With all of the unrest, riots and murders in Venezuela these days, it’s easy to overlook one very basic question about the abysmal conditions its citizens are enduring. Venezuela has some of the richest farmland in the western hemisphere and was a net exporter of agricultural products until very recently. How can the people be starving? That’s the question being tackled at the Washington Post this week and the answer comes down to a single source: it’s the socialism, stupid.
At a time of empty supermarkets and spreading hunger, the country’s farms are producing less and less, not more, making the caloric deficit even worse.
Drive around the countryside outside the capital, Caracas, and there’s everything a farmer needs: fertile land, water, sunshine and gasoline at 4 cents a gallon, cheapest in the world. Yet somehow families here are just as scrawny-looking as the city-dwelling Venezuelans waiting in bread lines or picking through garbage for scraps.
Having attempted for years to defy conventional economics, the country now faces a painful reckoning with basic arithmetic.
“Last year I had 200,000 hens,” said Saulo Escobar, who runs a poultry and hog farm here in the state of Aragua, an hour outside Caracas. “Now I have 70,000.”
The case of Escobar’s chicken farm is only one of thousands of such examples, but it’s an excellent one to describe the problems the farmers are facing. He had a ranch with nearly a quarter million hens in a country where people are starving to death. That would mean the opportunity of a lifetime in any free portion of the world. But the socialist regime in Venezuela has taken charge of every aspect of the food production and distribution supply chain. They determine how much Escobar will be paid for his eggs and it turns out to be a net loss for him rather than a profit. Unable to buy sufficient amounts of feed and new chicks to raise, Escobar’s farm is withering and will soon be gone.
That basic reality would be enough to put the farmer out of business eventually all by itself, but Escobar faces other problems as well. He’s been raided and extorted by both armed criminal gangs and government troops. They’re not paying anything for eggs or chickens… just taking them. And nobody from the government is protecting him. These are the hallmarks of socialism, particularly in its final throes. Insufficient law enforcement resources to protect the people and corrupt government and military leaders who roam the land taking what they want for themselves. So in a place completely capable of producing more than enough food for its citizens and their neighbors as well, farms are underutilized or sitting vacant, producing nothing.
The cause of the starvation is obvious. Even under the most benevolent of socialist regimes, the government is ill equipped to operate such a complex system. And this one is far from benevolent, with the party leaders more interested in ensuring their own comfort and security than that of the rank and file. But all of this was predictable because, as we’ve said here more times than I can count, this is how socialism ends. Every. Single. Time.