Socialism’s triumph: Oil-rich Venezuela is out of gas

Nicolas Maduro

As the Venezuelan economy continues to circle the drain, perhaps the quintessential symbol of the extraordinary personal incompetence of President Nicolás Maduro and of the thoroughgoing failure of the socialist system he inherited from his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, has been the mind-boggling inability of this, one of the top oil-producing nations on earth, to meet its own people’s demand for gasoline. This shortfall has occurred despite the fact that Venezuela has actually been importing fuel – for most of which, according to reports, it has been unable to pay its bills.

Cars lined up for gas at Maturin, Venezuela, on March 23

Over the last few months, despite continual reassurances by Maduro, the supply crisis has only gotten worse. On February 21, Maduro promised “good news soon” because he had installed a “new PDVSA board” that was dedicated to fighting “corruption and unnecessary costs.” On March 22, however, thanks to maintenance issues, production challenges, shipping difficulties, and a shortage of working trucks attributed to a lack of spare parts – in other words, significant problems at pretty much every stage of the oil extraction and distribution process – the situation had deteriorated to a point at which the entire nation was experiencing a critical shortage of petrol. At gas stations across the country, dozens of cars could be seen queued up, their owners hoping in vain to be able to fill their tanks.

Eulogio del Pino

Aside from the magnificently unmasterly Maduro himself, the personification of this embarrassing dilemma is Eulogio del Pino, president of the country’s colossal oil entity, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), which is the primary engine of the nation’s economic power, such as it is. Or was. In a touch that would seem insane in the policies of any country but that these days seems par for the course for the Bolivarian Republic, just a couple of days ago came the news that Venezuela, despite its domestic oil crunch and its emergency oil-import policy, had not only continued but stepped up fuel exports to Cuba, Nicaragua, and other allies.

On March 23, a man in Maturin pushes his car after running out of gas

But, as with much else about Venezuela’s current, many-faceted nightmare, the chief culprit here seems to be Maduro himself. Apparently more interested, even now, in shoring up and enhancing his own power than in trying to rescue his nation from catastrophe, he’s dismissed relatively skilled key officials in the PDVSA and replaced them with his political and military cronies, most of whom have little or no background in the oil business – or, for that matter, in the competent management of anything. Other PDVSA executives, recognizing that Maduro’s hirings and firings are only helping to drive the state-owned company even further into the ground, have jumped ship of their own accord, presumably recognizing that at this point, under present governance, the whole massive enterprise is, quite simply, doomed.  

In the midst of all this drama, Del Pino, in what can only be read as a display of the remarkably tone-deaf insouciance that so often characterizes the mindless, mediocre agents of ineffectual and indifferent authoritarian states, visited a fuel distribution plant where, in response to a chorus of irate complaints by laborers about their working conditions and salaries, simply smiled inanely, loftily ignoring their concerns. Somehow, that distant and detached reaction seemed the perfect summing-up of the whole ridiculous tragedy.

The economic Rasputin behind Venezuela’s collapse

alfredo-serrano-mancilla
Alfredo Serrano Mancilla

On this website we’ve covered the ongoing and ever worsening nightmare that is chavismo frequently and from a number of angles. One name we’ve failed to mention so far, however, is that of Alfredo Serrano Mancilla, who was described recently as “the man behind Venezuela’s economic mess” – not exactly the most coveted label of our time. The Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional said that it’s “entirely” thanks to Serrano that the nation “continues to insist on the economic models of socialism in the 21st century, despite the queues, shortages, and inflation.”

diputado-jose-guerra
José Guerra

Who is Serrano? A native Spaniard, he studied economics in Barcelona and Quebec, then relocated to Latin America along with several other anti-capitalist economists in search of the opportunity of putting their theories into action. According to the Wall Street Journal, they were soon “advising leftist leaders in Bolivia and Ecuador on economics, setting up social programs and the drafting of new constitutions.” José Guerra, an opposition legislator and economist, told the Journal that “Serrano is a typical European leftist who came to Latin America to experiment with things no one wants at home: state domination, price controls and fixed exchange rates.” In 2014, Serrano “established a think tank in Ecuador called the Latin American Strategic Center of Geopolitic.” (Although its think tank identifies him as “a professor at eight universities across Spain and Latin America,” the Journal managed to establish that he was not on the staff of any of them.) He also reportedly holds the title of coordinator at a Spain-based group called the Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS).

