Venezuela declared home rule from Spain

On April 19th, 1810, Venezuela overthrew its Spanish colonial masters and established a Junta Suprema de Caracas to take power, beginning a war of independence. There were reverses and reconquests along the way, but the incident initiated a train of events that led to full independence from Spain. Venezuela was the first Spanish colony in America to declare independence.

The country is well situated and exported agricultural crops including cocoa and coffee. Oil was discovered in the early 20th century, and Venezuela was found to have the world's largest known oil reserves. From the 1950s to the early 1980s, the economy saw steady growth and achieved the highest standard of living in Latin America. It ranked close to West Germany.

I went there a couple of times in the 1980s and was impressed by its natural beauty and obvious vitality. It was a country on the rise, with a vibrant business sector creating both wealth and jobs.

Hugo Chávez was elected in December 1998, and used oil revenues to boost welfare and social spending. Prices were fixed, and the leader's cronies systematically looted the economy, a policy continued under his successor, Nicolás Maduro. The oil industry was crippled by replacing its skilled staff with regime supporters, and using its revenues to buy voter loyalty rather than investing in its future.

This mismanagement resulted in hyperinflation, economic depression, and shortages of basic goods, coupled with increases in unemployment, poverty, disease, child mortality and malnutrition. Inflation has exceeded 1.3 million percent. Three million people have emigrated, and those who remain have to cope with lack of medicines and water, and frequent power cuts. Venezuela faces the worst economic crisis in its history. None of this is caused by sanctions, which mainly target individual corrupt officials. It is caused by mismanagement and criminal corruption.

There seems to be a pattern sometimes when a country sees economic growth. A populist leader is elected to divert the increased wealth to social and welfare programmes, and to take over successful industries, allegedly to have them serve the people, but in reality to make them tools of a government anxious to reward its cronies and supporters. The economy is run into the ground. Hyperinflation increases the prices of goods dramatically, so these are fixed by law, resulting in shortages when they cannot be produced at those prices.

It is a depressing cycle. Even more depressing is the adulatory support given to such governments by left-wing intellectuals in developed countries. They hail the birth of a bold new experiment in socialism, go quiet when it crumbles apart, and then announce afterwards that it was "never really socialism."