After Hugo Chavez’s reelection in 2012, I wrote what some might have qualified a cynical, unsentimental editorial in which I predicted that Venezuela’s citizenry would suffer increasingly difficult days ahead as a result of increased centralization and collectivist schemes. With that country’s economy and political system now in a shambles as a result, it’s time for the United States to demand respect for human rights and a return to democratic government.
Back then, I argued it was a grave mistake to vest the choleric Chavez with a fourth electoral victory, empowering him to follow through on his socialist agenda. Chavez was always focused on constraining the private sector under an army of central planners – with price controls, takeovers of key industries, and massive redistribution funded by confiscation of wealth. This extremist leader was committed to wasting the nation’s petro resources, propping up failed communist states, and building a thuggish national police force to crush political opposition. It was clear the people of Venezuela would soon be paying a heavy price.
Maduro’s recent overtures at dialogue and policy remedies are meant mostly to run out the clock and hold the seat of power. But the student liberators are not chumps.
Today, Venezuela is in ruins. Its people are enduring those hard rains I foresaw two years ago. Men, women and children increasingly go without the basic necessities of life, as scarcity and political turmoil are the new normal. Food shortages have created long, winding lines reminiscent of communist Russia – complete with Cuban-like rationing programs. Corruption has worsened, kidnappings continue unabated, and Venezuela has now become one of the most backward nations of Latin America. Instead of a struggling democracy with a thriving private sector, the nation is on a path of hyperinflation, persistent violation of basic human rights, and the destruction of private life. Just last week, inflation hit 59 percent in the country.
Chavez didn’t live long enough to see the fruits of his 1984-esque agenda, but he handpicked Nicolás Maduro to succeed him, based entirely on Maduro’s loyalty to Chavez’ statist vision. Predictably, Maduro proposes more government controls in the face of runaway inflation, scarcity and hoarding, and the growing uncertainty brought on by wild price speculation. He means to double down on collectivist, socialist style remedies that created these dynamics in the first place. As the economy spirals down, Maduro is ratcheting up currency controls, a new round of wage controls, and a new electronic card for purchases in state-run supermarkets.
But the people now seem to know – maybe from having tired of diminishing job prospects, long wait lines and the hunger in their children’s eyes - that these directives will only complete the road to serfdom. They are now refusing to undergo the harsh, punishing rains that will result from full-on socialism. And so, people with fear of hunger and oppression are protesting. People who never thought twice about politics and politicians are pushing out, into the streets, in a show of massive, prolonged political revolution.
There are important, needed voices rising from the unrest now spreading across the oil rich nation. One of them is that of María Corina Machado, the Venezuelan opposition leader who was recently expelled from the country's National Assembly and blocked by the Organization of American States from addressing that assembly about the issues facing her country. Her tone is direct and determined, as she echoes the sentiments of so many Venezuelans feeling the economic and political pain — voices that express a growing frustration over the absence of outside voices condemning the oppression of an increasingly tyrannical government. "How many more human right violations, murders, persecutions, and tortures must Venezuela endure for the democrats of this hemisphere to hear our voice?" she recently asked lawmakers in Brazil.
There is no question that human rights violations and government violence have reached a scandalous level. The international organization Human Rights Watch has documented the tide of violence and repression unleashed by Maduro against his own people. They confirm scores of attacks on hundreds of unarmed civilian protesters – all before the approving gaze of Maduro’s own troops. Violent repression of dissent is the ultimate recourse of leftist dictators the world over, and Venezuela is clearly no different.
So far, the United States government has remained largely silent, with some asides by President Obama declaring concern when prompted by an occasional media question. In contrast, individual Americans have taken to social media to express their indignation over the arrests and abusive treatment by the Maduro regime of student protestors, city mayors and members of the political opposition over the last three months of demonstrations, which have shown no signs of abating. Thus far, 41 people have been killed and hundreds have suffered injuries.
Maduro’s recent overtures at dialogue and policy remedies are meant mostly to run out the clock and hold the seat of power. But the student liberators are not chumps. They know the only hope in reversing the economic storm is a change in leadership and a return to an economic system that once again unleashes a thriving private sector supported on the principles of economic liberty.
To the people of Venezuela who march, who protest, who demand change, to those who will no longer quite their voices and no longer tolerate the fetters of bad statist policy, do not tire. To all of those who sacrifice all for the cause of liberty, who fight for economic freedom, you will win. And only then, there will come softer rains.