O que é este blog?

Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org.

Mostrando postagens com marcador Venezuela. Mostrar todas as postagens
Mostrando postagens com marcador Venezuela. Mostrar todas as postagens

terça-feira, 3 de abril de 2018

Venezuela indo para a derrocada famelica final - Daniel J. Mitchell (FEE)

Pessoas estão morrendo, cada vez mais, na Venezuela, por falta de remédios e sobretudo por falta de comida, crianças sobretudo.
Estes simples relatos, como abaixo, são absolutamente insuportáveis, de ler, de imaginar, de acompanhar a degringolada fatal de todo um país, dominado pelos seus amos do Caribe.
O que fazem os vizinhos?
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

The Ongoing Implosion of Venezuelan Statism

Venezuela's continuing economic collapse is a horrifying condemnation of how socialism actually works.

As far as I’m concerned, everything you need to know about capitalism vs. statism is captured in this chart comparing per-capita economic output in Chile and Venezuela.

Ask yourself which country offers more opportunity, especially for the poor? The obvious answer is Chile, where poverty has rapidly declined ever since the country shifted to free enterprise. In Venezuela, by contrast, poor children die of malnutrition thanks to pervasive interventionism.
Indeed, having shared several horrifying stories of human suffering and government venality from Venezuela (including 28 separate examples in April 2017 and 28 different separate examples in December 2017), I’ve reached the point where nothing shocks me.
So now I mostly wonder whether leftist apologists feel any shame when they see grim news from that statist hellhole.
For instance, what does Joe Stiglitz think about this report from the Miami Herald?
At 16, Liliana has become the mother figure for a gang of Venezuelan children and young adults called the Chacao, named after the neighborhood they’ve claimed as their territory. The 15 members, ranging in age from 10 to 23, work together to survive vicious fights for “quality” garbage in crumbling, shortage-plagued Venezuela. Their weapons are knives and sticks and machetes. The prize? Garbage that contains food good enough to eat. …A year ago, the gang was “stationed” around a supermarket at a mall called Centro Comercial Ciudad Tamanaco that generates tons of garbage. But a feared rival gang from the neighborhood Las Mercedes also wanted the garbage.
And what does Bernie Sanders think about this story from NPR?
The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela estimates the country is suffering from an 85 percent shortage of medicine amid an economic crisis… "The entire Venezuelan health care system is on the verge of collapse," says Francisco Valencia, head of the public health advocacy group Codevida. Some hospitals lack electricity, and more than 13,000 doctors have left Venezuela in the past four years in search of better opportunities. “They don’t give food to the patients in the hospital…” Government data shows infant mortality rose by 30 percent in 2016… The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will soar to 13,000 percent this year and the economy will shrink by 15 percent. …The monthly minimum wage for many Venezuelans is now equal to $3, according to the AP. …Maduro blames the country’s growing crisis on…the U.S…leading an effort to wipe out socialism in Venezuela.
I’d be curious to know what Michael Moore thinks about this news from CNN?
Venezuela’s devastating food crisis means wheat flour has become a rare commodity in the country. Some churches have run out of the ingredient needed to make the sacramental bread that is central to celebrating the Holy Eucharist… So, members of the Catholic diocese of Cúcuta, Colombia, braved heavy rain this week to deliver the wafers over a bridge that connects the two countries… Venezuela’s economic crisis, fueled by a decline in oil production, shows no signs of improvement.People are starving because of routine food shortages. They are dying in hospitals because basic medicine and equipment aren’t available.
And what does Jeremy Corbyn think about this Bloomberg report?
Ruiz’s weekly salary of 110,000 bolivares—about 50 cents at the black-market exchange rate—buys him less than a kilo of corn meal or rice. His only protein comes from 170 grams of canned tuna included in a food box the government provides to low-income families. It shows up every 45 days or so. “I haven’t eaten meat for two months,” he said. …Hunger is hastening the ruin of the Venezuelan’s oil industry as workers grow too weak and hungry for heavy labor. With children dying of malnutrition and adults sifting garbage for table scraps, food has become more important than employment, and thousands are walking off the job. …Venezuela, a socialist autocracy that once was South America’s most prosperous nation, is suffering a collapse almost without precedent.
Or how about getting Sean Penn‘s reaction to this story from the New York Times?
For the past three weeks, Wilya Hernández, her husband and their daughter, 2, have been sleeping on the garbage-strewn streets of Cúcuta, a sprawling and chaotic city on Colombia’s side of the border with Venezuela. Though Antonela, the toddler, often misses meals, Ms. Hernández has no desire to return home to Venezuela. …“I sold my hair to feed my girl,” Ms. Hernández said, pulling back her locks to reveal a shaved head underneath, adding that wigmakers now walk the plazas of Cúcuta where many Venezuelans congregate, wearing signs advertising that they give cash for hair. …“If I can’t afford to go the bathroom, I’ll go on the street,” Ms. Hernández added. “That’s when guys walking by say creepy things.”
I wonder if Noam Chomsky has any comments about this Washington Post story?
A friend recently sent me a photograph…, just a blurry cellphone shot of trash… And yet I can’t stop thinking about it, because strewn about in the trash are at least a dozen 20-bolivar bills, small-denomination currency now so worthless even looters didn’t think it was worth their time to stop and pick them up. …according to the “official” exchange rate, …each of those bills is worth $2. In fact, as Venezuela sinks deeper…into…hyperinflation…, bolivar banknotes have come to be worth basically nothing: Each bill is worth about $0.0001 at the current exchange rate… It’s easy to see why the thieves left them behind.
Last but not least, I wonder what Jesse Jackson thinks about this news from the U.K.-based Guardian?
More than half of young Venezuelans want to move abroad permanently, after food shortages, violence and a political crisis escalated to new extremes in 2017, according to a new survey. Once Latin America’s richest country, Venezuela’s economy is now collapsing… One of the most painful effects of the current crisis has been widespread hunger. In 2015, when inflation and food shortages were well below current levels, nearly 45% of Venezuelans said there were times when they were unable to afford food; in the latest study, that figure had risen to 79%—one of the highest rates in the world. …Norma Gutiérrez, a radiologist in eastern Caracas, is one of those…would-be migrants. Acute shortages in the hospital where she works depress her, and she says the idea of emigrating crosses her mind at least once a week.
By the way, in an example of unintended humor, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has a ready-made answer to all those questions. The misery is the fault of capitalism. I’m not kidding.
And folks on the establishment-left occasionally try to imply that it’s all the result of falling oil prices.
Two years ago, I concocted a visual showing the “Five Circles of Statist Hell” and speculated that Venezuela was getting close to the fourth level. Though I still don’t think it’s nearly as bad as North Korea.

