Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Scapegoating Colombians

Deported Colombians wait with their belongings.
"They're driving them out of their homes, and stealing their belongings," one of the guys who works with me said angrily, turning away from the TV news.

He had been watching a report about Colombians being driven out of their homes in Venezuelan border regions and deported back to Colombia.

Those Colombians are, according to the Venezuelan government, the cause of Venezuela's problems.

Venezuela has one of the world's highest homicide rates - so high that its government has stopped publishing crime statistics. Its economy is floundering so badly that the economics ministry has quit publishing inflation statistics. Its troubles with shortages and corruption go on and on.

Now, with parliamentary elections just a few months away, the Venezuelan government has decided that the culprits are not Venezuelans, but Colombians (not to mention the evil, imperialistic U.S.)

Venezuela's continuing crisis will likely only get lots worse before things get better. And, Venezuela will badly need the goodwill and assistance of its most important neighbor and important trading partner.

Venezuelan Pres. Maduro may see electoral advantages in scapegoating Colombians, but he's not doing his nation any long-term favors.

Maduro's '21st-Century Socialism', which consists mostly of populist give-aways and economic controls, is based on denial of economic realities. Price controls and a command economy caused shortages and long lines in communist Eastern Europe. Now they're bringing the same results to Venezuela. Why should anybody be surprised?

It is true that, on a small scale, Venezuela's troubles are contributed to by Colombian (and Venezuelan) smugglers, who carry subsidized Venezuelan gasoline and foodstuffs across the border and cocaine the other way.

Guess what happens when something costs pennies on one side of a line and dollars on the other? That product gets shifted from the cheap side to the rich side, no matter what anybody tries to do. It's like water flowing downhill.

Venezuela has always been unsustainably dependent on oil income. But that independence has only increased during the years since Hugo Chavez was elected president, making the recent price plunge extremely devastating. The Venezuelan government has only made the situation worse by making gasoline free, hemorraging many billions of dollars annually with a subsidy which also harms the environment and goes disproportionalely to the wealthy.

Until Venezuela discovers economic reality its troubles will worsen. Sadly, that means that persecution of Colombians may only get worse.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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