Venezuela's poor get wise to socialism

It took them 19 years to catch on, but Venezuela's poor, the very bedrock of support for Venezuela's Chavista socialist system, have turned on their socialist masters.  That's bad news for President Nicolas Maduro, because the socialism he is forcing on them is all done on the premise of helping the poor.

They're rioting for food, just as Venezuela's middle class are protesting for democracy.  Bloomberg reports:

Services are shaky in Caracas, particularly in the slums that surround the capital. Water pipes go dry for days at a time, trash sits rotting and lights go out due to an aging power grid. The flashpoint has been the failure of the neighborhood food program. Deliveries are sporadic and reports of corruption are rampant.

"It takes us by surprise when it comes," said Misleidy Gonzalez, a 21-year-old mother of two who cleans homes to get by. Barefooted children played on the cement floor of the wooden shack in the hillside Mamera slum, where she lives with her sister and niece.

Years ago, the barrio boasted government food stores filled with subsidized staples.

"Before you had to wait for hours, but you'd find something," Gonzalez said. "Last year, I even waited in line pregnant. Now there is nothing. Only the bags."

If you have ever been to the slums of Caracas, a place even Lonely Planet tells its hardy backpackers not to go to, you know a bit about the squalid, horrific conditions the poor live in.  When I visited in late 2005, with my friend Miguel Octavio, who writes the excellent Devil's Excrement blog, Miguel noted that despite the horrific, overwhelming picture the slums presented, extending for miles over hill after hill, the poor lived by rules and had a social contract – loud music was to be turned town at 10:00 p.m., or the self-appointed enforcers would come after them.  There were de facto property rights even if there were no records.  They also were not as poor as they looked – some of the cinderblock units had glass windows, many had satellite dishes (he pointed those out), and most had access to illegally tapped electricity lines.

Now, apparently, things are different.  The people are cooking with firewood and can't get food.

It's a shame it took them 19 years to realize that socialism is a dead end and the free bags of beans would eventually be halted as the system runs out of other people's money.  Unlike Sean Penn, however, these people had no one to teach them, no failed examples to be warned from.  They just had faith in the promises.

These failed.  Now the troops are patrolling their streets and looking to shoo them like rats, as has been done in Brazil.  And they are still entirely powerless.  But unlike the Venezuelan middle class, at least they seem to be willing to fight their oppressors.  That may be their salvation.

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