VENEZUELA-ELECTIONS
Hugo Chávez

His contribution to the trainwreck of Venezuela began relatively recently. In his 2014 book, The Economic Thought of Hugo Chávez, he lavished praise upon the late president’s social and economic planning. His view, as summed up by the PanAm Post, is that “the socialist economic model of the 21st century is unquestionable, and that any failure is the result of attacks from the opposition.” Pause to contemplate that one for a minute: in 2014, by which time the writing was already on the wall for the Venezuelan economy, this guy – a professional economic consultant – was prepared to get up and say that the solution to the country’s problems lay not in changing course but in doubling down. It was beyond idiotic – but it impressed Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, himself an idiot, who has called Serrano “a man of great courage” and “a very intelligent, very qualified man who’s building new concepts for a new economy of the 21st century.” He’s even dubbed Serrano “the Jesus Christ of the economy.”

Venezuelan acting President Nicolas Maduro raises his fist during a campaign rally in San Carlos, Cojedes State, on April 4, 2013. The presidential campaign to replace Venezuela's Hugo Chavez formally kicked off Tuesday, with Maduro -- Chavez's hand-picked successor -- battling opposition leader Henrique Capriles for the forthcoming April 14 vote. AFP PHOTO / JUAN BARRETOJUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolás Maduro

Next thing you knew, Maduro was slavishly following every last one of Serrano’s aggressively radical prescriptions. Among them: the government expropriation of private property and seizure of private businesses, the promotion of “urban agriculture” on people’s apartment balconies, the inauguration of a Soviet-style system for supplying goods to consumers, and the Maoist-style practice of forcing city residents to work on state-owned farms.

grigori_rasputin_1916
Grigori Rasputin in 1916

In addition to formulating all these suicidal policies, Serrano wrote speeches for Maduro in which the president vigorously defended them and refused to let humanitarian aid into the country (a position apparently rooted in a good old Stalinist-style desire to “hide the crisis” from the outside world). And while Maduro has followed this Rasputin’s advice, he’s utterly ignored other insiders who’ve urged him to undertake more conventional, market-friendly reforms to halt economic collapse. We can only hope that when Venezuelans finally do take their country back, Serrano – along with Maduro – will get the payback he deserves. Unfortunately, like so many other Western socialists who love enjoying their own prosperity and privilege as much as they love engineering other people’s poverty, he’ll probably get away with his destruction, beating a hasty retreat back to Spain, where he can continue to spread his terrible ideas in academic books and university lecture halls.

Sheila Jackson Lee: The ultimate useful idiot?

sheila-jackson-lee
Sheila Jackson Lee

As we’ve pointed out before on this blog, some useful stooges are simply too smart to refer to as useful idiots. But some of them definitely are idiots. Case in point: Sheila Jackson Lee, who has been a congresswoman from Texas since 1995.

First, her stoogery.

syrian-president-bashar-al-assad
Bashar al-Assad

During a 2003 “fact-finding mission” to Europe and the Middle East, Jackson Lee met Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and returned home saying she’d been “impressed” by him and had invited him to America to speak – even though Syria was a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism and rogue nation. “He’s a 39-year-old president who even gave us a picture of him and his children,” Jackson Lee told a reporter, in a daffy, head-scratching non-sequitur of a sort she has long specialized in.

chavez7
Hugo Chávez

Jackson Lee was the first House member to visit Hugo Chávez after his 2007 re-election as president of Venezuela, and despite his relentless, poisonous anti-American rhetoric, she described herself as a “friend” of his and called for “an immediate repairing of the relations between the United States and Venezuela.” She even insisted that the U.S. help Chávez strengthen his military – even though his clearly stated purpose in building up his military was to prepare for war with the U.S.

