News & Politics

The Death Throes of Venezuela

(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

I suppose one shouldn’t gloat about the misfortune of your enemies, but what’s happening in Venezuela — politically and economically — is enormously satisfying.

This horrifying report on the state of the Venezuelan economy in The Economist, and the prospects for the future, seems like what a nation that celebrated a loony, paranoid view of the United States deserves.

The government has admitted that in the 12 months to September 2015 the economy contracted by 7.1% and inflation was 141.5%. Even Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s hapless heir and successor, called these numbers “catastrophic”. The IMF thinks worse is in store: it reckons inflation will surge to 720% this year and that the economy will shrink by 8%, after contracting by 10% in 2015. The Central Bank is printing money to cover much of a fiscal deficit of around 20% of GDP.

The government has run out of dollars—liquid international reserves have fallen to just $1.5 billion, thinks José Manuel Puente, an economist at IESA, a business school in Caracas. While all oil-producing countries are suffering, Venezuela is almost alone in having made no provision for lower prices.

This spells misery for all but a handful of privileged officials and hangers-on. Real wages fell by 35% last year, calculates Asdrúbal Oliveros, a consultant. According to a survey by a group of universities, 76% of Venezuelans are now poor, up from 55% in 1998. Drugmakers warn that supplies of medicines have fallen to a fifth of their normal level. Many pills are unavailable; patients die as a result. In Caracas food queues at government stores grow longer by the week. Shortages will get even worse in March, worries a food-industry manager. Violent crime is out of control.

Rising discontent brought the opposition victory in an election for the National Assembly in December. Stalemate has followed. Chávez turned the institutions of state—including the Supreme Court and the electoral authority—into appendices of the presidency. The court, packed by the legally dubious naming of 13 new justices by the outgoing assembly, threw out four legislators, depriving the opposition of the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution. Mr Maduro shows no sign of changing course. Last month he issued an “economic emergency” decree, rejected by the new assembly, that mainly offered more controls. His government seems paralysed by indecision and infighting.

Maduro — a small, colorless, ignorant man – has been blaming everything on the United States. He has accused the U.S. of plotting to overthrow him — just as his predecessor did.

You don’t want to enjoy the monumental suffering of the Venezuelan people at a time like this — although they deserve a measure of justice for voting for that pimple Hugo Chavez for all those years — but since so many of them believe the rantings of Maduro about the U.S. plots against them, perhaps a dose of reality is what they need to throw off the tyrannical rule of the chavistas.

They couldn’t do any worse with a pro-American, pro-free market leader, that’s for sure.