Pop quiz: Which country would you rather live in—Chile or Venezuela? That’s pretty obvious—Chile. That was not an automatic answer until recent years. As recently as 2004 Venezuela had a higher per capita GDP than Chile, but then Chile doesn’t have Venezuela’s oil riches. Today Chile has a higher per capita GDP than Venezuela measured in nominal terms, but with a 30,000 percent inflation rate in Venezuela right now (and nothing to buy), nominal comparisons are meaningless, because Venezuela is essentially a failed state. (The World Bank’s GDP data for Venezuela breaks off three years ago, as if the World Bank’s data mavens have simply given up. Economist Steve Hanke, who tracks the Venezuelan economy closely, is my source for claiming Venezuela has a 30,000 percent inflation rate. There are some reports that it will soon be measured in the millions, but at that point it means the nation no longer has a real currency at all.)
What’s the difference between Chile and Venezuela? Socialism, sure, but we should take this point one large step further: the only reason Chile isn’t also a socialist basket case is that it had a military coup in 1973 to prevent the socialist government of Salvador Allende from making Chile into the prototype for Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Allende had every intention of following the same playbook of rigging elections and legislative bodies, subverting rival power structures, censoring the press and arresting opposition leaders, nationalizing industries and launching Chile’s economy down the same road to oppressive mediocrity like all other socialist regimes.
I have a hunch that if the Venezuelan military staged a coup today against the Chavez-Maduro regime it would be very popular with the Venezuelan people. Since the Chavez-Maduro regime has shown every sign of holding on to power by any means necessary (with the active support and advice of Cuba), it would seem a military coup is the only hope for relieving the misery of the Venezuelan people. I suspect the Chavez-Maduro regime has taken aggressive steps to forestall this by putting in their loyalists and hirelings in the military command structure.
I can hear our lefty readers (both of them) already. It is a part of the Catechism of the Modern Left that the 1973 coup against Allende was a monstrous event, wire-pulled by Henry Kissinger and the CIA, ushering in the dictatorship of August Picochet, who was never clever enough to know that you’re supposed to mouth Marxist slogans if you want to get good notices in the prestige media. This is not the place to untangle that whole old story (I did read several books with competing accounts and claims about the 1973 coup back in the 1980s), except to say that the coup would never have succeeded if there hadn’t been significant support from the military. (Also, whatever the just criticisms Pinochet has received, he did eventually restore free elections and step down. Any sign Venezuela’s ruling junta is going to do this in any serious way?) In other words, it ascribes superhuman diabolical powers to Kissinger and the CIA to suppose that they alone could have made the coup happen. The Left as usual believes too much in its Hollywood understanding of the evil capabilities of the CIA (with the sole exception of its estimates of WMDs in Iraq). I wish the CIA was one-tenth as competent and effective as the Hollywood Left believes it to be.
Funny how we don’t hear the hoary old Chile-Pinochet-CIA tale as often as we used to, perhaps because smarter leftists deep down know that the coup avoided the equivalent of today’s Venezuela. Or perhaps Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez missed the day in class when that unit was taught. Maybe someone should ask her about it. Surely there’s more comic relief to be had from her moment on the public stage.