is nervous about it. It makes her more vulnerable. What is this anointed candidate getting us?”
At present, Republicans control the House of Representatives, they lead the Senate, and they enjoy pole position within a vast majority of the states. The Democratic party, by contrast, has been all but wiped out, its great historical hope having relegated himself by his obstinacy to the role of MVP on a team of just a few. For the next couple of years, Obama will dig in where he can, blocking here, usurping there, and seeking to provide for the Left a source of energy and of authority. But then . . . what?
After last year’s midterm elections, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chaitcontended grimly that the sheer scale of the Republican wave had rendered Hillary Clinton “the only thing standing between a Republican Party even more radical than George W. Bush’s version and unfettered control of American government.” The customary rhetorical hysterics to one side, this estimation appears to be sound.
On the surface, the knowledge that Clinton is ready to consolidate the gains of the Obama project should be a matter of considerable comfort to progressivism and its champions. Indeed, as it stands today, I’d still bet that Hillary will eventually make a somewhat formidable candidate, and that, despite her many, many flaws, she retains a better than 50 percent chance of winning the presidency in 2016.
“…A much more flawed candidate than we thought. And Republicans now have material they never thought they would have.”
In part, this is because she is a woman, yes, and because she will play ad nauseam upon this fact between now and November of next year; in part this is because she has been distressingly effective at selling herself as a moderate, and because her husband is remembered as a solid caretaker and remains popular across partisan lines; in part this is because the Democratic party is currently benefitting from a number of structural advantages that Republicans will struggle to overcome, whomever they choose to be their standard bearer; and in part this is because the economy will almost certainly be doing well enough by next year that the “Obama saved us all” narratives will seem plausible to a good number of voters. Read the rest of this entry »
A firecracker explodes at the scene of protests in Caracas, Venezuela. Photograph: Esteban Felix/AP
Shootings in Caracas, Valencia and San Cristobal amid clashes between demonstrators, security forces and armed gangs
Three Venezuelans have died from gunshot wounds during protests against socialist President Nicolás Maduro, witnesses and local media have said, pushing the death toll to 34 from almost two months of demonstrations that have been answered with deadly force from both security forces and armed pro-government gangs.
“…Bus driver Wilfredo Rey, 31, died on Friday night after being shot in the head during a confrontation between demonstrators and hooded gunmen…”
Troops briefly clashed with a small group of protesters who attempted to block a highway in an upscale neighborhood of Caracas after thousands of opposition supporters marched to demand the release of students imprisoned during the unrest.
“…Jesus Labrador was hit by a bullet on Saturday in the Andean city of Merida during a shootout between armed protesters burning tires and hooded gunmen on motorcycle…”
Demonstrators complaining of soaring prices and product shortages have vowed to remain in the streets until Maduro resigns, although there are few signs that the country’s worst turmoil in a decade will force him from office.
Hundreds of demonstrators in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, threw stones and sticks at the police. They responded with tear gas and water cannon. The clashes came a day after Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano were detained over their alleged role in weeks of unrest that has left 31 people dead.
“The youth today have decided they’re ready to give up their lives for the country, for freedom.”
— Juan Requesens, a student leader at the protest
The government of President Nicolas Maduro has been the target of near-daily protests over the high murder rate, skyrocketing inflation and shortages of basic goods. He has blamed the violence on “fascist groups”.
One protester said they were ready to give up their lives for the country
Juan Requesens, a student leader at the protest, said the two mayors were “victims of persecution, abuse, and wrongful arrest”. Read the rest of this entry »
Defenders of the Venezuelan regime would never allow the White House to arrest opposition leaders and shut down unfriendly media outlets. So why the double standard?
Dictatorship and Double Standard
Michael Moynihan writes: At the southernmost point of Central Park, on a small strip of sidewalk abutting 59th Street, hundreds of Venezuelans swarmed a statue of Simon Bolivar, the Caracas-born liberator of South America and a figure now most commonly associated with the bolivarian revolution of Hugo Chavez and his rechristenedBolivarian Republic of Venezuela. But it’s an association that when mentioned inthis crowd produces furrowed brows and narrowed eyes, quickly followed by a rapid-fire recapitulation of Chavez’s many crimes.
