Maria Arias hoists her backpack, splits a single banana with her two siblings, and sets off for high school. She follows narrow streets known for violence. But when she arrives, three of her four teachers aren’t there. Unsupervised students gamble in the gymnasium. Others huddle together in a vacant classroom, hoping for group protection from bullies and thieves. The sole teacher who came to school only collects homework before releasing the students for the day. They must all get back home before a gang-imposed curfew.
This is a normal day for teens in Caracas, Venezuela. The country is on the verge of economic and social collapse. Soaring crime and economic chaos are ripping apart what was once the best school system in South America. Poor students like Maria are losing hope of a better future.
Socialism’s Dangerous Foothold
Classes in Venezuela are cancelled frequently. The nation can’t afford to keep public buildings powered five days a week. From December through June, Friday classes were called off to conserve energy. The school has no running water. Maria’s gym teacher was murdered a few weeks before. Others don’t show up to teach on their weekly shopping days. Food is rationed, and citizens are permitted one or at most two days per week when they may attempt grocery purchases. Miss your day and you miss your week’s groceries. When it is your day, be sure to arrive early to nab some of the few items stocked on shelves before they’re gone.
In 1998, the late Hugo Chavez ran a socialist revolution. He promised improved education that would be financed by Venezuela’s rich oil resources. Chavez was elected president. For a few years, oil wealth supported his plans. But the price of oil has dropped worldwide, and other socialist principles undermine the economic stability the young nation once knew.
Rise of the Black Market
Seeking to ensure a certain quality of life for everyone, Chavez’s government implemented price fixing on many food items it deemed necessities. The government capped the selling prices of those items—often below costs to produce them. Suppliers could not provide the products at the restricted prices. Shortages inevitably followed. Some of those necessities ended up on the black market.
A black market is an unofficial and unregulated system of commerce. Goods that are unavailable through conventional outlets may sell on the black market at many times the regulated, legal prices. But when a family is hungry, an inexpensive—but absent—loaf of bread does no one any good. Consumers are forced to spend more than they can afford just to survive—and that pushes them farther into poverty. It also allows for crime and corruption to flourish as greedy individuals who do manage to acquire necessities can lord their goods and prices over those in need. Others steal what they don’t have. Society becomes unsafe.
Failed Confidence in Princes
Current President Nicolas Maduro wants to push ahead with the principles Chavez implemented. Twice in just months, he increased the national minimum wage, even though employers have no increased revenue to pay higher wages. Some businesses cut staff or closed because they couldn’t operate profitably. Maduro threatens failing businesses with legal action and government takeover—demanding that they keep producing goods at a loss with fewer resources.
Socialism is based on an ideology that government control can design and force a perfectly equitable society. Under socialism, personal property rights and a free market of supply and demand are usually perceived as enemies to financial equity. Rulers limit personal freedoms. They control how resources and wealth are distributed. Citizens who support socialism hope government will save them from want or failure. For many, faith in government provision replaces faith in a loving God who provides for, equips, frees, and saves His people.
Socialism has been attempted—and failed—numerous times over the last century. If history is a reliable predictor, Venezuela will not be able to turn itself around without a widespread change of heart among its people. But that can happen. People’s beliefs can change. The Holy Spirit can move the seat of our hope from our own strength to the wisdom and provision of God.