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Monday, May 11, 2015

Venezuela Moves to Natonalize Food, Ration Medicine, Kill Comedy

The crisis is killing people, and it’s really not funny anymore

The crisis in Venezuela is escalating, and it’s not funny anymore.

Socialist President Nicolás Maduro, successor to the Hugo Chavez regime, has announced he will use his “decree powers” to nationalize the country’s food distribution network. AFP reports:

Maduro has promised to nationalize food distribution in the South American nation beset with record shortages of basic goods, runaway inflation and an escalating economic crisis. . . .

Various estimates suggest the government already controls about half of the country’s food distribution, but that hasn’t stopped record shortages in shops and markets.

Venezuela is struggling with a recession, 68.5-percent annual inflation and severe shortages of the basic goods that it relies on oil money to import. . . .

On any given day, people in Venezuela can wait hours to get some subsidized milk, cooking oil, milk or flour — if they can be found at all.

Milk, flour, and toilet paper may be hard to find, but money can always be located for public employees: “Maduro also announced a 30-percent increase in public wages on Friday.”

Cash is always easy to find when you’re printing enormous quantities of it — and while 68.5% inflation might sound high, the government is lying about that too: the real rate, based on black market exchange rates, is more like 327%.

Food and toilet paper aren’t the only necessities in short supply: basic medicines are also increasingly hard to find. The regime has tried to counter the shortages with rationing. USA Today reports:

This week, the health minister unveiled a new national system that requires all patients to register their fingerprints at pharmacies. They will then be allowed to buy just a limited amount of medicines.

Called SIAMED, the Spanish acronym for the Integral System for Access to Medicines, it aims to solve widespread shortages that have left many Venezuelans unable to treat all kinds of ailments, from hemorrhoids to cancer.

The result of the scarcities has been tragic, with allegations of patients dying and doctors even forced to carry out needless mastectomies because they can’t access other means to treat breast cancer.

The government blames “hoarding” — whatever that means — for the shortages. But doctors and pharmacists blame government price controls, production regulations, and trade restrictions for cutting off the supply.

Freddy Ceballos, who heads the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation, blamed the shortages on the “Bolivarian” socialist government running national production — by private companies — into the ground, while also lacking the foreign currency to import medicines.

“This (SIAMED) won’t solve the problem because it doesn’t get at the cause, which is the lack of supply of medicines,” he added. “The government won’t talk about it, the fact that this appears to be rationing, but everyone else is. We will see how it operates in practice.”

The problem has become so bad that pharmaceutical and other organizations recently planned to set up a registry of patients who had died unnecessarily due to lack of medicines. Yet the registry is on hold, Ceballos says, over fears that organizers could be arrested by the government.

Last August, the government tried to institute fingerprinting to control food shortages too, to no avail. If the current crisis does not abate, expect to see the same pattern with drug production nationalized in a few more months, while “hoarders” and “price gougers” are arbitrarily imprisoned in government crackdowns.

This dangerous but farcical attempt to control the economy is providing a wealth of dark humor for Venezuela’s comedians, but as NPR reports, the socialist regime doesn’t have a sense of humor about the crisis that threatens its rule.

Besides jailing opposition leaders and cracking down on protesters, the Maduro government is now going after comics.

[Comedian Laureano] Marquez says that three of his recent shows were canceled after all three clubs that booked him were suddenly closed down for alleged tax evasion. He’s also been shut out of government-run theaters and hotels.

Another headache is securing city permits to perform. Requests from controversial comics are often rejected by mayors loyal to Maduro, according to comedian Alex Goncalves.

“They say: ‘No! If you have jokes about the revolution, you can’t present,'” said Goncalves. “They think that because we did jokes about Chavez or Maduro we are going to bring down the government.” . . .

Political satire in all forms is getting harder to find in Venezuela. Last year, the editorial cartoonist for the country’s largest newspaper was fired for depicting the national health care system in ruins.

Also gone is Chataing TV, a popular fake news show.

Last year the show’s host, Luis Chataing, made fun of the government’s frequent claims of coup plotting by the opposition. In a skit, Chataing portrayed a government bureaucrat fabricating evidence of a conspiracy with paper, scissors and glue as if part of a kindergarten art class.

The crowd loved it. The show was canceled the next day.

The late Christopher Hitchens (a former socialist himself and vicious critic of the Chavez regime) once said, “One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority.”

Now, it seems, we are seeing that principle in reverse.

  • Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.