“Duarte was merely cataloging the massive shortages of basic goods (rice, milk, toilet paper) that have crippled Venezuela in recent years, not engaging in a bourgeois, fascist bakeoff.”
The necessary symbolism of the meeting point trumped practicality: the crowd quickly swelled, spreading like an inkblot from the small patch surrounding Bolivar into a lane of midtown Manhattan traffic. They banged pots. They shouted slogans about the Cubanization of their patria, from which many are exiled. They carried signs detailing spiraling crime rates (23,000 murders last year), many plastered with grim photos of those abused and murdered, and others with mordant slogans (“In Venezuela everything is scarce, except bullets”).
We are far from the bloody streets of Caracas; these protesters are ringed not by heavily armed and body-armoured National Guardsman, but are politely attended to by a handful of paunchy and bored New York City cops. There was no threat of violence here–with the single exception of a slobbering, toothless, and possibly blotto Spanish speaker who, while ambling past the crowd, shouted something that drew the ire–and very nearly the flying fists–of a man with a large Venezuelan flag tied around his neck–the anti-Chavez superhero.
“How is Venezuela doing? …It’s going to hell in a handcart, that’s how it’s doing.”
How is Venezuela doing? Well, tens of thousands of protesters are in the streets, the army’s been sent to crush revolt, an opposition leader has been arrested and supporters of the government just shot dead a former beauty queen. It’s going to hell in a handcart, that’s how it’s doing.
The late dictator’s children won’t move out of the president’s official residence, which is filled with antiques and priceless art
It’s hard times in Venezuela these days. The economy is in shambles, crime is spiraling, and the opposition is leading increasingly strident protests on the streets. To make matters worse, President Nicolás Maduro can’t even deal with the crisis from the comforts of the presidential palace.
Hugo Chavez’s daughter Maria Gabriela (AFP/Getty Images/Leo Ramirez)
Constitutionally, of course, Maduro has been able live in La Casona, a luxurious villa in the heart of the capital, since he was sworn in last year. The only problem: Almost a year after Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, passed away, his three grown children—Maria Gabriela, Rosa Virginia and Hugo Jr.—are still living in the villa. Apparently, they have no intention of leaving.
The two daughters have allegedly converted La Casona into a social club for friends of the family. According to recent media reports, neighbors complain of “deafening” parties. Fast-food restaurants and catering agencies refuse to deliver to the mansion, allegedly, because the Chávez kids have stopped paying their bills. Even concert organizers are complaining; Chavez’s daughters allegedly force them to hand over dozens of free tickets so they can share them with their friends. (Both the country’s Information Ministry and the Chávez family were unavailable for comment.)
Originally built in colonial times, the glamorous La Casona residence was acquired by the government in the 1960s, during the presidency of Raúl Leoni. The mansion features six main bedrooms and several more for guests. There’s a swimming pool, a private movie theater and a series of private gardens.
Asked for his thoughts on the recent protests, Oliver Stone described the students as “sore losers.”
…Chavez successor, Nicolas Maduro, won a narrow election in 2013. But this came after former President Hugo Chavez announced he would alter the Constitution so he could be President for life and then announced he would rule by decree without any input from legislators…
Frances Martel reports: Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro has a violent situation on his hands, as protests against the socialist regime escalate and the death toll rises. Reuters reports that protesters have vowed to continue until Maduro resigns, but Maduro has only escalated the oppression, raiding Caracas homes in search of opposition leader Leopoldo López.
The streets of Caracas–already among the world’s most violent thanks to more than a decade of rule under Hugo Chávez–were aflame this weekend as Venezuelans used the national “Youth Day” holiday to trigger protests against the socialist dictatorship this weekend. This Youth Day, a holiday celebrating a battle of independence against Spain, three student protesters were reported dead and 23 injured thanks to government violence. The protest itself was peaceful; violence began when it culminated and police agitated the remaining protesters.
