Venezuela Imploding Like the Soviet Union

By Fabio Rafael Fiallo

The crumbling of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s demonstrated two things: One, that deep-seated economic inefficiencies could force a political system to implode; and two, that such an implosion could be hastened by the ideological obstinacy of its leaders. 

The state's mismanagement of the economy -- exacerbated by the Cold War arms race against the U.S and the cost of the invasion of Afghanistan -- left in tatters the once powerful Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Thus, in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded the visionless and ideologically-corseted Konstantin Chernenko at the summit of power in the USSR, he couldn't but realize that the Soviet system lacked economic oxygen to continue playing a superpower. Four years later, the Berlin Wall crumbled.

The current situation in Venezuela -- under the Chavez-designated heir and proclaimed winner of a tainted election Nicolás Maduro -- is similar to, and no less untenable than, that of the Soviet Union at the time of Chernenko.

The misallocation of resources brought about by price and foreign exchange controls, the wasting of oil revenue in the funding of domestic patronage and regional alliances, as well as the paralysis of private investment due to the government's hostility against the entrepreneurial class, have taken a heavy toll on the Venezuelan economy. Rampant inflation, multiple devaluations and chronic shortages of essential goods form just part of the hardships enjoyed by the Venezuelan population.

Gone are the days when Hugo Chávez boasted about being able to cut oil exports to the "Empire" (i.e. America). More than ever before, the Venezuelan regime badly needs the foreign exchange generated by such exports.

As a matter of fact, oil sales to other countries do not provide as much fresh foreign exchange as do the corresponding exports to the United States. Although at a 30-year low, exports of oil to the U.S. are still 50 percent higher than those to China. Moreover, out of the 640 thousand barrels per day that Venezuela ships to China, 30 percent is destined to pay back the debt contracted by Hugo Chávez with Beijing ($42.5 billion).

True, unlike Chernenko's USSR, Venezuela doesn't spend in military adventures outside the country. All the same, the Venezuelan government is squandering the country's financial resources through other means: It keeps alive the Castro regime and provides oil to friendly governments in the region.

Furthermore, the purchase of heavy weaponry by Hugo Chávez has had adverse economic repercussions akin to the damaging effect of the Cold War arms race on the Soviet economy.

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Fabio Rafael Fiallo is a Dominican-born economist and author and a retired official of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

(AP Photo)

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