Chaos is growing in Venezuela, with a murder rate that’s one of the highest in the world and the outcome far from certain.
The now poverty-stricken country, living with electrical blackouts, widespread starvation, rampant corruption, and disease, is a study in the consequences of socialism when fully implemented.
Socialism was forced on Venezuela following a 40-year period of relative stability and prosperity that began shortly after World War II. At that time, Venezuela used its newly discovered vast oil reserves and capitalism to quickly develop its petrol business and economy as a whole.
They enjoyed an economic growth rate nearly as large as the United States and became the richest country in Latin America, with an economy larger than China and one of the largest in the world.
I had the pleasure of visiting Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, toward the end of this era of prosperity and can testify that it was everything you would expect with a large, well-educated middle class, a working legal system, and a prosperous economy. The robust economy was not a one-trick pony that depended entirely on the oil industry, as some have tried to argue, to deflect blame for the current economic problems away from socialist policies.
The last president during the 40-year period of relative stability and prosperity in Venezuela was Rafael Caldera. Long after his death, Caldera remains significant because of what he represents. Caldera was twice president of Venezuela and is widely recognized even to this day to have been an honest and brilliant man. Once his second term as president was completed, he quietly retired to his home with his family, much as did the first president of the United States, George Washington.
Throughout his career, Caldera espoused democracy, pluralism, and social reform. Even during periods of less revenue, due to lower world oil prices, during his first presidential term (1969–1974), Caldera was dedicated to housing, infrastructure, and education. He doubled the number of public high schools and built three times the number of universities, colleges, and technical institutes, and built hundreds of thousands of houses and other buildings and structures such as highways, railroads, dams, and aqueducts.
During his second term (1994–1999), he made also made the fight against corruption a central theme. He was the product of 40 years of peace and prosperity and was a genuine and honest servant of his people, believed in a free and open economy in the capitalist tradition, and both the legal and social-justice systems worked well for everyone—the exact opposite of what we find today in Venezuela.
The former military officer and dedicated socialist Hugo Chavez, who was legally elected to replace Caldera as president in 1999, made every effort to fully implement socialism and erase from Venezuelan memory the 40 years of successful civilian democratic rule. Early on, Chavez consolidated his power and convened a constitutional assembly to give himself the power to dismantle democratic values and institutions. This theme, to erase the past, is carried forward today by the political left and mainstream media in the United States, who are apologists for the failed socialist policies of Chavez that were faithfully implemented.
In a twist of irony, Caldera published his last book in 1999, in which he stated that “Venezuelans learned to live in liberty. Any political project that ignores this reality is condemned to failure.” This prophecy is in two sentences why Chavez and current socialist strongman Nicolas Maduro have to destroy any memory of Caldera and democracy, so that they can’t be compared to the wealth and social justice that so successfully existed under an earlier capitalist and democratic system.
The reality is that as president, Chavez wildly and irresponsibly overspent and used all oil funds and any other revenue he could get his hands on for his socialist populist policies, such as the redistribution of wealth, redistribution of land, and centralized “worker-owned” cooperatives.
As the oil industry began to fail from lack of reinvestment, low prices, and the removal of everyone with any expertise in the industry, the economy began to contract, and Chavez widened his effort to obtain money from any available source to continue his already failing socialist programs.
Chavez turned on foreign firms and would periodically do things such as raising royalty rates on oil and invent unpaid back taxes to fraudulently charge firms billions of dollars. Chavez also forced foreign companies to turn over large portions of their business operations to Venezuela as part of selective nationalization, to the point that several of the largest left in exasperation.
Chavez did temporarily obtain a lower unemployment rate and bolstered other statistics that made the Venezuelan economy look much stronger than it really was by essentially stealing money where he could in order to prop up his policies. These statistics are, to this day, touted by the left in the United States and all socialist apologists to argue that the Chavez tenure was somehow positive. The truth is, of course, the opposite.
As the economy continued to deteriorate and shortages developed under his mismanagement, Chavez doubled down on additional socialist policies and instituted price controls, forced production quotas, nationalized large farms, seized many supermarkets, and nationalized industries.
Raping the economy by taking all the wealth for his short-term spending destroyed any possibility of long-term prosperity. The socialist logic for Chavez was that economic decisions should be based on social concerns rather than profit motive, which is naturally the precise difference between something being sustainable or not, and why socialism always fails.
Today, Maduro has replaced Chavez, who died of cancer in 2013. Maduro wasn’t selected for his brilliance, courage, or charisma, since he lacks all three. He was picked for his loyalty to the strongman dictator Chavez. He’s now in command under terrible circumstances and utterly and completely over his head. He will select the path of least resistance that allows him to keep his life and ill-gotten gains. Right now, it’s easiest for him to stay in power and attempt to crush any and all resistance.
Show him a path that doesn’t end well and Maduro will grasp at any chance to make it out as best he can. The Venezuelan police and military leaders are all loyal to Maduro and a coup isn’t likely, but this has to be stopped.
Parking a carrier task force off the coast, and a couple of overflights would probably do it.
Brad Johnson is a retired CIA senior operations officer and a former chief of station. He is president of Americans for Intelligence Reform.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.