Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rose to power by tapping into populist and nationalist sentiment. Blaming the problems facing his country on western superpowers, Chavez portrayed himself as a man of the people who would bring the wealth of Venezuela to the people.
The pie-in-the-sky rhetoric does not jive with cold, grounded reality, however. As Hugo Chavez has nationalized foreign owned grocery stores in a protectionist wave encapsulated best by the state slogan “Food Sovereignty! All power to the people!,” supplies of food have only become lower. During Chavez’s ten year reign, the production of fruit in Venezuela has declined by 25% and the production of beef by a whopping 38%.
Food supplies are not the only goods being rationed in Venezuela. Rolling blackouts led to the forced resignation of Chavez’s energy minister and flirtation with Cuban-styled communism to steady the ship. Energy problems, bad economics, and erratic investment policies further threatened an already fragile Venezuelan economy, which experienced a 5.8% decline late last year. By contrast, the more free market economy of Brazil expanded by 4.3% in the same period.
Although populism brought Chavez into power, it could subsequently be what sweeps him out. Polls show Chavez’s policies to be increasingly unpopular among Venezuelans. According to the researcher DATOS, 58% disapprove of Chavez’s takeover of grocery chains. As Chavez has continued to embrace the Cuban regime, 86% have said they believe the Castro model is inappropriate for Venezuela.
As alluring as Chavez’s populism was at the time of his rise to power, only the ideologically pure will support him when he fails to deliver the daily necessities of life to ordinary Venezuelans.
Michael Orion Powell is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/About/Internships-Young-Leaders/The-Heritage-Foundation-Internship-Program