Well, things are still far from the Zimbabwe level, but it has only been because Chávez so far did not need to. With an oil boom as we had not seen for decades, he could spend immense amounts of money buying up people, even if he does not invest in Venezuela's sustainable development and even if the murder rate has more than tripled since he is in power and a lot of other things are not working as they should.
But now, with oil prices "only" 200% what they were when Chavez came to power in 1998 and only half what they were last year, Chávez will have to look for scapegoats. Bush is gone and even if Obama will become the new ogre, that won't be enough. Venezuela has price controls of every kind plus a stupidly overvalued currency, a disastrous economic management and more corruption than ever (which is to say a lot). In view of that, the country has the highest inflation rate of the continent and companies do not want to invest. Now, it is getting very difficult to national companies to survive in this framework. Things start to disappear from the supermarket shelves: from rice to toilet paper, you never know when you will see them again. That has happened time on and off in the last couple of years and now the situation is worsening again.
So Chávez decided to take over the rice factories.
Here in English
Here in Dutch
Here in German
Here in Russian
Here in French (most likely invalid link after today)
I forecast the following:
- the government will keep up confiscating more companies this year
- at the same time it will look for deals with foreign investors that can give them fast cash now, even if the deals are compromising Venezuela's future (think deals on oil, gold, wood, etc with the Chinese, Russians, French, even US American companies, in spite of all the anti-US talk). As investors know by now how risky Venezuela is getting, Venezuela's government wil have to pay an ever higher price
- the government will start to promote, as it did some years earlier, squatting big time: there have been lots of squatters since 1999, a lot of them have even become professional squatters (getting one piece of land, reselling it, going to the next), but the amounts of people occupying buildings or lands have always increased when oil prices haven't risen fast enough or when they stagnated a bit, as in 2002)
- the government will illegally slow down - again - the flow of tax money to areas where the opposition won in the last local elections and will use money in distributing goodies there to buy up new voters
That is still not a Zimbabwe level, at least not economically. We simply have too much oil still (even if it won't ever be enough to cover up all needs of 28 million people)
It is often difficult to explain Venezuela's political mess to Northerners as that they tend to think in absolute terms. They think conditions tend to be either like in Western Europe, with relatively free press, with real debates between government and opposition or like in a Lukashenko-like regime where no public dissent is tolerated. OK, they also suspect there are lots of countries where there is some form of democracy even if there are lots of human rights violations, like in Mexico. Still, when they hear the opposition cry we are heading into a dictatorship they rightly try to look for signs of a Lukashenko situation in Venezuela. They won't find it yet, even if they do report of a personality cult as seen only in Turkmenistan with their late dictator.
Venezuela is a wee bit different. We had a dysfunctional but real democracy for many decades now. We used to speak loud. There were lots of human right abuses, but still we had a democracy and we could speak out our minds. We still do after 10 years of Chavez in power, as long as we do not work as state employees. But things have been getting more difficult for years since 2002. Right now we have a dialogue of the deaf and the government is trying to make every possible open debate impossible. It still leaves a lot of apparent freedom of speech for some TV channels. It uses them as Potemkin villages...as long as they broadcast to a group of converted anti-Chavez supporters, everything is fine. That is how in Venezuela you have Globovisión, a TV channel you can only watch in open airwaves in Caracas and in places where people have cable or satellite dish. There you can hear Chavez is a dictator, that he is taking Venezuela to a path of communism and much more. The problem is that that channel and RCTV (similar stance, less political programmes) can only be seen by 30% of the Venezuelan population. Then you have a lot of private channels that have decided since 2002 to stay away from politics. They show a lot of sports and soap operas and the like. Finally you have on the other side the Chavez channels, which are just a Chavez propaganda machinery and where you hear the opposition are just a minuscule group of CIA-supported olygarchs who are planning a coup (as if Chavez had not been our first coupster in many decades). There are also the cadenas, which are government messages every radio or TV station in Venezuela has to broadcast live. The cadenas were used once or twice a year for a couple of minutes during previous governments, but now with Chavez we have several hours of cadenas a week. If you are on your car in Venezuela you better have some CDs with you.
Venezuelans read very little even if literacy for many decades have been over 90%. Those who do read can buy El Universal and El Nacional, which are relatively good newspapers critical of Chavez where many Chavez supporters also write (and praise Chávez). They can also read Tal Cual, a magazine mostly bought by the political junkies who oppose Chávez. Tal Cual's main editor is Teodoro Petkoff, a former guerrilla and current social democrat. Apart from that, there are the pro-government newspapers. There you would never have a person critical of Chávez talking, unlike in Globovisión, El Universal or El Nacional.
So, we are far far away from Zimbabwe, both politically and economically. Still, we will be getting closer to it every day.