P.S. Since I mentioned unintentional humor, you’ll be amused to know a “Happy Planet Index” created by radical environmentalists places Venezuela above the United States.
P.P.S. And here’s some intentional dark humor about hunger in Venezuela.
Reprinted from International Liberty.
Daniel J. Mitchell is a Washington-based economist who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. 

quarta-feira, 28 de março de 2018

A construção da ditadura na Venezuela - Luiz Marcelo Berger

Desde quando teve início o governo, então legalmente eleito, do coronel Chávez, eu farejei de longe onde isso ia dar, inclusive porque, conhecendo a história, detectei traços fascistas, até hitleristas, no messiânico líder "bolivariano". Denunciei isso desde cedo, neste blog, mas, voltado mais para temas econômicos, meu trabalho mais elaborado foi este aqui, denunciando a farsa do "socialismo do século XXI":
“Falácias acadêmicas, 9: o mito do socialismo do século 21”, Brasília, 24 maio 2009, 17 p. Espaço Acadêmico (vol. 9, n. 97, junho 2009, p. 12-24; http://periodicos.uem.br/ojs/index.php/EspacoAcademico/article/view/7184/4136). 
Um outro, escrito até antes, foi este aqui:
“Socialismo do século XXI?: apenas para os incautos...”; blog Diplomatizzando (link: http://diplomatizzando.blogspot.com/2014/02/socialismo-para-os-incautos-paulo.html). 
Abaixo transcrevo o excelente artigo de Marcelo Berger sobre a grande fraude do século XXI, que entendo já se tornou indefensável mesmo para os mais renitentes esquerdistas brasileiros, que se mantêm vergonhosamente em silêncio sobre a extensão da catástrofe.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

