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In Venezuela, A Socialist Regime

By Gustavo Coronel

04.03.05 | A few days ago the Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez declared himself a socialist in his customary negative style. Talking about the nature of his regime he said: "If not capitalism, then what?" as in "if not day, it must be night." His coming out of the political closet is another move in close imitation of Castro's own ideological striptease, which took place more than 40 years ago. Even more so than in the case of Castro, the main reason behind Chávez's embraced socialism is not really concern for the poor and the underprivileged. It is resentment of the rich and hate of capitalism, combined with a pathological thirst for absolute power.

This declaration by Chávez is both extemporaneous and hypocritical. It is extemporaneous because it comes at a time in history in which socialism, as visualized by Chávez, is dead. In 1989 there were about 20 states, which defined themselves as socialist and actually integrated a socialist camp. Today there are no more than three or four, true political coelacanths (rare type of fish, considered to be a living fossil) in a world where free, private market practices predominate. In the world of today, the political regimes of Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam more properly belong into an anthropological museum. Surprisingly, this is the place Chávez is trying to enter, with a catastrophic sense of timing. In doing this, he has not listened to the mandate he received from the Venezuelan people but to the whispers of his tropical Rasputin. He does not seem to be aware of the changes that have taken place in the world, as proven by his enthusiastic comments in China about Mao's brand of socialism, a country which is in the midst of an intense opening to capitalism, and by his persistent desire to associate himself with the most backward political leaders in the world.

Chávez socialism is also hypocritical because it is not driven by a genuine concern for the poor. If it were, the social conditions in Venezuela would be much different to the existing ones. During his long six years in total political control of the country, years without accounting to the people for his actions due to his authoritarian style, the country has received close to USD $200 billion in income, mostly from oil sales. In a country with only 24 million inhabitants, this immense mass of money would have allowed any humane and reasonably efficient leader to conduct a true social revolution in health, education, infrastructure and generation of employment. Instead, all social and economic indices in Venezuela are significantly worse than six years ago: unemployment is greater; national infrastructure is rotting away; education is as mediocre as always, with failed initiatives such as "bolivarian" universities which do not operate, "bolivarian" schools which lack the most essential equipment and a "literacy" program run by Cubans which displaced a very successful program run by the Venezuelan NGO "Fe y Alegria;" hospitals are in ruins and the Venezuelan people are poorer than ever. Today the Venezuelan poor depend almost exclusively on handouts from inefficient "revolutionary" administrators who know nothing of planning and programming and have to resort to distributing food and to allowing invasions of private property to keep them from protest and despair.

Obviously, this is not socialism. This is gross and criminal gross bureaucratic incompetence. What the Chávez regime is doing only amounts to an arbitrary redistribution of the existing cake, with no attempt at making the cake bigger. The Venezuelan poor are not being taught to generate wealth while the middle class is being destroyed.

Chávez is rapidly walking backwards. His primitive brand of socialism is characterized by an authoritarian political regime, a centralized, state controlled economy and a total lack of accountability to the people about the use of the immense amount of money that is going into his hands. This type of dictatorial socialism has failed everywhere, notably in the Soviet Union, under Stalin, ultimately leading to the total collapse of the soviet system. It failed in China, under Mao, where poverty, massive killings of dissenters and totalitarianism have mercifully given way to a strong trend towards capitalism and to the promotion of a new middle class. It has failed in North Korea, a pitiful and sad society, totally isolated from the rest of the world. It has failed in Cuba, where the whole country is essentially paralyzed, engaged in a long death vigil for Castro.

Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek wrote in the early 20th century about the dangers of socialism, the main ones being the difficulty to establish the true national priorities at the inefficient bureaucratic levels of the centralized regimes as well as the inevitable bureaucratization of economic life. Their predictions came true in the Soviet Union, although it took some time, given the huge size of the country. In the Venezuela of Chávez, this bureaucratic disaster has taken place in less than six years: the petroleum industry is riddled with corruption; industrial production is minimal; food production has essentially ground to a halt while imports of food by the government have replaced local agriculture and the bureaucracy has multiplied. However, few revolutionary bureaucrats keep their jobs more than weeks or months, a grotesquely high rotation, which is promoting a systematic sacking of the national treasury and the rapid impoverishment of Venezuelan society.

As the country descends into chaos Chávez pretends to become a regional and, even, a world leader. This pretension is costing the Venezuelan nation much of the money that should have gone to truly solve our social problems, as well as much of the prestige it had accumulated during 50 years of democratic rule.

Socialism is just a new buzzword in Chávez's repertoire. It will be probably be followed by confiscation or expropriation of private industries and banks, while the mercenaries in the payroll of the regime enthusiastically accuse political dissidents of treason and a wave of repression takes place within the country before the indifferent or impotent eyes of the outside world.

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