Venezuela is a tragedy as much as it is a warning. A warning of how a once-rich country can end up oppressed and impoverished by radical socialism and communism (how many more examples will we need?), of how a people can destroy itself deceived by the promises of demagogues and of how a democracy can end up in tyranny by destroying the rule of law, subduing institutions, silencing the media and buying votes with public money.
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and should be a prosperous country. In fact, in 1950 it was the fourth richest country in the world, above Canada and Switzerland, and for a certain time it maintained the highest credit rating (AAA). Today, however, it is a country that has been completely wiped out, with hyperinflation turning the local currency into worthless paper and with a people forced to live in misery. According to local humanitarian aid sources, the situation is overwhelming. There is hunger, and many families survive on one meal a day from the community pots that humanitarian organizations distribute in the middle of the street. There are also shortages of basic commodities and medicines (which are beyond the reach of most people), child malnutrition has reared its ugly face and mortality has shot up among children, the elderly, the sick without treatment and women giving birth in deplorable conditions. If someone is admitted to a hospital he has to bring his own food, his own blankets, his own medicines and his own medical devices, because the hospital does not have them. Despite its oil wealth there is almost no gasoline, with queues at gas stations that can last for days. There are also no tires or spare parts, so transportation is a luxury, and no paper. Power outages are constant, which not only affect homes, but also schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Bolivarian tyranny live in ostentatious luxury amidst a corruption of colossal proportions. My Venezuelan sources conclude: “We are governed by a gang of criminals”.
The greatest economic collapse the world has seen in decades is compounded by the regime’s violence and oppression: according to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, from 2016 to 2019 the regime’s police killed 18,000 people for “resisting authority,” while Amnesty International (as well as the European Parliament) has reported crimes against humanity including extrajudicial executions, torture, and illegal detentions that do not even respect “children and teenagers,” summarizing the situation as follows: “Hunger, punishment, and fear, Maduro regime’s formula for repression”. All of this has led to the exile of 4 million Venezuelans, ca. 15% of the population, causing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in times of peace.
The imposition of a social-communist system with a Marxist and totalitarian tinge allowed Chavez and Maduro to plunder and systematically demolish Venezuela, but how did they come to power? After the 1973 oil crisis (a windfall for exporting countries like Venezuela), the ensuing incoming wave of petrodollars was squandered by the usual vote-buying public spending programs (different versions of “vote for me and you may live without working”). The oil industry was nationalized, the central bank was politicized, the public debt skyrocketed and the various governments began to print bills as if there were no tomorrow. Thus, 1983 was the last year in which inflation in Venezuela remained in the single digits. In 1998, the structural corruption problem was compounded by a serious economic crisis caused by a 55% drop in the price of crude oil and an easy “enemy” to blame for everything: in exchange for its help, the IMF demanded austerity, that is, an end to the partying. It was Chavez’s chance to rise to power, the same “Leninist moment” communist party Podemos would try to exploit in Spain in 2015. Chavez, a coup leader pardoned after leading a failed coup in 1992, swept the elections with 56% of the vote with blatant lies: he denied that he was a radical socialist and promised an extra dose of “democracy”. Then he had the stroke of luck that would allow him to hold on to power: because of one of those whims of fate, the price of oil hit a low one month before he took office, and in the following nine years it increased 14-fold (from $10 to $145 a barrel, approximately). Many Venezuelans believed that his change in fortunes was due to his leader and to Bolivarian socialism and not to a short-lived financial bubble in the international markets. Thus, in spite of his growing authoritarianism, made obvious in broad daylight, Chavez would be re-elected by a people who had become docile and dependent on subsidies so that they would end up caring little about liberty. Chavez changed the Constitution, created a new regime police, assaulted all institutions (National Electoral Council, Supreme Court…), persecuted political dissidents, corrupted the Army and destroyed the rule of law, making his will the only law in town. This is what today’s Spain’s deputy prime minister Iglesias considered “one of the healthiest democracies in the world” (sic). Social-communist policies became increasingly aggressive, with constant expropriations and excesses of all kinds that expelled those who produced and created wealth. Then, when oil fell, all of a sudden the mirage vanished only to leave the regime’s corrupt incompetence naked for everyone to see. The farce was coming to an end. After his death in power, Chavez was succeeded by the unpopular Maduro, protected by the Cuban communist dictatorship, who tried to rig an election not recognized by the international community (“neither legitimate, nor free, nor fair, nor credible”, according to the EU), unleashed violence against unarmed demonstrators and opponents, refused to call new elections and took refuge in the “internationalization of the conflict” -as Basque terrorist group ETA always demanded and as Catalan separatists now demand- with Russia and Iran. Under Maduro, the economy has finally collapsed: in his first four years in power, inflation shot out of control and the GDP plummeted 40% before the US imposed sanctions at the end of 2017. Between 2018 and 2019, GDP fell an additional 45%, something the world has never seen in peacetime.
Dear reader: the lesson to be learned is that Venezuela was not destroyed overnight, but in dribs and drabs. The Social-Communist Bolivarian government gradually colonized all the institutions and powers of the State, created masses of subsidized voters and built up a communicational hegemony. First, it used lies and seduction; later, intimidation; and finally, violence. There are obvious differences between Venezuela and Spain, but there are also worrying indications that we should not ignore. Our deputy prime minister Iglesias is a Bolivarian Communist, an enthusiastic disciple of his sponsor Chavez (“how we miss the commander” he said in the Venezuelan TV after Chavez died) and an outspoken admirer of Robespierre, Mao and Lenin. This does not happen in any other Western country. Our PM Sanchez, whose amorality distracts from his radical leftist ideology, refuses to receive Maduro’s opponent Guaido, who is recognized as Venezuela’s president in charge by 59 countries (Europe, Canada, the United States and almost all of Latin America), while he still does not accept the ambassador to Spain appointed by the same Guaido in violation of an ad hoc decision of the European Parliament. Then there is the servility of allowing Maduro’s top lieutenant (who tried to visit Spain in order to counteract the effect of Guaido’s European trip) to make a long stopover at Madrid’s airport, in a de facto contravention of a European order (the mountain of lies with which this episode has been covered up would have caused a serious political crisis in any serious country). Finally, the sinister Zapatero, Iglesias secret’s godfather, now unabashedly defends the tyranny that treats him so princely, while lying about the Venezuelan reality. The sympathy shown by Spain’s Social-Communist government towards Maduro’s corrupt tyranny causes true astonishment in Western governments. Shouldn’t we take it seriously in Spain?
Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo