[Amid crisis in Venezuela, there are libertarian-anarchists out there who are no longer fooled by the government's schemes. After much oppression, and reading libertarian philosophy and Austrian economics online, many are now looking to market solutions to their socialist problem. Here I interview Jesus Gomez, who offers us a lot of information on the ongoing situation. ~Mike Morris, The Voluntaryist]
The Voluntaryist: Jesus, it’s so nice to have you for an interview. You said you live far from the capital, Caracas. Is there more freedom being outside of their central centers of power?
Jesus Gomez: Yes, I live in Merida (pictured above), a town about 650 kilometers away from Caracas. I'd say that there is no more freedom here than in Caracas. The government keeps paramilitary forces called "colectivos" in every state as well as the army (GNB) and "National police". They use these forces to repress every attempt of protest; to terrorize people; and even kidnap people at their homes. The government took most of the power from states and turned it into a very centralized force: for example, taking the police forces from states and cities so no opposition major could use them to protect our people.
The Voluntaryist: The same problem is happening in the U.S. too. The idea of “states’ rights” ended long ago, states enforce Federal laws rather than nullify them, the executive branch constantly grows in power, the police are increasingly becoming militarized, etc. We need decentralization more than ever here too. I know that some people have joined libertarian movements down there. Are these political parties? Do you think there is some hope that more will adopt libertarianism in Venezuela?
Jesus Gomez: There is only one major libertarian party in Venezuela and another one that is more of center-right. But while they have gained a lot of support in places where they were typically unheard of, they remain to be a small faction. Sadly, most of the opposition coalition remains to be leftist; even some of them consider themselves communist or are part of international socialist organizations. There has been a lot of libertarian education, but it is unreal to say Venezuela will adopt libertarianism any time soon.
The Voluntaryist: All states indoctrinate their people since their existence depends on widespread public approval. In the U.S., for instance, in school we pledge allegiance to the flag, sing national anthems, are told the worst presidents (Lincoln, FDR, etc.) were the best, etc. What was it like going to school in Venezuela? Were you corrupted into believing in socialism?
Jesus Gomez: I could go on about this forever, but yes; indoctrination is everywhere; and it is just not simply nationalism as in USA. Chavez is considered an almost God-like figure. Children are told to draw and color his face. It is somewhat similar (though not as extreme) as what the North Korean goverment does. And it is not just the cult of personality alone; there is also a lot of hatred towards "US imperialism", and even Spain. To give you a small example: I am white and very pale, and therefore in school plays I always had to be the "bad Spanish landlord.” Very old hatred is taught here. Just image people being taught that Germans are bad today! It is very out of context for today's reality.
The Voluntaryist: I imagine that there’s still some common sense among the people down there despite all that, right? It’s intuitive to me, in economics, that price-controls below the would-be market price (government imposed maximum prices) will cause shortages; and price-controls above the would-be market price (government imposed minimum prices) will cause surpluses. You can’t make an economy work with price-controls; you need a free price system and a free monetary system.
Jesus Gomez: Even if you start socialist in Venezuela you will eventually learn that socialism doesn't work as you'd expect and you will start to crave free market solutions. For example, in Venezuela everyone now understands that inflation comes from the government printing money like crazy; and everyone understands the correlation between minimum wage raises and consumer prices and unemployment; also, everyone understands how regulating the price of a product produces shortages and disruptions.
The Voluntaryist: I guess since it isn’t so severe here that Americans haven’t fully woken up to it yet. They still believe in minimum wages by and large, and other forms of price-fixing. Venezuela has been experimenting with social democracy since the 1960's. Since socialism adds nothing to the existing capital stock and just depletes what was produced during previous, relatively free markets, overtime these welfare-warfare states fail to live up to their promises. Has it always been bad down there? There’s an old saying of “bread and circuses” to keep the masses fooled. Are we seeing so much conflict today specifically because the food shortages?
Jesus Gomez: I'll put this question in two parts. No, Venezuela hasn't always been as bad as it is today. It is impossible to compare current Venezuela with any other period in the past, and this is easy to state in a factual way just looking at the numbers: 11,000 babies died in 2016 of malnutrition or because they didn't get the proper care; this is more than ever before. Poverty is the highest ever since the pre-democratic era. About 60% of the population is experiencing weight loss; only about the top 20% are able to eat a complete diet. But more than taking it down to just numbers, you can surely look up; the feeling on the streets is dire: people looking for food on the trash with several starving children, most poor people are in a very bad condition, skin conditions are common since there are no self-care products like soap or shampoo, old sicknesses that used to be eradicated are reappearing, there is no proper healthcare for anyone, and that includes the rich. My parents for example need medications for diabetes and hypertension but we must smuggle them from Colombia or the U.S. People with less money are less lucky. Thousands are dying because they can't find simple things like antibiotics.
