Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) became a little testy when asked to comment on the anarchy occurring in socialist Venezuela.
In an interview with Univision, Sanders was asked: "I am sure that you know about this topic: various leftist governments, especially the populists, are in serious trouble in Latin America. The socialist model in Venezuela has the country near collapse. Argentina, also Brazil, how do you explain that failure?"
Sanders dodged the question by saying his focus was on running for president of the United States of America. When pressed further Sanders said, "Of course I have an opinion, but as I said, I’m focused on my campaign."
Here are seven reasons why Sanders refuses to answer questions about Venezuela.
1. Venezuela is Sanders's ideology put into practice. Sanders refers to himself as a "democratic socialist." Former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez could also be considered as such, since he was a democratically elected socialist. Radio host Larry Elder summarizes Chavez's policies in a column:
He nationalized much of his county's commerce, particularly "strategic sectors" such as energy, telecommunications and oil-rich Venezuela's vital petroleum industry. Portraying himself a champion of the poor, Chavez demonized the country's middle and upper classes as "Los Escualidos" -- "the squalid ones." To redistribute wealth, he seized more than 1,000 businesses, farms and urban properties, insisting that the government takeovers were justified because the owners were corrupt, or that the seizures would improve the lots of the poor. The previous private owners were usually uncompensated when their assets and properties were appropriated.
With then-historically high oil revenues and income streams from the other nationalized industries -- combined with a massive increase in national external debt -- Chavez poured government spending into subsidized food, housing, health, education and other welfare programs.
Chavez's socialist policies were continued after his successor Nicolas Maduro was elected following Chavez's death from cancer.
Sanders may not be proposing to go as far Chavez, but he has built his campaign on Chavez-esque class warfare and has similar proposals to massively expand the size of government. If Sanders's socialist ideology was correct, then Venezuela would be a utopian paradise. But reality suggests otherwise.
2. Venezuela is in economic dire straits. Before Chavez took the helm as Venezuela's dictator in 1999, the country may not have been in great shape economically – they suffered from 11.8 percent unemployment and 35.8 percent inflation – but thanks to its vast oil reserves (the largest in the world, even more than Saudi Arabia) Venezuela was the richest Latin American country and was in solid financial shape. The current unemployment rate is 6.8 percent, but the inflation rate is vastly higher: 181 percent, with some analysts calculating that it's actually far higher than that.
"The latest estimate from the Troubled Currencies Project run by Steve H. Hanke of the Cato Institute and Johns Hopkins, meanwhile, is that inflation is really 808 percent," writes Bloomberg's John Fox. "Food shortages have become a problem, a debt default seems almost certain, and a complete economic collapse isn't out of the question. By 2014 Venezuela had, by the World Bank's PPP-adjusted accounting, slid to fifth place in per-capita GDP in Latin America, behind Chile, Cuba (!), Uruguay and Panama."
The economic statistics only get worse from there. According to CNN Money, Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, is worth less than a penny on the black market, and the economy contracted by 5.7 percent last year and is believed to shrink by eight percent this year. Over 70 percent of the country now lives in poverty.
But the most severe indicators of the country's economic calamities can be seen in their shortages, as explained below.
3. Venezuela is plagued with chronic blackouts. According to CNN Money, there's a shortage of electricity in Venezuela as a result of record-low water levels at the El Guri dam, so the government is imposing four hour blackouts for 40 days and imposing a two-day work week for government workers.
Only socialism could cause the country with the world's largest oil reserves in the world to face a severe shortage in energy.
4. Venezuela's public health system is a nightmare. Venezuela has the universal, government-run healthcare that Sanders and his leftist ilk crave dearly. But two lengthy profiles in The New York Times and the UK Telegraph reveal how the shortages and rationing that come as a byproduct of universal healthcare have created shoddy, unsanitary hospital conditions where patients unnecessarily die from poor medical care.
Here's a list of some of the basic necessities that are scarcely found in hospitals:
- Properly functioning x-rays and kidney dialysis equipment
- Doctors–10,000 have left the country in the past few years.
Patients are hospitalized and treated in squalor, as without water doctors have to wash their hands using seltzer water bottles and patients have to "lie on the floor in pools of their blood," according to the Times. In one instance, surgeons had to operate on a burst appendix even though the operating table was caked in a previous patient's blood. But at least the operating room was functioning – in J.M. de los Rios Children's Hospital in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, only two of their nine operating rooms were functioning.
According to the Telegraph, doctors have to boil and reuse single-use items as a result of a scarcity of blood-testing kits.
"It is like something from the 19th century," Dr. Christian Pino at the University of Andes Hospital in the city of Merida, told the Times.
To make matters worse, hospitals have to deal with the constant blackouts and, due to a shortage of medicine, their patients' only option is turn to the black market, where in many cases they can't afford the items offered.
Here are some examples of patients suffering and dying as a result of their healthcare system, according to the profiles in the Times and Telegraph:
- 21 year-old Samuel Castillo needed blood, but couldn't receive any because that day was a government-declared holiday to conserve energy, meaning the blood bank wasn't taking donations, so Castillo passed away that night.
- 61 year-old Jose Calvo died from heart failure when his medication for Chagas' disease was no longer available.
- Taxi driver Jose Perez's wife died from heart failure because of a shortage in prosthetic arteries.
- 15 year-old Rosalyves died from an infection that resulted from her stitches bursting in surgery as a result of low-quality sutures given to the surgeons.
- Two year-old Santiago died from an infection as a result of "an improvised cocktail mix" rather than the appropriate chemotherapy combination to treat his cancer.
- Baby deaths are also a daily occurrence in Venezuelan hospitals as a result inoperable respirators as a result of the blackouts.
Overall, the death rate of babies less than a month old increased from 0.02 percent in 2012 to 2 percent in 2015, and new mother death rates have increased by almost five times in the same time period.
5. Venezuelans face shortages of food and basic necessities Americans take for granted. As a result of the government being unable to afford basic imports due to severe inflation as well as government-imposed price controls, there has been a vast shortage in basic food items and other necessities, including sugar, flour, milk, toilet paper, baby formula and laundry detergent. People have to wait in lines for hours to get whatever food is left on the barren shelves, and the food that is available has seen spiked prices from inflation, such as $85 poultry. Some people have resorted to eating out of trash and raiding trucks to deal with the food scarcity. This has been the breaking point for the people of Venezuela, as riots and looting have broken out.
7. By contrast, Chile has taken the opposite direction of Venezuela and prospered. Commentary's John Steele Gordon writes:
I was in Chile in 1973, shortly before the coup, and Santiago, the capital and largest city, was a sad and bedraggled place. Potholes were everywhere, public transportation was mostly ancient buses, none of which seemed to have functioning mufflers. Today, Santiago is gleaming, with a world-class metro, second among Latin American countries only to Mexico City in size, dazzling skyscrapers (including the tallest in Latin America), and excellent highways. It is in every way a first-world city, the proud capital of what has become a first-world country. In Venezuela, the country is sinking into chaos and ever increasing poverty, despite having the largest oil reserves in the world.
Chile, which adopted free-market reforms after a military coup ousted Marxist Salvador Allende, has higher income per capita, better healthcare, a better standard of living, and more freedom than Venezuela, according to Reason magazine.
Sanders could perhaps argue that Venezuela's woes are due to declining oil prices, which certainly exacerbates the problem, but their decline started as soon as they began implementing socialism. Sanders won't talk about the tragic decline of the country because he knows that Venezuela is a real-word example that destroys the false premises of his Marxist ideology.