FOR many Zimbabweans, Venezuela, a country on the northern coast of South America, is a far-flung nation in which no one really has an immediate interest. There is simply no proximity of interest for Zimbabweans in what happens there.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
What makes it look even so remote is that is doesn’t have a prominent international profile or citizens, including musicians, artists, actors, footballers or athletes well known around the world, let alone to the majority of Zimbabweans.
Naturally, like any other country it has its own famous people and celebrities. In recent years it had the late controversial president Hugo Chavez. For those in modeling, there is also the stunning Dayana Mendoza, an actress, model and beauty queen who won Miss Universe 2008.
Of course, in history there was Simon Bolivar, the great military leader who was instrumental in the revolutions that brought down the Spanish empire. Yet there are some parallels between Venezuela and Zimbabwe. What is happening now in the Latin American nation is reminiscent of what Zimbabwe went through between 2000 and 2008.
Venezuela is burning due to leadership failures and mismanagement which have spawned economic implosion. The country is running out of just about everything. Food, bread, sugar, salt, toothpaste, soap, shampoo medicine, electricity, toilet paper, condoms; you name it. Food staples including corn, rice, plantain, yams, beans and meat are in serious short supply. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggs, onions and zucchini (marrow) are running out.
Because of the rampant shortages, long queues snake around the capital Caracas and other cities daily. The black market for everything is spinning out of control.
Inflation is sky-rocketing. For example, it costs US$150 to buy a dozen of eggs in Venezuela right now. The International Monetary Fund has warned inflation in Venezuela will hit 720% this year. That might be conservative as some analysts expect it scale 1 200%.
The local currency, Venezuelan bolivar, is becoming increasingly worthless as runaway inflation ravages the economy and people’s lives. Venezuelans are struggling to feed their children, with an alarming consequence – malnutrition is at an all-time high. The majority of schoolchildren have also been badly affected.
A sharp drop in global prices for oil – on which Venezuela depends for its survival – is a big part of the problem. Reckless spending on social welfare programmes, subsidies and oil subsidisations to Cuba and other countries under the anachronistic Chavez’s Bolivarianism, an ideology he developed from that of Bolivar and others, helped ruin the country.
Although Chavez’s populist policies and measures helped in the short to medium, the damage they inflicted on the economy is devastating. Venezuela’s government, running low on revenues and reserves, can’t pay for sufficient amounts of imports to mitigate shortages.
Spiking prices and widespread shortages for even staples have created widespread social and political discontent in Venezuela. That helped spur the opposition to seize control of congress for the first time in a decade as President Nicolas Maduro battled to turn the tide of what he has deemed an “economic emergency.” He has declared a state of emergency in a bid to stem the crisis.
In short, Venezuela is in the midst of a shattering social, political and economic collapse.
Chavismo’s disastrous policies created the nightmare. Chavez’s aggressive left-wing populism carried on today by his hand-picked successor, Maduro, has been damaging.
A wave of expropriations since 2005 left many companies in state hands, run by Chavez’s corrupt and incompetent cronies. Red tape and controls over the command economy are unbearable.
The situation is incredibly volatile and could even erupt into serious street conflict. For Zimbabweans this sounds familiar. It evokes a feeling of déjà vu.
However, President Robert Mugabe and his government seem to have learnt and forgotten nothing from the country’s hyperinflationary era as the nation slides back into a similar crisis. With leaders like Chavez and Mugabe, we are doomed!