“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.”)