- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Venezuela offers a classic study of how socialist regimes impose misery and mayhem but manage to fool or intimidate enough voters to keep the regime in power.

Nicolas Maduro, a radical heir of Hugo Chavez, was declared victor in Venezuela’s presidential elections on Sunday after he apparently received 50.7 percent of the vote to challenger Henrique Capriles’ 49.1 percent. “Apparently” is the operative word. The Capriles camp is demanding a recount, citing irregularities, such as the illegal reopening of voting places.

Venezuela’s “Chavistas,” like the Democrats of Chicago, are well practiced in such electoral games, and the deck was heavily stacked against Mr. Capriles from Mr. Maduro’s near-universal control of the airwaves, his ability to buy votes and ramping up public spending in the months prior to the election.

Given the dire straits in which the country finds itself, it’s hard to see how Mr. Maduro could receive 700 or 7,000 votes, let alone 7 million of them. Many Venezuelans are all but starving in the dark. Milk, bread, sugar, corn meal, poultry, toilet paper, cheese and cooking oil are hard to find, and long electricity outages are a part of daily life. Housing is scarce. Roads and bridges are crumbling, with the countryside littered with abandoned road and building projects. Strict controls on foreign exchange make importing basic goods virtually impossible. Inflation is at 23 percent, one of the highest rates in the world. Trying to survive is the national pastime.

All of this is life as usual under a socialist regime. Strict price controls on nearly everything makes producing and selling goods a money-losing proposition, forcing private businesses to shut down. So the government takes over, making the bad worse, replacing skilled managers and technicians with Chavista loyalists. Oil production is only three-quarters of what it was prior to Chavez coming to power.

Chavistas (like some other well-known politicians) are masters at blaming others for the problems of their own policies. Producers and shopkeepers responsible for the shortages are “counterrevolutionaries” and “agents of American imperialism.” Many poor Venezuelans are gullible enough to think that “enemies of the people” impoverished this oil-rich nation.

There are lessons here for the United States. To be sure, no one here is Hugo Chavez or Nicolas Maduro. The grotesque level of government intervention in the Venezuelan economy and society make President Obama’s takeover of the health care sector timid by comparison. Yet some parallels are easy to discern, as Medicare- and Medicaid-imposed price controls under Obamacare promise to restrict access to medical services. Obamacare backers have their scapegoats at the ready. They’ll blame the hospitals, insurance companies and other medical providers for the mayhem built into Obamacare.

The Washington Times