Luiz Marcelo Berger
No final dos anos 90, Hugo Chavez assumiu o controle da Venezuela. Na época, sua permanência no poder não fora contestada como deveria pelos eleitores que ainda tinham possibilidade de impedir a ascensão do futuro ditador do Orinoco. Aos poucos, com extrema habilidade e escudado nos mais sórdidos ensinamentos da escola comunista cubana, com vasta experiência em ditaduras implacáveis, Chavez foi alterando o pais institucionalmente de forma lenta e irreversível.
Estruturas de estado foram erodidas. Nomeações e expurgos espúrios se tornaram rotina. Pessoas de bem foram silenciadas ou eliminadas. Ao mesmo tempo, centenas de milhares de apoiadores do futuro ditador de forma oportunista foram cooptadas e aceitaram sua oferta de beijo da morte. Milícias foram formadas. Seguidores fanáticos foram entregando suas almas em troca de privilégios na estrutura estatal, regados naquele tempo com os recursos fartos do petróleo a cem dólares o barril.
Muitos aceitaram passivamente o cenário que se desenhava, na certeza que a recompensa imediata não representava nenhum risco, nem para o pais, quanto menos para entes queridos. Estavam mortalmente errados. A mudança foi gradual e paulatina. Mas não passou desapercebida por alguns poucos venezuelanos que antevendo que seu pais estava entrando na espiral neocomunista, travestida com tempero caribenho e bolivariano, imediatamente começaram a fazer as malas para deixar o pais, sentindo o prenuncio da catástrofe que finalmente iria engolir o pais em futuro não muito distante. Foram proféticos.
O cenário de horror, cujos primórdios agora estão perdidos em registros históricos facilmente manipuláveis, revela-se bastante familiar aos eventos que vem ocorrendo em um determinado pais ao sul do equador. As semelhanças são evidentes, especialmente em relação à corrosão moral das instituições pela corrupção, não por acaso, o estágio inicial da inexorável derrocada final se nada for feito para impedir que assim aconteça.
Enganam-se aqueles que afirmam que o movimento de abandono da Venezuela começou em 2017, com hordas de refugiados chegando em Roraima ou indo para a Colômbia em fuga desesperada. Teve inicio muito antes, ainda no alvorecer dos anos 2000, quando ainda havia oportunidade de se realizar uma mudança planejada de vida em tempo. Hoje não é mais possível. Hoje, venezuelanos cruzam a fronteira com a roupa do corpo em busca de abrigo, segurança, comida e remédios, resultado esperado e previsível após anos de implantação do mesmo neocomunismo assassino que dilacerou todos os países por onde passou. Sem nenhuma exceção. A Venezuela foi apenas mais um a sucumbir, embora longe de ser o último.
Agora se junta à lista negra de morte e destruição que inclui a ex-União Soviética, todos os países da ex-cortina de ferro, China, Vietnã, Camboja, Coréia do Norte e, claro, Cuba, a favela rediviva da ditadura castrense, talvez o retrato mais fiel e duradouro desse vírus mortal conhecido por socialismo.
Em todos esses países o processo seguiu sempre a mesma cartilha e começou sempre pela destruição dos valores morais universais inerentes a qualquer ser humano: Deus, família, liberdade são imediatamente substituídos respectivamente pelo Estado, partido e pela libertinagem. Não existe mais a pessoa. Ela agora faz parte de um coletivo ou minoria. O espirito divino presente em cada um é substituído pela religião estatal, cujos interlocutores são os comissários do partido totalitário. O respeito ao individuo, sua vida, liberdade e propriedade, é substituído pela paz dos cemitérios, pois somente nestes todos podem ser igualados à força, uma vez que cada ser humano é único e insubstituível. Quando o neocomunismo penetra organicamente as instituições o colapso passa a ser apenas uma questão de tempo, pois a terra do consenso pelas leis é substituída pela terra dos lobos onde apenas prevalece a força das armas.
Os acólitos do partido único, repletos de ressentimento e ódio pelos seus conterrâneos, recepcionam de bom grado os novos tempos, pois somente dentro da ditadura do partido único conseguem algum holofote na escuridão de sua própria incompetência e mediocridade. Não por acaso, a primeira e mais importante vitima dos comissários totalitários é justamente o livre mercado, pois este é a expressão suprema da cooperação voluntária pela excelência. Todos podem entrar em sair quando querem de uma sociedade aberta e livre, algo incompreensível para a horda de fanáticos do partido único, entidade supra-humana com poder de vida e morte sobre seus súditos.
Na sociedade aberta, onde a busca do conhecimento e da excelência pelo mérito prevalecem, os medíocres e mornos não tem nenhuma chance, visto que não são capazes de oferecer valor aos seus conterrâneos. Apenas sabem extrair riquezas, como parasitas sociais que são. Por esta única razão, regimes totalitários precisam de um estado burocrático gigantesco, pois somente assim os medíocres podem ter sua existência reconhecida, pagos a peso de ouro com os recursos extraídos daqueles que efetivamente criam riqueza. Claro que este estado insustentável de coisas não pode durar para sempre. Que o digam Cuba e Venezuela. Aliás, qualquer outro pais que segue a mesma cartilha sempre tem o mesmo fim, exatamente como a história registrou incontáveis vezes.
Muitos inocentes úteis somente percebem a gravidade da situação quando já é tarde demais. Estes, iludidos ingenuamente pelas promessas do messias totalitário tornam-se os primeiros a serem abatidos. Alguns poucos pressentem a desgraça que se avizinha, assim como os canários nas minas de carvão, e soam o alarme com antecedência. No limite, fogem enquanto podem, pois percebem que o vírus assassino se alastra como rastilho de pólvora na sociedade, tornando sua destruição inevitável.
Já viu este filme antes? Este cenário distópico parece familiar? Pois é exatamente isso que foi decidido pelos ministros em Brasília, ao instituir o “princípio Lula”. Foi celebrada uma missa negra em homenagem ao apóstata e seus seguidores, cujo evangelho está sendo pregado em todo o país, nas ruas, escolas, universidades, tribunais, tevês, rádios, jornais, revistas. Ao fim e ao cabo, a decisão tomada tornou-se um ode aos canalhas do país. “Uni-vos, pois sua blasfêmia restará impune”. No seu último e derradeiro capitulo, o pais saberá logo mais qual o caminho que pretende trilhar: suprema redenção ou supremo desastre.
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sexta-feira, 23 de março de 2018

Hugo Chavez, um espectro - livro de Leonardo Coutinho

Acabo de receber, para ler e resenhar. Já verificando as fontes (o que faço em primeiro lugar), e o sumário, a organização, e percorrendo algumas páginas passo a recomendar, sem hesitação, este livro a todos os meus 18 leitores (acho que um pouquinho mais, agora, com o FB, mesmo deturpado).
Começo por reproduzir a primeira frase da introdução do autor, "A jornada" (p. 7)"

O jornalista tem por ofício a obrigação de duvidar.

Exatamente isto, e deveria ser a regra para os acadêmicos também, e esta deveria ser a atitude geral do pesquisador: pesquisar duvidando, sempre...
O livro é o resultado de anos de trabalho duro, de centenas de entrevistas, de milhares de páginas percorridas nos mais diversos meios de comunicação.
Volto a insistir: quem quiser entender o que está acontecendo hoje na Venezuela, tem de ler este livro.
Voltarei a ele.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida
Brasília, 23 de março de 2018

terça-feira, 20 de março de 2018

Venezuela: os refugiados da fome - Peter Prengaman (The Washington Post)

