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Monday, August 1, 2016

Venezuela Builds a Wall

It's now a criminal act to leave the borders to get groceries.

Years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This watershed moment in history was highlighted by images of countless East German citizens joyously celebrating as the infamous Berlin Wall was knocked down, thus marking the beginning of the unification of East and West Germany and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union.

As of August 2015, the Venezuelan government closed its border with Colombia under the pretext of combating smugglers.On the fateful day of November 9, 1989, the first pieces of the Berlin Wall were hacked away by demonstrators, effectively setting the stage for the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union and its totalitarian socialist project. Soon, East Germany and countless other Soviet satellite states would freely join the capitalist world and enjoy its many benefits.

Despite such a milestone in the advancement of human freedom, there are still remnants of Soviet-style central planning in present times. 

What Venezuela is facing today is just one of the vestiges of the primitive model of socialism. Just recently, estimates of 35,000 Venezuelans made their way over to Colombia to buy basic goods that are now luxuries in present-day Venezuela. Such images were unheard of in Venezuela in decades prior, when it was one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America. Alas, socialism does not discriminate against countries, rich or poor.

The Wall 

As of August 2015, the Venezuelan government closed its border with Colombia under the pretext of combating smugglers who were purportedly poaching and reselling Venezuelan goods for handsome profits back in Colombia.

The Venezuelan government’s response is standard operating procedure for a regime that looks to scapegoat foreign actors as a way to shift attention away from the destructive policies that brought about these shortages in the first place–exchange and price controls.

When the failures of socialist policies become clear, these governments do everything they can to close off their borders in order to prevent their subjects from experiencing true prosperity in the capitalist world. Once citizens taste the fruits of capitalism in freer countries, there is no turning back.

In effect, socialist governments turn their citizenry into veritable serfs that must be shackled to their land and cannot venture outside in search of better opportunities.  The ultimate purpose of these walls is not just to keep foreign goods and individuals out, but to keep their very citizens caged in.

Like East Germany, Venezuela is no exception to this rule as its citizens must endure a squalid standard of living and increasing degrees of government oppression. On the other hand, its neighbor Colombia enjoys the benefits of capitalism brought about by a decade of reforms that have made it more open to international commerce and investment.

Brain Drain

Nearly 2 million Venezuelans have left the country since Hugo Chavez assumed power in 1999. Naturally, their common places of destination- Colombia, Panama, Spain, United States– enjoy significantly higher degrees of economic freedom than Venezuela currently does.

It is small wonder why socialist countries are marked by large diasporas. As the economist Milton Friedman sagaciously observed, people “vote with their feet” when government policy becomes too oppressive and makes earning a living next to impossible in their country of origin.

The 35,000 Venezuelans that made their way over to Colombia effectively casted a vote of no confidence in Venezuela’s irrational, political system. Instead of waiting in an endless line to buy goods or rely on a black market that has become increasingly co-opted by the government, these brave individuals decided to exercise their liberty as consumers and go to a country with a modicum of economic freedom.

More than just a series of economic transactions, the aforementioned movement of people is a veritable form of civil disobedience. Tyrannical regimes despise a citizenry that votes with its feet and take its talents and purchasing power abroad.

Many seem to overlook that the fall of Berlin Wall was not so much a top-down decision made by political elites, but rather an organic uprising spurred by individuals that were frustrated with the totalitarian status quo. It was the determination of the countless individuals who saw through the illusion of socialism that led to the ultimate collapse of one of the most totalitarian systems that the world has ever seen.

Now it’s Venezuela’s turn to knock down its proverbial Berlin Wall and let economic freedom and the rule of law be the order of the day.


  • José Niño is a Venezuelan-American freelance writer.

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