To Survive, Venezuelan Socialists Retreat from Socialism

(p. 14) CARACAS, Venezuela — After decades of dominating its oil industry, the Venezuelan government is quietly surrendering control to foreign companies in a desperate bid to keep the economy afloat and hold on to power.

The opening is a startling reversal for Venezuela, breaking decades of state command over its crude reserves, the world’s biggest.

The government’s power and legitimacy have always rested on its ability to control its oil fields — the backbone of the country’s economy — and use their profits for the benefit of its people.

But the nation’s authoritarian leader, Nicolás Maduro, in his struggle to retain his grip over a country in its seventh year of a crippling economic crisis, is giving up policies that once were central to its socialist-inspired revolution.

For the full story, see:

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Clifford Krauss. “Economy Mired in Crisis, Venezuela Quietly Surrenders Control of Its Oil.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 9, 2020): 14.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 18, 2020, and has the title “To Survive, Venezuela’s Leader Gives Up Decades of Control Over Oil.” The online version says that the article was on p. A8 of the print version. But it was on p. 14 of my National Edition print version.)

“Eventually You Run Out of Other People’s Money”

(p. A19) Conspicuous by its absence in much of the mainstream news coverage of Venezuela’s political crisis is the word “socialism.” Yes, every sensible observer agrees that Latin America’s once-richest country, sitting atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves, is an economic basket case, a humanitarian disaster, and a dictatorship whose demise cannot come soon enough.
But … socialist? Perish the thought.
Or so goes a line of argument that insists socialism’s good name shouldn’t be tarred by the results of experience.
. . .
Government overspending created catastrophic deficits when oil prices plummeted. Worker co-ops wound up in the hands of incompetent and corrupt political cronies. The government responded to its budgetary problems by printing money, leading to inflation. Inflation led to price controls, leading to shortages. Shortages led to protests, leading to repression and the destruction of democracy. Thence to widespread starvation, critical medical shortages, an explosion in crime, and a refugee crisis to rival Syria’s.
All of this used to be obvious enough, but in the age of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez it has to be explained all over again. Why does socialism never work? Because, as Margaret Thatcher explained, “eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
. . .
. . . , the larger lesson of Venezuela’s catastrophe should be learned. Twenty years of socialism, cheered by Corbyn, Klein, Chomsky and Co., led to the ruin of a nation. They may not be much embarrassed, much less personally harmed, by what they helped do. It’s for the rest of us to take care that it never be done to us.

For the full commentary, see:
Stephens, Bret. “Yes, Venezuela Is a Socialist Catastrophe; In the age of A.O.C., the lesson must be learned again.” The New York Times (Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019): A19.
(Note: ellipsis internal to a sentence, in original; other ellipses, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 25, 2019.)

Venezuelan Communist Economy Continues to Collapse

EmptyShelvesVenezuela2017-09-11.jpg“Empty cases and shelves in a grocery store in Cumaná, Venezuela, last year.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) CARACAS, Venezuela — Food shortages were already common in Venezuela, so Tabata Soler knew painfully well how to navigate the country’s black market stalls to get basics like eggs and sugar.

But then came a shortage she couldn’t fix: Suddenly, there was no propane gas for sale to do the cooking.
And so for several nights this summer, Ms. Soler prepared dinner above a makeshift fire of broken wooden crates set ablaze with kerosene to feed her extended family of 12.
“There was no other option,” said Ms. Soler, a 37-year-old nurse, while scouting again for gas for her stove. “We went back to the past where we cooked soup with firewood.”
Five months of political turmoil in Venezuela have brought waves of protesters into the streets, left more than 120 people dead and a set off a wide crackdown against dissent by the government, which many nations now consider a dictatorship.
An all-powerful assembly of loyalists of President Nicolás Maduro rules the country with few limits on its authority, vowing to pursue political opponents as traitors while it rewrites the Constitution in the government’s favor.
But as the government tries to stifle the opposition and regain a firm grip on the nation, the country’s economic collapse, nearing its fourth year, continues to gain steam, leaving the president, his loyalists and the country in an increasingly precarious position.
. . .
In one nine-day stretch in late July and early August, the price of the bolívar, the national currency, fell by half against the dollar on the black market, cutting earnings for people who make the minimum wage to the equivalent of just $5 per month.
. . .
“Bolívars are like ice cubes now,” said Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, who leads the Latin America practice at Greenmantle, a macroeconomic advising firm, and teaches at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “If you’re going to go to the fridge and take one, it’s something you have to use right now, because soon it’s going to be gone.”

For the full story, see:
ANA VANESSA HERRERO and NICHOLAS CASEY. “In Venezuela, That Empty Feeling.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., SEPT. 3, 2017): 6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 2, 2017, and has the title “In Venezuela, Cooking With Firewood as Currency Collapses.”)

Oil Rich Socialist Venezuela Is Importing Oil from Capitalist United States

(p. A1) EL FURRIAL, Venezuela — One oil rig was idle for weeks because a single piece of equipment was missing. Another was attacked by armed gangs who made off with all they could carry. Many oil workers say they are paid so little that they barely eat and have to keep watch over one another in case they faint while high up on the rigs.
Venezuela’s petroleum industry, whose vast revenues once fueled the country’s Socialist-inspired revolution, underwriting everything from housing to education, is spiraling into disarray.
To add insult to injury, the Venezuelan government has been forced to turn to its nemesis, the United States, for help.
“You call them the empire,” said Luis Centeno, a union leader for the oil workers, referring to what government officials call the United States, “and yet you’re buying their oil.”

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS CASEY and CLIFFORD KRAUSSSEPT. “How Badly Is Oil-Rich Venezuela Failing? It’s Importing U.S. Oil.” The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 21, 2016): A1 & A12.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date SEPT. 20, 2016, and has the title “How Bad Off Is Oil-Rich Venezuela? It’s Buying U.S. Oil.”)

Proletariat Protests Communist Dictator

(p. A4) CARACAS, Venezuela — Thousands took to the streets here on Thursday [September 1, 2016] to demand the ouster of President Nicolás Maduro in what appeared to be the year’s largest display of frustration with Venezuela’s economic collapse and leadership.
The march, which protesters called “the taking of Caracas,” was organized by political opponents of the country’s ruling leftists. The marchers took over a major highway and several avenues in Caracas, the nation’s capital, and poured into the city’s plazas in an effort to gain momentum for a referendum to recall Mr. Maduro.
. . .
Ivonne Mejías, 42, who wore a headband of yellow, blue and red, the colors of the Venezuelan flag, said the situation had become so difficult that she had not been able to bake birthday cakes for her children this year. Her family of four gets by on just $25 a week, Ms. Mejías said, and she has taken to making piñatas to earn extra money.
“Sometimes I want to kill myself,” she said. “I am frustrated, I am out of control, I am fighting with this world. This isn’t my life. My soul splits in two when my kids beg for something — for an ice cream, for a cookie — and I can’t give it to them. The most difficult thing is getting food.”
Víctor Guilarte, 45, a mechanic from a Caracas suburb, said his work had vanished because his neighbors had become so poor they could not afford car repairs. Two weeks ago, he said, he visited his family in another state and found the situation even worse.
“I came back feeling destroyed — they had no food,” he said. “I am tired of Maduro and his government, tired of crime, of hunger, of them telling us we have plenty to eat.
. . .
Marly Torrealba, 37, a single mother, came by bus from Barlovento, a city once known for its cacao production. Ms. Torrealba complained that the government had abandoned the city to organized crime, and it was now rocked by killings, extortions and kidnappings.
“Farm workers have abandoned the crop because of crime,” she said, “and the criminals charge us protection money and rob everything in sight.”

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS CASEY and PATRICIA TORRES. “Thousands of Venezuelans March for President’s Ouster.” The New York Times (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): A4.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and has the title “Thousands March in Venezuela to Demand President’s Ouster.”)

Maduro Counts on Marxist Professor to Be Miraculous “Jesus Christ of Economics”