The Washington Post, March 20, 2018
Northern Brazil overwhelmed by desperate, hungry Venezuelans
Peter Prengaman 
Hungry and destitute, tens of thousands of victims of Venezuela’s unrelenting political and economic crisis are trying their luck in Brazil — a country where they do not speak the language, conditions are often poor and there are few border towns to receive them.
Many arrive weak from hunger and with no money for a hotel, food or the $9 bus ride to Boa Vista, the capital of the Brazilian state of Roraima, known in Venezuelan circles as a place that offers three meals a day. In dozens of interviews over four days, many said they had not had more than one meal a day for the last year.
Some wore baggy clothes, had emaciated faces and complained of medical issues ranging from children with measles to diabetics with no insulin.
Kritce Montero tried to shush 6-month-old Hector, who cried from hunger even after breast-feeding while his family and several hundred other Venezuelans waited to be processed at the border.
Montero, who said she lost 57 pounds (26 kilograms) the last year from eating just one meal a day, traveled with Hector and her 7-year-old daughter 18 hours by bus from Maturin, a city in northeast Venezuela. After spending the night sleeping on the ground in Pacaraima, a dusty border town in the Amazon, they took another bus 130 miles (210 kilometers) to Boa Vista.
“We are desperate. We could no longer buy food,” said 33-year-old Montero, adding it had been months since Hector had any formula or diapers.
While in recent years millions of Venezuelans have immigrated, until recently Brazil received relatively few of them. Hundreds of thousands have gone to Colombia, but authorities there and elsewhere in South America are tightening their borders.
Portuguese-speaking Brazil has become the latest alternative for Venezuelans. But they are not finding much comfort there.
On a recent day, Militza DonQuis, 38, sat under a tree on the side of the main road in Pacaraima. In the two months since she and her husband arrived from Puerto Cabello, they have not been able to find work. With no money, they can’t take the bus to Boa Vista, so they sleep on the ground and scrounge for food during the day.
“This is horrible,” said DonQuis through tears, adding that in two months she had been unable to send money home to her children, ages 12 and 14, who she left with a sister.
With no money for a bus, Jose Guillen, 48, and wife July Bascelta, 44, decided to begin the journey to Boa Vista at night on foot, setting off with 9-year-old twins Angel and Ashley along a road surrounded by forest.
“God will provide,” said Guillen when asked how the family would eat during a trip that can take five days.
After walking 4 miles (6 kilometers), a Brazilian driver stopped agreed to give them a lift to Boa Vista, where the situation is arguably more desperate. Thousands of Venezuelans are living in the streets. They sleep in tents and on benches in central squares, have taken over abandoned buildings and cram dozens of people into small apartments.
The largest of three shelters in the city, Tancredo, has 700 people despite being equipped for 200. Half-naked children roam the former gymnasium while groups of men and women chat about their hopes for finding work and worry about the families they left in Venezuela.
Charlie Ivan Delgado, 30, said he came to Brazil several months ago with hopes of earning enough money so he and his high school sweetheart could finally afford a wedding. But each time he called home to El Tigre, he would hear the situation was getting worse, that their three children, ages 9, 5 and 1, were always hungry. So he decided to abandon wedding plans and bring his family.
“Kids in Venezuela today don’t think about playing with their friends or what they might study” in the university, said Delgado, sitting with his children and partner in a tent. “It’s more, ‘What am I going to eat today?”
While the shelter offers three meals a day, the family’s prospects are bleak.
The soccer referee has only been able to officiate a handful of games in rural areas outside Boa Vista, the kids are not in school and it’s hard to imagine how the family might leave the shelter.
“It’s like Tarzan being in New York,” said Delgado.
Brazilian authorities estimate 40,000 Venezuelans are living in Boa Vista, accounting for over 12 percent of the population in a city that was already poor and unable to offer many opportunities to its residents.
Most have arrived in the last several months, putting intense pressure on the public health system, the jails and volunteer organizations and churches that are carrying the largest burden when it comes to keeping Venezuelans fed.
Police say Venezuelans are sometimes working for as little as $7 a day in everything from construction to yard work, putting downward pressure on wages. For many, even offering to work for less isn’t enough: Several interviewed said many employers have told them flat out they won’t hire Venezuelans.
Milene da Souza, one of a group of volunteers who periodically serve food, said many Brazilians were increasingly angry at the situation.
“Brazil has many of its own problems,” she said. “Roraima has its own problems.”
Last month, fears of a backlash intensified when an arsonist set fire to two Boa Vista houses filled with Venezuelan immigrants, injuring dozens, several severely. A man originally from neighboring Guiana has been arrested, and police have said he was motivated by anger at Venezuelans in the city.
On the Plaza Simon Bolivar, named after the South American independence leader who was the inspiration for late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ ”socialist revolution,” throngs are camping in tents or simply sleeping on the grass. When trucks pull up with food, hundreds run toward them, elbowing each other in a mad scramble to get a meal before they run out. Tempers flare as men accuse women and children of using their advantage to get extra portions.
Roraima’s governor has declared a state of emergency to free up funds for overwhelmed public hospitals, where health officials estimate that 8 in 10 patients are Venezuelan. Last month, President Michel Temer canceled activities during Carnival to make an emergency trip to Boa Vista.
But residents say the federal government’s plans, which include building a field hospital in Pacaraima and relocating a few thousand immigrants to bigger cities, are not enough. Between Jan. 1 and March 7 of this year, 27,755 Venezuelans crossed into Brazil from Pacaraima. Authorities estimate at least 80,000 are currently in Brazil, most of them in Roraima state.
Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, has one of the region’s most inclusive immigration policies. Venezuelans are allowed to enter with just a national identification card, a lifeline for many who say that getting a passport in Venezuela has become impossible. Many immigrants who don’t have identification cards but can show a birth certificate are allowed in if they request and are granted refugee status.
Being designated “refugees” can be problematic because such immigrants can’t return to Venezuela; President Nicolas Maduro has called them “traitors” of the state.
Many say that as long as Maduro is in power they have no reason to return.
Despite skyrocketing inflation and a collapse of many businesses, Maduro has refused to allow humanitarian aid to enter Venezuela. He denies there is a crisis and says international relief would lead to foreign intervention.
“Maduro’s solution is that we just eat each other,” said Diana Merida sarcastically while washing her clothes in a Boa Vista river. The 34-year-old from Maturin said she recently sent $3 home to her 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, which would allow them to buy some rice.
While it took her three days of selling coffee to earn that, it was more than she could earn in a month as a saleswoman in a clothes store back home.
On the Plaza Simon Bolivar, Kritce Montero sits with baby Hector, who now has on a diaper and has spent the last two days gobbling up formula, all donated by volunteers.
It’s been two days since the family crossed the border in Pacaraima. The first night they slept under a tree in the plaza, but then the second night somebody offered them a tent because of the baby.
“At least here, I’m able to feed my kids,” said Montero. “Even if I’m living under a bridge, I would feel OK if my kids have food.

