Venezuela and Cuba share the joys of a Carribean climate, the Spanish language, delicious food, and great music. But they also share the five C’s of a crippled country: centralized government, corrupt elections, collectivist economies, corroded society, and censorship. Hugo Chávez’s and Fidel Castro’s political ideologies, carried on by their successors Nicolás Maduro and Raúl Castro, have ravaged Venezuela and Cuba for decades. Socialist chavismo and communist Castroism are ideas that no one wants to share.
In name, Venezuela is a federal republic. In reality, it is headed by an authoritarian socialist regime. Technically, there are two major blocs of political parties: the incumbent United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the democratic opposition bloc—but government propaganda makes the opposition look like stale kale chips next to a filet mignon. Government entities repress dissent and promote the PSUV’s chavista policies. The judiciary branch is a puppet of the executive branch, and the CNE—Venezuela’s version of the US Electoral College—openly promotes socialist propaganda despite being responsible for administering “fair” elections.
Cuba is a single-party dictatorship headed by the Castro family. All power is consolidated under the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the first communist state in the Western hemisphere. Cuba’s 1976 Constitution dubbed the PCC “the highest leading force of society and the State.” Since then, it has been revised to be called the “organized vanguard of the Cuban nation.” That essentially means the same thing today as it did sixty years ago. The PCC controls law and society at every level, and party membership is an essential qualification for professional and personal advancement. Talk about selling your soul.
The 2013 Presidential election that brought Nicolás Maduro to power is one of the reasons Venezuelans don’t have toilet paper, food, or medicine today. The week before election day, polls and rallies throughout the country indicated that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles would win. When he lost (by a 1.53% margin)—and evidence of chavista motorcycle gangs intimidating voters surfaced—chaos erupted. National Guard troops silenced student protesters with tear gas and plastic bullets. Capriles requested an audit with detailed examination of fingerprint and signature records, which the CNE denied. And Maduro stayed.
Castro doesn’t have to bother with election fraud. He simply handpicks the members of the Politburo, the executive committee that heads the PCC. This group then vets candidates for all “elected” offices. Every 5 years, Cubans are allowed to elect delegates to the National Assembly, but there are no contests for any of the 600 seats. Only one candidate, a PCC member, is on the ballot for each position.
Venezuela’s economic crisis reeks of failed socialist policies—and not only because factories can’t produce toilet paper anymore. Supermarkets are without food, hospitals without medicine and homes without electricity. Keep in mind that this nearly bankrupt country has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. People should be able to bathe in Evian and keep exotic animals for pets. But that’s what happens when oil companies become state-owned and operated by ill-equipped loyalists. Luis Salas, Maduro’s former economic minister, doesn’t even believe in inflation. He once wrote, “Inflation is only a theory that does not exist in real life.” The International Monetary Fund estimates Venezuela’s inflation rate will reach 1600 percent in 2017, but at least the socialist government has an enterprising solution: slavery. Maduro now allows the labor ministry to force workers to join government drives aimed at increasing food production.
Venezuela’s economic crisis is bad news for Cuba, which has relied on heavily subsidized imports to prop up its planned economy. Pew Research estimates that state-run enterprises dominate over three quarters of Cuba’s economic activity. Six PCC monopolies control all major sectors of the Cuban economy, which means the majority of the profits go to political and military elites, while the average Cuban takes home approximately $20 a month. These PCC monopolies encourage cronyism and bureaucratic inefficiency and stifle initiative and entrepreneurship, with deleterious results for the economy. Despite the expansion of some non-state sectors, red tape and corruption prevent any real free market structure from forming.
Food shortages and starvation are widespread in Venezuela. Absences of antibiotics, gloves, soap, and water are producing a tragic public health crisis. One doctor from the University of Andes Hospital said they didn’t even have enough water to wash blood from an operating table. On top of that, Venezuelans also have to agonize about living in the country with one of the highest murder rates in the world: a 2013 Gallup poll ranked Venezuela as the most unsafe nation. The United Nations stated that rampant crime in the country was the result of a poor political and economic environment.
In Cuba, the government persecution of nonconformists, minimal rations, and lack of privacy are part of daily life. Grocery store shelves are empty and 1950s-era American cars congest the air with pollution. Most born after the 1959 Castro revolution are immune to the injustices in their lives—mostly because they have no access to reality. The 8:00 PM news is restricted to reporting on the success of Cuba’s allies and other communist countries, and on chaotic events that paint the United States as malicious and imperalistic. Billboards lining the streets deify Che, Chávez, and the Castros and proclaim the greatness of the PCC.
Media censorship hides injustice in Venezuela and Cuba. In Venezuela, former President Chávez created an exceptionally threatening climate for journalists. Government officials closed private TV and radio networks that were involved in the opposition movement. Today, Maduro’s soldiers harass journalists who try to film the desperate Venezuelans waiting in 12-hour lines at empty grocery stores.
Cuban media is controlled by the state. The PCC censors news, information, and commentary. Journalists must operate within the confines of laws that protect the government’s interests, not the people’s. Insulting any official carries penalties of up to three years in prison. The only national daily newspaper, Granma, is an official organ of the PCC. Freelance journalists are persecuted and silenced. In April 2015, independent journalist Juliet Michelena Díaz was charged with terrorism after photographing an operation of the Havana police.
The centralization, corruption, collectivisim, corrosion, and censorship that characterize Venezuela and Cuba show just how socialist chavismo and communist Castroism have destroyed these once-vibrant countries. White sand beaches are little comfort for starving people, and language is meaningless when the government cracks down on any attempt to tell the truth.
Despite this gray picture, some people do live comfortably. The Chavez family owns 17 country estates and has $550 million in liquid assets. People With Money declared Nicolás Maduro #1 on its 2016 Top 10 Highest Paid Politicians list, estimating $96 million in combined earnings. In 2006, Forbes estimated the Castro family fortune to be around $900 million. The 5 C’s provide plenty of wealth and opportunity—if you’re (literally) at the top of the food chain.