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.