domingo, 18 de fevereiro de 2018

Venezuela: going to the brink? - Enrique Krauze (NYRB)

Hell of a Fiesta

In the spring of 2017, and all through the year, social media feeds in Venezuela were filled with images of deprivation and despair: long lines of people hoping to purchase food; women fighting over a stick of butter; mothers who could not find milk to buy; children picking through garbage in search of something to eat; empty shelves in pharmacies and stores; hospitals without stretchers, drugs, or minimum levels of hygiene; doctors operating on a patient by the light of a cell phone; women giving birth outside of hospitals. Venezuela’s economy, the economist Ricardo Hausmann wrote in a recent study, is suffering a collapse that is “unprecedented” in the Western world.1 Between 2013 and 2017 the country’s national and per capita GDPs contracted more severely than those of the US did during the Great Depression and more than those of Russia, Cuba, and Albania did after the fall of communism.
Pancho CajasNicolás Maduro
This is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. By May 2017, Venezuela’s minimum monthly wage wasn’t enough to meet even 12 percent of a single person’s basic food needs.2 A survey of 6,500 households by three prestigious universities showed that 74 percent of the population had lost on average nineteen pounds in 2016. Infant mortality in hospitals has risen by 100 percent. Diseases nearly eradicated in many countries, like malaria and diphtheria, have flourished; illnesses largely new to the area, like Chikungunya, Zika, and dengue, have spread. Caracas is now the most dangerous city on the planet. All this is happening in a country that has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
None of the present crises seemed likely in 2007 and 2008, when I made a number of visits to Venezuela. Caracas was seen as the new Mecca for the European, Latin American, and American left. Progressive news organizations, magazines, and newspapers including The GuardianThe New Yorker, and the BBC reported favorably on Hugo Chávez, whose presidency lasted from 1999 until 2013. They mentioned the dangers of his cult of personality but yielded to it all the same. Chávez, as the writer Alma Guillermoprieto succinctly noted in these pages, was “indisputably fascinating, and often even endearing.”3
Despite ever-growing limitations on freedom of expression and the canceling of the license of RCTV (the principal independent radio and television service), some analysts, including the British writer Tariq Ali, kept proclaiming that Venezuela was the most democratic country in Latin America. Since they were indulgent of Cuba, they didn’t mind that Venezuela was drifting toward the authoritarian Cuban model. They rightly celebrated Chávez’s successes at reducing poverty, but they failed to see the damage his administration was meanwhile inflicting on the country’s entire productive infrastructure—most consequentially, on Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
In 1998, as the development specialists Ramón Espinasa and Carlos Sucre note in their recent study of the Venezuelan oil industry,4 PDVSA employed 40,000 people and produced 3.4 million barrels of oil per day. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, it projected it would be producing 4.4 million barrels per day. It operated autonomously and by law deposited its profits in the country’s Central Bank. With Chávez’s election, all this changed. He ordered that PDVSA personnel be hired for their political credentials rather than their technical skills, and that oil be sold at highly discounted prices to Latin American countries sympathetic to his administration.
In December 2002, the employees of PDVSA went on strike. The government responded by stripping the company of its administrative autonomy, nullifying the exchange agreement that required PDVSA to sell all foreign currency resulting from the sale of oil to the Central Bank, and handling those resources discretionally itself, outside the budget approved by the Venezuelan National Assembly. Roughly 20,000 employees were dismissed, two thirds of them with technical and professional skills. In the years that followed, PDVSA became a super-ministry; it distributed food, built houses, and managed some of the 1,400 businesses that Chávez frenetically nationalized starting in 2007. During Chávez’s presidency, it came to employ three times as many people as it had before 1998. Its productivity, on the other hand, fell significantly; it produced 700,000 fewer barrels per day. This reduction was masked in part by the surge in oil prices that began in 2002 and peaked in 2008 at $147 per barrel.
Critics of Chávez—former guerrillas, opposition leaders, left-wing intellectuals, labor and religious leaders, artists, businessmen, students, academics, and former military officers—foresaw what was coming. One of those voices was Espinasa, who told me in 2008 that “the prices will fall; the government will not be able to halt its expenditures and production will not recover; the collapse is inevitable; the perfect storm is coming.” But oil revenues remained high for four years, and Chávez used these revenues to spend more than ever. Each year he left a public-sector deficit of around 10 percent of the GDP. Between 2014 and 2015—by which point oil prices had collapsed, Chávez had died, and Nicolás Maduro had succeeded him as president—those deficits reached 20 percent of the GDP.
The government justified such spending by wagering that the price of oil would simply continue to rise. In 2008 Alí Rodríguez Araque, one of Chávez’s main advisers and at that time minister of finance, told me that the price would go as high as $250 per barrel. In June 2014, when prices fell, the country would have been less badly damaged had the government saved at least part of the profits it had made during the boom, as PDVSA had previously been required by law to do. Studies have shown that these savings could have amounted to $233 billion. Not only did the government fail to do this; it sextupled its external debt to $172 billion, making Venezuela the most indebted nation in the world.