As for her idiocy:

In 1997, Jackson Lee – who at the time was a member of the House Science Committee and of the subcommittee that oversees NASA – asked a question which made it clear that she thought Neil Armstrong, in 1969, had walked on Mars, not the Moon. In 2010, she said: “Today we have two Vietnams, side by side, North and South.” Of course, South Vietnam had been absorbed into North Vietnam in 1976. In 2011, she suggested that repeal of Obamacare would violate the Constitution, a claim that made no sense whatsoever. In 2014, she said that the Constitution was 400 years old. (She was off by over a century and a half.) In an interview this past October, she vociferously denounced Wikipedia – she meant to say Wikileaks.

When called out on gaffes like these, Jackson Lee has often replied with charges of racism. She has made a habit, in fact, of calling people racists. In 2005, she complained that the names given to hurricanes were too “lily white” and insisted that they should also be given more black-sounding names like Keisha and Jamal. She also maintained that racism (directed at President Obama) was the reason why House Republicans refused to raise the debt limit. She even accused a 2011 Super Bowl commercial for Pepsi-Cola of racism.

Oh, and on top of her stoogery and idiocy, she’s also an extremely unpleasant creature who has repeatedly been named the meanest member of Congress.

The top ten stooges of 2016

Time again, kids, for our annual top-ten list. As before, these aren’t necessarily the worst human beings we covered last year; they’re people whose deplorable activities stood out in some way or another. One more thing: this time around, we’ve decided to forego the old cranks and creeps and focus instead on relatively youthful stooges – young-to-middle-aged characters who are especially worth keeping tabs on because their most high-profile and influential stoogery probably lies ahead of them…alas. Anyway, here goes:

max
Max Blumenthal

To quote Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Max Blumenthal “is quite simply one of the most biased, anti-Semitic, terrorist-defending, Israel-has-no-right-to-exist haters out there.” And here’s what fellow leftist Eric Alterman had to say about Max’s 2013 anti-Israel screed Genesis: “this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club.” The vile spawn of ethically bankrupt Clinton lackey Sidney Blumenthal (one of the slimiest operatives ever to set foot inside the Washington Beltway), Sonny Boy routinely equates the Jewish state with Nazi Germany; this year he praised a massacre of IDF soldiers by Hamas commanders. In short, he’s as low as they go – and a dyed-in-the-wool chip off the old block.

dearden1
Nick Dearden

In 2016, while other fans of chavismo hid in shame as the system they’d celebrated brought the Venezuelan economy to its knees, British activist Nick Dearden was actually cheering what he described as that country’s “food revolution.” What on earth was he talking about? Answer: a new law that bans genetically modified seeds and prohibit the sale to corporations of “indigenous knowledge” in the field of agriculture. The result, Dearden enthused, would be “a truly democratic food system” that made the Bolivarian Republic “a beacon of hope.” Tell that to all the people who are eating their pets and breaking into bodegas to steal bread.

malcolmharris2
Malcolm Harris

When Occupy Wall Street went bottom-up, blame focused largely on Malcolm Harrisa founder of the movement who’s been accused by fellow left-winger Mark Ames of exploiting OWS to “build his own brand.” Meaning what? Well, when leaders of Occupy Redlands in California invited Harris to give a lecture, they heard back from a speakers’ agency: the fee would be $5,000, plus travel and hotel. This year Harris wrote a piece called “Who’s Afraid of Communism?” – a call for millennials to reject capitalism and take a fresh, “nuanced” look at Mao and Stalin. When the Revolution comes, will he still be allowed to charge five grand for a speech?

