Here’s how most Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds in 2016, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again in 2017
In early 2017, a nationwide survey of the people of Venezuela showed that during the year 2016, almost 75% of the population had lost weight due to not having enough food, and that their average weight loss was 19 pounds.
Before I explain how this came to happen, I want to start out by explaining what did not cause this to happen.
Many media outlets have been blaming Venezuela’s food shortages on the 2014 collapse in the price of oil. But they are wrong. Other countries whose economies are heavily dependent on oil, such as Norway and Saudi Arabia, do not have food shortages. Furthermore, Venezuela’s food shortages began in 2003, which was 11 years before the price of oil collapsed.
Now, to explain the actual cause of the food shortages.
Hugo Chavez was an incompetent, communist dictator, who wreaked havoc on Venezuela’s ability to produce goods and services.
How do I know that Chavez was a dictator?
Because only a dictator would use the military to seize food from private owners.
How do I know that Chavez was incompetent?
Because only a complete incompetent could create a shortage of gasoline in a country that has some of the world’s biggest oil reserves.
How do I know that Chavez was a communist?
Because only a communist would label toilet paper as a “luxury.”
Hugo Chavez did all of those things, plus a whole lot more.
He set price controls on many things, which, as any Economics 101 student will tell you, cause shortages.
He used the military to seize much of the country’s productive capacity from the private sector. And in each and every one of these cases, productivity under government ownership fell substantially.
Chavez referred to his policies as
“21st century socialism”
By giving it that name, Chavez was implying that his policies would, for some reason that he never explained, have different results than what the same policies had had in the past in other countries.
He was wrong.
Before I get to the many examples of how Chavez’s policies hurt the people of Venezuela, I would like to point out some of the people who praised Chavez’s policies.
Chavez’s policies have been praised by Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Naomi Campbell, Michael Moore, Don King, Noam Chomsky, and Danny Glover.
Here are plenty of examples of how Chavez’s policy hurt the people of Venezuela:
From 2003 until his death a decade later, Chavez had been setting strict price controls on food, and these price controls caused shortages and hoarding.
In January 2008, Chavez ordered the military to seize 750 tons of food that sellers were illegally trying to smuggle across the border to sell for higher prices than what was legal in Venezuela.
In February 2009, Chavez ordered the military to seize control of all the rice processing plants in the country and force them to produce at full capacity, which they had been avoiding in response to the price caps.
In May 2010, Chavez ordered the military to seize 120 tons of food from Empresas Polar.
In March 2009, Chavez set minimum production quotas for 12 basic foods that were subject to price controls, including white rice, cooking oil, coffee, sugar, powdered milk, cheese, and tomato sauce. Business leaders and food producers claimed that the government was forcing them to produce this food at a loss.
Chavez nationalized many large farms.
Chavez said of the farmland:
“The land is not private. It is the property of the state.”
Some of the farmland that had been productive while under private ownership became idle under government ownership, and some of the farm equipment sat gathering dust. As a result, food production fell substantially.
One farmer, referring to the government officials overseeing the land redistribution, stated:
“These people know nothing about agriculture.”
Chavez seized many supermarkets from their owners. Under government ownership, the shelves in these supermarkets were often empty.
In 2010, after the government nationalized the port at Puerto Cabello, more than 120,000 tons of food sat rotting at the port.
In May 2010, after price controls caused shortages of beef, at least 40 butchers were arrested, and some of them were held at a military base and strip searched by police.
Chavez’s price controls caused shortages of materials used in the construction industry.
As a result of Chavez’s nationalizations of the steel and cement industries, production fell substantially. Nationwide production of steel rods declined 20 percent in September 2010 compared with a year earlier. Cement output fell 40 percent in the second half of 2009. These shortages caused new housing construction in 2010 to fall to less than half that of the previous year.
In 2010, the government’s mismanagement of the nationalized oil industry was so severe that the country actually had to import gasoline, despite having some of the hugest oil reserves in the world.
Also in 2010, the government’s mismanagement of the nationalized electricity industry caused shortages of electricity.
In December 2006, the Venezuelan government instituted a 15% tax on imported toilet paper, which it described as being a “luxury.”
Chavez shut down a private TV station that had criticized him.
Because of Chavez’s criticism and legal attacks against the productive members of his country, the country experienced a substantial brain drain. Doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, business owners, software developers, advertising account executives, scientists, classical musicians, and lawyers fled the country.
