I don’t pray very often but there are times when events are so catastrophic, so desparate, and so predictable that prayer is in order and Venezuela has reached that point. While Hugo Chavez is big on socialist rhetoric, he has always been very short on actual implementation.
James Surowiecki, the financial columnist for the New Yorker, explained it this way:
To people on both the left and the right, Hugo Chávez is a kind of modern-day Castro, a virulently anti-American leader who has positioned himself as the spearhead of Latin America’s “Bolivarian revolution.” He calls for a “socialism of the twenty-first century,” and regularly floats radical economic ideas; during his recent campaign for reëlection, he suggested he might move Venezuela to a barter system. When he spoke in front of the United Nations General Assembly in September, a day after President Bush, he said, “The devil came here yesterday.” And, just last month, after he was overwhelmingly reëlected to the Presidency, he dedicated the victory to Castro and proclaimed it “another defeat for the devil who tries to dominate the world.”
Chávez’s rhetoric might not be out of place in “The Little Red Book,” yet everyday life for many Venezuelans today looks more like the Neiman-Marcus catalogue. Thanks to the boom in the price of oil, many Venezuelans have been indulging in rampant consumerism that might give even an American pause. In the past year, auto sales have doubled, property prices have soared (mortgage loans are up three hundred per cent), and, thanks to this buying frenzy, credit-card loans have nearly doubled. And while Chávez has done a good job of redistributing oil revenue to the Venezuelan poor, via so-called misiones, designed to improve education, health care, and housing, and has forced oil companies to renegotiate contracts, there has been no nationalization of industry, relatively little interference with markets, and only small gestures toward land reform. If this is socialism, it’s the most business-friendly socialism ever devised.
In other words, most people thought Hugo Chavez was all bark and no bite when it came to actually implementing socialism. Then Chavez had this to say:
As Venezuela embarked on another six years under Hugo Chavez, the president announced plans to nationalize power and telecommunications companies and make other bold changes to increase state control as he promised a more radical push toward socialism.
Chavez, who will be sworn in Wednesday to a third term that runs until 2013, also said he wanted a constitutional amendment to strip the Central Bank of its autonomy and would soon ask the National Assembly, solidly controlled by his allies, to approve ”a set of revolutionary laws” by presidential decree.
”We’re moving toward a socialist republic of Venezuela, and that requires a deep reform of our national constitution,” Chavez said in a televised address after swearing in his new Cabinet on Monday. ”We’re heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it.’
In other words, Chavez is serious and is now planning on doing the real work that socialism requires, that of heavy nationalizing of industry, changing constitutions, and possibly (sic) reducing property rights. History has repeatedly, universally, and clearly shown what results those policies lead to – political censorship (already begun, see here), large poverty, and finally the mass killing of innocent people, espeically farmers, and the poor.
The economist writes:
This is terrible news for Venezuela, which has already disastrously underinvested in its main source of revenue; if oil prices keep tumbling, Mr Chavez and his constituents will both be in serious trouble. It is one thing to demand better terms on favourable oil leases, and another thing to nationalise wide swathes of your economy; I find it hard to imagine that this won’t chase out much of the foreign investment that Venezuela will desperately need. The bishops of Caracas should be praying hard that oil prices stay high.
P.J. O’Rourke has a term for stories that are invalidated by later developments: OTBE, or OverTaken By Events. For journalists, this is annoying, but since universal, not too much so. But when events in the oil market finally overtake Venezuelans, it may be disastrous.
It is time to start praying for the citizens of Venezuela.