Venezuelans Bleed Under Socialist Oppression

A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela.Massive and bloody anti-government protests have been roiling Venezuela for more than a month – provoked by an out-of-control murder rate, food shortages, and myriad instances of inept governance. But that didn’t stop a rogues’ gallery of Latin leftists, including Cuban President Raul Castro, from turning up in Caracas to honor the late Hugo Chávez on the first anniversary of the Venezuelan leader’s death.

Security forces and pro-government militias have responded with a vengeance against the protesters, leaving at least 21 dead and hundreds injured. Most were students.

The tear gas, rubber bullets and Chavista thugs on motorcycles, however, were out of sight and mind for Castro and fellow leftists, including Bolivian President Evo Morales and his Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega. Like Castro, they enjoyed Chávez’s oil largess over the years. Chávez had promoted himself as the savior of Venezuela’s poor yet gave away billions of dollars of their oil wealth as a way to expand his influence and build alliances against the United States. The firebrand socialist, famous for his colorful anti-American broadsides, died a year ago of cancer, on March 5th, at age 58.

A couple of Hollywood heavy weights – director Oliver Stone and actor Danny Glover – lent their celebrity to Wednesday’s ceremonies that included a military parade and civic events. Glover and Stone considered Chávez a friend and ideological soulmate.

Chávez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro – a 51-year-old former bus driver and union leader – led the ceremonies at “El Comandante’s” sacred tomb – situated in a former military museum in Caracas that had served as the command center for a disorganized and bloody coup attempt that Lt. Colonel Hugo Chávez led on February 4, 1992, against a democratic government.

“Hugo Chávez was, without a doubt, the great leader who brought democracy. Never in history has there been a leader who so authentically loved the people of this country,” Maduro told cheering Chávez loyalists. The ceremony featured goose-steeping soldiers, columns of tanks, and low-flying Russian Sukhoi jets.

A lavish spectacle, it came amid the economic and social chaos produced by what Chávez called “21st Century Socialism,” and the bread-and-circuses populism is being deepened by Maduro in the oil-rich yet impoverished South American nation. Venezuela has long been a prize for Cuba, which sponsored leftist insurgences there in the 1960s. Now, socialist Venezuela has come to look more and more like Cuba, where basic goods also are scarce.

Ironically, Chávez had portrayed himself during his first presidential campaign as a moderate seeking a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. Claiming he’d traded the bullet for the ballet, he pledged to reverse declining living standards and root out Venezuela’s rampant corruption. But months after his landslide election victory, he did an about-face, praising Cuba’s communism and forming a close friendship with Fidel Castro. Soon he was forming anti-American alliances with Middle Eastern strongmen such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. He nationalized large swaths of the economy in Venezuela; or to be precise: the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Early into his first term, Chávez insisted on the name change — inspired by Venezulea’s aristocratic independence hero Simón Bolivar — as he pushed through a rewritten constitution in a Congress packed with his loyalists.

As for Venezuela’s corruption, Chávez took it to new heights by allowing for the emergence of a new social class; what a Venezuelan journalist famously called the “Boliburguesía” — a portmanteau of the word’s Bolivarian and bourgeoisie. As has been reported often over the years, in print and broadcast media, they became rich overnight thanks to sweetheart contacts, cronyism, and corruption.

Glover, however, spoke only of Chávez as a man of the people to enthusiastic applause from Chávez loyalists. “His memory lives with us through the work that you do as citizens of this great nation,” he said.

Stone didn’t attend but in an interview with a local news outlet talked wistfully of his departed friend Hugo. “I miss Chávez, miss his spirit and presence,” he said. Stone allowed his documentary film, “My Amigo Hugo,” to premier on Venezuela television. (The government required all television stations, both state-owned and private, to broadcast it.)

An information war is underway. Government censorship – including twitter and Internet outages – have been another weapon the government has used in its battle against the protesters whom Stone compared to “the right-wing Cuban exiles in southern Florida.” Later, he complained that he’d been subjected to “verbal violence” over his support for the Chávez and Maduro regimes.

Social media, for its part, has helped organize the protests and shown the world the brutal handiwork of Venezuela’s security forces. Twitter’s SOSVenezuela has buzzed with photos claiming to show Cuban troops and military aircraft in Venezuela. Opposition protesters are convinced that Cubans are participating in the repressive crack-down against students. Over the years, Chávez invited many Cuban security agents and advisers into the country to help solidify his socialist rule.

