If you want to know how Venezuela went from one of the richest nations in South America to a basket case of 4-digit inflation, the answer is “chavistas.” Chavistas are the people who voted for former President Hugo Chavez on the promise that the government would provide for them. That worked for a while, so long as oil prices were sky high, but once global oil prices dropped the government’s ability to pay also collapsed. Now the Washington Post reports even the chavistas have had enough of the country’s socialist rulers:

“Maduro is so different,” said Irene Castillo, 26, who lives in El Guarataro, a tough neighborhood not far from the presidential palace. She voted for Maduro in 2013 when Chávez died after 14 years in power. But no one on Castillo’s block supports the government anymore, she said. “Now, those who remain ‘chavistas’ are just the radicals.” …

“The base of the chavista movement has eroded, and the situation is growing more explosive,” said Margarita López Maya, a political analyst in Caracas. “There’s no bread, but the government continues to insist it has the majority of Venezuelans on its side, so it looks increasingly dissociated from the reality of people’s lives.”

Where the chavistas once supported the socialist government on the promise of a better life, they are now being threatened by the same government. With food increasingly difficult to find (to the point that people are eating dogs, cats and pigeons), the government began distributing food through party representatives in each neighborhood. That means anyone who protests the ruling party or even fails to show up for pro-socialist rallies is in danger of having their food supply cut off:

In interviews, several residents of poorer Caracas neighborhoods said they have been warned not to participate in any anti-government protests. “They blackmailed us with the bag,” said one man in El Guarataro, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The ruling party also has a paramilitary wing known as colectivos. These are the guys in red on motorcycles who are seen at anti-government events. The government (and its media supporters) maintain they have no association with these people but everyone on the street knows better.

But President Maduro isn’t just relying on the stick approach, i.e. threats to cut off food. As the ruling socialists have done for years, he is also trying to buy support through government handouts. The Associated Press reports Maduro just raised the minimum wage 60% in a vain attempt to keep up with inflation:

On his regular Sunday television show, Maduro ordered a 60 percent increase in the country’s minimum wage starting Monday. It was the third pay increase the socialist leader has ordered this year and the 15th since he became president in 2013…

“We’re here to take care of the workers, those who are most humble, and not the privileges of the oligarchs,” Maduro said.

This will fail of course. Maduro can order the presses to print more money to distribute to the population but that only increases the rate that inflation spirals out of control. Nothing will change until Venezuela abandons its failed socialism and makes long-overdue market reforms.

Meanwhile, every time I hear Maduro speak I can’t help but notice how much his rhetoric sounds like Bernie Sanders. Here’s Bernie last year in a piece for the Washington Post: “What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life.” About half the Democratic party is ready to make the same devil’s bargain the chavistas made in Venezuela. If only they were paying attention to what is happening in Venezuela right now, maybe they’d feel differently.

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