The Consequences of Dictatorship: Venezuela Loses Its Best and Its Brightest

When people can't vote at the ballot box against a dictatorship, they often vote with their feet. The Berlin Wall was a monument to this, and a grand attempt by a dysfunctional Communist regime to take away the shoe leather franchise from people who decided that moving to freedom was an alternative to suffering under dictatorship.

Nor was East Germany alone in witnessing the exodus of its best and brightest. The migration of the Cuban middle class to Florida was a consequence of Fidel Castro's rise to power, and the imposition of strict socialism on a vibrant society. Now, if you want to find the best that is Cuba, look no further than Miami.

Much the same is now occurring in Venezuela, a new "socialist paradise" presided over by Colonel Hugo Chávez. Two years ago, the Christian Science Monitor reported on how educated, middle class Venezuelans were leaving political and economic uncertainty, and the heavy hand of dictatorship, for best prospects abroad. Another article, posted on, estimated that by 2007 up to 180,000 Venezuelans were living in Florida alone, whereas the US Census estimated a Venezuelan presence of about 126,000 for the entire United States.

People do not leave their beloved homeland on a whim. They need a reason, often several, and Presidente Chávez is not stingy in offering them.

Repression, state coercion, and general dictatorship are to be expected from a socialist caudillo. In addition, in supreme irony for a demagogue who campaigned against the corruption of the old order, Chávez adds cronyism and corruption to the mix as well, dispensing favors to his supporters, and punishing his enemies with equal fervor.

All of this is reported in a current story from Newsweek online. Titled "The Bolivarian Brain Drain: Hugo Chavez and his allies are tightening their grips, forcing the intelligentsia to leave in droves," Mac Margolis reports how the best and brightest of the country's talent are seeking better fortunes elsewhere. Not just the United States, but Panama and Europe are the recipients of Venezuela's alienated educated class. According to Margolis, "An estimated million Venezuelans have moved abroad in the decade since Chávez took power."

These are not the wretched refuse of Venezuela's teeming shore, but the educated, the middle class, the entrepreneurial and the wealthy. Indeed, these million people are the talent needed to grow a country. As Margolis writes:

This exodus is splitting families and interrupting careers, but also sabotaging the country's future. Just as nations across the developing world are managing to lure their scattered expatriates back home to fuel recovering economies and join vibrant democracies, the outrush of Venezuelan brainpower is gutting universities and thinktanks, crippling industries and hastening the economic disarray that threatens to destroy one of the richest countries in the hemisphere. Forget minerals, oil and natural gas; the biggest export of the Bolivarian revolution is talent.

And they are lost to Venezuela.

So, where does that leave Venezuela? It is more equal, one can argue, though perhaps it is the kind of equality in which misery and not wealth is spread equally. One reason is that the human capital that makes a country better is now enriching other countries.

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