Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela

St. Martin’s. Mar. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781250266163. $29.99. POL SCI
Veteran New York Times reporter Neuman debuts with a searing indictment of the Venezuelan petro-state. He argues that populist president Hugo Chávez, instead of diversifying the country’s economy to sustain the socialist revolution he claimed to lead, coasted for 14 years on oil money. The Chávez regime doled out cheap gas and sinecures to persuade Venezuelans to ignore rampant incompetence, corruption, and democratic backsliding. But since 2013, as oil revenues collapsed and Chávez’s successor Nicolás Maduro embraced authoritarianism amid U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, the nation plunged into humanitarian crisis while the U.S.-backed opposition flailed ineffectually, Neuman writes. Venezuela lost two-thirds of its gross domestic product between 2013 and 2019, accompanied by hyperinflation and emigration of a sixth of its population. Neuman denounces Chávez and Maduro but gives the conservative opposition and U.S. foreign policy their fair share of criticism as well. Neuman, who lived in Caracas for years, writes lyrically and uses in-depth interviews and reflections to put individual faces to Venezuela’s dissolving bonds of fellowship. However, his ham-fisted metaphors (“time was a fast-food sandwich”) and patronizing comments (“I thought of Venezuela as the shouting country”) sometimes detract from the book’s geopolitical insights and heartfelt laments.
VERDICT A riveting personal exploration of Venezuela’s slow-moving collapse.
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