In other terms, it's safe to say that even the worst times of the pre-Chavez era seem like a paradise to us now. Even looking back 4-5 years ago when inflation was "just" 50-70% seems like decades from now. And about social democracy, Venezuela has a bipartisan system where either "social democrat" or "social-Christian" parties would rule the country.
The Voluntaryist: As far as I know, the Venezuelan state is centered around its nationalization of oil, achieved in the mid-1970’s, and this is where it gets its income from to expand its power and bribe its supporters. Venezuela benefitted from these high oil-prices in the 1970’s.
Jesus Gomez: Venezuela was growing steadily thanks in part to big oil revenues and we benefited a lot from European immigration after WWII. Of course, it wasn't a perfect country, but it was impossible not to grow with huge oil revenues. All of this collapsed after oil prices dropped which allowed Chavez to seize the power in 1999 after his failed coup attempts of 1989 and 1992.
The Voluntaryist: Venezuela’s history of going wrong precedes Maduro and Chavez, but they both deserve a lot of the blame. Could you tell us more about Maduro?
Jesus Gomez: Maduro is a hardcore communist, that lived in and was trained by Cubans. When Chavez died, he was instructed to tell his fanatics that Maduro was to carry his legacy. Maduro won the following elections (where, he, by the way couldn't participate because he was already VP of the country) thanks to, of course, widespread voting fraud, blackmailing, populism and fanaticism. Chavez was beloved by many in a religious way.
You can think of Maduro as a cheap copy of Putin. You can easily find pictures of Putin doing activities like doing sports, hunting, playing with animals, etc. With Maduro, it is about the same: he dresses up as construction worker, medic, military man, etc. The goal is of course to show Maduro as a strong leader able to lead the country with strength, but it just comes off as forced; almost nobody is buying into it. He is also known for making lots of mistakes and he is just not as charismatic as Chavez. At the end of the day he is underwhelming for the Chavistas that are with him, and as time passes and people grower hungrier, Chavez fanaticism fades away.
The Voluntaryist: Even though the U.S. is hardly the bastion of freedom it still pretends to be, we remain relatively free here to express our ideas, although the principles behind liberty are widely laughed upon by much of Americans. What do you experience down there as a libertarian speaking out?
Jesus Gomez: I think that we face exactly the same reactions you may face in the USA. People just don't believe that it is possible for a society to work without a central government. In the specific case of Venezuela, most people firmly believe in socialism; they believe that healthcare, education, and just about everything that is not manufacturing or services industries, should be to some extent government-ran or mixed. Most Venezuelans don't trust the private sector. They are even taught that "being rich is bad" and that "humility is a virtue", i.e., poverty is a virtue. There is also the fact that people have grown used to getting subsidies in some way or another. This led to a deep dependence between the government and the poor. For them it is impossible to imagine a world without the government. This has also been a huge form of control for the government too. For example, if you go out and protest, we take away your home, your food bags, etc.
The Voluntaryist: Venezuelan wealth was comparable to the U.S. in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as its economy was growing, ranking very high in GDP per capita. The government became much more active in the economy afterward and then things began to decline. Similarly, in the U.S., there’s less hope for the younger generation to become homeowners and live a middle-class life. Though Venezuela has been ruled by military dictatorships, there has been relatively more economic freedom in the past. It’s in American’s history to be anti-tax, anti-monopoly, anti-government, though they’ve lost this spirit today. Do Venezuelans look back to a time when they were more free and prosperous?
Jesus Gomez: Yes, we do! Everyone remembers the times where supermarkets were full; when there were no bread lines, no food bags; when we had several brands for the same product; car dealerships, medicine; when we could go safely out at night and trade our currency freely (now we can't exchange our Bolivars to foreign currency freely). Most people remember all of that, but most people don't completely understand that this was possible because there were no regulations, less taxes, less government involvement in production and distribution. The government oversees all food distribution in the country!
Chavistas remember the pre-Chavez era to be hell, but this is mostly propaganda, brain washing and flat out lies. For example, they made it up that people used to eat dog food to survive. Dog food has always been a lot more expensive than a bag of rice. The Chavista ranks are made of up of very resentful people, many of them even today are seeking revenge against the middle and upper-classes; and yes, they firmly believe in the class war.
The Voluntaryist: You mentioned all sorts of forces the dictatorship uses to stay in power: GNB (military), Colectivos (paramilitary/terrorist groups), PN (national police). Can you tell me more about them?