“I tell you, Maduro, you are a coward. You will not force my family nor myself to submit. To my family: Strength, I love you”
López tweeted yesterday. He also posted a video describing the protest and the next steps for his supporters…
Members of the National Guard near the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela. (GETTY IMAGES)
Fermín Lares reports: For the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, the murder of a former beauty queen wasn’t so much a tragedy as an opportunity.Although Venezuelans have become accustomed to violent crime – at an annual average of 79 per 100,000, the country has the world’s highest homicide rate after Honduras – the horrific murders in Carabobo, involving as they did a much-loved celebrity and her family, convulsed the entire nation in shock. Enter Maduro, who loudly declared that he would use an “iron fist” against Venezuelan criminals.
Sure enough, within days of the killings, seven men said to belong to a gang known as “Los sanguinarios del Cambur” (“The bloodthirsty ones of Cambur”) were in custody. But if Maduro was expecting plaudits from a country whose citizens are even more fiercely divided than during the rule of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, he must have been sorely disappointed. The swift response of the authorities in the Monica Spear case was a stark contrast to the thousands of other murders – there were a total of 24,763 murders in 2013 alone, according to the independent Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) – that are seldom investigated or resolved.
To the casual observer, it is not immediately clear how the various strands that compose Venezuela’s current economic and political crisis relate to this fundamental breakdown of law and order. What therefore needs to be understood is that, after 15 years of Chavista misrule, the Venezuelan state is not an enemy of the criminal networks that have conquered the country, but their ally.
“They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!” Maduro thundered in the latest of his lengthy daily speeches. “We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment.”
The successor to the late Hugo Chavez also said his government was preparing a law to limit Venezuelan businesses’ profits to between 15 percent and 30 percent.
Officials say unscrupulous companies have been hiking prices of electronics and other goods more than 1,000 percent. Critics say failed socialist economic policies and restricted access to foreign currency are behind Venezuela’s runaway inflation.
“Goodyear has to lower its prices even more, 15 percent is not enough, the inspectors have go there straightaway,” Maduro said in his evening address, sending officials to check local operations of the U.S.-based tire manufacturer.
Since the weekend, soldiers and inspectors have gone into 1,400 shops, taken over operations at an electronics firm and a battery-making company, and rounded up a handful of looters.
Even before Hugo Chávez died, he had become a ghost. A strange, unfamiliar quiet had fallen on Venezuela for weeks as people waited to hear the voice of the president who had been part of their daily lives for nearly 14 years. That’s because Chávez spoke to Venezuelans constantly. In his first 11 years in office, he addressed the nation, on average, every two days. His remarks, usually improvised, typically ran more than four hours. If you add up these talks, which all radio and television stations were required to broadcast, they would amount to 54 full days.
And then there was silence. Venezuelans last heard their president on Dec. 8 when he announced that he was returning to Havana for his fourth operation to treat a recurring bout of cancer. He wouldn’t return to Venezuela until Feb. 18, slipping into a military hospital in Caracas in the middle of the night. (His advisers later admitted that his ability to speak had been impaired by a tracheal tube that had been inserted to assist his breathing.) Chávez had made the trip home, but he never truly returned. He was present but could not be seen. The eerie quiet was only broken with the announcement, delivered by Vice President Nicolás Maduro late Tuesday, that the 58-year-old president was dead.
What has Chávez bequeathed his fellow Venezuelans? The hard facts are unmistakable: The oil-rich South American country is in shambles. It has one of the world’s highest rates of inflation, largest fiscal deficits, and fastest growing debts. Despite a boom in oil prices, the country’s infrastructure is in disrepair—power outages and rolling blackouts are common—and it is more dependent on crude exports than when Chávez arrived. Venezuela is the only member of OPEC that suffers from shortages of staples such as flour, milk, and sugar. Crime and violence skyrocketed during Chávez’s years. On an average weekend, more people are killed in Caracas than in Baghdad and Kabul combined. (In 2009, there were 19,133 murders in Venezuela, more than four times the number of a decade earlier.) When the grisly statistics failed to improve, the Venezuelan government simply stopped publishing the figures…