Friday, March 04, 2005

In Venezuela, the Sad Cycle Continues

Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez has won lavish praise from the usual left-wing circles in the US and Europe, mainly for his constant and public denunciations of the US and US foreign policy. It's no coincidence that the same crowd that cheerleads for Chavez, also waves pompoms every time Fidel Castro shuffles up to the microphone for another of his trademark multi-hour Marxist harrangues. Nor is it any coincidence that Hugo Chavez has been openly allying himself - and Venezuela - with Cuba. This, of course, wins Chavez only more praise from the international left, which practically falls over itself to shower him with praise.

But in what can only be described as a sad, and entirely predictable cycle of economic foolishness, Chavez has begun to implement exactly the same Marxist "economic reforms" that have doomed so many Latin and South American economies in the past.
If any doubts remained about President Hugo Chávez's plans for Venezuela's destiny, they have been erased by his decree to "rescue" unproductive lands and assign them to "groups of the population" and "organized communities" from rural areas. Private property is history, so Chávez is proceeding to strengthen the failed agrarian reforms of socialist Venezuelan governments from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, renaming them the "agrarian revolution."

The new Land Law authorizes the government to expropriate land that bureaucrats consider underutilized and to do the same in those cases in which the government discovers an error in a title of land. Venezuelans already know the modus operandi of Chávez's bureaucracy. In trying to obtain a birth certificate, an identification card, a passport, a certified copy of any legal document and even in registering the elderly to receive pensions, each "mistake" represents a potential source of income for each official, and at the same time, a delay of several months for each citizen's request.

Actually, Chavez's new "land reform" sounds suspiciously like that implemented by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who expropriated the land held by white farmers for redistribution. Mugabe argued that the white farmers' ancestors had stolen the land from native Africans during the colonial period and that he was merely returning the land to the people, who would farm it more productively. In fact, he distributed the land only among his political supporters, most of whom had no experience in farming, nor even attempted to keep the farms going. In almost all cases, the land fell fallow and Zimbabwe - which formerly export food products - now requires large amounts of international food aid to stave off mass starvation. While proclaiming his intention to redistibute wealth to Zimbabwe's poor, Mugabe has only increased their numbers and arrogated more political power to himself and his cronies. Given the long experience of land seizures and "redistribution" by third world socialist governments, one can confidently predict that nearly all private land held by Chavez opponents will eventually be siezed and agricultural production will eventually fall.

But the Chavez "revolution" doesn't begin or end with farming. He has much bigger plans. The government of Venevuela is expanding at nearly the rate that economic conditions are declining. Who fills all the new government jobs? Why, Chavez political supporters, of course - yet another replay of every failed socialist regime from Latin American history.

Chávez began his mandate in 1999 with 13 ministries and since then he has added 8 new ones, for a total of 21 ministries, three of which were created at the beginning of January. It seems that the inflation of ministries is advancing even faster than inflation of the bolívar. None of the high officials of the current Venezuelan government distinguished themselves before for any activity besides blowing up oil pipelines or trying to undermine the capitalist system by promoting nationalism and Marxism in schools, universities, and the media. The Venezuelan tragedy is that none of them has the slightest idea of how to achieve prosperity. Their ignorance, greed, and hate are burying the nation.

Naturally, Chavez polls his highest support amongst Venezuela's poor, who hear only his magnificent promises, but don't understand enough of economics to realize the damage he is doing. Ironically, as the economy falters under Chavez's guidence, and the number of impoverished Venezuelans grows, Chavez's support will only increase, fed by what will doubtless be increasingly strident rhetoric blaming the US (or Venezuela's remaining rich, or domestic insurgents - basically anything but his own economic policies) for the country's economic woes. Look also for Chavez to radically alter the law to keep himself and his socialist clique in power - another typical tactic - or to declare a national emergency.

Chavez will inevitably fall, but likely not before the Venezuelan economy faces near collapse and its legal system has been thoroughly gutted. In the meantime, the smarter and more industrious amongst the Venezuelan people will flee the country, looking for security and economic opportunity elsewhere. The US should expect the number of immigrants - legal and otherwise - from Venezuela to rise steadily in the coming years. Of course, admitting these immigrants does nothing to help Venezuela since it only rids Chavez of the very people who would oppose him, undercutting any internal movement to resist the Chavez government, and robs the Venezuelan people and economy of the very entrepeneurial and managerial class it requires to maintain any level of prosperity.


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