It is very interesting to compare Venezuela and Cuba since Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have had a very close relationship, and they both dominated their countries so. Despite the fact that these leaders are fading, Castro from age and Chavez from illness, their respective countries still bear the marks of their leadership. Economically it is probably unfair to compare the two since Venezuela has benefitted from so much oil wealth, while Cuba has little natural wealth to export, but socially there are stark differences.
This was made apparent to me by a couple pieces I recently read on Venezuela, one was in The New Yorker edition of 1/28/2013 entitled “Slumlord”, which details the appalling conditions in Caracas, the other was a short piece in The Economist from 1/26/2013 titled The Price of Justice. According to the piece in The New Yorker Caracas was in decline from underinvestment when Chavez ascended to power, but two decades prior to that the city was considered to be one of the most modern in South America, featuring a world class university and theater. Currently Caracas is basically ruled by gangs, the poor have been allowed to occupy abandoned buildings where their lives are run by the same gangs that run prison life in Venezuela. Caracas has a murder rate that currently runs about 67 per 100,000 residents, among the worst in the world, it is also one of the easiest cities to get kidnapped in. In Caracas 96% of homicides go unpunished, although that may be misleading since it is reported that between 2,000 and 2,008 7,000 killings were committed by security forces. Clearly despite the news of how many people have been lifted from poverty in Venezuela conditions in it’s capital are emblematic of a failed state.
Meanwhile Cuba has a murder rate of 5 per 100,000, and kidnapping is extremely rare.
On some other fronts statistics about the differences between Cuba and Venezuela are also telling. From the CIA world factbook. Infant mortality, Cuba 4.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, Venezuela 20 deaths per 1,000 live births. The rating given for risk of infectious disease, Cuba intermediate, Venezuela high. Unemployment, Cuba 3.1%, Venezuela 13.6%. Physician density, Cuba 6.4 per 1,000, Venezuela 1.9 per 1,000.
So the point of this post isn’t to glorify Castro and demonize Chavez, but it is amazing the differences the two leaders have achieved considering their close ideological base, and personal affinity. Both were military men, both profess to be Marxists, although it was unclear for some time that Castro actually was a communist after he took power.
So what it makes me think is that it isn’t so much ones ideology that matters in terms of achieving some degree of success in running a country, it is quite simply management skills. Management skills as being defined as the ability to assess a situation and formulate sound strategies and tactics to deal with them. One can’t say that Cuba had a more iron fisted leader under Castro, given the amount of people the police kill in Venezuela, it is rather a case of Chavez simply not being able to manage what he wrought. Being a believer in capitalism or communism or socialism isn’t as important as being to oversee what one is doing, and one is probably better off under a competent communist than an inept socialist.