Venezuela is “experiencing problems”, because the country has taken a “wrong turn”, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell remarked over the weekend. That is a bit of an understatement, but I suppose we can agree on his basic point.
McDonnell’s diagnosis of what that “wrong turn” was, however, was a creative one:
“I don’t think it was a socialist country…it took a wrong turn when Chávez went and I think unfortunately since then, I don’t think they have been following the socialist policies that Chávez developed. And as a result of that they’re experiencing problems.”
Unfortunately, the interviewer did not press McDonnell to be a bit more specific about this claim. Which of “the socialist policies that Chávez developed” have been abandoned, discontinued or reversed by Nicolas Maduro’s government? Did Maduro re-privatise previously nationalised companies? Did he lift some of the price controls that Chávez had imposed? Did he go soft on the private sector? What was the drastic policy change that made the Shadow Chancellor reverse his judgement on Venezuela, a model which he praised as “socialism in action” just four years ago?
There was, of course, no policy change to speak of. Maduro was never a political figure in his own right. He was always, first and foremost, a Chávez-loyalist, and he is now following the “socialist policies that Chávez developed” to a tee. (As Chávez knew he would, which is why he appointed him as his successor in the first place.)
But when did Venezuela take a wrong turn? How could what was once South America’s richest country end up as such a basket case? While the blame does lie with Chávez, it is important to acknowledge that Chavismo did not suddenly pop up out of nowhere. The seeds were sown earlier.
Take the following description:
“Venezuela’s new leaders concentrated on the oil industry as the main source of financing for their reformist economic and social policies. Using oil revenues, the government intervened significantly in the economy. […] [T]he government addressed general social reform by spending large sums of money on education, health, electricity, potable water, and other basic projects.
“Increased public outlays manifested themselves most prominently in the expansion of the bureaucracy…The government established hundreds of new state-owned enterprises and decentralised agencies as the public sector assumed the role of primary engine of economic growth. In addition to establishing new enterprises in such areas as mining, petrochemicals, and hydroelectricity, the government purchased previously private ones.”