Monday, August 23, 2010

The Socialist Paradise of Venezuela

After a decade of Hugo Chavez's beneficient socialist rule, not only is Venezuela's economy contracting, but it has become the murder capital of the Western Hemisphere. The situation is so bad that not even the New York Times can ignore it.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Venezuelans have absorbed such grim statistics for years. Those with means have hidden their homes behind walls and hired foreign security experts to advise them on how to avoid kidnappings and killings. And rich and poor alike have resigned themselves to living with a murder rate that the opposition says remains low on the list of the government’s priorities.

To put those numbers in some context, consider that the US has a population roughly eleven times larger than Venezuela (more than 300 million for the US and 27 million for Venezuela). According to the FBI, in 2008, US law enforcement agencies nationwide reported a total of 14,180 homocides. If America's murder rate were similar to Venezuela's, the US would see more than 176,000 murders a year.

While Venezuelan have had to deal with high crime rates for a long time, it has become especially bad since Hugo Chavez launched his socialist utopia.

There have been 43,792 homicides in Venezuela since 2007, according to the violence observatory, compared with about 28,000 deaths from drug-related violence in Mexico since that country’s assault on cartels began in late 2006.

Caracas itself is almost unrivaled among large cities in the Americas for its homicide rate, which currently stands at around 200 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Roberto Briceño-León, the sociologist at the Central University of Venezuela who directs the violence observatory.

That compares with recent measures of 22.7 per 100,000 people in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, and 14 per 100,000 in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. As Mr. Chávez’s government often points out, Venezuela’s crime problem did not emerge overnight, and the concern over murders preceded his rise to power.

But scholars here describe the climb in homicides in the past decade as unprecedented in Venezuelan history; the number of homicides last year was more than three times higher than when Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998.

Naturally, since this is the New York Times, the usual ideological boilerplate is trotted out as a partial excuse for the staggering figures...

Reasons for the surge are complex and varied, experts say. While many Latin American economies are growing fast, Venezuela’s has continued to shrink. The gap between rich and poor remains wide, despite spending on anti-poverty programs, fueling resentment. Adding to that, the nation is awash in millions of illegal firearms.

Police salaries remain low, sapping motivation. And in a country with the highest inflation rate in the hemisphere, more than 30 percent a year, some officers have turned to supplementing their incomes with crimes like kidnappings.

Notice that the Times has had to admit that Venezuela's economy is shrinking, whilst its neighbors' economies are growing. One wonders how this could be possible since Mr. Chavez has nationalized all the important industries, imposed heavy taxes, persecuted entrepreneurs and tried to silence dissent - in short, the usual socialist agenda. It's the same agenda that's transformed the USSR, North Korea and Cuba into the economic powerhouses that they are today.

Given that the number of homocides in Venezuela has tripled since Mr. Chavez took power, perhaps Chavez's policies have something to do with it. The implication is so clear that event the Times has to concede the link.

But some crime specialists say another factor has to be considered: Mr. Chávez’s government itself. The judicial system has grown increasingly politicized, losing independent judges and aligning itself more closely with Mr. Chávez’s political movement. Many experienced state employees have had to leave public service, or even the country.

More than 90 percent of murders go unsolved, without a single arrest, Mr. Briceño-León said. But cases against Mr. Chavez’s critics — including judges, dissident generals and media executives — are increasingly common.

The simple and unvarnished truth is that Venezuela is in the process of disintegration and that Hugo Chavez and the strongman-socialism he practices are the cause. The economy is collapsing, crime is exploding, and even the New York Times is writing critical articles.

In short, socialism is doing to Venezuela exactly what is has done to every other country that has practiced it ... including the United States.


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