Jesus Gomez: Great question, I'll explain: GNB means "Bolivarian National Guard".” They are the Venezuelan army, used by the government for just about everything; for example, making sure that nobody touches state propaganda (murals, statues, etc.), taking care of bread lines, guarding state buildings, and especially for repressing, hurting and eventually killing citizens. They receive the biggest benefits from the state and the Chavista elite makes sure to keep them as happy as possible. Higher rank military men are also the richest among Venezuelans, and they expend most of their fortunes outside Venezuela. Just to give two examples: the biggest most luxurious malls built in Republica Dominicana are owned by Venezuelan generals. If you go to an expensive restaurant it is not uncommon to see higher ranks drinking the most expensive wines along with their families and friends. I am talking about restaurants that charge about $5 for a plate where most people win about $20 a month. As an additional note, they also take care of national roads security; and it is not uncommon for them to stop cars and force people to hand over money. They are also the biggest force used for drug trafficking and oversee our airports as well; so they use them to move planes filled with drugs to the whole region. I think Americans should know about this since the sons of Cilia Flores (first lady, or as she is called here "first combatant") were jailed in the USA for drug trafficking. This is just one of the ways that Venezuela uses to collaborate with other leftish groups like Colombian FARC and ELN.
There is not much to say about the national police. They were created by Chavez when he took away the power from cities to have their own police forces. They are badly paid, badly trained, and they face the biggest chance of getting killed in their job. Nevertheless, they are asked to repress and kill people just like GNB, and in that sense, they are not so different.
The SEBIN, or "Bolivarian Inteligente Service", is something the Nazi Gestapo. Their official job is to investigate organized crime and so on, but they are just the state-force that is used to kidnap, "disappear", and of course kill dissidents. They are among the most feared, and Diosdado Cabello (something like 2nd biggest head at Chavismo and Chavez’s right-hand at the time) uses them at will. There is a national TV broadcast where he tells opposition that sooner than later the SEBIN will pay all of us a "visit.”
Finally, Colectivos and Tupamaros: they are civilian militia that is armed to the teeth and ready to do the dirty work of the government. They are used mostly to kill, destroy private property, and generate terror. Like all government, they can both be considered terrorist groups. The government has to be held accountable by their actions, but they are armed (and led) by high rank Chavistas. For example, in my city, the governor is a Tupamaro leader, and he uses them to kill students and infiltrate our marches and protests, to generate chaos and confusion and start violence, take pictures of our faces (for later identification and persecution), etc. They are usually in small groups between 20 and 100 at the most, and they ride bikes everywhere. They usually have all sorts of weapons and are truly horrific and terrifying, and there is not much we can do about them.
The Voluntaryist: Most Americans would like to think that none of that happens here, but in a much subtler way, the U.S. government is willing to do the same to us: cage us, kidnap us, kill us. Statism is pure evil, but of course varies in degree. Is there anything like a militia by the citizens to resist them? Are any of these people disserting the military?
Jesus Gomez: Yes. Several GNB escaped to Colombia and asked for asylum there; about 85 GNB denied following orders a few days ago and were immediately jailed. As far as a militia to protect the people, it depends on the place. There are no "militias", but neighbors organize themselves in their communities to defend themselves. Please notice that we are for the most part not armed; guns are of course illegal for civilians in Venezuela. We don't take any guns to our protests, and only in very rare cases have guns been used for protection during invasion of private property.
The Voluntaryist: The right to gun-ownership goes together with self-defense and property rights. Depriving the people of such rights assures they lose liberties. Obviously it is in the interest of rulers to disarm the people. I hear that Chavez has helped to arm his political supporters while imposing gun-restrictions on the rest of the population.
Jesus Gomez: I used to be against gun ownership, but as we speak government goons are attacking people with tear gas and destroying their cars at a building block about two streets from here; I can hear it. Now I think we should have the right to defend ourselves. Venezuela is like a case-study for why it should be our natural right to own guns.
The Voluntaryist: It takes more than brute force to subjugate a population. The people seeking to rule others must also convince them that they’re acting in their own interest. Statism rests largely on this public support. We [anarchists] know the State’s monopoly of “defense” (force) is really just a protection racket, but others still believe they're our protectors. Here in the U.S., many still will say “that cop had to shoot him; he wasn’t complying with his orders.” It’s really sickening. Is the regime in Venezuela losing legitimacy at all?
Jesus Gomez: Yes. They have been losing legitimacy at light speed. Most people don't believe them and cracks are starting to appear in their ranks. I can name many examples of this, but the most important one is the attorney general of the republic. She used to be a hardcore Chavista but now she is calling out Maduro for his violations against the constitution. Almost daily we are seeing a famous Chavista or leftist distancing themselves from the Chavistas, and in some cases calling it a brutal dictatorship. By the way, this was only possible thanks to the continued work of people on the streets resisting day after day the tear gas canisters, gun bullets, and worse. There are already about 40 dead, most of them by shots to the head.
The Voluntaryist: I know Chavez is painted around Caracas, with his creepy eyes watching over everyone. Do you see this blatant propaganda where you’re from too?
