Guy W Farmer is a retired diplomat
Venezuela, a country where I lived and worked for seven years during my U.S. Foreign Service career, and where my beautiful daughter Maria was born, is on the brink of collapse, thanks to the pernicious effects of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution.
When Col. Chavez took office in 1999 after leading a failed coup attempt in 1992 (for which he served two years in prison), he promised Venezuelans would soon be living in a socialist paradise. And now, four years after his death, a once-thriving South American democracy has become an international basket case. As Peruvian journalist Alvaro Vargas Llosa — the son of Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa — wrote earlier this month, “Four years after Chavez’s death, Venezuela’s descent into the abyss is one of the truly tragic events of the 21st century.” Well said!
Let’s examine the abyss into which Venezuela has fallen under the failed leadership of Chavez and his designated successor, Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver. Alvaro Vargas Llosa wrote Maduro has tried to turn the anniversary of Chavez’s death “into a mystical experience of sorts — and a dose of much-needed political oxygen.” That’s difficult to accomplish, however, “in a country with inflation predicted to run at 1,600 percent, an economic growth rate of negative ten percent, a painful shortage of basic stuff (including toilet paper), and the highest crime rate in the world.”
Other than that, socialism has been a big success in Venezuela. I’m amazed some American celebrities like left-wing filmmaker Oliver Stone and actor Sean Penn still champion Chavez’s failed revolution. If they still love it so much, they should move to Venezuela. I suppose they could live without toilet paper and basic foodstuffs like meat, but it wouldn’t be like their gilded, pampered lives in Hollywood.
When I arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, for the first time in 1968, it was the “City of Eternal Spring” awash in petro-dollars thanks to its immense oil reserves. But when I left Venezuela for the second time in mid-1990 the nation was suffering from a downward economic spiral and Chavez was plotting an unsuccessful coup attempt. What a contrast from my early years in Caracas, when in 1969 I witnessed the first peaceful transition of power between competing Venezuelan political parties. That was a shining moment for the emerging democracies of Latin America.
Three-quarters of Venezuelans tell pollsters they repudiate their own government. Nevertheless, Maduro remains in power by bribing the military and because the democratic opposition is deeply divided. According to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Maduro and the Venezuelan military are engaged in “a Mafia-style complicity in crime,” including drug trafficking. That became clear in February when the U.S. Justice Department imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck el-Aissami and canceled his visa “for playing a significant role in international drug trafficking.” I rest my case.
Earlier this year a National Survey of Living Conditions conducted by three universities found 72 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds each in 2016, and the average shopper spent more than 35 hours per month waiting to buy groceries. Maduro’s response to a 2014 nationwide protest was to order his military and police to attack the protesters, 40 of whom were killed during several weeks of unrest. On and on it goes three years later.
I always have two questions about Third World countries in crisis: (1) Who has the guns? and (2) Who counts the votes? In Venezuela the answers are the same: President Nicolas Maduro. Good luck to the brave Venezuelans who are trying to remove him from office.