(p. B1) CARACAS, Venezuela–President Nicolás Maduro, hoping for an economic miracle to salvage his country, has placed his trust in an obscure Marxist professor from Spain who holds so much sway the president calls him “the Jesus Christ of economics.”
Alfredo Serrano–a 40-year-old economist whose long hair and beard have also elicited the president’s comparison to Jesus–has become the central economic adviser to Mr. Maduro, according to a number of officials in the ruling United Socialist Party and other government consultants.
. . .
Most international and domestic economists blame Venezuela’s food shortages, which have triggered riots, on price controls and expropriations. Mr. Serrano, though, attributes an “inefficient distribution system in the hands of speculative capitalism,” which he says allows companies to hoard products. He also says foreign and local reactionary forces are waging an economic war against Venezuela.
The adviser has championed urban agriculture in a country where about 40% of fertile land is left fallow by price controls and seed shortages. Mr. Maduro created the Ministry of Urban Agriculture, headed by a 33-year-old member researcher at Mr. Serrano’s think tank, Lorena Freitez. A senior adviser at the think tank, Ricardo Menéndez, heads the planning ministry.
“Serrano is a typical European leftist who came to Latin America to experiment with things no one wants at home: state domination, price controls and fixed exchange rates,” said José Guerra, a Venezuelan opposition lawmaker and former chief economist at the central bank.

For the full story, see:
ANATOLY KURMANAEV and MAYELA ARMAS. “Maduro Turns to Spanish Marxist for a Miracle.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 9, 2016): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 8, 2016, and has the title “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro Looks to a Marxist Spaniard for an Economic Miracle.”)

Venezuelans Revel in Socialist Paradise of Plenty

SearchForFoodInLootedCumanaGroceryStore2016-07-11.jpg“A man searched for food last week at a grocery store in Cumaná that had been looted.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) CUMANÁ, Venezuela — With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard. Soldiers stand watch over bakeries. The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.
Venezuela is convulsing from hunger.
Hundreds of people here in the city of Cumaná, home to one of the region’s independence heroes, marched on a supermarket in recent days, screaming for food. They forced open a large metal gate and poured inside. They snatched water, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, potatoes, anything they could find, leaving behind only broken freezers and overturned shelves.
And they showed that even in a country with the largest oil reserves in the world, it is possible for people to riot because there is not enough food.
In the last two weeks alone, more than 50 food riots, protests and mass looting have erupted around the country. Scores of businesses have been stripped bare or destroyed. At least five people have been killed.
. . .
(p. A3) It has not always been clear what provokes the riots. Is it hunger alone? Or is it some larger anger that has built up in a country that has crumbled?
Inés Rodríguez was not sure. She remembered calling out to the crowd of people who had come to sack her restaurant on Tuesday night [June 14, 2016], offering them all the chicken and rice the restaurant had if they would only leave the furniture and cash register behind. They balked at the offer and simply pushed her aside, Ms. Rodríguez said.
“It is the meeting of hunger and crime now,” she said.

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS CASEY. “Pillaging by Venezuelans Reveals Depth of Hunger.” The New York Times (Mon., JUNE 20, 2016): A1 & A3.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 19, 2016, and has the title “Venezuelans Ransack Stores as Hunger Grips the Nation.”)

Basic Goods Unavailable in Socialist Venezuela

(p. 5) I used to laugh when I heard that reporters were headed to Caracas with their own deodorant. I thought they were just being fussy.
Then came my turn.
I brought Old Spice. For detergent, I brought a ton of Tide. That’s one of my bags above, and all the other essentials that came along: two nasal spray bottles, three tubes of toothpaste, one package of floss, a bottle of body wash, shaving cream, contact lens solution, AA batteries, sponges, detergent, toilet paper and a big bottle of ibuprofen. Two bottles of Scotch.
If a selfie in the airport is a rite of passage for those leaving Venezuela, a preflight run to the supermarket to fill a suitcase with basic goods is the ritual for those arriving here.
Since the economy fell into deep collapse in 2015, some things just aren’t sold here. Other items — like toilet paper — are on the black market but can be tricky to find.
My friend Girish has been making these trips for the last five years. I asked him before moving here what to pack, besides toilet paper.
He responded, via text: “Medicine. First Aid stuff. Spices/other food you like. Kindle (as books aren’t so easy to get here), shampoos/toiletries etc if you like something specific…”
Like some people here, Girish brings enough to get him through a month or so. Then he makes a pit stop in Colombia to fill up the cabinet again.
But most people in Venezuela can’t leave and have to make do with whatever they can find.

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS CASEY. “Settling Into Venezuela, a Land in Turmoil.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 24, 2016): 5 & 9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 5 [sic], 2016, and has the title “Moving to Venezuela, a Land in Turmoil.”)

“We’re from the Streets and We Want Change”

(p. A9) CARACAS, Venezuela — On a sunny afternoon, Jorge Millán, an opposition candidate for congress, walked through the narrow streets of a lower-middle-class neighborhood, pressing the flesh in what was once a no man’s land for people like him.

