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The tragedy of Chávez

Ten years in, a capitalist elite has merely been replaced by a quasi-socialist elite with little regard for Venezuelans.

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When Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela in 1999, I was very optimistic. After all, I had watched this oil-rich nation's tragic economic collapse first hand for more than a decade and I felt – like many Venezuelans – that Mr. Chávez's promised revolution was the only thing that could turn this country around.

Ten years later I am less optimistic.

Despite Chávez's undisputed control of the three branches of government and windfall profits from the 2003-08 oil boom, his record is remarkably poor. Inflation is running at over 30 percent, the homicide rate has more than doubled since he took office, and food shortages abound.

At the same time, synagogues are attacked or raided by police, reporters are threatened, and human rights workers are summarily expelled. In recent weeks, government officials have seized foreign oil company assets, and threatened to shut down Globovision, an opposition-aligned news network.

This is the true tragedy of "Chavismo," because there is no reason why socialism shouldn't work in oil-rich Venezuela. It doesn't, because the government is so shortsighted and corrupt. Oil production – the country's main source of wealth and the fuel for its socialist revolution – is well below where it was when Chávez rose to power.

While much has been made of the similarities between Chávez and longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, it is actually wiser, given Chávez's decade in power, to look at the differences.

Like Mr. Castro, Chávez has invested heavily in healthcare and literacy, but while Fidel Castro's programs have benefited millions, Chávez's programs have had limited impact because they are motivated by short-term political gain and not long-term betterment of the nation.


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