Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Facts Concerning Hugo Chavez

From the Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2013
When Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela in December 1998, the country had endured nearly two decades of political and economic turmoil, including violent rioting, high inflation, huge foreign debts, a president impeached on corruption charges, and two failed 1992 coups—one of them led, and the other inspired, by a brash and ambitious army colonel named Hugo Chávez.
Yet when the Chávez era finally drew to a close Tuesday with his death from cancer at age 58, life for Venezuelans had only become worse. As life stories go, the lesson of Chávez's is to beware charismatic demagogues peddling socialist policies at home and revolution abroad.
That's a lesson one would have thought the world had learned by the time Chávez came to power. By 1998, the Soviet Union was a memory, Latin American countries from Mexico to Chile were successfully adopting free-market policies, and Chávez's friend and role model—Cuba's Fidel Castro—was a discredited dinosaur.
Chávez showed that it's possible to run against the tides of history, at least for a while, and at least if you happen to get lucky with an oil revenue bonanza. When he took power, Venezuelan oil prices were plumbing lows of about $10 a barrel. When he took to the podium of the United Nations in 2006 to compare George W. Bush to the devil, he was high on surging global oil prices that would peak in 2008 at more than $150.
That kind of money can buy a lot of influence, and Chávez was quick to use it to purchase the political support of Venezuela's poor, the army and a loyal nouveau riche. It also allowed him to become a classic petro-dictator. In 1999 he revised the Venezuelan constitution to give him expanded powers. He used a constitutional assembly under his control to appoint a chavista Supreme Court. He stripped independent TV and radio stations of their licenses and intimidated reporters with draconian libel laws.
Though elections were held on schedule, he made sure to tilt the playing field. For his fourth election last October, opposition politicians were limited to three minutes of advertising a day, while Chávez could commandeer the airwaves at any time. He permitted no debates. Public workers risked being fired if they voted against him. It was the sort of election only Jimmy Carter could bless—which our 39th president predictably did.
Yet despite the populism and government handouts, life for Venezuela—and particularly the poor—has only become worse. While wealthier Venezuelans could flee, the less-fortunate now endure routine food and medicine shortages, thanks to price and capital controls. Prices are more than 20 times higher than in 1999. Capital has fled the country. The murder rate in Caracas is one of the highest in the world. Bridges and roads are in disrepair, blackouts are routine, and untreated sewage pollutes drinking water.
Meanwhile, state-owned oil company PdVSA has been all but stripped for parts. Daily production fell by more than one million barrels over the course of Chávez's rule to 2.5 million barrels at the end of 2012.
Chávez made his mark on the world stage by forging alliances with Bashar Assad in Syria and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, giving sanctuary to Colombia's narco-terrorist FARC movement, providing the Castro regime with free oil, and inveighing loudly against the United States. He succeeded in spawning political imitators in Ecuador and Bolivia.
This brought him some adulation, notably from the usual Hollywood suspects. But the reality of what Venezuela became under Chávez is hard to ignore. On Tuesday the Venezuelan government expelled two U.S. Air Force attaches. Heir apparent Nicolás Maduro also accused the U.S. of poisoning Chávez with cancer, suggesting that the combination of buffoonery and thuggery that Chávez pioneered will continue past his grave.
As for Venezuelans, they will have to fight to reclaim the democracy they once enjoyed. Mr. Maduro lacks his predecessor's charisma or military background, but the institutions of the regime are now entrenched, and its beneficiaries will not easily part with them.
The Constitution requires that new elections be held in 30 days, assuming Mr. Maduro honors the law. Let's hope Venezuelans seize the chance to bury the tragic legacy of Chavismo alongside its author's corpse.


  1. Congratulations on getting in the Wall Street Journal. That is awesome. I'll have to get a printed copy and get you to sign it.

    Everyone is always better/nicer/beloved after they die, but I've been so confused by some of the adulation Chavez has garnered since Tuesday. It seems that his rule was evil--a black and white issue from your article and all the apparent facts--yet some still laud him: victims of his rule and even American leaders. Comments like these recorded in a blog with the New York Times just BAFFLE me:

  2. Erik,

    I wish I could say this is my writing but it is not. It is from the WSJ editorial board. Yes, Sean Penn and Oliver Stone miss Mr. Chavez. They are part of the leftist, statist crowd the supports forced redistribution of property.

  3. Interesting that Hugo Chavez had a net worth of over $1 billion when he died. Some estimates as high as $2 billion, or 8 times the net worth of Mitt Romney. And Hugo did it in a lot less time. Something to think about when people talk about how capitalists get rich.

  4. Venezuelans have been seizing the chance to bury these last 14 years in every election, fighting against rigged machines and Iranians, Chinese and Cubans with Venezuelan ID's who vote for Chavez, and a clearly biased CNE (National Electoral Center). The tide is turning and many of his supporters are disappointed with the way Maduro and his crew are "tarnishing" Chavez' godly image (whatever, we'll take any excuse they give us). I can comfortably say that 99% of Venezuelans living abroad, myself included, will vote for Henrique Capriles Radosnki (the opposition to Chavez) running under a pseudo-socialist platform to attract as many voters as possible and rid the country of the plague we have now; enforcing criminal laws is his main priority (Venezuela has one of the highest, theft, murder and kidnapping rates in the world, indirectly encouraged by Chavez' regime). These Venezuelans have very limited locations to vote, the majority live here in Florida and after Chavez closed the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, New Orleans is the closest one. Many of them cannot afford the trip to vote on April 14th. A group of Venezuelans have organized to raise funds in order to get as many votes possible in this election. We are asking all you freedom lovers to help out in any way you can. The people at have made it easy to contribute via paypal and all funds will be used towards traveling costs for Venezuelans who cannot afford the trip to vote. Any amount helps, even if it only pays for the snack for the 10-hr bus ride. I thank you all in advance, even if all you do is forward this information.