Between 1999 and 2017 PDVSA earned $635 billion in cash and produced an additional $406 billion worth of oil, which it used to subsidize the internal market (gasoline in Venezuela is virtually free) and reward countries seen as politically sympathetic to the regime. What happened to the rest of this money? Jorge Giordani, a former minister of planning who left the government in 2014, estimates that $300 billion was simply stolen. Another portion was wasted on unfinished pharaonic projects (rail lines, bridges started but left incomplete), purchases of Russian military equipment, opaque and unaccountable multibillion-dollar public entities such as the Venezuelan Economic and Social Development Bank and the Fund for National Development, costly and unproductive expropriations, wasteful imports to compensate for the lack of internal production, purely sumptuary imports (500,000 automobiles in 2006 alone), and excessive growth in public employment. From 1998 to 2013, consumption grew by 60 percent but production barely increased.
From this pattern a clear conclusion can be drawn: the tragedy of the Venezuelan economy is due not to the fall of oil prices in 2014 but to PDVSA’s historic collapse in production. The dismantling of that institution set a pattern of politicization and opaque and inefficient management for the rest of Venezuela’s economy, including the steel, farming, cattle, fishing, transport, construction, food, and fertilizer industries. In 2007, the country exported 85 percent of its cement; today it has to import cement from abroad.
It became common to call Chávez “the soul of the fiesta.” The people of Venezuela hung on his every declaration. In December 2007 he scheduled a referendum that proposed dozens of constitutional changes meant to consolidate the Venezuelan socialist state: unrestricted presidential terms, limitations on private property, a “new political geometry” (which in practice would become a form of gerrymandering), the consolidation of his personal guard as a kind of army parallel to the country’s military, suppression of the autonomy of the Central Bank, direct access for the president to the country’s international monetary reserves and the license to use them however he pleased, and the establishment of a “popular power” based on the creation of communes.
The referendum required a single “yes” or “no” vote for all the provisions together, but to Chávez’s surprise the negative votes prevailed. Students made important contributions to the mobilization against the initiative, but Venezuelans in general rejected the radical drift Chávez was proposing toward the Cuban model. “Enjoy your shitty victory,” Chávez said, promising to advance his project through decrees instead. Over the last decade, his government and that of his successor have fulfilled that promise.
Chávez wanted to create a federation with Cuba. He had since his youth been intoxicated by a heroic view of history. His favorite work of political theory was The Role of the Individual in History by Georgi Plekhanov, whose vision of the Great Man distinctly equipped to address “the great social needs of his time” Chávez dreamed of applying to Venezuela, and to himself. He would present himself as the heir of Simón Bolívar, erasing or rejecting all of the country’s history between the death of Bolívar and his own accession to power.
But it was Fidel Castro who became his “spiritual father.” Before Chávez was elected president, after a trip to Cuba, he emphasized his admiration for Castro’s relation to his people: “It’s as if Fidel is everything.” During the first year of his presidency, in a speech at the University of Havana, Chávez predicted that “Venezuela is heading toward the same sea as the Cuban people, a sea of happiness, of true social justice, of peace.” When Castro fell ill in 2006, Chávez accelerated his revolutionary project, against the counsel of his most experienced advisers.
For Cuba, which had since 1959 hungered for preferential access to Venezuelan oil, the Chávez connection offered significant economic advantages. At its height in 2013, according to the Cuban-American economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Venezuela contributed about 15 percent of Cuba’s GDP—more than the USSR did in the 1980s. About 40,000 Cubans, many of them doctors, were sent to Venezuela and assigned to attend to the poor, part of a widespread program of Chávez’s to import Cuban educational and medical personnel into the country in exchange for oil subsidies.
Critics of this “mission” system pointed to the abandonment of established health institutions (hundreds of hospitals and thousands of mobile clinics), the cost for Venezuela ($6 billion in 2013 alone), and the political nature of the operation, since Chávez received obedience in return for his munificence. By now the missions barely exist, but the Cuban intelligence services remain fully entrenched in Venezuela. The government has ceded the management of the national identification system to Cuban functionaries, as well as the control of businesses, customs, and notary publics.
To become a political heir to Castro, Chávez aspired to transform himself into the leader of “twenty-first century socialism,” to become “everything.” He wanted to remain in power until 2030, when he would celebrate his seventy-sixth birthday and the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Bolívar. It was a wager Chávez would lose. Diagnosed with cancer, he died in Caracas on March 5, 2013, after undergoing long and somewhat mysterious treatments in Havana. In Patria o Muerte, a recent novel by Alberto Barrera Tyszka set during the Comandante’s final agonies in Cuba, a poor woman explains to Madeleine, an American academic, why she feels grateful for Chávez:
He changed my way of thinking, of looking, of looking at myself. You ask what did he give me, concretely you say. As I have told you. It’s that we had nothing, that we were nothing. Or better said, we felt that we were nothing, that we had no value, we did not matter. And that is what Chávez changed. That’s what he gave us.
The Comandante was one of them. He spoke with them and for them. He appealed to the natural religiosity of a people drawn to faith, magic, and the folk religion of Santería. This appeal could be used to manipulate opinion and behavior. Chávez had always taken his identification with Bolívar to extremes, but in 2010 those extremes reached an especially morbid level: he opened Bolívar’s sarcophagus, ordered the painting of a portrait supposedly based on DNA evidence, and presented Bolívar not as the creole he was (of pure Spanish descent) but as a mestizo like Chávez.
