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Old-Fashioned Communism Alive and Well in Venezuela’s Ration Card

By: Carlos Sabino - @Sabino2324 - Nov 13, 2014, 11:07 am
Venezuela has implemented a rationing system for all basic goods.
Venezuela has implemented a rationing system for all basic goods. (Despierta Venezuela)

EspañolFifteen years after the introduction of so-called 21st-century socialism in Venezuela, poverty is more rampant today than ever before. It is no exaggeration to say that the demagogic and authoritarian policies of Hugo Chávez and his successor, current President Nicolás Maduro, have brought the country to the brink of catastrophe.

Public safety, for example, has completely deteriorated: the country’s homicide rate is among the highest in the world, and Caracas is the second-most violent city on the planet. With a murder rate of 134 for every 100,000 people, the city’s residents are forced to live in virtual house arrest.

When they do leave their homes they must wait in endless lines of cars that guzzle the cheapest gasoline in the world, but traverse a decrepit system of roads and highways that has only worsened over the past 15 years.

Heavy government subsidies have made gas and electricity very cheap, but the price of all other consumer goods has exploded right along with the country’s alarming inflation rate. Some calculate nearly 100 percent annual inflation in Venezuela, which is much higher still for food products.

Scarcity has become an even greater problem in recent months, a common symptom of socialism. As a result, Maduro — following his totalitarian inclinations — has imposed a rationing system. Every consumer, in stores both large and small, will now be required to present their ID number to the cashier, who must then enter it into an enormous database of all Venezuelans’ purchases.

This serves not only to control the value-added tax, but also as whether or not the consumer is allowed to make a purchase. The government has placed quotas on all basic goods — food, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. — and the database will inform the cashier if a customer has surpassed the allowable limit for the item in question.

It is the same rationing system the Soviet Union and other socialist countries have used, and the same system that exists in Cuba today. The only difference is the technology: the antiquated pen and paper method has been exchanged for a modern electronic database that will tell people how much rice, milk, deodorant, and soap they can purchase, and how often they can purchase it.

Given the government’s shortage of US dollars — or better yet, the severe mismanagement of aid to foreign governments (primarily Cuba), the funding of “social programs,” bureaucratic inefficiency, and rampant corruption — a system of controls that prevent both businesses and individuals from purchasing foreign currency is currently in place. The official exchange rate hovers somewhere between 6 to 12 Bs. per dollar. However, on the free (and illegal) market, roughly 100 bolívares are needed to purchase a single US dollar.

The government also withholds dollars from airlines, and it currently owes these companies more than US$4 billion. As a result, the airlines have drastically reduced the number of flights they offer, making it nearly impossible for the average Venezuelan to leave the country. In recent years, however, more than 1.5 million Venezuelans have chosen to abandon their homeland to live in a foreign country.

The situation in Venezuela now more than ever resembles what has happened to Cuba over the last few decades. The current drop in global oil prices has deepened a crisis that had already stirred widespread discontent among the population at large. However, despite what some commentators say, the end of the Chavista regime is not near.

The regime’s control over the political process makes changes through elections impossible. Further, there is virtually zero change of a military coup, since Cuba is currently in control of the Venezuelan military, and popular protests lack the strength necessary to topple the current regime.

Perhaps if Venezuelans launched widespread, vigorous protests this self-destructive course could be altered, forcing profound changes, or even President Maduro’s resignation. This possibility, however, is also very remote. The current political opposition did not support the massive protests that took place throughout the country between February and April.

As it stands, the opposition lacks both the leadership and the will to take effective action to end the current Venezuelan nightmare. This 21st-century socialism, despite its laughable theoretical underpinnings, is a relentless enemy that all Latin Americans must recognize.

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood.

Carlos Sabino Carlos Sabino

Sociologist, writer, and university professor, Sabino is director of the masters and doctoral programs in history at the University of Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala. Follow him @Sabino2324