Thanks to chavismo, Venezuela is #1!

Lining up for groceries in Venezuela

There’s nothing new or surprising about Venezuela scoring big on the world misery index. As we’ve seen in recent days on this site, that unfortunate country is having a terrible time of it now that the chavista chickens have come home to roost. Even so, its position in the newly released index  for 2015 is something to write home about – though hardly, of course, with pride. 

The index – which is compiled yearly by Steve H. Hanke, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, based on data from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and published by the libertarian, pro-free-market Cato Institute in Washington – is calculated by adding the inflation rate, unemployment rate, and lending rate, and then subtracting percent growth in GDP per capita. The result is a useful snapshot of relative quality of life around the world.

What awaits you after you reach the front of the line

In 2013, Venezuela occupied the #2 spot on the list. Its score of 81.8 placed it between the #1 country, Syria, with a score of 147.4, and #3, Sudan, with a score of 62.8.

In 2014, Venezuela jumped to first place, with a score or 106.03. It was followed by Argentina, with a score of 68, and Syria, at 63.90. Countries like Belarus and Sudan had scores down in the 30s, while Bangladesh and Azerbaijan were in the 20s. According to Hanke, countries that have misery scores over 20 are “ripe for reform.” Which presumably made Venezuela ultra-super-duper ripe – as ripe, you might say, as a black banana. 

The late caudillo

Venezuela remains in the top spot on the 2015 index. But that’s not the headline. The headline is that its score is now a colossal 214.9 – more than twice last year’s. The #2 country this time around, Ukraine, scored an 82.7 – only ten points lower, and its score would be almost exactly a third of Venezuela’s. Filling out the top ten: Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Russia, Iran, the Palestinian territories, Jamaica, and Serbia.

At the lower (i.e., good) end of the index, most of the countries of Europe did splendidly, with Hungary, Germany, and the Netherlands, all tied at 5.2, performing best. Most of East Asia also did an impressive job, with China (2.3) and Japan (3.0) having the lowest misery scores. The least miserable countries in the Americas were Panama (6.5), the U.S. (8.0), and El Salvador (9.0), while the most enviable scores in the Middle East and Africa were those for Qatar (4.5) and Israel (6.8).

The former busman

Regular readers of this website don’t need to be told why Venezuela racked up such an extraordinarily high score on this latest misery index. We’ve discussed the arrogance and economic ignorance of the late Hugo Chávez, whose flagrantly socialist policies sent the nation’s quality of life sliding downhill, and the fatuous stubbornness with which his chosen successor, the former bus driver Nicolás Maduro, has clung to those policies, ensuring his countrymen’s descent into what can fairly be described as a financial tailspin.  

A “Bolivarian Circles” conference

If there’s any problem with Cato’s misery index, it’s that it doesn’t measure non-economic misery. And, as we’ve seen, there’s plenty of that in Venezuela, too. This is, after all, the country that in recent times has made headlines with such alarming social, cultural, and political phenomena the Bolivarian Circles (an “underground armed militia” masquerading as a harmless civil-society movement), the commune movement (a patently Stalin-inspired campaign of confiscating private farms that has been presented to the world as a benign and “authentically democratic” network of community projects), and the “cooperating patriots” (an “army of informers” who close down members of the democratic opposition by anonymously accusing them of crimes). So let’s not sell Venezuela short, folks: it’s #1 in more ways than one! 

Meet Venezuela’s “cooperating patriots”

At this site we’ve returned frequently to the subject of Venezuela, a once-proud land that was driven down the road to disaster by the late socialist caudillo Hugo Chávez and that, as we saw last week, is finally plunging off the cliff with his chosen successor, former bus driver Nicolás Maduro, at the steering wheel.

There’s one aspect of chavismo that we haven’t yet touched on, however. We’re speaking of the so-called “cooperating patriots” – in Spanish, patriotas cooperantes. On January 30, La Nación described them as an “army of informers” who serve the chavista government by seeking to “sow fear and prevent dissent.” How do they do this? By directing accusations at critics of the regime, who are then put under arrest.

Rodolfo Gonzáles

An example: Reuters, in a January 29 article, cited the case of Rodolfo González, a retired pilot who was arrested in his Caracas apartment in April 2014 and accused of helping to organize anti-government protests. In March 2015, after being held in a windowless dungeon for almost a year without trial, he hanged himself.