The man entrusted with the responsibility for Chávez’s legacy has been Nicolás Maduro. He was called “The priest of Chavismo” by the Venezuelan journalist Roger Santodomingo, the author of De verde a Maduro, a brief biography—more accurately a piece of reportage—published in 2013 and based on a pair of interviews done some years earlier. Maduro, who was born in 1962, recalled, in detail, scenes of “police brutality” he had witnessed as a child. As a young man he tried being a rock musician and a baseball player, but he also maintained connections with left-wing organizations, thanks to which, in 1986, he spent some months in Cuba studying Marxist-Leninism. He was for a time a bus driver and a union leader.
Jerome Sessini/Magnum PhotosA supporter of Hugo Chávez waiting in line to view his coffin at the Military Academy, Fort Tiuna, Caracas, March 2013; photograph by Jerome Sessini from Magnum Manifesto, edited by Clément Chéroux with Clara Bouveresse and published by Thames and Hudson and Contrasto on the seventieth anniversary of Magnum Photos. An exhibition is on view at the Ara Pacis Museum, Rome, February 7–June 3, 2018.
Although in 1993 he visited Chávez in prison, he did not belong to the inner circle and was barely noticed when in 2000 he was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly. His dizzying ascent to power began in 2006, when Chávez named him minister of foreign relations. Surrounded by older men from whom he sought independence and by military officers of his own age whom he distrusted, Chávez needed the loyalty and support of younger men and came to recognize Maduro as unconditionally devoted to him. During Maduro’s time as a diplomat—in the years of the oil bonanza—he consolidated the regime’s alliances with politically sympathetic Latin American countries. But it was his intimacy with Chávez during the Comandante’s final illness that brought him the presidency.
Maduro had a messiah before Chávez, the famous Indian guru Sai Baba, accredited by his followers with magic powers. He and his wife spent some time at Sai Baba’s ashram in India. The connection with Sai Baba explains his frequent wearing of orange tunics, his Indian-style greeting with closed hands raised before his face, and his superstitious conviction of being protected by some superior power. Revelations about Sai Baba’s pedophilia and his closeness to the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin did not appear to disturb Maduro. Without renouncing his devotion to Sai Baba, Maduro transferred it to Chávez. During his tenure as minister of foreign relations he became Chávez’s vice-president, spokesperson, and faithful apostle.
“I am Chávez,” Maduro said shortly before his leader died. But although he spoke like Chávez, he was certainly not Chávez. After his death, Maduro declared publicly that “Chávez appeared to me in the form of a little bird.” Although some writers still treat Maduro as an astute leader and a pure revolutionary who has met with hard times, the regime is now very close to a full dictatorship. It has lost its quasi-religious aura. Maduro’s government has been forcing Venezuelans into submission or exile (an estimated 500,000 have fled in the last two years) while it counts on a rise in the price of oil. But not even that miracle would compensate for PDVSA’s decline in production, down to 1.7 million barrels per day, half of what it produced when Chávez was elected in 1998. Maduro nonetheless intends to continue his rule. Presidential elections are set for the end of April, with himself as the prime candidate. Few expect them to be free or fair. Key figures in the opposition have been banned from running, imprisoned, or forced into exile.
Maduro’s presidency has given rise to one of the most impressive defenses of democracy in the twenty-first century. Between April and July 2017, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest the decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court—which Maduro controls—to dissolve the National Assembly, the only independent power that still existed in Venezuela, in which a two-thirds majority opposed the government. The demonstrators’ confrontations with the Bolivarian National Guard led to over 120 deaths, thousands of injuries, and the imprisonment and torture of hundreds.5 On July 16, almost seven and a half million people—a quarter of the population and more than a third of the electorate—voted in an unofficial referendum held by the opposition to defend the National Assembly and reject the call by the Electoral Authority (also controlled by Maduro) to elect a new and illegal Constituent Assembly. Most of the candidates for the Constituent Assembly had been chosen by municipal governments and organizations loyal to Maduro.
The effort came to nothing. After an election that was clearly fraudulent (according to Smartmatic, the company that provided the software for it), the spurious Constituent Assembly was established. With the opposition divided, weakened, and discouraged, Maduro now has immense power, which he has been using to severely limit freedom of expression. After the protests it became dangerous to post images of the poverty and desperation to which much of the country has been brought. The Constituent Assembly—many of whose members have incited hate for twenty years—has approved a law that can impose up to twenty years of prison time on anyone who “foments, promotes, or incites hate.”
According to the public health activist Feliciano Reyna, much of the blame for Venezuela’s present crisis lies with Maduro. “What is happening is deliberate,” Reyna argues, pointing to the president’s refusal to accept an offer from thirteen countries to send food and medicine through national and international NGOs and the UN. The powerful politician Diosdado Cabello has said that Venezuela won’t accept the help because doing so would open the doors for an imperialist invasion. In his public appearances (during which, on occasion, he dances the salsa), Maduro has suggested that hunger could be alleviated by the breeding of rabbits.
One of his solutions to the crisis involved an especially ingenious combination of feeding people and manipulating them politically. About a third of Venezuela’s population depends on receiving imported boxes of food marked with CLAP, the initials of the local Committee for Supplies and Production, which carries out this distribution according to a system of identity cards. (A typical CLAP package, which is supposed to arrive every three weeks, contains small portions of pasta, rice, powdered milk, and canned tuna.) In the referendum on the new Constituent Assembly, the government came up with the idea of forcing recipients to renew these cards at polling booths, intimidating them with the prospect of losing their food cards, and even their homes, if they didn’t vote for the official candidates.
