It’s hard to overstate how disastrous the reign of Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro has been for Venezuela. A recent series of Bloomberg articles vividly depicts the hellish, never-ending struggle for survival in Caracas, the country’s capital. Hungry children roam the streets, people are fleeing the country, health care is almost nonexistent, violence is endemic, even water is scarce. Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian revolution took a peaceful, middle-income country and transformed it into a nightmare that puts the ruinous Soviet Union of the 1980s to shame.
It’s important for other countries — including wealthy ones like the U.S. — not to ignore Venezuela, but to use it as a cautionary tale. Politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have embraced socialism, as have many young Americans. But what are the lessons of Venezuela? Why did the country become such a basket case?
The Bolivarian revolution’s defenders often make excuses for the Chavez-Maduro regime by claiming that the country’s penury is the result of outside forces. For example, some argue that it was the fall in oil prices in late 2014 and 2015 that sunk the country. Venezuela is a petrostate — petroleum products constituted about 95 percent of the country’s exports in 2014, so the price decline was naturally a blow.