Venezuela’s Ugly Truth
It is often the case that by true illumination often can be found only by the light of the funeral pyre, such is the case with an ongoing humanitarian disaster that has taken a once peaceful and prosperous country and brought it to its knees and its people taken to the precipice of disaster. No, I’m not talking about Syria (which has had ample ink spilled over it in recent months), but a country much closer to home that has been experiencing an equally painful, if slower, death by inches in recent years. Venezuela.
The first inkling I had that something was going wrong in Venezuela (beyond the usual doldrums of living under a socialist dictatorship) came a few years ago as I watched a news story at the gym. Apparently people in Caracas, the capital city, had taken to stealing each other’s hair. Individual crooks, or sometimes small gangs of men, were stopping women at knifepoint and cutting the hair from their heads (which apparently most Venezuelan women typically wear quite long). As I was amazed to discover, there is actually a black market for human hair, which can be used for a number of different purposes beyond making wigs particularly in textiles industry, and Venezuelans were attempting to cash in on this driven by desperation from the country’s deteriorating economic situation.
For a time, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela was but the latest shining example held up by progressives of an alternative that worked; living proof that another way was possible. The fact that Chavez was a dictator and the country’s democracy was a sham did not stand in the way of this. Old Hugo was considerate enough to keep a smiling veneer over his tyrannical government, and the thugs and killers who kept the population in line stayed respectfully out of sight. It was a small price to pay for the West’s respectable, utopian dreamers to be able to swoon at the sight of Venezuela, buoyed by oil wealth, pouring money into hospitals and schools and roads for its poor multitudes; it even indulged in a few experimental cases of “participatory democracy” by allowing local assembles of the people vote on how best to divide up the loot. For a time, even the Venezuelan people seemed happy to be bought off with the bribes.
And then of course, the candy began to run out. As mismanagement and corruption within the state own oil sector began taking their toll, Chavez began to discover that the stream of oil money was starting to run shallow and could no longer mask the pain felt by ordinary people on the ground. Surprisingly, foreign investors are reluctant to put their money into a country where the government might nationalize the industry you’ve chosen to invest in, even when it is all in “the name of the people”. As the economy slowly was run into the ground, the previous largesse drained away. From each according to his ability to each according to his needs soon became nothing to all for nothing is all there was.
Another surprising lesson was learned: when you need to import everything because your economy is so wrecked you can no longer produce it yourself it helps to have something to trade. For a while there was oil, and then the bottom fell out from under the oil market and things really got bad. Consumer goods and then basic necessities began to run short. People lined up before grocery stores for hours on end hoping for the chance to get their hands on what little there was, but the lines grew ever long. They grew so long the Chavists (now bereft of Chavez’s old charisma) became concerned at the PR problem they posed, and resorted to having people start lining up for the opportunity to line up by imposing quotas on the number of spots allowed in the queue at any given time.
Of course, this situation soon became too much for all but the most devout socialists to take, and the people took to the streets. With that the veneer finally fell away and out came the police batons, and the water cannons, and finally the guns accompanied by live ammo. The outcome was what usually occurs when a number of people with guns went up against a number of people without guns. For days Venezuela burned upon a pyre of its own making. It is burning still, even if the flames have now been reduced to glowing embers.
Venezuela may no longer be the favorite mascot of the champagne and canopies set among the polite society of lefty intellectuals, but the wonder was how it ever held that place to begin with. It is simply the latest act in the play that has been playing over and over since a fool of a German philosopher penned a manifesto that launched a spectre that would haunt not just Europe but eventually the world as a whole for all the centuries that would follow. The characters, props and lines have all changed slightly with every viewing, but the story essentially stays the same. The work camps of the USSR, the famines of Communist China, the cultural genocide of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the list goes ever on and on. Shouldn’t it be time to finally admit that the jig is up?
Oh but we can’t, whispers the insidious prayer through the corridors of the Cathedral, we can’t do that. Admit that we were wrong? Admit that the inevitable march to progress has instead become a maze of thorns and pitfalls? Were that to occur who knows what might happen. The entire mythos of modernity might be turned on its head.
So the usual excuses and qualifications begin again. I’m certainly not going to try and defend the abuses of Venezuela, the progressive proclaims as his forbearers did before him of the fallen favorites of their day. And ever the refrain goes on. Marxism as a textbook theory is held up before the very real life, and thus inevitably imperfect, example of capitalism while the inability of its advocates to find even one genuine example of a real life success story goes unchallenged and unquestioned. Another world is possible, the cry goes out even if at times it is somewhat shrill and unsteady and meant more to assure the crier than persuade the great masses of proles and plebs to follow it like pigs to the slaughter as has been done so many times throughout history.
Ever will this cycle repeat, as it has since mobs of Parisian, egged on by bourgeois intellectuals, first torn down the structures of ancient regime France two centuries ago and plunged the entire continent into chaos. It will go on and on until the mythos is finally dispelled, and the cancerous tumor is cut out so the entire wretched edifice it constructed collapses on its own contradictions. Until then the pyre will burn on.