Of this brain drain, Investor’s Business Daily wrote
“Chavez talks a lot about Venezuela being a rich country, and extols its vast oil wealth. But the human capital he is throwing out is far more valuable… He’s throwing away his country’s biggest treasure.”
Chavez died in March 2013. The country’s new president, Nicolas Maduro, continued Chavez’s policies.
In 2015, the Venezuelan military stationed troops in supermarkets, where they told customers not to take pictures of empty shelves. But that didn’t stop people from doing it. During the first week of 2015, the Twitter hashtag #AnaquelesVaciosEnVenezuela (“Empty shelves in Venezuela”) listed more than 200,000 tweets.
For example: (posted here under fair use from https://twitter.com/Indiferencia/status/551547489565016064/photo/1 )
From a different website, here’s a picture from 2014 of people waiting in line to buy food: (posted here under fair use from http://www.businessinsider.com/long-food-lines-are-in-venezuela-2014-2 )
In 2016, the New York Times published the following:
Dying Infants and No Medicine: Inside Venezuela’s Failing Hospitals
… chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions…
Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died…
Gloves and soap have vanished from some hospitals…
… there was not enough water to wash blood from the operating table…
The rate of death among babies under a month old increased more than a hundredfold in public hospitals run by the Health Ministry…
The rate of death among new mothers in those hospitals increased by almost five times in the same period…
… two premature infants died recently on the way to the main public clinic because the ambulance had no oxygen tanks. The hospital has no fully functioning X-ray or kidney dialysis machines… some patients lie on the floor in pools of their blood…
… people are dying for lack of antibiotics…
… without water, gloves, soap or antibiotics, a group of surgeons prepared to remove an appendix that was about to burst, even though the operating room was still covered in another patient’s blood…
… the rotting mattress had left her back covered in sores…
The pharmacy here has bare shelves…
In 2015, photographs from Venezuela showed that price controls on food were being enforced by a military police state. The Wall St. Journal published the following:
Venezuela’s Food Shortages Trigger Long Lines, Hunger and Looting
Violent clashes flare in pockets of the country as citizens wait for hours for basics, such as milk and rice
Shoppers wait in a long line to enter the “Latino supermarket” in the Dr. Portillo area of Maracaibo, Venezuela, on August 12.
Shoppers have their fingerprints scanned while buying government-controlled corn flour at the “Latino Supermarket” in Maracaibo to prevent them from coming back for another ration.
National Guard soldiers stand guard in Maracaibo over bags of food confiscated from people who illegally sought to contraband state-controlled food goods for higher prices.
National Guard soldiers guard food confiscated from people who sought to sell it for more than the government-set prices.
A National Guard soldier leads detainees accused of illegally selling contraband state-controlled food goods in Maracaibo on Aug. 13.
In 2016, Venezuela arrested a private business owner because he had managed to acquire enough toilet paper to properly stock his employees’ bathrooms. A labor union at the private business had a clause in its contract which said that the bathrooms must always have toilet paper. I agree with the union on that clause. Since price controls caused a shortage of toilet paper, the only way the employer could get enough toilet paper was to illegally buy it on the black market for a price that was higher than the government controlled price. So the government accused the business owner of “hoarding,” and he could end up going to jail for it. Interestingly, the same news article also said that the government might have seized his business if he had not properly stocked the employees’ bathrooms with toilet paper. Darned if you do, and darned if you don’t!
In 2016, some parents made their children skip school so they could spend all day waiting in line for food at the supermarket.
In 2015, the Pan Am Post wrote:
What Seven Hours of Waiting Will Get You in Venezuela
… organizers had announced that meat, fish, deli meats, and chicken would be available. She arrived at 6 in the morning, was given number 250, and waited in line for seven hours…
Placards with photos of presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro posted at the entrance say: “If it wasn’t for them, this sale would not have been possible.”
The same is going on inside. There is not a single square meter in the crumbling warehouse that doesn’t show either a picture of Chávez and Maduro, a quote from Chávez, or a picture of Chávez with Fidel Castro…
… there’s no meat, or sausage, or chicken, and no corvina or snapper, the only good white fish. Instead we must settle for mackerel and sardines…
… once you enter the warehouse there is no direct access to shopping. Instead there is a new group of chairs…
… animosity clearly sets in among most, when they see what they can buy: ugly, green potatoes (one kilo per person, hand picked by the person handing them to you); carrots (about the same); some tomatoes that cause a reaction somewhere between repulsion and shame…
The peppers are shamefully small. I get three micro-peppers, no more.
