Amid claims the crisis in Venezuela has been caused by outside interference, the evidence suggests the reasons are homegrown. Dictatorship and rule by decree, political repression and economic mismanagement on a massive scale have resulted in the disaster of a failing state.
It is unsurprising that, as well as the US, most European Union member states have recognised the Opposition leader as interim president in the wake of the government’s refusal to hold new elections after the earlier flawed vote for President Maduro. The Organisation of American States has also criticised his human rights record in addition to his calamitous handling of the economy.
This crisis did not suddenly occur. Before the election in 1999 of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, Venezuela was peaceful and relatively prosperous as an oil-rich nation. Social reforms may well have been needed, but Chavez muzzled parliamentary democracy and state-run enterprises became corrupt and were poorly managed. It has become clear his successor continued the political repression and crushed any opposition. After a fall in oil prices, hyper-inflation and shortages of food and medicines followed, resulting in an economy in freefall and an ensuing humanitarian disaster that has led to an estimated one tenth of the population fleeing the country.
Watching Venezuela suffer should make us all the more grateful for our own peaceful and ordered society here at home. Whether or not we should have recognised the Opposition leader or should have joined our CARICOM partners in seeking to ‘facilitate dialogue and negotiation’, we must surely learn a lesson from this sad destruction of a nearby country inflicted on it by its own leaders. It should teach us to be on our guard against the excesses of politicians and to realise experience elsewhere in the world over the years has shown socialism does not work.
We believe for a country to prosper individual freedom should be protected with as little state control and coercion as possible. Capitalists reject the idea of forced redistribution of wealth in the name of social justice as immoral. They regard the guaranteeing of jobs for all, without incentive or compulsion to work, as being doomed to failure; and they maintain, rather than giving handouts to the poor, it is better to help them to do better, since people should be productive or contribute to society in one way or another in order to receive a pay cheque. But this should be tempered by support for the genuinely needy and infirm and control of the blatant excesses of capitalism.
Against this background, we commend the FNM government once more for its plans for economic reform – modernisation, deregulation and diversification – as a prerequisite for attracting more foreign direct investment and stimulating growth. Since it is the private sector that creates the nation’s wealth, government interference should be kept to a minimum consistent with basic regulation of the sector to achieve proper order.
The government’s commitment, in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, to bring accountability and transparency to the management of its own financial affairs - and its plans to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio and keep deficits within established ranges - are equally laudable, as are measures in the separate Commercial Enterprises Act in connection with the ease and cost of doing business.
This week’s publicity about major new investments in Grand Bahama should also be welcomed. From the information so far, these could rescue Freeport’s ailing economy and help to bring about real prosperity. But we reserve further judgment until more details are made available.
As we see Venezuela sliding into chaos, we should always be alert in our democracy to the danger of politicians seeking unbridled powers to pursue policies that may not be the interests of the people, not least in managing the national economy.
It is encouraging, therefore, that this government is currently on the right track with its economic reforms. We can only hope it will persevere and make its policies work in the longer term for the benefit of the whole country.