Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dictatorship Struggling

Marketplace commentator David Frum recently took a trip to Venezuela. He had some observations:

“The Venezuelan president has invited a team of Cuban energy experts to help Caracas deal with an ongoing power crisis. That's interesting on two counts. First, Cuba's not really known for having sound energy policies of its own. Also, Venezuela is one of the world's leading energy exporters. It ships millions of barrels of crude oil every day.

Central University of Venezuela is a UNESCO landmark, a perfect example of the tropical modernism of the 1960s. I visited just a few days ago to talk to students and faculty and noticed something strange: Every clock in the building had stopped dead. I asked why. Answer: The 1980s vintage computer that controlled the clocks had failed, and the university could not obtain foreign currency to repair or replace it.

“I met middle-class professionals who had given up their cars for lack of imported spare parts.

“Next-door, Colombia demands dollars for its coffee, so most Venezuelans must make do with brackish Nicaraguan brew.

“Those who have maintained illegal bank accounts in the United States smuggle scarce goods from Miami.

“Those who must use local currency lose one-third of their purchasing power to inflation every year and in late January saw their savings cut in half by a devaluation.

“Electricity disappears for two hours a day outside the capital. Water taps run dry.

“In January, the Hugo Chavez government seized ownership of a major shopping mall.

“A large grocery chain was caught shipping a boatload of missiles to Hezbollah.

“Chavez ordered cable stations to drop the country's most popular TV station because it did not carry a long-winded presidential speech in full.

“It takes a certain kind of genius to lay waste to the economy of one of the world's major oil producers. But in his excuses, at least, Chavez is very far from original. He fixes the blame where it always goes: on the Americans and the Jews.”

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