I can also get juices and oatmeal drinks (not milk, which is scarce)…
Raúl Castro used to say “each day, Venezuela and Cuba are becoming more and more the same.” That was in 2010, and even the most feverish mind could not have imagined an experience like the one I had on a Saturday morning. But he was telling the truth. If this is what socialism can offer, we are going to starve.
People begin to show their anger, but in a low grumble: “this is no good,” “I can’t have lost a morning for this.”
… a certain lady said to me: “30 years ago, there was a supermarket here, and you could choose what you wanted and pay cheap for it.”
Editor’s note: the author of this article expressly asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
This video from 2016 shows empty shelves at a Venezuelan supermarket:
In 2016, Amnesty International wrote:
Venezuela: New regime effectively amounts to forced labour
A new decree establishing that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country’s fields as a way to fight the current food crisis is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labour, said Amnesty International.
“Trying to tackle Venezuela’s severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The new decree completely misses the point when it comes to findings ways for Venezuela to crawl out of the deep crisis it has been submerged in for years. Authorities in Venezuela must focus on requesting and getting much needed humanitarian aid to the millions in need across the country and develop a workable long term plan to tackle the crisis.”
The decree, officially published earlier this week, establishes that people working in public and private companies can be called upon to join state-sponsored organizations specialized in the production of food. They will be made to work in the new companies temporarily for a minimum of 60 days after which their “contracts” will be automatically renewed for an extra 60-day period or they will be allowed to go back to their original jobs.
In 2016, people were waiting in line for up to 12 hours to buy food, and police threatened to arrest a BBC reporter if he did not erase his video footage of these people waiting in line.
In 2016, some Venezuelans made a 36 hour round trip to Brazil just to go grocery shopping.
In 2016, some Venezuelan children starved to death.
This video from 2016 is called “A growing, catastrophic food crisis sows unrest in Venezuela”
During one weekend in June 2016, the government arrested more than 3,800 people for trying to wait in line outside a supermarket.
In 2016, people waited in line for five hours for just one pound of bread.
In 2016, the following pictures of starving prisoners were smuggled out of a prison in San Juan de los Morros, in Guarico. (Posted here under fair use from https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1947080/harrowing-images-smuggled-out-of-venezuelan-jail-reveal-emaciated-prisoners-left-starving-to-death/ )
Back in 2003, when I first read that Hugo Chavez had set price controls on food, I knew that if he continued with the price controls long enough, this was bound to happen. Price controls lead to shortages. Either you acknowledge your mistake and get rid of the price controls, or you continue the price controls and ultimately end up adopting a totalitarian dictatorship in order to enforce those price controls. In the long run, price controls on food will always lead to government seizures of the country’s productive capacity. This is exactly how it ended up in the countries that did this during the 20th century. The results of Chavez’s “21st century socialism” were no different. Anyone who thought the results would be different is a fool. The celebrities who praised Chavez are fools. The social justice warriors who praised Chavez are fools.
Want to save the people of Venezuela? Here’s what do to: Abolish all of the price controls, and do so immediately – overnight. Also get rid of all of the country’s currency controls. Let the private sector determine currency exchange rates, with no government interference. Stop printing any more worthless bolivars. Let people use whatever currency they want, whether it be the U.S. dollar, the euro, the yen, or anything else. Return the farms, food processing plants, supermarkets, factories, businesses, and stores to their private owners. Do all of these things, and do them immediately. Don’t wait a year, or two years, or five years. Do it immediately. And do it now.
February 21, 2017. Tags: #AnaquelesVaciosEnVenezuela, Communism, Economics, Empty shelves in Venezuela, Food, Hugo Chavez, Income inequality, Marxism, Military, News, Nicolas Maduro, Police state, Politics, Poverty, Price controls, Social justice, Social justice warriors, Socialism, Twitter, Unions, Venezuela, war against achievement. Communism, Economics, Food, Military, Police state, Politics, Social justice warriors, Venezuela, War against achievement.
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