The collapse of Venezuela's economy is both horrifying and predictable, and the world needs to understand why.
Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, and it was once Latin America's richest country. Today, most grocery store shelves are empty, and Venezuelans are so hungry that they're killing zoo animals for sustenance. Toilet paper, diapers, and toothpaste are luxury goods. Venezuelan hospitals have disintegrated, children are dying because they can't get antibiotics, and the infant mortality rate is higher than Syria. The capital city of Caracas is the murder capital of the world, and just 12 percent of citizens feel safe walking alone at night, which is the lowest figure reported in the world.
The government blames slumping oil prices for the desperate situation. The real cause is the socialist economy. The government sets the price of staples such as rice, pasta, and flour, resulting in chronic shortages. Former President Hugo Chavez nationalized industries, confiscated property, and kicked out foreign companies. The government is trying to print its way out of the crisis, resulting in a 700 percent annual inflation rate. After a sham election, President Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor of Hugo Chavez, is rounding up his opponents and putting them in jail.
Despite this, Maduro and his predecessor still have their defenders, ranging from Sean Penn to Michael Moore to Naomi Klein, who once signed a petition saying "We would vote for Hugo Chavez" and praised the autocrat in 2007 for creating "a zone of relative economic calm and predictability." In 2013, journalist David Sirota praised Hugo Chavez' "economic miracle," writing that the socialist leader had a "record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving.
The real lesson of Venezuela's tragic collapse is that real socialism always leads to economic breakdown and political repression. Those of us in wealthier, freer countries need to keep Venezuela in mind as we confront calls for more regulation and government control of all aspects of our own lives.
Produced by Todd Krainin. Written by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Jim Epstein.