¡Felicitaciones, Venezuela!

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Grocery shopping in Venezuela

Yesterday we exulted in the November 22 victory in the Argentinian presidential elections of opposition candidate Mauricio Macri, who, promising to roll back socialist excesses and pursue an approach respectful of individual liberties and the free market, took power on December 10. But that victory, as we noted, was only the first part of a thrilling double play by the champions of liberty in South America. Let’s move now to Venezuela, where, since 1999, under the demagogic Hugo Chávez and then Nicolás Maduro, a despicable gang of stooges have impoverished the people in the name of chavismo, all the while shamelessly enriching themselves. On December 6, the Venezuelan electorate showed it was finally fed up with the empty promises, empty grocery-store shelves, and empty socialist rhetoric, and handed the National Assembly over to the opposition.

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Maduro in happier times

“Coupled with last month’s defeat of the ruling Peronist movement in Argentina’s presidential election,” wrote Juan Forero and Anatoly Kurmanaev in the Wall Street Journal, the outcome also signaled another important loss for leftist populism in South America.”

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Julio Borges

The Journal reporters quoted an opposition deputy, Julio Borges, as saying: “I feel as if we won the World Cup while playing with our two legs tied….This has been the most abusive campaign ever, but the important thing is that we were able to use democracy to beat a system that is deeply undemocratic.” Maduro, for his part, found a way (as always) to blame his party’s failure on the U.S. “We’ve lost a battle,” he said, “but the struggle to build socialism is only beginning.” He also insisted that the victory belonged not to “the opposition” but to “a counter-revolution.”

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Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo López, cheering the opposition victory with leaders of the Democratic Unity Movement

The opposition’s triumph at the polls, it was noted, will likely mean freedom for political prisoners such as Leopoldo López, the highly accomplished  – and highly popular –former mayor of one of the constituent cities of Caracas. López has been behind bars since February 2014, for no other reason than that President Maduro recognized him as a palpable threat to his own power. The election results will also enable the new legislature, which takes power on January 5, to address the problems (including an inflation rate topping 200%) that make Venezuela’s economy the world’s worst-performing, according to the International Monetary Fund. It’ll make possible desperately needed judiciary and administrative reforms. 

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Leopoldo López, who stands to be released from prison after the opposition takes control of the Venezuelan legislature

But it won’t be easy. To pull Venezuela out of its “death spiral,” wrote Forero and Kurmanaev, the new members of the legislature will need to make “a series of painful and unpopular adjustments, rolling back more than a decade of populist and statist policies” –notably an outrageously impractical system of social-welfare programs that the country simply can’t afford (especially given the constant flow of taxpayer cash into the chavista elite’s private offshore accounts).  

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Srdja Popovic

There are other reasons for concern, too. As Srdja Popovic and William J. Dobson warned in Slate, the opposition’s struggle to undo chavismo “is nowhere near over. Maduro and the ruling party will attempt to marginalize this victory in the weeks and months ahead…. Expect the courts to issue rulings circumscribing the powers of the legislature. Expect new edicts and orders concentrating even more power into the executive. Look for government budgets and competencies to shift. Watch out for allegations of corruption and criminal offenses against key members of the opposition.”

In short, the new powers-that-be in Argentina and Venezuela alike have their work cut out for them. It won’t be easy to turn these tragically broken systems around. But the election results send a powerful and encouraging message: namely, that the people of both countries have seen through the lies of their socialist leaders and cast a vote for individual liberty and the free market. And that, in itself, is cause for celebration.

Maduro’s descent into madness

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Nicolás Maduro

Over the last few months, we’ve seen that a whole gallery of American celebrities are fans of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. Last year Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s oldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy II, who’d lent his name to some Massachusetts power-supply initiative (presumably to burnish his image in his family’s home state), effusively thanked Maduro (who’d made a token contribution to the effort in order to burnish his image in America’s bluest state), for “answer[ing] our call to provide heating assistance to the poor.” Also last year, Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, Tom Hayden, and several other clueless Hollywood luminaries signed a letter to the U.S. Congress singing Maduro’s praises.

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Maduro with Danny Glover

Why are we serving up this reminder? Because of a Daily Beast article in late September whose headline asked a head-turning question – namely, “Has Venezuelan President Maduro Gone Insane?” Maduro, wrote Jeremy Kryt, “has grown so erratic some are calling him ‘the South American Hitler.’” In the course of a few weeks, he’d “come to the brink of war” with both Colombia and Guyana. He’d turned Venezuela into “an Orwellian dystopia, complete with the highest inflation rate in the world,” not to mention rampant violence, crime, and kidnappings, and shortages that are “so severe that it’s sometimes impossible to buy a roll of toilet paper in Caracas.” He’s told the media in all seriousness that he receives “advice from the deceased Chavez via a talking bird” – a claim that brings to mind the off-the-wall statements by the victorious leader of a coup d’êtat in a fictional Central American country in Woody Allen’s 1971 comedy Bananas. (“From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish.”) 

Maduro’s paranoia has led him to jail popular opposition leader Leopoldo López. It’s led him to order “the use of deadly force against demonstrators he sees as a threat to his regime.” Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) told Kryt, “If he believes a lot of what he’s saying about the conspiracy theories against him, then he’s not the sanest man in the world….Internationally there’s no trust of Maduro at all….He says things that aren’t true, and he’s quite erratic….Something very ugly could happen in the next few months.”

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Maduro and his wife, Cilia

To top all this off, on November 10, Haitian officials arrested two nephews of Maduro’s wife and turned them over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which flew them to New York for arraignment on charges of drug trafficking. Longtime observers of chavismo weren’t surprised: in today’s Venezuela, the principal activities of the leaders and their families are raiding the treasury, laundering money, and selling narcotics.  

But were Kennedy, Glover, Stone, and Hayden surprised? Have any of them said anything about any of this? Not that we know of. As far as we’re aware, they’re all still in Maduro’s corner. What, one wonders, would it take to shake their faith in the caudillo? The mind reels. For such people, it’s clear, ideology will always trump reality.