sirota1
David Sirota

In June, we met chavismo enthusiast and former Bernie Sanders flunky David Sirota. Described by Newsweek in 2003 as “well schooled in the art of Washington warfare,” by the New York Times as a guy with a “take-no-prisoners mind-set” toward Republicans and centrists, and by election expert Nate Silver as a dude who plays “fast and loose with the truth,” Sirota wrote an article after the Boston Marathon bombing expressing the hope that the perpetrator was a white American. Like Dearden, moreover, Sirota has cheered Venezuela’s “economic miracle.” Of course, the only “economic miracle” in Venezuela is that the country, despite its massive petroleum resources, now has to import oil. 

kaepernick2-1
Colin Kaepernick

On August 26, San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick protested racism in America by refusing to stand up for the National Anthem before a game. This started a trend that has spread to a variety of sports at every level. Whatever one thinks of it, one part of this episode is unambiguously contemptible: at his press conference that day, Kaepernick wore a T-shirt covered with pictures of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. The message was clear: the U.S. is a contemptibly racist nation and Cuba a model of racial harmony. Pure Communist propaganda, of course: in reality, aside from being a totalitarian state, Cuba is a country where intense racial prejudice is still a fact of life. Too bad Kaepernick is so ill-informed – and that his ignorance has given rise to such a divisive movement.

Five more tomorrow.

 

Last idiots standing?

In his lifetime, Hugo Chávez was a hero. After his populist, anti-gringo rhetoric won him the Venezuelan presidency, he rivaled the Castro brothers as an international symbol of socialism – and as a desired chum for chuckleheaded American celebrities eager to boost their coolness factor.

glover_chavez
Danny Glover and Hugo Chávez

We’ve previously discussed some of Chávez’s Hollywood conquests. One of them, Danny Glover, visited Chávez several times; they were so close that El Presidente actually arranged financing for a couple of movies Glover planned to make about Simón Bolivar and Touissant L’Ouverture. Nor did Glover’s enthusiasm for chavismo die with Hugo himself: in 2014, he led a list of showbiz luminaries – among them Oliver Stone and Tom Hayden – who signed a letter to the U.S. Congress in support of the caudillo‘s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

pennchavez
Sean Penn con el caudillo

Another big-name A.D.H. (amigo de Hugo) was Sean Penn, who after Chávez’s death in 2013 tweeted “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it [sic] never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion….Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of vice president Maduro.”

Not long after Maduro took over, of course, the chickens came home to roost. (Which is actually not the best metaphor in this case, because in reality chickens, and most other foodstuffs, all but disappeared. Earlier this year, a video was posted on You Tube showing a mob of starving Venezuelans who’d stopped a truck on a highway and pulled live chickens out of their cages.) 

As we noted  last May, one side effect of the social and economic collapse now underway in Venezuela is that the celebrities who once cheered Chavez’s policies have been keeping their distance now that the Venezuelan people are being forced to live – or try to live – with those policies’ calamitous results.

kovalik
Dan Kovalik

We did point out that a couple of foreign fans of chavismo seem to have hung in there. As of last December, anyway, Dan Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh was still claiming that Chavez’s policies worked; in March of last year, Greg Grandin of NYU, writing in The Nation, complained that the shortage of basic goods in the Bolivarian Republic was being sensationalized, and approvingly quoted another far-left fool who proposed that the solution to Venezuela’s problems was even more socialism (for example, Stalin-style collective farms).

caracas-oct-5-2016-venezuelan-president-nicolas-462342
Lukas Hass and Jamie Foxx with the First Couple of Venezuela

But while a few clowns in academia may still cling to chavismo, almost all of the film stars who once celebrated the Bolivarian Revolution have lost Nicolás Maduro’s phone number. With two exceptions. As the Associated Press reported a few days ago, Jamie Foxx, who won the 2004 Academy Award for his impersonation of Ray Charles, had just dropped in on Maduro in Caracas in order to “support the country’s socialist revolution and attend the signing of an agreement between Venezuela and its allies for the construction of houses for the poor.”