Bread and circuses populism has a long history in Venezuela, as does statism and authoritarianism. But Chávez took these things to new heights. Now after 11 years of Chávez, and one year of Maduro, who is doubling down on Chávez’s policies, Venezuela is sliding toward basket case status. It has one of the world’s worst murder rates. Shortages of basic goods — including milk, medicines, and toilet paper – are common due to currency exchange and price controls that have made it unprofitable for business to import goods. And things are bound to get worse after recent government edicts requiring retailers and businesses to offer government-set “fair prices.” “Good Morning, Communism!” declared the respected newsletter VenEcomony after analyzing the impact of Maduro’s recent “economic war” against supposedly bourgeoisie retailers and businessmen. Maduro has called the opposition “fascists” and dupes of “Yankee imperialists.”

Venezuela has become a polarized country divided into two ideological camps, thanks mainly to class-warrior Chávez. And last month, opposition leader Leopoldo López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated politician and former mayor, was sent to jail on trumped up charges, including murder and inciting rioters, for having lent his support to the ongoing street protests.

“HE WHO tires, loses”: that was the slogan printed on a T-shirt worn by López when he was arrested among a sea of supporters. To Maduro’s outrage, López had urged protesters to continue taking their grievances to the streets with peaceful protests; it’s the only option they have left against an authoritarian government. Unarmed student demonstrators have been using two valuable weapons: twitter (#SOSVenezuea) and YouTube. Powerful videos like this have gone viral:

In last April’s presidential election, Maduro prevailed over opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a state governor and former mayor, by a razor-thing 50.6 percent of the vote. Protesters rightly believe that Capriles ought to be leading the country in light of Chávez and Maduro’s demagoguery and populism on top of illegal campaign spending and threats against state employees who supported opposition candidates.

Students come mainly from the middle-class and have been the backbone of the nationwide protest movement. It started in early February in San Cristóbal, a college town in the Andean mountains of 650,000, following the sexual assault of a female student. Initially, the protests were provoked by out-of-control crime. But as they spread to every major city in Venezuela, students added additional grievances to their manifesto – corruption, electrical blackouts, and other quality-of-life issues. Here and there, there have been reports in social media of the protests spreading to working-class areas that have been traditional Chávez strongholds.

But the hope of pulling off a Ukrainian-style revolution seems remote. The military is with Maduro, by all accounts. The students and other protesters are a minority; and so far their rage has been vented mainly against the symptoms of bread and circuses socialism – not against the system itself; and that system is without a doubt corrupt. It revolves in part around the popular belief, especially among the poor majority, that Venezuelans ought to be rich and entitled by dint of their oil wealth — an impossibility in Venezuela today. It’s a sirens song – the paradox of plenty, as some call it – that keeps free-market policies at bay, keeps power concentrated in the hands of a few, and lends itself to a mentality that blames others. In this culture, anti-Americanism flourishes. Free-market policies and investor-friendly laws, on the other hand, would create wealth – far more than could be pumped out of the ground.

The prophetic warning of Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, a Venezuelan intellectual who was instrumental in founding OPEC, is often cited and worth quoting in respect to Venezuela’s long decline and current crisis. “Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see: oil will bring us ruin… Oil is the Devil’s excrement.”

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  • UCSPanther

    I suspect that it will get worse for Maduro over time. History-shattering rebellions have a tendency to start out small, but end up changing that country’s history in the end.

    Communist revolutions just don’t have the same traction they used to, and even if the Chavistas and the Cubans put down the uprisings, the resentment will still simmer and will just need another opportunity to flare to the surface.

  • Gamal

    oil is not the problem.

    • UCSPanther

      It’s the regimes that benefit from natural resources that are the problem. These regimes generally don’t care about their subjects and generally use the money from the extraction of resources to line their pockets while everyone else suffers.
      Equatorial Guinea is a prime example.

      • NAHALKIDES

        Agreed. An abundant natural resource can generate just enough wealth (with the aid of the capitalist West) to make socialism seem slightly less awful. But socialism is the culprit here, as it is everywhere it is practiced.

      • Gamal

        Chavez borrowed an enormous amount of money from Russia to build up his military. That is probably where his oil revenue is going.

      • Dallas25305

        Socialism is the problem doofus. Socialist murdered over 100 million people in the 20th century and as Venezuela shows their not done murdering yet. Stalin 30 million murdered, Chairman Mao (a hero to Liberal Socialist today, even in the white house) 70 million murdered and I wont mention Castro, Pol Pot, Kim Jung Iill, Robert Mugabe or any of the other Socialist killers. Note, most of those murdered by Socialist Governments were killed after their guns had been taken away. The entire Western world is on the way to extinction thanks to Liberal Socialism, with it’s State promoted abortions, death panels for the old and now the Great Global warming fraud, all to promote a culture of doom and death. All to depress people with the idea that even the weather is conspiring to kill them. Socialism is the cancer that kills country’s, cultures and even a race and it happens in the case of every nation that is stupid enough to install it as their form of government and religion.