. . .
With the economy sinking under the weight of triple-digit inflation, a deep recession, shortages of basic goods and long lines at stores despite the nation’s vast oil reserves, the opposition has its best chance in years to win a legislative majority.
. . .
“I was a Chavista, but Chávez isn’t here anymore,” said Mr. Omaña, referring to the followers of the former president.
“It’s this guy,” he said, referring to Mr. Maduro. “It’s not the same.”
Mr. Omaña complained about having to stand in long lines to buy food and about the fast-rising prices, saying that for the first time since Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998 he would vote for an opposition candidate.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “We need something good for Venezuela.”
Venezuelan politics was dominated after 1998 by Mr. Chávez and the movement he started, which he called the Bolivarian revolution, after the country’s independence hero, Simón Bolívar. Mr. Chávez died in 2013, and his disciple, Mr. Maduro, was elected to succeed him, vowing to continue Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired policies.
. . .
Opposition candidates said one of the biggest surprises of the campaign has been the warm reception they have received in what were once hostile pro-government strongholds.
Carlos Mendoza, 53, a motorcycle taxi driver and former convict who works in the district where Mr. Millán is running, said that he belongs to a group, known as a colectivo, that in the past was paid by the government to help out during campaigns, attend rallies and drive voters to the polls. Such groups were also often used to intimidate opposition supporters.
“They called us again this time,” Mr. Mendoza said. “I told them, ‘No way, you’re not using me again.’ ”
“We’re from the streets,” he said, “and we want change.”

For the full story, see:
WILLIAM NEUMAN. “Venezuela’s Economic Pain Gives Opposition Lift Before Vote.” The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 5, 2015): A9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2015, and has the title “Venezuela’s Economic Woes Buoy Opposition Before Election.”)

Venezuelans Irritated by Short Supply of Cerveceria Polar Beer

(p. 5A) CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans are facing the prospect of a heat wave without their favorite beer, the latest indignity in a country that has seen shortages of everything from disposable diapers to light bulbs.
Cerveceria Polar, which distributes 80 percent of the beer in the socialist South American country, began shutting down breweries this week because of a lack of barley, hops and other raw materials, and has halted deliveries to Caracas liquor stores.
“This is never-never land,” said Yefferson Ramirez, who navigated a rush of disgruntled customers Thursday behind the counter at a corner store in posh eastern Caracas. The shop has been out of milk and bottled water for months, but the beer shortfall is provoking a new level of irritation.

For the full story, see:
Associated Press. “Venezuela’s top beer scarce amid heat wave.” Omaha World-Heraldl (Sat., Aug. 8, 2015): 5A.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 7, 2015.)

Venezeuelan Socialists Seize Warehouses of Cerveceria Polar Beer

PolarWorkersProtestSocialistsSeizingProperty.jpg “Polar workers protested the government’s decision to expropriate warehouse land in Caracas on Thursday [July 30, 2015].” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) CARACAS, Venezuela–The government ordered major food companies, including units of PepsiCo and Nestlé Inc., to evacuate warehouses in an area where the state plans to expropriate land to build low-cost housing.
. . .
Manuel Larrazábal, a director at Polar, said he hoped the government would reconsider the measure. “We don’t doubt that they need to construct housing, which is so important, but we ask why it has to affect active industrial facilities.”
. . .
Some workers painted messages including “No to expropriation” and “Let us work” onto the walls of the industrial park and on dozens of trucks that lined the streets outside, which were blocked by police and National Guard. Polar said the move would affect some 600 workers, as well as 1,400 employees who transport their goods around Caracas and two neighboring states.
. . .
Polar suspended operations at its facility after getting the order Wednesday night. The expropriation order extends a history of shaky relations between it and the government, which began under the late leader Hugo Chávez and continues under his protégé, Mr. Maduro.
In recent months, the company, which is the largest beer maker in Venezuela, said it had to halt work at several plants and breweries due to labor strife. It has also struggled with difficulties in acquiring raw materials and U.S. dollars to pay overseas suppliers, a process controlled by the government due to complicated currency regulations.

For the full story, see:
KEJAL VYAS . “Venezuela Takeover Order Riles Companies; Maduro’s government wants industrial zone to build housing for poor.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)