The Dried-Up Fruits of Socialism, in Venezuela and Everywhere

You many have noticed the price of oil heading towards record highs. That should imply that the people living in oil-producing countries are doing well, right? Well, not all of them are. According to Reuters, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s socialist management of his nation’s oil wealth is creating shortages of basic products and crushing the quality of life of Venezuelans, middle class and poor alike…

Venezuelan construction worker Gustavo Arteaga has no trouble finding jobs in this OPEC nation’s booming economy, but on a recent Monday morning he skipped work as part of a more complicated search — for milk.

The 37-year-old father-of-two has for months scrambled to find basic products like cooking oil, beef and milk, despite leftist President Hugo Chavez’s social program that promises to provide low-cost groceries to the majority poor.

“It takes a miracle to find milk,” said Arteaga, who spent two hours in line outside a store in the poor Caracas neighborhood of Eucaliptus. “Don’t you see I’m here slaving away to see if I can get even one or two of those (containers)?”

The state’s consumer protection agency, backed by military reserves, often shutters supermarkets for selling above the fixed price, but vendors offer their goods from makeshift stands in downtown Caracas in plain view of authorities.

“This is an insult, but I can’t find it anywhere,” said Jose Ferrer, paying nearly $12 for a can of powdered milk regulated at $6. “I have to buy it for my kids, there is no other way.”

The economy grew by a record 10 percent in 2006, and millions of Venezuelans receive government stipends to participate in education and community development programs.

One of Chavez’s most popular programs is a chain of subsidized supermarkets scattered across rural areas and in hillside slums that sells food at fixed prices unaffected by rampant inflation — though it too has been hit by shortages.

Actually having to live under a socialist regime is making Venezuelans into the most pro-free market people in Latin America. According to a international survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in April/May of 2007, support for the idea that “people are better off in free markets” is higher in Venezuela than in any other Latin American country surveyed…
Percentage of people who agree with the statement that “Most people are better off in a free market economy, even though some people are rich and some are poor”.


Apologists here in Rhode Island like to discuss how Chavez isn’t properly understood in the United States. For example, here are two Providence City councilmen, Miguel Luna and Luis Aponte, announcing a recent visit to Rhode Island by Chavez’s ambassador to the United States…

“Councilman Aponte and I are honored to serve as co-hosts of the reception,” said Councilman Luna. “Our goals are to thank Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the heating assistance he has provided to thousands of Rhode Islanders and other Americans, and to address the myriad, troubling misconceptions about the Venezuelan government.
I wonder if the Councilmen consider the reporting on Chavez’s strangulation of Venezuela’s non-petroleum domestic economy to be based on “misconceptions”, or if they see the problems as part of a state of emergency that will correct itself once Venezuela has been freed from capitalist encirclement. I also wonder if Councilmen Luna and Aponte have given any introspection to their role in the exploitation of Venezuela’s people for political purposes, through their endorsement of a program that pays below-market value for heating oil to a country that finds it increasingly difficult to provide basic foodstuffs to its people.

In a related vein, James Keller, a local minister who has traveled to Venezuela, recently declared in a Projo op-ed that support for Chavez is obviously born of enlightened self-interest…

To add insult to injury, [an earlier Projo editorial] says that the people of Venezuela were “hoodwinked” by being given “social justice for the poor”….

Of course, the voters overwhelmingly supported Chavez for re-election to the presidency after they saw their lives improve. They weren’t “hoodwinked” but were voting out of enlightened self-interest, which every electorate does.

To Rev. Keller, an interest in living under strong government socialism apparently trumps any interest in being to obtain basic household necessities; who needs milk when you have the right to say you live in a glorious people’s republic.

But the most important question that needs to be asked of Chavez’s local supporters — especially the ones in positions of political power — is whether they believe his brand of political leadership and economic policy could provide a viable model for Rhode Island, despite the damage they inflict on the lives of regular people. After all, doesn’t it reasonably follow that those who believe that welfare socialism is the right choice for a place that should be in the midst of a petro-economy boom will also believe that even stronger measures are necessary for places where the foundations of the economy are more uncertain.

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16 years ago

Tough call. Sure, Chavez is an annoying little twit, but would we rather dress like eskimos in our own homes than buy oil from him? It’s not like we don’t buy oil from other unsavory characters.
For my money, Putin is a bigger danger to the U.S. than Chavez or the little geek in Iran. But then, Putin gets the royal treatment at Kennebunkport.

Tom W
Tom W
16 years ago

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The following quotes from Sir Winston Churchill could well have been made had he been alive to observe (and cringe) over what has been wrought by our “Union of Corrupt Politicians Local RI-1” Democrat General Assembly:
“Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon.”
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

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