Venezuela no longer can feed or care for its people. Yet many Americans have forgotten what socialism really is. Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns as if Karl Marx was just another Santa Claus.
Real socialism largely disappeared decades ago. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites effectively ended the age of collectivism.
Nevertheless, oil-rich Venezuela since became a flamboyant exponent of socialism. Its travails should remind us how America’s power is built upon a prosperous economy. Prodigal spending at home and promiscuous intervention abroad are undermining our nation’s economic foundation.
Like most Latin American nations, Venezuela never enjoyed a genuine market economy. After years of misrule, Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez attempted a coup in 1992. He failed, but six years later frustrated Venezuelans elected him president, leading to his “Bolivarian Revolution.” Before his death in 2013 he nationalized industries, provided bountiful social benefits, spent wildly on domestic and foreign ventures, turned the state oil company into a fount of political patronage, and imposed price controls.
Chavez’s successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, is no more competent but less charismatic. Today the economy is in virtual collapse. With oil revenues declining the regime no longer can mask its many failures.
Yet Maduro’s government only blames others—political opponents and private businessmen—for everything from pervasive shortages to hyper-inflation. Maduro recently seized private factories and jailed their owners for not producing goods at a loss. People can’t even cry in their beer, since Venezuela lacks the barley and hops necessary to brew any.
In May Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency “to tend to our country and more importantly to prepare to denounce, neutralize and overcome the external and foreign aggressions against our country.” He said his government’s problems are “made in the U.S.A.”
In December legislative elections delivered a two-thirds parliamentary majority to the divided opposition, which is organizing a recall campaign against Maduro. Seven of ten Venezuelans say they want him gone.
The Obama administration declared the Chavista regime to be a national security threat and imposed sanctions on top Venezuelan officials. Washington often inflates foreign threats to justify intervention, but Venezuela is a danger only to its own people. The Obama administration should stay out of the worsening chaos.
In fact, as I wrote in Forbes: “there’s little good that Washington can do. Attempts at isolation, especially economic sanctions which have become America’s weapon of choice, tend to hurt those people most aligned with the U.S.”
In Venezuela Washington’s support for a failed coup in 2002 spurred nationalist support for Chavez. Only the Venezuelan people can rid themselves of the Chavistas.
As they must do. Hugo Chavez said he created “21st century socialism.” Alas, it didn’t work any better than 19th century socialism. Bernie Sanders, call your office. America can’t afford to import a system that continues to fail around the world.