In the last three years, tragic scenes of poverty and mayhem have dominated the coverage of Venezuela, a nation that used to be one of the wealthiest and most democratic countries in South America. Venezuela has become both a byword for failure and, curiously, something of an ideological hot potato, a rhetorical device dropped into political conversations around the world.
In election campaigns from Brazil to Mexico, Italy to the United States, politicians invoke Venezuela as a cautionary tale of the dangers of socialism. Left-wing candidates from Jeremy Corbyn, in the United Kingdom, to Pablo Iglesias, in Spain, find themselves accused of sympathizing with socialist Chavismo—and suffer real political damage from the association with Venezuela’s rulers. The charge, endlessly repeated, is that Venezuela’s failure is the failure of an ideology; socialism is to blame, and if you make the wrong choice at the ballot box, the chaos of Venezuela could come to your doorstep, too.