Jesus Gomez: Note that about 80% of people reject the government; my city is about 90% opposition. Even still, there are about 3 Chavez paintings I can see if I walk about 2 blocks from my house. Chavez’s face (and the especially evil big-brother eyes) are plastered everywhere. There is a state called Vargas, considered to be the front-door of Venezuela since they have our biggest international airport, and there is literally no place you can turn your eyes where you won't find Chavez’s judging eyes on you. Paintings of Chavez are also mandatory on every state building, schools, etc. Children are asked to paint him in the schools. We have been working hard to tear them down everywhere we can. For example, two of the three I mentioned have been taken down recently, and videos are being shared everywhere of people doing the same.
The Voluntaryist: We should be tearing down statues in the U.S. too, but many Americans still think highly of figures like Abraham Lincoln. They probably think building statues of themselves boosts the economy, too. I’m curious, since socialism is not a plan to produce wealth, but simply to redistribute and consume what already exists while hampering further production, every socialist government must allow some markets to function so that the people don’t entirely starve. Has the Venezuelan government backed off any of their failed plans?
Jesus Gomez: Yes, of course they have. Otherwise we would have all starved by 2015. The Venezuelan solution is, of course, black markets for everything they are so widespread that the government doesn't care anymore. But almost all consumer products are in the market for more than $1. For example, a bag of rice is $1.20; 1 kg of soap is $1.24; a loaf of bread is $1.20 again; 1 lb of chicken is $2.00.
The Voluntaryist: What would you estimate the average income is down there?
Jesus Gomez: Most Venezuelans earn less than $100 a month, but many earn about $20. Of course, the government is denying all of this and talking about the evil merchants inflating prices and taking advantage of the poor. Recently Maduro announced that to fight inflation he was going to freeze prices, at the same time he announced another minimum wage raise (I think it is about the 3rd this year). Minimum wage is about $12 a month; the rest of the salary is about $20 in food stamps. This means that many people just work for food or less, and many people don't have the benefit of food stamps, so they are left with $12 a month. Again, a bag of rice is $1.25.
The Voluntaryist: It seems to be the same with states everywhere. Blame everyone but themselves. We have all kinds of pejorative for that too: The evil “price gougers” being one of them. When companies raise prices on drugs through protectionist privileges from government like patents, as with the popular company Mylan and their EpiPen, the people blame “capitalism” and the government is absolved of any part in it. Or, if their Keynesian economic policies fail, it was only because we didn’t print enough money. Same for you?
Jesus Gomez: They only become more radical when they fail. They use this logic: if it failed it is because it was not socialist enough. When their plans fail epically, they usually stay there as zombies where corrupt state officials can benefit.
The Voluntaryist: I assume private business owners are expropriated and considered evil capitalists, right?
Jesus Gomez: Yes. Chavez expropriated about 28,000 companies. Most of them are broke by now (go figure, factory workers can't actually manage a factory as well as a factory owner). Rich people are considered evil, and there’s a lot of hatred in this culture for the rich and even the middle class. This obviously keeps many people poor and makes the corrupt Chavistas that become rich very resentful and destructive.
The Voluntaryist: Marxism is far from dead in North America too, mostly existing in the universities. In my city, there's a group of revolutionary Marxists callings themselves Colorado Springs Socialists. They're generally white middle-class college kids who apparently don’t know or don’t care what these ideas have caused for other people. What do you think of Marxist groups in Colorado seeing as people like Chavez guide their regime with Marxism which has helped ruin the country? Should they be allowed to have their way here?
Jesus Gomez: I think it truly depends on how extremist they are. Most of these people treat politics as a religion and it makes it impossible to have any constructive dialogue. In any case, they shouldn't have their way, if being on the side of a brutal dictatorship like Venezuela's. That is why I ask you to spread information about the situation here. There are literally thousands of videos are being produced every day. About five hours ago another young man was killed by the GNB. If you can't reason with them using logic, at least show them what they are getting into if they take the side of the Venezuelan regime; otherwise, for these people it might be too late. That is why libertarian education is so important. And the failures of Venezuela is how I became a libertarian.
The Voluntaryist: It has been great talking to you, Jesus, and I wish the best for you.
Jesus Gomez: I could say a lot more. I hope I have done my best to paint a picture of the situation down here for you. Thank you for your work and interest in our country.
[Jesus, I looked into sending packages to Venezuela, and it looks very hard and insecure. I read that postal workers will steal from packages to find soap or food. I would like to give you a small compensation for doing this interview if possible at all. I know you did it for the cause of liberty in your own country, but if I can help in some way, I’m interested in doing so. Thanks for the interview, and we’ll stay in touch. ~Mike, The Voluntaryist]