Instead of reversing the stubborn statism of Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, Maduro has concentrated on paying the external debt. To do so he has choked off imports of goods and services, which have dropped by 75 percent between 2012 and 2016. Most of this contraction has been in manufacturing, commerce, construction, and transport, but there has been pervasive damage to the private sector in general. Between 1998 and 2016, the number of private enterprises fell from 13,000 to 4,000. At the same time, Maduro has been printing more currency, leading to dramatic inflation. People now often have to choose between food and medicine.
The Maduro government and its supporters maintain that the crisis is the result of an economic war waged by the American Empire against the people of Venezuela. But the United States has always been the principal customer for Venezuelan oil—it has bought $477 billion worth since 1998—and has now become one of the few to pay in cash. The full responsibility lies with the Chávez and Maduro regimes themselves, which for fifteen years had a windfall of petroleum resources comparable only to those of the major Middle Eastern producers yet wasted that income recklessly. Maduro’s government is not an unfortunate heir of chavismo but its natural conclusion, the hangover after the fiesta. But it is also, in the words of Feliciano Reyna, “a militaristic project, aiming to control power, exorbitantly corrupt and inflicting extensive damage on the Venezuelan population.”
Throughout Venezuela’s history, which has been full of civil wars and long periods of tyranny, the armed forces have often intervened and made radical changes. It happened in 1945, when the military gave power to civilians and cleared the way for a brief experiment with democracy (1945–1948). This prefigured the democratic regime that came to power in 1958, lasted forty years, and led to more social, economic, and cultural achievements than mistakes before its collapse.
Now even a military intervention seems improbable. Miguel Henrique Otero, the editor of El Nacional, an independent newspaper with a long history that today only precariously survives, told me:
The military is divided into various groups. Many of them—on active duty or retired—manage public companies. Recently, an officer of the Guardia Nacional Boliviana, who was active in repressing the protests of 2017, has been named director of PDVSA. Others have connections with the narcos, and some hold governmental positions. In 2002 there were seventy generals in Venezuela, now there are 1,200. The common soldiers have gained little and are a reservoir of violence and desertion. The army does not at present seem to be showing signs of rebellion, and, if such sentiments do exist in the middle ranks of officers, those who harbor them live in fear of Cuban espionage.
Although the regime now appears to have everything under control, it may still end up defeated by the human and material cost of its failures. “If the economy remains as it is, we will die,” Ricardo Hausmann affirms. He is not exaggerating. Even if oil prices start rising again, as long as Venezuelan oil production does not recover the country will be doomed. It is already well on its way to hyperinflation, which almost no regime has survived. The Maduro government may well continue applying the Cuban method of control through scarcity, but it cannot rule out the possibility that the population’s increasing hunger and illness will lead to a social eruption of enormous proportions.
Is there an exit strategy? According to Hausmann, the regime needs to immediately allow food and medicine into Venezuela, negotiate a substantial reduction in the country’s huge debt, arrange for an adequate delay in paying off the rest, and with the remaining resources open the gates to imports that might revive the economy. Such an economic shift would have to be accompanied by equally dramatic political changes. Maduro’s government would have to guarantee free and fair elections, liberate political prisoners, and recognize the National Assembly as the only legitimate parliamentary body.
Maduro is bound to oppose such reforms. But Venezuela has fallen into so deep an abyss that positive moves along these lines would meet with almost universal support from democratic countries around the world. The United States might in the past have favored such solutions, but under Donald Trump it has fallen into its own sort of chavismo. And although supporters in Europe and Latin America have expressed solidarity with the opposition, Venezuelans, in effect, remain alone. In one of the country’s hellish hospitals, a woman told a reporter for El Nacional: “So rich a country. We had everything and they destroyed it. And the future.”
—February 8, 2018; translated from the Spanish by Hank Heifetz
  1. 1
    “Venezuela’s Unprecedented Collapse,” Project Syndicate, July 31, 2017, a brief résumé of the internal report Background and Recent Economic Trends (Harvard Center for International Development, 2017).  
  2. 2
    As of this writing, the minimum monthly wage is $5, enough to buy four pounds of meat and nothing else.  
  3. 3
    Don’t Cry for Me, Venezuela,” The New York Review, October 6, 2005. 
  4. 4
    Ramón Espinasa and Carlos Sucre, The Fall and Collapse of the Venezuelan Oil Sector, August 2017. See also Igor Hernández and Francisco Monaldi, Weathering Collapse: An Assessment of the Financial and Operational Situation of the Venezuelan Oil Industry, Center for International Development Working Paper no. 327, November 2016, Harvard University; available at growthlab.cid.harvard.edu. 
  5. 5
    The International Criminal Court in The Hague announced on February 8 that preliminary probes would be made into alleged crimes by police and security forces in Venezuela. The crimes concern “frequently used excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations,” as well as the abuse of some opposition members in detention. See Aryeh Neier, “A Glimmer of Justice,” in the online edition of this issue.