On what evidence was Gonzáles arrested? A “cooperating patriot” had given authorities his name. That was it. No one had supplied proof of the charges; there had been no investigation; the only testimony against him was from an anonymous member of the “coooperating patriots.”

Balvina Muñoz

Another example: in the same month that Gonzáles was arrested, police officers banged on the door of another Caracas apartment, that of poet Balvina Muñoz in Caracas. When Muñoz answered, one of the cops shouted: “Give me your novel! The one you’re writing … Give it to me!” She handed them the manuscript, and after the men had examined it, they imprisoned Munoz for 11 months on a charge of “inciting social hatred and terrorism.” Munoz, the mother of two boys, was brutally beaten during her incarceration.

How did the police know about her novel? A young woman, it turns out, had approached Muñoz some weeks earlier, pretending to be an aspiring writer seeking her advice. After the young woman had gained Muñoz’s trust, the author told her in confidence about her work in progress, a novel about participants in anti-Maduro protests. The young woman later turned out to be a cop.

Muñoz’s arrest

As a result of such allegations by “cooperating patriots,” dozens of members of Venezuela’s political opposition have been put on trial not for actual offenses but for supposedly being willing to commit crimes. (Orwell, of course, had a name for this: Thoughtcrime.)

Not only, moreover, are the crimes of these accused felons imaginary; the accusers are anonymous, identified in court documents not by name but as “cooperating patriot,” “witness,” or “informant.” The withholding of identities is justified as necessary in order to protect the informers against reprisals. No consideration, of course, is given to the defendants’ right to confront their accusers. Indeed, the whole practice is in violation of Venezuelan law, which requires that accusers be identified.

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

It’s believed that there are two types of “cooperating patriots”: the “amateurs” are just ordinary members of the public looking for a governmnt payday in return for an anonymous accusation, while the “professionals” are members of state security. Madoro, for his part, has encouraged his subjects to join the ranks of the “cooperating patriots” in order to ensure Venezuela’s continued peace and stability. At a recent rally, Maduro shouted: “I call on the Venezuelan people to be alert and to turn ourselves into millions of cooperating patriots to guarantee the country’s peace!”

Diosdado Cabello

Maduro flunky Diosdado (“The Godfather”) Cabello, whom we’ve met before on this site, and who’s largely responsible for another appalling chavista phenomenon, the “Bolivarian Circles,” has also cheered on the “cooperating patriots,” praising them for their “solid moral principles, love for the fatherland, and loyalty toward the President of the Republic and the supreme commander Hugo Chávez.” (Just as Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, remains the official leader of North Korea, Chávez, even after his death, is still referred to by chavistas as if he were alive and still running the country.)

Whether or not the number of “cooperating patriots” has increased, the frequency of legal actions resulting from tipoffs by them has certainly risen dramatically in the last couple of years. Before 2013, accusations by “cooperating patriots” resulted in fewer than a dozen court cases; in 2014, the number of such cases exploded.

Alejandro Salinas, a Chilean lawyer and human-rights activists, has described the “cooperating patriot” as “a nefarious figure for democracy.” That’s putting it mildly. 

Chavismo in winter

Nicolas Maduro wife Cilia Flores
Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores

As we’ve discussed recently, the people of Venezuela, after years of disastrous chavista socialism – which sent the country’s democracy, economy, and public order into a tailspin – finally said “¡Basta!” on November 6 and, by a resounding margin, voted in an opposition-majority parliament. (“This time,” noted one observer, Harper’s writer Henry Miller, popular discontent was so great, that no amount of ballot box stuffing was going to give [the ruling party] a victory.”) The new parliament will be seated tomorrow.

Hugo Chávez

The reprehensible Maduro, who inherited the mantle of chavismo from its founder, the late Hugo Chávez, has none of his predecessor’s personal magnetism but is every bit as much a corrupt gangster, an enemy of freedom, and an economic illiterate. Facing the election of an unfriendly parliament, he was anything but subtle: “I swear,” he declared publicly, “that while I am alive, and under no circumstances would I surrender our revolution. Let’s be prepared for blood and massacre, and to defend our homeland and to win no matter how, and no matter at what cost.”

Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López

Prior to the election, Maduro vowed that in case of a loss by his party, he would “govern with the people in a civilian-military alliance – in other words, set aside the election results and use the armed forces to maintain his grip on power. Later, he made the same promise in somewhat different words, saying that if the vote didn’t go his way, “We would defend the revolution. We wouldn’t surrender and the revolution would move into a new phase.”

Note the remarkable Orwellian language, which is fully worthy of Stalin: Maduro would “govern with the people” by ignoring the results of a vote by the people. The revolution would enter “a new phase” – in the same way that Poland entered “a new phase” in September 1939 when the Wehrmacht and Red Army brutally divvied it up, and in the same way that Czechoslovakia entered “a new phase” in August 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. Fortunately, Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López and his fellow military leaders proved to be more devoted to democracy than Maduro is, refusing to back up his threat and promising to ensure that the will of the electorate would be respected.

Diosdado Cabello

Not that Maduro has given up. One of his schemes for hanging on to power has been implemented by his steadfast flunky Diosdado (“The Godfather”) Cabello, president of the National Assembly (where, as we’ve seen, he ordered the beating of opposition leaders), drug-trafficking kingpin, and honcho of the paramilitary “Bolivarian Circles.” Cabello, on Maduro’s orders, put together a new, extra-constitutional government body – a so-called “communal parliament” to which Maduro plans to try to transfer power from the real parliament. The “communal parliament” has already been installed in the building where the National Assembly has traditionally met.

Juan García Toussaint

Cabello has a long track record as a exceedingly loyal henchman for Chávez and, now, Maduro. When Padrino made it clear that he wouldn’t back up Maduro’s efforts to give the voters the finger, Cabello threatened to remove him from his cabinet post and launch an investigation of his conduct in office – which, in chavista country, amounts to a less than subtle threat to throw Padrino in the clink –and to replace him with Juan García Toussaint, a pal of his who’s also apparently involved in the narcotics biz. Fortunately, the military stood solidly behind Padrino, obliging Maduro and his lackey to back off.

On December 23, the lame-duck chavista majority in the National Assembly pushed through 13 new appointments to Venezuela’s highest court, ensuring, in the words of the Washington Post, “that no other justices are seated for years to come.” Some Maduro-ites are hoping to get this newly packed court to rule the opposition’s election victory invalid. In a December 23 editorial, the Washington Post warned that Maduro’s and Cabello’s underhanded shenanigans could lead to further violence in Venezuela.

But Cabello’s only the first of several useful Venezuelan stooges we need to catch up on in the wake of the November 6 elections. Tune in tomorrow for another serving of pond scum, chavista style. 

More on those “Circles”

We’ve been looking at the “Bolivarian Circles,” Venezuela’s nationwide network of violent chavista terrorist cells that, ever since its founding in 2001, has been masquerading as a harmless chain of community-service groups. One of the most prominent figures in the Circles, who died in 2011, is deserving of special notice. Her name was Lina Ron, and she was widely seen as the very personification of what the Circles were all about. She was an anarchic, violence-happy woman who seems to have had some very serious psychological issues. Her favorite slogan was “With Chávez, everything; without Chávez, bullets.”

Lina Ron with Hugo Chávez

Ron became famous for setting fire to an American flag in a Caracas square shortly after 9/11. She went on in 2004 to found the fiercely pro-Chávez Venezuelan People’s Unity Party, whose members she herself characterized – approvingly, of course – as “radicals, hardliners and men and women of violence.” (The party was later folded into Chávez’s own PSUV.) In 2009, Ron led “a violent attack on the offices of the pro-opposition television station, Globovision,” for which even Chávez felt obliged to lock her up for a couple of months. Ron called herself the “ugly part” of the Bolivarian Revolution; after her death, a commenter on her El Universal obit called her the Revolution’s Joan of Arc.

There are also Bolivarian Circles in the U.S. Here’s one in Miami.

