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Monday, June 8, 2015

A Shrine to a Socialist Demagogue

Amid the detritus of socialism lies a shrine to a strongman


MANAGUA, Nicaragua — It’s May 27, 2015. Driving south on First Avenue toward Masaya on a hot, late-spring day in the Nicaraguan capital, my eye caught an image in the distance. “That looks like Curly from The Three Stooges!” I thought. Nah, what would he be doing here? Nyuk. Nyuk.

As we approached, I suddenly realized it only resembled Curly. It was actually somebody considerably less funny. The statue was a garish, tasteless manifestation of the late Venezuelan socialist strongman Hugo Chavez, surrounded by ugly, orange curlicues. I repressed the urge to gag as I stopped to take this photo:

This tribute to a man whose ceaseless demagoguery ruined his nation’s economy is the doing, of course, of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and his party. Ortega, like Chavez, engineered constitutional changes that may make him effectively president for life. He has worshiped state power since the 1970s. He was a Cuban-trained Marxist and cofounder of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, the Sandinistas. I visited the country five times in the 1980s to interview key political figures, and whenever I was there, Ortega was pushing government literacy programs; meanwhile, his government was harassing and shutting down the opposition press.

Back in the 1980s, Ortega relied heavily on subsidies from his Soviet and Cuban sponsors. But now that the Soviets are ancient history and the Cuban economy is on life support, he’s had to moderate. Nicaragua is a very poor country. Its per capita GDP is about a third of the world average, better than Yemen’s but not as deluxe as Uzbekistan’s. According to the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, however, it’s ranked better than you might expect at 108th in the world. Seventy countries are actually less free.

Who do you think is ranked at the very bottom, at 176, 177, and 178?

None other than the workers’ paradises of Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea.

If you want a glimpse of the current state of the Chavez/Maduro experiment in Venezuelan socialism, look no further than the relative scarcities of toilet paper (you’d better bring your own if you visit) and paper money (more abundant than ever at 510 percent inflation).

I asked my old friend Deroy Murdock, senior fellow with the Atlas Network, Fox News contributor, and keen observer of affairs in the Americas: How would you assess the legacy of the Venezuelan caudillo memorialized by Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua?

“Hugo Chavez arrived in Venezuela, determined to make his country a gleaming showcase of socialism, and renovate Cuba in the process,” Murdock said. “Now, Chavez is dead, Castro still lives, and both countries remain in dire straits. Chavez’s legacy is the enduring lesson that big government is bad, and huge government is even worse.”

Indeed. Seems pretty self-evident whether you look at the numbers from afar or walk the streets in person. Venezuela’s economy has been in free-fall for almost all of the past 15 years.

But there I was, gazing at a giant Hugo in Managua, a monument intended to say, “Way to go, man!” One wonders where an impoverished country gets the money or even the idea to construct such a hideous gargoyle.

Then I realized the answer: Ortega’s Nicaragua is run by socialists. And by typical socialist reasoning, you can be an architect of disaster but reckoned to be a “man of the people” just by claiming to be one.

If you produced the same results while advocating capitalism, you’d be reckoned a monster.


  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is lawrencewreed.com.