      • Dallas25305

        What about the millions murdered in the USSR and China in the 20th century was that done because of oil? Wake up, you don’t have to be a fool all your life.

  • Anti sharia

    Even if the government falls it will take decades to put Venezuela back together. The lawlessness, corruption, and internal divisions will last for quite a while. The ghost of Chavez will haunt the country indefinitely.

  • Pepe Turcon

    The roof is on fire….for all Latin bullshiters starting with Castro to Maduro via Evo and Ortega. They are so pathetic.

  • American Patriot

    The author seems to be pessimistic regarding how efficient the pro-democracy protesters in Venezuela really are. Contrary to what Mr. Paulin believes, the pro-democracy movement in Venezuela are the majority. Keep in mind that it took nearly four years for the French Revolution to fully succeed in toppling King Louis XVI. In the case of Venezuela, the pro-democracy majority are actually trying to overthrow the Communist regime of the illegitimate ethnic Colombian dictator of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. Maduro and his regime cronies are Communist totalitarians and stooges of Cuban imperialism, which I like to call “Mets” imperialism (since the Communist empire in Latin America often calls us “Yankees”, we should call them the “Mets”, referring to the two Major League Baseball teams based in New York City) Venezuela has become the Cuban Raj (the country has become a puppet regime of the Castro family dictatorship in Communist Cuba) over the course of a decade and a half. The majority of Venezuelans do not support the Cuban Raj and want to bring back democracy and freedom to Venezuela. On a side note, Venezuelan freedom fighter Leopoldo Lopez didn’t run for president of Venezuela last April. It was Henrique Capriles, another freedom fighter, who ran for president and actually won. But the Castro puppet regime wouldn’t allow Capriles to claim his rightful claim to be Venezuela’s president. So, the puppet regime rigged the election by resorting to all sorts of fraud and voter intimidation in order to give the election to the Castro dictatorship’s puppet Maduro. Maduro is even more of a puppet of the Castro dictatorship than Chavez. While Chavez tried to mix his corrupt Communist policies with some kind of “nationalism”, Maduro pledges his allegiance entirely to the Castro brothers in Cuba. The Cuban Communist-backed Maduro regime in Venezuela must be defeated in order for democracy to return to Venezuela.

    • Drakken

      It won’t be by the vote, it will once again be a bloody revolution.

  • Johnny

    If these numb nuts lefties could just be satisfied with handing out goodies for votes, they could retain rule and the country would otherwise function properly. Instead the puff themselves up in to the next great thing in the history of humankind, and in there overreach greatly increase the sum total of human misery.

  • kilfincelt

    If Glover and Stone detest our American republic so much, why don’t they go live in Cuba or Venezuela. For my part I intend to never see a movie with Glover in it or one associated with Stone.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      kilfincelt AKBAR!

      I also boycott any project that the mutant sean penn or oliver stone are involved with.

      oliver stones genetically depraved son converted to islam too.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Stone

  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    Socialism is a Crime Against Humanity.

    See national socialism and soviet socialism.

    • Reco2

      National Socialism was capitalistic which has been explained to you SEVERAL times.

  • Seek

    Back in the Seventies for a brief time, I had a Venezuelan college dorm roommate. He was a pretty good fellow. But he kept telling that his country was the best in the world (“!Venezuela es el mejor pais en todo el mundo!”). I would hate to think what mi amigo would say today about a country that now averages about 70 murders a day.

  • M2000

    If we had Keystone Pipeline XL, governments like Venezuela would collapse, Russia won’t be able to gain a foothold on places like the Ukraine and Islamic radicals won’t be able to set oil prices anymore.

  • Katya

    We are bleeding here in Ukraine too. Ironically, there was no censorship under the so-called “bloody regime” of our president. But after the coup things have changed dramatically and all TV channels are blasting with the Soviet style propaganda around the clock. Nevertheless, many people here realize that they are subjected to a massive brainwashing campaign, which is in fact quite a powerful tool in any psyop. Make no mistake, your administration and government is giving their support to nazis as Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of Ukraine’s nationalists, has decided to run for presidency.

  • Richard

    I think about the students that have to face Venezuelas military and I think about what would happen in this country since laws have been passed to jail citizens with out trial and the removal of a law which prevented the military to be used against the American people.