What kind of activities, you might ask, do the Circles engage in? The proper response to which is: what kind of activities don’t they engage in? A 2009 report stated that Diosdado Cabello (the thuggish National Assembly president whom we looked at back in May) and Ramón Rodríguez Chacín (whom we met a couple of days ago) “shared responsibility for training, arming and deploying paramilitary street forces under the guise of Bolivarian Circles.” In a 2013 book, Jeff D. Colgan noted that opposition critics of the Bolivarian Circles have been “violently persecuted”; he also reported on charges that the Venezuelan government had armed the Circles “in a bid to turn them into a fighting force that could sustain the government in the event of civil conflict.” In addition, Colgan pointed out that

Members of the Bolivarian Circles at a 2006 congress

The structure and purpose of the Bolivarian Circles bear a striking resemblance to similar organs of “participatory democracy” in repressive countries such as Cuba and Libya. It is widely suspected that Chavez modeled the Bolivarian Circles on the Cuban Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). Like the Circles, the Cuban CDRs are designed to provide public services at a neighborhood level and to report ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity. In Libya, the equivalent organizations are called Revolutionary Committees, which like the Bolivarian Circles, establish clientelistic relationships with the state leadership. It seems likely that Chavez got the idea for the Bolivarian Circles from Castro and Qaddafi. In all three countries, the organizations served the same three purposes: build and maintain political support for the revolutionary regime; distribute public services; and provide information about potential threats to the regime.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Last year, the Wall Street Journal‘s Mary Anastasia O’Grady cited the Bolivarian Circles in chiding OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for their claims that the Maduro government in Venezuela is democratic. Documents in O’Grady’s possession, she wrote, showed “that Chávez had an active program early on to corrupt and politicize the military and to build a paramilitary within the Bolivarian Circles….Today organized snipers and gunmen on motorcycles roam the streets and kill with impunity.” It was clear, O’Grady underscored, that these goons were working for Maduro. “Any government that unleashes brown shirts to indiscriminately kill in order to sow terror among its opponents,” she pronounced, “does not qualify as a democracy.”

Alas, there are untold millions of people, both in Venezuela and around the world, who still don’t grasp that simple point, and who persist in clinging to romantic illusions about chavismo. To which we can only say the following: if you can look squarely at the facts about the Bolivarian Circles and still maintain those illusions, there’s no hope for you.  

Inside the “Bolivarian Circles”

Hugo Chávez

We’ve been looking at some of Venezuela’s more prominent chavista creeps. But no account of useful stooges in that poor put-upon country would be complete without a mention of the so-called “Bolivarian Circles.” In 2001, the year they were founded, The Washington Post ran a puff piece about them by one Scott Wilson, who was not alone in describing them as part of a benign, civic-minded movement by ordinary people across the country to help one another. This, after all, was the official story about the Circles. Wilson just fell for it. He began his piece as follows: “They do not look like revolutionaries, the mothers and grandmothers, waitresses and street sweepers huddled around a sewing machine, making gingham slippers and cloth baskets for Christmas sweets.”

circleTo be sure, Wilson acknowledged that for some anti-Chávez Venezuelans, the Circles brought to mind “Cuban-style revolutionary defense committees, designed to ensure fealty to the president’s populist agenda.” Yet Wilson, in his account of what he represented as a typical Circle meeting room, insisted that “aside from the poster of guerrilla leader Che Guevara on the wall, ideology rarely enters this room of swinging light bulbs, plastic furniture and scraps of colored cloth strewn on the cement floor.” Wilson even quoted a Venezuelan political science professor as saying that “[t]he idea that these circles could multiply and serve as centers of indoctrination and organization of a vast mass movement didn’t get off the ground.”

A 2006 Bolivarian Circles “ideological congress”

One wonders whether that professor was seriously misguided or was in fact a part of the chavista PR machine. For the fact is that even then, despite Wilson’s depiction of the Circles as essentially apolitical, Circle members were taking an oath to “completely dedicate [their] work to the Bolivarian ideology, to the popular organization, to popular mobilization, to popular power, to never abandon the struggle” and to “fight without rest for the defense of the revolution, even if I have to sacrifice my life, for the glory of Venezuela.” Let’s face it: it’s not exactly the kind of oath taken by members of your great-grandmother’s quilting bee. 

Anyway, that was just the beginning. By 2004, the BBC was reporting that the Bolivarian Circles, which by then had grown into a network of about 70,000 local groups, amounted in fact to an “underground armed militia” whose critics called it the “Circles of Terror.” Tomorrow we’ll get into the details, and meet one of the most prominent members of those terrorist circles.