The first on this list of my "special" countries--other than the old country and the adopted one--was Venezuela. In the summer after the first year of graduate school in Los Angeles, I went to Venezuela with a group of fellow graduate students. As I have blogged more than once, I have warm memories of that country and its people, and how that experience was even a part of my growing up in so many different ways.
It pains me--and such empathy is no good for my heart--when I read about the chaos there, thanks to the resource-curse and the dirty rotten scoundrels who have governed Venezuela. I don't know enough about its history to figure out whether Hugo Chavez was the worst of them all, but I bet he is up there in the hall of shame.
“I’ve always been a Chavista,” said Ms. Noriega, using a term for a loyal Chávez supporter. But “the other day, I found a Chávez T-shirt I’d kept, and I threw it on the ground and stamped on it, and then I used it to clean the floor. I was so angry. I don’t know if this is his fault or not, but he died and left us here, and things have been going from bad to worse.”
Indeed, from bad to worse!
In the old days, we used to joke about life in the Soviet Union, with its shortages. Like this one:
A customer walks into a shop and says, "oh, you don't have any fish".
The shop worker angrily retorts with, "you have come to the wrong shop, comrade. This is a butcher's shop where we don't have any meat." And then he adds "the store where they don't have any fish is in the fish shop across the road!"
Those were the days that I was sure we would not return to. But then, well, there was Hugo Chavez!
Venezuelans have put up with shortages and long lines for years. But as the price of oil, the country’s main export, has plunged, the situation has grown so dire that the government has sent troops to patrol huge lines snaking for blocks. Some states have barred people from waiting outside stores overnight, and government officials are posted near entrances, ready to arrest shoppers who cheat the rationing system.
Lines and crowds like in this photograph:
What a tragedy!
Chavez died and made sure that his chosen successor would further screw things up for the people:
President Nicolas Maduro stuck to the party line, blaming oil's ruinous price plunge on the global capitalism "of the north.""The capitalism of the world of the north is trying to destroy OPEC, to control sources of energy, to destroy the just prices that we need and have been assimilated by the entire world," said Maduro.
As in the old Soviet Union, Chavez and Maduro have no understanding of price. All they know is the empty flame-throwing rhetoric attacking "capitalism," whatever that means to whoever listens to them!
Venezuela has the world’s largest estimated petroleum reserves, and when oil prices were high, oil exports made up more than 95 percent of its hard currency income. Mr. Chávez used the oil riches to fund social spending, like increased pensions and subsidized grocery stores. Now that income has been slashed.
“If things are so bad now, I really cannot imagine how they will be in February or March” when some of the lowest oil prices “materialize in terms of cash flow,” said Francisco J. Monaldi, a professor of energy policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Mr. Maduro spent 14 straight days in January traveling the globe in an effort to court investment and persuade other oil-producing nations to cut production and push the price back up.
“We have serious economic difficulties regarding the country’s revenue,” Mr. Maduro said to the legislature during his annual address, which had to be pushed back because of the trip. “But God will always be with us. God will provide. And we will get, and we have gotten, the resources to maintain the country’s rhythm.”
Aha, so there lies the difference between the Soviets and the Chavistas: at least the Soviets didn't believe that god will provide and rescue them from their terrible sins!
|Two boys who wanted to pose for me during that trip in 1988|