David Frum

03.18.13

Venezuelan Socialism in Practice

A security guards rests at a closed gas station on a highway outside of Caracas waiting for the fuel truck to arrive as a three-week-old nationwide strike continues December 23, 2002 in the Venezuelan capital. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images) ()

Caracas Chronicles details how Venezuelan "socialism" works in practice.

I ask him what the main obstacle to his business is.

He doesn’t hesitate: “it has to be the permits to be able to take each animal to the slaughterhouse.”

Wait, I ask him, each animal needs a permit?!

“Yeah. The government instituted this policy that every head of cattle that goes to the slaughterhouse has to have paperwork by which the government approves it for human consumption. They say it’s because they want to eliminate foot-and-mouth disease … which is difficult to do if the government is constantly importing live cattle from Brazil or Nicaragua, places where the disease is rife.”

It’s a classic case of undoing with your feet what you’re trying to do with your hands.

“The permit has three parts. The trickiest part is the vaccine – the government has to make sure all your cattle has been properly vaccinated, and any animal taken to the slaughterhouse has to have that paper. The problem is that the government is the only one who can import the vaccine, and it’s been unavailable for months!”

“So, wait,” I ask him. “You’re telling me you haven’t killed a cow in months?!”

“Yeah right,” he smirks at me. “As if I’m gonna pay attention to the government. We’ve been pleading with them to give us the permits or give us the vaccines. What do you want, I tell them … for people to now have meat in the markets at all? You know what’s happening with chicken. Do they want people to simply have no protein at all?”

“At one point,” Diógenes says, “I simply said ‘screw it’ and headed to the slaughterhouse with no permits. In my pocket I had 500 BsF for the Guardia Nacional, 500 BsF for the guy in the slaughter house, and an extre 500 BsFs, just in case. It’s either that … or no business at all.”

Corruption conquers everything. But there's more.

A few months ago, I got a call from the bank,” he says. “Because my family has owned the farm for years, our papers are clean, so we’re in less danger of being expropriated than other farms. The government is forcing banks to provide loans for agriculture, and with the uncertainty in the market, banks are having a hard time coming up with people to lend to. The guy from the bank even offered me money to give me the loan.”

“I took out a huge loan on the farm, and quickly changed it in the black market. Sure, I used some of the money and invested … the minimum. The rest? It’s overseas. That way, if Maduro o un revergo de esos comes to expropriate me, they can take the farm. El peo es entre el gobierno y los bancos – it becomes a problem between the government and the banks."

Blogging the Revolution, the book by the authors of the Caracas Chronicles blog, was reviewed in David's Book Club yesterday.