Venezuela’s Ignored Implosion

In recent decades, hundreds of millions of people (mainly in Asia) have, by their own ingenuity and with the infusion of at least a modicum of freedom to pursue their livelihoods, climbed out of entrenched poverty. The desperately poor as a percentage of global population have reached unprecedented lows. This is the very good news associated with the occasional problems of globalization.

And it’s quite a triumph, though there is still no shortage of economic misery, and even cases of a descent or return to widespread indigence and starvation. Life is complicated, but there are reasons for underdevelopment or economic collapse. And it hardly seems controversial to argue that successful approaches to minimizing deprivation should be emulated, whereas crippling models that predictably create or sustain it should be avoided.

Everyone claims to be concerned about poverty. But why, then, is this bit of common sense sometimes spurned – and severe collapses downplayed? I’m thinking of the humanitarian catastrophe that’s been unfolding in Venezuela the past few years; news about it has been rather limited and carefully massaged. The horrors are sometimes cataloged, sparingly. But the “why” is not properly examined.

A recent New York Times story, for example, described the burgeoning tuberculosis outbreak now afflicting the country. This disease, regarded as a solid indicator for poverty levels in general, had been mainly under control but is now hitting even the middle classes in Venezuela. We read that the outbreak is occurring during “a profound economic crisis,” and that “declining nutrition from food shortages” is a factor. There is nary a word about what triggered the economic crisis and the food shortages. Hint: hard-core socialism.

Because socialism is the undeniable culprit, stories on the crisis in Venezuela have an uncanny tendency to resort to the passive voice, or other rhetorical devices, with little curiosity beyond the immediate crises. It’s as though food shortages just happened to fall, by chance, upon this previously prospering country, for no reason.

This Times story tells us of one poor fellow stricken with a particularly virulent form of tuberculosis who wound up losing 77 pounds.  I mention this because, as grave as his case is, there are other general weight-loss statistics that are even more staggering. Reuters recently reported that the average Venezuelan has lost 24 pounds in the past year! (That’s up from the average 19-pound loss the year before.)

Présidente Nicolás Maduro

Oh, and over 80 percent of Venezuelan households are mired in poverty (now closer to 90 percent). That sure sounds like they are experiencing  “the equal sharing of miseries,” which Churchill sarcastically dubbed the “inherent virtue of socialism.”

More numbers: one in seven Venezuelans (four million out of 28 million) have fled in desperation rather than pick through garbage for food; a mass migration here in our own hemisphere that we hear little about.

What makes each of these eye-popping figures even more maddening is that Venezuela is naturally blessed with the largest oil reserves in the world. More maddening still is how the cheerleaders (in the usual places) for the Marxists who delivered these brutal outcomes sit back and overlook all this real, human suffering. Yet again.

The brazen disregard for socialism’s track record is a fundamentally inhumane act – one only mitigated by genuine naiveté. Man’s inhumanity to man is obviously not limited to any one political system. But to countenance Marxism or socialism is to court human misery, whatever lofty rhetoric is bandied about in its defense.

Indeed, putting it into practice means, as John Paul II noted, “the working man himself would be among the first to suffer.” And, no surprise: former president Hugo Chavez’s daughter just happens to be the wealthiest person in Venezuela. Apparently something went slightly wrong on the road to the Bolivarian “revolution” and equality.

Socialism’s inherent destructiveness was forecast in advance, when all we had to go on was abstract theory, and sure enough, destruction ensued. We now have a track record of the ways of socialism in multiple countries; stagnation or much worse is entirely foreseeable.

Dostoevsky and several popes highlighted its philosophical and, yes, spiritual dangers, and warned of tyrannies to come. It came in spades. The core of the Marxist project – atheism and corresponding devaluation of individual human rights and liberties – has long been on full display.

Venezuela’s bishops have spoken out against both the theoretical and real-world consequences of this tyranny disguised as popular government, and received the usual threats for their troubles. Pope Francis, alas, often vocal in support of migrants and persecuted groups like the Rohingya, has seemed reluctant to echo his brother bishops in Venezuela. 

Some in our country are skeptical of critiques when they come from Christian quarters. But we know what socialism’s most avid advocates actually said. Marx made a high priority of abolishing the family and private property, and envisioned peace precisely the same threatening way Mohammed did: “The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to Islam.” (Substitute socialism for Islam and you’ve got functional interchangeability). The goal of socialism, as Lenin remarked, is communism. And communism, according to Mao Zedong, “is not love,” but “a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.”

Blunt, monstrous words, with a history to match. Yet socialism retains a cachet in the West and elsewhere that a whole string of disasters – now including Venezuela’s – never dissipates. There’s an enduring market for the vindictiveness that socialism stokes – and cloaks under the illusion of being on the “right side” of history.

Another whole generation is not learning one of the plainest lessons of modern history. According to recent surveys, young people today express a shockingly high level of support for socialism. They’ve never been taught otherwise. It’s as good an indicator as any of the failure of our public education system. And the result will be that people in various parts of the globe will have yet more bullets to dodge in the decades to come

Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.