witness
Lukas Haas in Witness

Accompanying him was actor Lukas Haas, who three decades ago played the little boy in Witness and has since turned up in movies like Woody Allen’s Everybody Says I Love You and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. At the Fusion website, Manuel Rueda provided a couple more details of this visit, informing us, for instance, that Foxx had sat in on “a strange and tedious ceremony where the Venezuelan leader signed construction contracts with a Jordanian housing firm.” In other words, Soviet-style entertainment. A video of this event confirms that it was indeed strange and tedious:

Then there’s this news clip, in which Maduro can be seen meeting the actors and showing them a couple of the historical treasures in the Miraflores Palace:  

Fusion posted a number of tweets by Venezuelans who were furious at Foxx for providing their incompetent leader with positive PR. (Sample: “you should’ve asked Maduro to take you to the public hospitals in Caracas where people are dying because of the medical scarcity.”) And Fox News Latino quoted an opposition leader who wondered how much public money had been spent on these high-profile shenanigans at a time when Venezuelans are literally starving to death. As of this writing, meanwhile, neither Foxx nor Haas has issued a public explanation of their friendly call on the detestible Maduros.  

A bouquet of Norwegian Chávez groupies

chavez5Here’s a quickie. Last August, and again in June of this year, Norwegian historian Bård Larsen published newspaper articles in which he noted that prominent left-wingers in his own country who had long cheered the Hugo Chávez (now Nicolás Maduro) regime in Venezuela were now finally – finally! – acknowledging the failure of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

bardlarsen1
Bård Larsen

At the same time, however, they weren’t quite willing to accept that they themselves had been fools and knaves, clinging with blind faith to an authoritarian ideology that from the very beginning had quite obviously contained the seeds of disaster. Some of them, indeed, had dropped their own past statements about chavismo down the memory hole.

audun-lysbakken
Audun Lysbakken

Among these chavista “groupies,” as Larsen called them, is Audun Lysbakken, head of Norway’s Socialist Left Party, who’s on record as having called chavismo “an expansion and deepening of democracy.” Over the years he’s made other statements in praise of the Bolivarian Revolution, but they now appear to have been removed from his party’s website.

halvorsen
Kristin Halvorsen

Lysbakken isn’t alone in his party, which has firmly supported chavismo from the beginning. After Chávez was re-elected in 2004, the Socialist Left’s national board – including such high-profile figures as Kristin Halvorsen, Øystein Djupedal, and Bård Vegar Solhjell – sent a letter of congratulations to Caracas that begin with the words “Dear comrades!”

Author Eirik Vold now presents himself as having foreseen Venezuela’s collapse. But it was only three years ago that the radical-left publisher Manifest issued Vold’s extremely pro-chavista book, Hugo Chávez: The Revenge. In it, Vold hailed Chávez as a “Christmas present for the left” and claimed that the dictator had a lot to teach Norwegian socialists.

bull
Benedicte Bull

Another sap: Benedicte Bull, a researcher at the University of Oslo. She now supports the Venezuelan opposition, but not long ago she was praising Chávez for working towards “a more egalitarian society and democratic government institutions” and condemning Norwegian critics of the caudillo for their supposed ignorance and lack of “nuance.”

Then there’s Peter M. Johansen of the national Communist daily Klassekampen, who had repeatedly depicted Chávez, and then Maduro, as waging a heroic struggle against what he described as a “cryptofascist oppisition directed from Washington.”

watson
Dave Watson

One Norwegian enthusiast for chavismo who has yet to jump ship is Dave Watson (no, the name doesn’t sound too Norwegian to us, either), who belongs to something called the Latin America Group in Bergen. In an article written in May, five months after the Venezuelan opposition scored a victory in last December’s parliamentary elections, Watson blamed the Bolivarian Republic’s economic disaster largely on the ruling party’s opponents, whom he accused of “undermining, destabilizing, and sabotaging” chavista efforts to bring about utopia.

lopezcell
Leopoldo López

Instead of criticizing Maduro for incarcerating opposition leaders such as Leopoldo López, moreover, Watson actually condemned the Venezuelan opposition for using its new majority to try to free these political prisoners. (Yes, you read that right.) Similarly, instead of recognizing that the country’s grocery shelves were empty because of the colossal failure of chavista economics, Watson suggested that the “mysterious disappearance” of staples from the stores was the product of a corporate conspiracy to bring down Maduro. All of which goes to show that some dreams – some self-delusions – never die.

