Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela in 1999, on promises to do more to help the country’s poor. He brought a growing snowball of socialist economic policies with him that have continued since then. Venezuela has long been a member of OPEC, the world’s oil cartel, and has among the largest oil reserves in the hemisphere. In 2001, Venezuela was the largest economy in South America. Soon after taking office Chavez began nationalizing companies, including the nation’s oil companies, and began using the money from oil production to pay for subsidies for consumer goods that have grown over time, for everything from food to diapers.
Hugo Chavez died in 2013 and was followed by his picked successor, Nicolas Maduro. Maduro has continued the disastrous economic policies that have turned Venezuela into one of the poorest countries in South America. In 2015 it added diapers to its growing list of rationed consumer goods. People were allowed to buy two packs of diapers no more than twice a week and then only after proving they needed them. Some people resorted to cloth diapers, but supplies of running water are often hit or miss and are only available a few days a week. Last year, estimates by the nation’s central bank say that the economy shrank by 18.6%–almost a fifth–and that inflation exceeded 800%. (The head of the central bank was fired because the figures were leaked. The central bank stopped releasing economic data a couple of years ago at the order of the President, because the news was so routinely bad). The country’s paper money has become so worthless that many merchants now weigh it instead of taking the time to count it.
Maduro’s party faced huge losses in the last election, but in a move that shows ‘socialism’ is moving rapidly toward dictatorial ‘communism’, Maduro has had the courts invalidate every measure passed by parliament that he has opposed.
Who is affected most? The poor, of course. Those with any means are trying to leave the country and Venezuela has seen increasing emigration for years. For all of the promises of aid and ‘getting their fair share’, the poor have no choice but to stay and try and endure the disaster. However, things are so bad that the playing field may be tragically leveling. Those seeking passports to leave the country now have to wait on average of eight months, unless of course large bribes are paid. And the most recent reason for the long wait? The government ran out of plastic that is used to laminate passports last September.
Socialism is the great equalizer. Unfortunately, it usually means that people are equally miserable and Venezuela is a recent and vivid example.