James Bloodworth

Venezuela: a shining example of how not to help the poor

Venezuela: a shining example of how not to help the poor
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No serious person today views the Cuban Revolution as anything other than an impoverished tyranny – up to and including the leaders of that Revolution, who have been hastily turning toward capitalism since learning in 2009 that the island was on the brink of insolvency.

It remains much easier to find useful idiots willing to defend Venezuela’s so-called ‘Bolivarian revolution’, however, which until recently was supposed to promise something better than its ossified Caribbean neighbour.

Not for much longer, perhaps; for Venezuela is on the brink of a social explosion after 15 years of economic incompetence by Islington’s favourite petrocrat.

It was reported this week that, absurdly, the most oil rich country in the world is facing food shortages. Inflation is also running at a whopping 54 per cent although many observers suspect the real rate is much higher. It isn’t so much a case of asking the last person leaving Venezuela to turn out the lights because the lights are already out. Despite being awash with oil, the country is beset by crippling blackouts due to a lack of investment in infrastructure.

In other words, Venezuela today is bit like Cuba, but with more Western cheerleaders.

Anyone who wants to know is already aware of the Venezuelan government’s human rights abuses. For apologists these were either dismissed as bourgeois propaganda or relativised because ‘George Bush was a pretty bad guy too’. What’s telling is that even on its own terms the revolution is a crushing failure. Rather than being a beacon of a better world, Venezuela sits as a shining example of how not to help the poor.

As apologists are so fond of pointing out, between 2007 and 2011 there was a reduction in poverty in Venezuela by some 38 per cent. And indeed, on the surface this sounds impressive; until you look at poverty reduction in the rest of Latin America. The percentage of people who escaped extreme poverty in Brazil during the same period was 44 per cent, for Peru 41 per cent and for Uruguay 63 per cent. None of these countries possess anything like Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, and yet all of them managed to lift their poorest citizens out of penury without gutting their democracies. As Rory Carroll puts it in his brilliant book on Venezuela, Commandante: ‘While he [Chavez] postured on the world stage and talked of bringing equilibrium to the universe, Brazil built a sustainable economy, took care of the poor and seized regional leadership.’

While Brazil is on the verge of global power status, with an economy ticking along nicely with annual growth rate of 3.3 per cent, 15 years of ‘21st century socialism’ has left Venezuela with one of the world’s ‘highest inflation rates, worst misalignment of the exchange rate, fastest-growing debt, and one of the most precipitous drops in productive capacity,’ according to former Venezuelan minister Moises Naim. The country is also a more dangerous place to live than Iraq — a tragic irony considering the sorts of things Western Chavez apologists like to say about the 2003 US invasion (and at least proper dictators like Castro know how to keep the streets safe.)

The real shame is that Hugo Chavez is no longer around to witness the Venezuelan masses pay for his government’s idiocy. His Western apologists are, however, and shouldn’t be allowed to forget the fact that they acted as cheerleaders for this clownish revolution that is predictably devouring its children.