Hugo Chávez' presidency has been a disaster for the Venezuelan people. Chávez' "Socialism of the 21st Century" changed Venezuela from one of the most prosperous and politically free countries in Latin America to one of the least competitive and most repressive countries worldwide. Venezuelans who go to the polls today will ponder many of the President's policy failures, including a long list of Chávez'nblunders in the last year alone.
Under Chávez' rule, oil-rich Venezuela has become one of the least economically competitive countries in the world. In 2012, the country ranked 126 of 144 in a study by the World Economic Forum. According to the report, Venezuela now has some of the lowest scores worldwide in functioning of public institutions, trust in the justice system and domestic competition. It has some of the highest scores in terms of regulation, trade tariffs, and rules that deter foreign investment. The country has an inflation rate of 26 percent, and has also suffered several food shortages this year.
Venezuelan infrastructure has been falling apart under Chávez. On August 15th, the Cupira bridge near Caracas collapsed despite repeated warnings from engineers that it was in disrepair. Last month, poor drainage infrastructure led to nationwide flooding, resulting in over 400 families losing their homes and 1,500 people ending up in shelters. Chávez also mismanages Venezuela's oil wealth. Since the government effectively took control of the national oil company in 2004, it has become much less efficient and production is 25 percent lower than when Chávez took office. Accidents are common—an offshore oil rig sank into the sea in 2010 and an oil refinery explosion in August killed at least 48 people. Despite sitting atop the world's largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela now imports and rations gasoline.
According to USA Today, Venezuela has the fourth highest murder rate in the world and is now the most violent South American country. Between the time Chávez took power in 1998 and 2012, kidnappings have risen from a few hundred annually to a record of 16,000 in 2011. Homicide rates have nearly tripled and suspect arrests have fallen by 61 percent. Only eight in every 100 murder investigations lead to an arrest. Murder of police officers has risen by 45 percent in the last year alone. Violence is much worse for Venezuela's inmates despite Chávez' campaign promises of prison reform. A prison riot on August 24 left 26 people dead and 43 injured after inmates took over the compound and held it for four hours. Venezuelans are 20 times more likely to be killed in penitentiaries than outside of them. More than three hundred people have died and 572 have been injured in Venezuelan prisons this year alone.
Venezuelans have also witnessed alarming revocations of political liberties during Chávez' presidency. On September 10th, Chávez decided to withdraw from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. He regularly targets media who expose his failures. He recently arrested two journalists for writing a satirical article about his leadership. In addition, he demanded the names of voters who participated in the opposition's primary election last February, just as he did to those who unsuccessfully voted to remove him from office in 2004. Chávez has banned foreign funding for civil society watch dogs, which will make electoral transparency in upcoming elections difficult.
While Chávez may be a popular figure amongst many Venezuelans and even some Westerners, his policies speak for themselves. Hugo Chávez' leadership has made his country less prosperous, more dangerous, and much more repressive. Venezuelans who care about liberty and human rights will hope to see Chávez defeated in today's presidential election.