The Associated Press published an excellent piece today which describes one woman’s desperate attempt to flee starvation in Venezuela by walking thousands of miles to Peru. Sandra Cardiz was once a strong supporter of Hugo Chavez and the blend of socialism and personality cult known as chavismo. Years later she looks back on her support for all of that with regret and hopes her family can survive the relentless suffering created by end-stage socialism:
When Venezuela’s oil-rich economy was booming, her small stand selling candy, cigarettes and cellphone minutes paid for meat on the dinner table. And when a charismatic socialist named Hugo Chavez became president in 1999, she enthusiastically added Venezuelan flags and hats to her sales racks.
In those early years, she bought chicken, sugar, milk, even Kraft mayonnaise. After she won a seat on a new local council, the government rewarded her with a free two-bedroom apartment, where she marveled at the clear water that came out of the faucets.
Her revolutionary fervor struck a nerve with an older sister, who was among the first wave of migrants to leave Venezuela as socialism took root.
“You poor thing,” Cadiz remembers her saying before departing. “Keep believing in your chavismo.”
It’s hard for Cadiz to pinpoint exactly when she lost faith in the revolution, maybe because there are too many moments to count.
As Venezuela’s economy soured, food became harder to find. Cadiz and her daughter frequently slept outside supermarkets to grab whatever was available when doors opened in the morning.
When Cadiz’s pregnant daughter-in-law came down with a urinary infection, they couldn’t find an antibiotic. Then the newborn got diaper rash because they couldn’t afford diapers or detergent good enough to clean makeshift cloth ones. Cadiz worried the young family could be one illness away from disaster.
“Go or your child will die,” Cadiz told her son.
As both Jazz and I have pointed out many times, Venezuela used to be one of the richest countries in South America with the largest proven oil reserves in the hemisphere. Socialism struck a lot of Venezuelans as a good idea back when global oil prices were high and Hugo Chavez could afford to fund his largesse with oil money. But his decision to fill the nationalized oil industry with socialist cronies rather than proven workers, combined with a drop in oil prices effectively killed the goose that had been laying the golden eggs. In the years since Chavez’ death, the country has seen rapid inflation and rampant violence. It is no longer possible for many people to survive in their own country. Their only option is to flee by walking or by boat and settle for life at the bottom of the economic ladder somewhere else.
The cruelest turn of all is that having taken this path of their own free will, Venezuelans now have a socialist government that will stop at nothing to remain in power. There is no path back to a better system, only the road to another country and, I suspect, a hope that someday the current president and his goons will be removed from office one way or another.