Even as a liberal Democrat, I found the recent column Venezuela in the Crosshairs, which published Nov. 17, disturbing. It seeks to place blame for the hardships the Venezuelan people are experiencing upon the United States government, rather than the gangsterism of the Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro administrations. U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions against a limited number of corrupt officials are very recent. And the description of the “dictatorship as suspect” is laughable. Venezuela’s inhabitants, neighbors and many other countries validly describe it as dictatorship.

I lived in Venezuela from 1994 to 2002 and have since spent about 10 weeks there per year. I Skype with my Venezuelan friends daily. The governments prior to Chavez’ ascension to power in 1998 were generally leftist governments. Chavez’ platform was anti-corruption. However, Chavez appointees were much more corrupt than their predecessors and much less competent. Most were poor and uneducated and had never held a position of authority. Oil production has continuously declined, tourism died, food had to be imported.

Chavez forced the media into self-censorship, then revoked their broadcast licenses. He packed the Supreme Court. He installed his people in the CNE (National Electoral Council). Everyone connected with his government robbed the Venezuelan people. Chavez’ family and Diosdado Cabello, the head of Congress, siphoned off billions. The head of PDVSA, the state oil company, siphoned off billions, sending his family and money to Spain, where the Spaniards seized $4.2 billion from them. The military are among the largest narco-traffickers. The intelligence chief was arrested by the U.S. for narcotics trafficking. The nephews of the first lady were arrested with hundreds of kilos of cocaine in their yacht. The system is designed so that only the “Chavistas” get dollars, so they can make a killing on the currency exchange system manipulated by the government. The attorney general fled the country with proof of enormous corruption. Chavistas live large while the rest starve.

Anyone who signed a referendum opposing Chavez found themselves blacklisted — without a passport, unable to conduct their businesses and subject to harassment. Maduro’s people moved over 200 polling places the day before the recent election to disrupt the process. Maduro jailed all his opponents. Leopoldo Lopez — the prominent, promising opposition leader — was sent to prison for 14 years for “subliminal messages” inciting riots, which a prosecution “expert” said were in his speeches. The prosecutor later fled the country, saying the trial was a “farce.” The opposition — Lopez, Henriques Capriles, Maria Machado — are not capitalist puppets. They are anti-corruption leftists.

Now, everyone is on the “Maduro diet” (i.e. average weight loss of 19 pounds in the past year). There is no food to buy. Non-Chavistas are literally starving. There are no medicines or medical supplies. Everyone is afraid to go near a medical facility because they will get an infection that will kill them. Hundreds of thousands of poor people (previously Chavistas) demonstrated in the streets daily for months protesting hunger and demanding regime change.

Venezuela’s problems are their gangsters, not the United States “economic warfare.”

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