The time comes when a country has spiraled so far downhill that it is no longer safe for journalists to cover its demise. That time has arrived in Venezuela. Hannah Dreier, who has been the Associated Press’s reporter in Venezuela since 2014, writes that she is going home: “Departing AP reporter looks back at Venezuela’s slide.” While her article doesn’t say this, it sounds like she won’t be replaced.
I don’t know Ms. Dreier, and I assume you have to be left-leaning to work for the Associated Press. But Dreier’s reporting from Venezuela has been clear-eyed and at times harrowing–appropriately so for a country in the last stages of socialism.
Dreier’s farewell article begins with her apprehension by a pair of Maduro’s thugs:
The first thing the muscled-up men did was take my cellphone. They had stopped me on the street as I left an interview in the hometown of the late President Hugo Chavez and wrangled me into a black SUV.
“What should we do with her?” the driver asked. The man next to me pulled his own head up by the hair and made a slitting gesture across his throat.
Fortunately, that was not Hannah Dreier’s fate. Maduro’s henchmen eventually let her go without molesting her severely. But the incident apparently was the last straw, and Dreier has fled Venezuela. The remainder of the article looks back on her time there:
I came to Caracas as a correspondent for The Associated Press in 2014, just in time to witness the country’s accelerating descent into a humanitarian catastrophe.
Venezuela had been a rising nation, buoyed by the world’s largest oil reserves, but by the time I arrived, even high global oil prices couldn’t keep shortages and rapid inflation at bay.
Socialism’s defenders say that Venezuela was doing fine until fracking caused global petroleum prices to decline, catching that country’s leftist leaders unprepared. Dreier rejects that narrative, based on her own experience.
Life in Caracas was still often marked by optimism and ambition. My friends were buying apartments and cars and making lofty plans for their careers. On weekends, we’d go to pristine Caribbean beaches and drink imported whiskey at nightclubs that stayed open until dawn. There was still so much affordable food that one of my first stories was about a growing obesity epidemic.
Three years later, Venezuelans are fighting over scraps from garbage cans.
Over the course of three years, I said good-bye to most of those friends, as well as regular long-distance phone service and six international airline carriers. I got used to carrying bricks of rapidly devaluing cash in tote bags to pay for meals. We still drove to the beach, but began hurrying back early to get off the highway before bandits came out. Stoplights became purely ornamental because of the risk of carjackings.
There was no war or natural disaster. Just ruinous mismanagement that turned the collapse of prices for the country’s oil in 2015 into a national catastrophe.
The problem wasn’t mismanagement of Venezuela’s economy, it was management of the economy by the Chavez and Maduro regimes. Anyone who thinks a government can manage an economy is a fool. There is hardly any difference between management and mismanagement; the most brilliant managers would have performed only marginally better than Chavez and Maduro, if they were socialists or anything similar. If you try to fix prices, as the Chavez/Maduro regime did, you are doomed.
As things got worse, the socialist administration leaned on anti-imperialist rhetoric. The day I was put into the black SUV in Chavez’s hometown of Barinas coincided with a government-stoked wave of anti-American sentiment. The Drug Enforcement Administration had just jailed the first lady’s nephews in New York on drug trafficking charges, and graffiti saying “Gringo, go home” went up around the country overnight. An image of then-President Barack Obama with Mickey Mouse ears appeared on the AP office building.
We wrote years ago about President Obama’s fawning attitude toward Hugo Chavez, who handed Obama a book on American “imperialism” in front of international cameras. That fawning attitude counted for nothing when Venezuela’s socialists faced failure.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro blames the U.S. and right-wing business interests for the economic collapse, but most economists say it actually stems from government-imposed price and currency distortions.
“Most economists”? Is there any dissent? It is blindingly obvious to a casual observer, let alone an economist, that the socialists’ price controls and other left-wing policies have destroyed Venezuela’s economy.
There often seemed to be a direct line between economic policy and daily hardship. One week, the administration declared that eggs would now be sold for no more than 30 cents a carton. The next week, eggs had disappeared from supermarkets, and still have not come back.
Are there people in the world so dense as not to understand that if a government mandates that a product must be sold at a price less than its cost of production, that product will cease to exist?
Actually, I see a ray of hope here. I think Hannah Dreier actually understands–rare for a reporter, some would say–why there are “unexpectedly” no eggs for sale in Caracas.
The first time I saw people line up outside the bakery near my apartment, I stopped to take photos. How crazy: A literal bread line.
It may be crazy, but it isn’t surprising. All socialist countries have bread lines. Has anyone mentioned this to Bernie Sanders or other leading Democrats, like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi?
But bread lines were only the beginning. Before long, Venezuelans living under socialist tyranny could only dream of bread.
Then true hunger crept into where I lived. People started digging through the trash at all hours, pulling out vegetable peelings and soggy pizza crusts and eating them on the spot. That seemed like rock bottom. Until my local bakery started organizing lines each morning, not to buy bread but to eat trash.
People waited for their turn to hunt through black bags of bakery garbage. A young woman found a box of muffin crumbs. A teenage boy focused on finding juice containers and drinking whatever remained.
This is the inevitable end point of socialism, even in a country that has been described as having more natural resources per capita than any place on Earth. Resources, experience shows, have nothing to do with it.
The collapse has been so quick that the trappings of flusher times have not yet disappeared. The capital is still filled with fine restaurants, though tables are often empty. Luxury car dealerships still line the streets and lure people with access to dollars or who have gotten rich off corruption.
Do I really need to link to this one more time? Socialists are the most greedy and corrupt people on Earth. Hugo Chavez’s daughter and his finance minister are both multi-billionaires, as we wrote here and elsewhere. Socialists are not more moral than the rest of us. On the contrary, they are greedier and more cynical.
Socialism is evil, and must be ostracized as such. Venezuela’s collapse is just the latest in a long series of stories that remind us that the only path to freedom and prosperity is free enterprise.