A TRAIL BLAZED BY CHÁVEZ
Being rich is bad, it’s inhuman,” Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chávez once said. He offered this wisdom on his television programme, Hello President, in 2005. The same year he began expropriating agricultural and untitled land without compensating the — probably — rich owners for it. One could say he was stripping them of their “inhumanity”. The following year, Chávez proffered this nugget: “Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation. If you really want to look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ — who I think was the first socialist — only socialism can really create a genuine society.”
Then in 2007 the president forcibly took ownership of Conocophillips’s oil rigs in the Orinoco Belt and placed them under the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). Conocophillips left the country, along with Exxonmobil.
At that point, Venezuela had been producing about 3-million barrels of oil a day, according to Opec. In its 2007 annual report, Opec said Venezuela’s economy grew 8% that year, down from the 10.3% recorded the previous year.
From 2009 more productive farmland was taken from commercial farmers and handed to the poor and to peasant farmers. A rice mill owned by Cargill was expropriated, as was 200,000ha of farmland producing meat for Vestey Foods, a British company.
The “revolution” was very much in progress. With Chávez at the helm, Venezuela was reclaiming what rightfully belonged to the people. Oil prices played their part, increasing tenfold between 1998 and 2008. Many Venezuelans thought Chávez was the best thing that had ever happened to their country.
So successful was the “revolution” that would-be leftist dictators who wished to emulate “Chavismo” in their own countries held Venezuela up as a model. Many took trips to study what Chávez was doing.
Among them was our own Julius Malema, who led an ANC Youth League delegation to Venezuela in April 2010. This was shortly after a similar visit Malema made to Zimbabwe, where he heaped praise on Robert Mugabe who had facilitated the destruction of the country’s biggest industry — agriculture — by beating up farmers and driving them off the land.
A fleeting oil-fuelled paradise
In Venezuela, not many people paid attention to how these newly acquired means of production were being managed. Chávez used petrodollars to subsidise everything from fuel to education, health care and basic foods. Many of the subsidies were abused.
Much of the cheap fuel was smuggled across the border and sold for handsome profits. Government borrowing skyrocketed while oil revenues and production dropped.
Like all populists, Chávez was surrounded by corruption and nepotism. He replaced the professional management teams of PDVSA with trusted party cadres. Production soon suffered. State corruption increased exponentially. Falling oil prices and spiralling sovereign debt didn’t help. The 2016 Opec annual report reveals Venezuela produced 2.1-million barrels of oil that year. This will drop below 1-million barrels this year.
Today, 11 years after the first expropriations of private property, Venezuelans can’t flee their socialist heaven fast enough. The Financial Times reports that Venezuelan banks this month limited cash withdrawals to the equivalent of US17C a day. There is no food in the shops. No medication for the sick. Inflation will hit 1-million percent this year.
Like Zimbabwe, Venezuela is on course to dump its worthless currency. So yes, we in SA are following these two great examples to the letter.
Many Venezuelans thought Chávez was the best thing that had ever happened to their country