Few consequences in politics provide as much irony as the rolling blackouts in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez nationalized the oil industry. Chavez insisted that he had to end capitalism and install socialism in order to return Venezuela to the people. They’d appreciate it more if they could have their lights on to see it:
Despite having some of the world’s largest energy reserves, Venezuela is increasingly struggling to maintain basic electrical service, a growing challenge for leftist President Hugo Chavez.
The OPEC nation has suffered three nationwide blackouts this year, and chronic power shortages have sparked protests from the western Andean highlands to San Felix, a city of mostly poor industrial workers in the sweltering south.
Shoddy electrical service is now one of Venezuelans’ top concerns, according to a recent poll, and may be a factor in elections next month for governors and mayors in which Chavez allies are expected to lose key posts, in part on complaints of poor services.
The problem suggests that Chavez, with his ambitious international alliances and promises to end capitalism, risks alienating supporters by failing to focus on basic issues like electricity, trash collection and law enforcement.
Venezuela is a net energy exporter — or at least it was before Chavez nationalized its oil and electrical production and spent most of his attention on FARC and opposing the US on the international stage. The electrical grid has fallen into disrepair and Chavez’ oil-burning electrical plants don’t generate enough to keep it stable. Venezuelans now have to contend with third-world electrical production as well as Chavez’ aspirations to be a cut-rate Fidel Castro.
In fact, Chavez has taken a page from Castro in response to the electrical crisis. Instead of spending the billions of dollars necessary to upgrade the grid and generate enough electricity for the entire nation, Chavez has built tiny microstations to provide service to small sectors of homes and businesses. Castro did the same thing in Cuba, and Hugo has proved just as effective. They generate too little electricity for too many consumers, which means they only ease the severity of the shortfall without doing anything to solve the underlying problem.
Chavez has something Castro does not — a fortune in oil revenues. What happened to all the money? Where has he put Venezuela’s money? It certainly hasn’t gone to infrastructure. It’s likely to be going straight into Chavez’ pocket, or perhaps to his friends in FARC, or to curry favor with Iran and Russia.
So far, Chavez seems intent on proving the failure of socialism. He’s well on his way, but since the 20th century had been devoted to that particular lesson, it seems that the lights aren’t on in more than one sense in Venezuela regardless.