The latest news out of Venezuela is that the government has seized nearly 4 million toys from the warehouse of a toy distributor, which it plans to distribute to poor children, claiming the company was hoarding the goods. “Worse than the Grinch,” cried anti-Chavistas, who cited Dr. Seuss to affirm the sacrosanctity of property rights. “We’re providing legal help to the Baby Jesus,” said President Nicolás Maduro. Talk about a fight over first principles.
Things are bad in Venezuela, but the seizure of the Christmas toys reminds us that Bolivarians are no Jacobins. In France, at the height of its revolutionary terror in 1793-94, toy makers stocked their Christmas windows with little model guillotines, with which, according to a 1928 Gilded Era compendium of “toys from bygone days,” budding “patriots could behead figures of aristocrats.” Writing from Bavaria on Christmas 1793, Goethe asked his mother, who was in Paris, to pick up one for his son, August. “What!” she replied. “Let the young play with anything so horrible,—place in their hands for their diversion murder and blood-shedding? No, that will never do!” The worst fate Venezuela’s opposition leaders face is that they have to use their US credit cards to order from Amazon to stuff their Christmas stockings.
Bolivarian Venezuela is not revolutionary France. It’s not even, when it comes to everyday violence, Mexico, where bodies are piling up faster than snow in Whoville. And Maduro’s certainly not Saint-Just. After a decade of self-described “socialism” (as Alejandro Velasco reminds us below, it wasn’t until 2005, seven years after his election, after having faced stiff opposition to the mildest reforms, that Hugo Chávez declared himself a socialist), it’s the opposition that is bloodstained, responsible for significantly more political terror and assassinations than the would-be revolutionaries. They do Robespierre proud, having even come up with a novel way to behead: In 2014, when they tried to stage a revolt to unseat Maduro, anti-government forces strung galvanized wire across city streets, which led to at least one decapitation of a motorcyclist. See this summary by Gabriel Hetland, who writes that the true executors of Venezuela’s “brutal history is almost totally absent from mainstream media depictions of the opposition.” Over 40 people, mostly Chavistas or government employees, were killed in 2014 protests; and “approximately two hundred peasant leaders killed by ranchers opposed to the 2001 land reform law pushed by Chávez.”