In 2007, now deceased Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez toyed with launching an invasion of Curacao, a Dutch-protected island just off the Venezuelan coast. That wasn't his first military threat to a neighbor. Circa 2000, he began suggesting Venezuelan forces might intervene in neighboring Colombia, at the time fighting a narco-Communist guerrilla insurgency.
Controlling Colombia would be a major step toward creating what Chavez called his socialist version of the South American "super-state" envisioned by 19th-century South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar. The Chavista "Bolivarian" state's territory would include Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and a slice of Surinam. Peru and Bolivia were possible future targets.
With Chavez in command, the Bolivarian powerhouse would have the population, weapons and resources to challenge America and frighten Brazil.
Venezuela's vast oil reserves — more than 300 billion barrels — would build Chavez' military machine, fund his subversion operations and finance his socialist paradise.
Chavez's grandiosity produced bitter irony, not a Bolivarian state. Today, several targeted neighbors are being invaded — by Venezuelan refugees fleeing the Chavistas' despotic hell.
The U.N. estimates that since 2014 2.3 million Venezuelan citizens have left — about 7 percent of the population.
Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Peru are the primary host countries. Venezuelans have also scattered elsewhere in South and Central America. A few have entered the U.S.
They continue to leave in a steady torrent of 5,000 to 7,000 a day. The BBC reported U.N. officials compare the Venezuelan refugee problem to the "Mediterranean crisis" spurred by the civil wars in Syria and Libya.
A Venezuelan civil war has not erupted — not yet. But at the human level, the comparison is brutally apt. Lack of food, fetid water, no medicine, impoverishing inflation and fear drive the refugee flood.
International observers expect another 800,000 to 1 million will flee by the end of 2018, assuming the current dictator, Chavez's handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, permits continued emigration and regional host nations continue to accept refugees.
However, housing refugees has particularly stressed Peru and Ecuador. Peru currently cares for 400,000 Venezuelan refugees and recently tightened entrance requirements.
Chavez became president in 1999 and served until his death in 2013. He combined the rhetorical flair of Benito Mussolini with the anti-Americanism of Fidel Castro. Remember — Fascist Mussolini and Communist Castro were both socialists.
Economic mismanagement and government interference preceded Chavez's election. Still, as late as 2001 by most metrics Venezuela remained Latin America's richest nation. Then Chavista socialism began to sap the economy and the entire society as the dictator's clique skimmed money from the national oil company and the military purchased expensive Russian weapons.
How bad is the current economy after two decades of socialist destruction? International agencies (the IMF among them) estimate in 2018 Venezuela will suffer an inflation rate somewhere 50,000 and 1 million percent. A wide range, but both figures represent a boggling increase over 2016's 700 percent. During 2016, national food shortages became so severe the military took charge of food distribution. In January 2017, the military took control of food imports. In July 2017, the military began rewarding soldiers loyal to Maduro with rolls of toilet paper and tubes of toothpaste.
In August 2018, Venezuelan money is worthless but food isn't, and Maduro's loyalists still control the food. Maduro's soldiers can provide hungry citizens with food, and presumably toothpaste, in exchange for bribes — paid in jewelry, euros or dollars.
According to StrategyPage.com, the Maduro regime is a military dictatorship run by a small group of "socialist politicians who have managed to maintain control over major assets (oil production)" as the economy collapses.
Maduro surrounds himself with armed loyalists and Cuban security advisers. Yet rumors of military and police disenchantment proliferate. StrategyPage.com reported Maduro commanders "are not sure most of their troops could be trusted to fire on angry civilians if there were widespread anti-government demonstrations the police could not handle."
Will Venezuela explode before it implodes? Apparently, toilet paper and toothpaste only go so far.
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