Photo by Federico Parra
Artillery Row

Descent into hell

In Venezuela, socialism’s gruesome legacy is no academic question

The cardinal rule when visiting the large metropolises of notoriously perilous nations is to avoid them altogether. If you have no choice, I find keeping away from large hotel chains works best. If you do book a room with these chains, you’ll get clocked by the local “security services”, who are more than likely going to rifle through your baggage while you are at the gym or taking a dip in the hotel pool, and they’ll let their counterfeiting mafia mates know you are carrying forex. In the worst locations you’ll be cornered at the bar by seductive courtesans, or met by street hawkers while you’re in town, who are all in on the lure — your day and your stay will be ruined. It’s far better to go about one’s business lowkey and away from tourist baits, to wear the local clobber however gregarious, and rent an apartment anonymously off Craigslist. Perhaps stay with friends or at a monastery.

The capital city is flatlining, spiked only by ill-gotten gains underwritten by Russian gangsters

Caracas has grown into one such city from hell. The capital of my wife’s homeland, I have known this red-roofed Sultaness of the Ávila since 2007. Those were the splurge days of Venezuela’s socialist experiment when Hugo Chávez had Ven bonds to monetise and oil allocations to hawk, when state coffers still clinked with bolivars which had value. Back then love and merengue were in the air. Today there’s all-round cynicism, the pongs of death and dank deprivation ubiquitous. In 2022, under Nicolás Maduro, state coffers are barren. The capital city is flatlining, the flatline only spiked by oases of ill-gotten gains underwritten by Russian gangsters, by wannabe Cuban puppet masters and the Chavistas themselves, whose grip on Venezuela has been transitorily perpetuated by narcodollars flowing from neighbouring Colombia and Panama and by security collaboration with the chief gangster himself, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

To catch the international flight back to Europe, we’ve often had to wait several hours in Caracas, whose international airport down the road in Maiquetía became a death and rape trap some years ago. Rather than imposing on friends, we opted for a safe hotel workaround — a rent-by-the-hour sex hotel in a back street near the city coach station, where one can pay in cash for a room before making the dash by cab across to Maiquetía just in time for the flight out. The glittering mirror disco ball, overhead mirrors and vibrating bed amused my young children to no end whenever we paused there. We made sure they did not switch on the television set whose only channels pump out 24/7 porn.

Over the years I have befriended the sex hotel receptionist, Rafa, who lets me know what’s going on in downtown Caracas when he’s not ushering in punters and putas or dodging bullets from the street outside. He regales me with tales of the Chavistas who frequent his hotel with their secretaries and rent boys. He occasionally sends over photos, especially when there’s some foolishness going on in the neighbourhood. He furnishes me with vignettes via Facebook on the ongoing car crash of Venezuelan Socialism LIVE and in all its gory slaughter. The glittering mirror disco ball of Venezuelan Socialism is already well and truly detached from its mountings, shattering all over the bloodstained floor.

No politics class or textbook can prepare a man for fifteen years viewing first-hand this latest chapter in the failure of socialist doctrine. The descent to hell in Venezuela has been swift and gruesome.

Chavez nationalised swathes of Venezuela’s economy, from telecoms to cemeteries

At around the time Chavez dismissed golf as a “bourgeois” sport, closing courses that belonged to state oil-firm PDVSA, a brain drain soon ensued as experts and the moneyed hotfooted out of the country for Miami and Europe. Their paradisiacal homes, restaurants and country clubs were taken over by shell-suited Chavistas who declared themselves communists but were too easily seduced by all things shiny — some animals clearly more equal than others. Soon Venezuela’s large farms were broken up and chunks of land given to ordinary Venezuelans in small parcelitos — these citizens, who worked as taxi drivers, mechanics or waiters, had no idea how to farm and so importing food became the norm with the emergence of state-to-state shortages. When the economy began to creak, of course the Chavistas blamed the Jews — they took over their electronics businesses, which soon went to the wall.

Chavez nationalised swathes of Venezuela’s economy, from the biggest electricity and telecoms companies to cemeteries, and then even poor old butcher’s shops. Riots followed, and eventually it dawned on the Chavistas that they were getting out of favour, so they rigged elections and jailed or destroyed political opponents. Soon, in desperation, they were price-fixing basic commodities like sugar, which resulted in scarcities as shopkeepers no longer stocked items they could not turn a profit on. Starvation set in across the country. Citizens killed each other for food, especially in the slum barrios where locals fed alongside dogs and rats out of maggot-infested trash. An oil rich country without the foresight to invest in its oil production — all foreign expertise expelled or scared out of the country — then ran out of fuel. Just when rock bottom seemed to have been reached with record hyperinflation numbers which stunned the planet, Covid surfaced. Dazed Venezuelans found themselves pushing ambulances which had run out of fuel to hospitals that had run out of drugs. Bodies were piling up in the streets, and yet still some animals were more equal than others, driving around in armour plated cars and frequenting the cafés and restaurants where food and drink still abounded, located just metres away from furious and famished voters.

Too often in the West we have discussed Socialism as if it were a side dish in a menu of possibilities

Our bridesmaid gunned down for her purse. A family friend and her husband shot to death one night in their car on the roadside by delinquent youths — they died trying to protect their young daughter who trembled silently in the darkness under their bodies for hours despite the agony of a bullet which had nestled in her leg. My father-in-law reduced to a mummified corpse by cancer — the drugs he required intercepted by Chavistas and sold on the black market while he suffered an excruciating death. A teenage nephew ripped from the family by Covid while taking a herbal quack cure touted by President Maduro.

Too often in the West we have discussed Socialism as if it were a cheese on a cheeseboard, some kind of edible mushroom from which we might find nourishment, even as a side dish in a broader menu of political possibilities. The truth is that Socialism is poison, whichever way it is prepared or digested. It is appropriate — no, it is vital — to be so black and white about it.

Socialism may glitter on the surface, but sooner rather than later it will come hurtling to the ground, with grim and bloody consequences.

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