"It’s ironic, this revolution. The rich are even richer now,"

Good news from Venezuela!

President Hugo Chávez has warned that “capitalism will lead to the destruction of humanity” but seldom has there been a better time to make, spend and enjoy money.

The economy is surging at 9.4% and banks and credit card companies are reporting exponential increases in deposits and loans. Car sales are expected to more than double this year to 300,000, many of them luxury models, and property prices rival Manhattan.

Oh, come now. I didn’t say who the news was good for, did I? If the main protion of your country’s wealth is from rising oil prices, it stands to reason which portion of the population will become richer. (Clue: there aren’t that many slum dwellers or rural peasants owning refineries and distribution centres.)

Chávez is an interesting case in present-day Latin America. He’s treated by Westerners on both sides of the political divide as a resurrection of Cold War stereotypes, representing either a blood-soaked Communist dictator looking to turn his democratic neighbours red, or a heroic saviour cocking a snook to the evil imperialist Yanquis, depending on whether you have the National Review or Daily Kos in your bookmarks.

The reality is that Chávez is more of an old-school populist-nationalist along the lines of Juan Perón – ruling by charisma and personal appeal to the poor, strengthening his connection with them through personal largesse rather than genuine egalitarianism. This is all well and good when you’re riding high on an oil boom, but relying exclusively on energy exports is a recipe for instability. However, something tells me the country’s elite won’t get hurt as much as the people at the bottom, who Chávez professes to care for so much.


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