Venezuela: don’t mention socialism!

venez2
The key word is “hambre” (hunger)

A June 19 article by Nicholas Casey of the New York Times painted a vivid picture of the crisis in Venezuela:

With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard. Soldiers stand watch over bakeries. The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.

Venezuela is convulsing from hunger.

venez3
“My country is hungry”

Casey spelled it all out: dozens of food riots; people marching on supermarkets, “screaming for food”; mass looting; businesses destroyed; at least five deaths. “A staggering 87 percent of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food,” he wrote. Thanks to the decline in value of the Venezuelan bolívar, he explained, the average family needs at least 16 minimum-wage salaries to feed itself. People are literally dying of starvation.

TOPSHOT - A woman with a sign reading "We starve" protests against new emergency powers decreed this week by President Nicolas Maduro in front of a line of riot policemen in Caracas on May 18, 2016. Public outrage was expected to spill onto the streets of Venezuela Wednesday, with planned nationwide protests marking a new low point in Maduro's unpopular rule. / AFP / FEDERICO PARRA (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)
“We’re dying of starvation”

Casey recalled that when Hugo Chávez was first running for president, he said that Venezuela’s inability to feed its people was the reason why the country needed a socialist revolution. But now, Casey noted, things are possibly even worse than they were then. In response to the current crisis, reported Casey, Chávez’s hapless successor as president, Nicolas Maduro, has “put most food distribution in the hands of a group of citizen brigades loyal to leftists, a measure critics say is reminiscent of food rationing in Cuba,” where friends of the government get fed first, others perhaps not at all.

venez6
“There’s no food”

But why has all this happened? Why is one of the world’s major oil-exporting nations the one with the very worst economy on earth? Other, more honest American newspapers have published analyses that explicitly trace this nightmare to chavista economic policies – in short, socialism. Not The New York Times. The Venezuelan government, wrote Casey, “blames an ‘economic war’ for the shortages. It accuses wealthy business owners of hoarding food and charging exorbitant prices, creating artificial shortages to profit from the country’s misery.” Casey gave no indication that this is a transparent lie. Casey also cited low oil prices; he did not bother to point out that other oil-producing countries are still doing very well indeed.

venez7
“Venezuela will be free”

As Thomas Lifson observed at The American Thinker in a commentary on Casey’s article, “in over 1,500 words on the situation, there is no mention whatsoever of socialism as a root cause….there is no mention of the price controls, the demonization of business owners, the seizures of businesses, the decline in oil production thanks to state management, or any of the other socialist policies that make Venezuela the only oil producer in the world to see mass starvation in the wake of the oil price decline.”

venez8
“There’s nothing in Venezuela”

Even the left-wing Guardian ran a fairer account of the Venezuelan mess. (The Guardian even included mention of the high level of government corruption.) Meanwhile The Nation predictably assured its readers that the crisis in Venezuela is “deep but not cataclysmic” (or, later in the piece, “dire, but not apocalyptic”) and that “mainstream US media have consistently exaggerated the extent of it.” Nation hack Gabriel Hetland even found “sparks” of hope in the rise of private and communal vegetable gardens and of the practice of bartering the goods produced by these gardens. Chavismo, one gathered from Hetland’s report, may end up giving rise to the purest and most beautiful kind of revolution – namely, a total rejection of the money-based economy in favor of prehistoric-style direct trade in agricultural products.

Lifson’s conclusion is that “the leftist media are busily engaged in covering up the evils perpetrated by socialism.” It’s hard not to agree with him.