Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday at 58. He is survived by communism. Men are made of skin and bones. Stronger stuff composes airy ideas. Hugo Chavez in his military regalia may have seduced Sean Penn and the other usual suckers. But the temptations of the idea that the one-trick pony once preached prove far more enduring than any of its charismatic preachers. Heaven on earth, a brotherhood of man, the perfection of humanity: beautiful ends pursued through ugly means. History has never witnessed the attainment of the ends. It has witnessed all too often the grisly and gory means. We should be thankful that Chavez, despite his best efforts, proved but a minor league impersonator of the tyrants of the century past.
The one, and only, time I was in Caracas there were two things that struck me. The first was the cinderblock huts with steel roofing that the vast majority of people living along the road from the airport called home. They resembeled the hot box the Japanese put Alec Guiness in in Bridge on the River Kwai, with one exception - every single one had a government-supplied DirectTV dish on it.
The second was when we needed cash. I was travelling with someone who had lived under the Soviets in Czechoslovakia - post '68 - and knew how to play the game. We passed the word around the office, quietly, that some Americans were in town and needed cash. Within minutes there was a line outside our conference room of people wanting to exchange Bolivars for American dollars (the government controlled exchange rates are insanely low, but the "parallel market" is thriving). My Czech friend was taken with nostaglia, as the process had not changed...
Yet another place where the 'black' market is the only free market.