Venezuela is an amazing, beautiful country. Although I’ve only been once, I was captivated by its warm people and seemingly world-class infrastructure. I was also taken aback by its social iniquities, which were obvious even to a casual visitor like myself. (Note: Panama is not much better in this regard.)

I’m very saddened every time I hear news about the Chavez government’s latest “progressive” initiative to further consolidate their stranglehold on Venezuelan society. Tonight RCTV – one of the few mass media outlets left that is critical of the government – is being shut down; the government decided to not renew its license. Freedom of the press – a critical pilar of any healthy society – is quickly withering away. (How long will it be before they start censoring the Internet?)

We Latin Americans do not have a good track record when it comes to government-managed economies. The military governments that “led” Panama during the 70’s and most of the 80’s almost destroyed our country and its economy. Freedom of speech was completely curtailed: newspapers were closed (and sometimes physically destroyed), editors and journalists exiled (or worse), and people critical of the government were routinely “disappeared”. Corruption was rampant: with nobody watching over them, hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen – in a country where a considerable portion of the population lives below the poverty line – by politicians who didn’t feel compelled to answer to any electorate or the rule of law. Like Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” it all started with “good intentions” to reform the social inequities that have always plagued the country. The end results were disastrous for most Panamanians, not just the privileged.

Panama is not the only Latin American country that suffered this fate after WWII; it seems most experimented with totalitarian dictatorships in one form or another. The results were disastrous, from either the economic or humanitarian perspective (or both). It’s significant that one of the only countries in our region that has maintained a stable democracy throughout its history (Costa Rica) is also one of the most developed in every regard.

One of the things that differentiates humans from other species is our capacity to study our history and to learn from the mistakes made in the past. The fact that the Venezuelan people have chosen to ignore the history of our region is probably a sign of their desperation with conditions as they were prior to Chavez, and of whatever improvements to their living conditions they may be perceiving in the short term. However, history cannot be ignored – for whatever reason. I predict the “Bolivarian Revolution” will bring more suffering to this part of the world in the long-run than it will alleviate. Tonight, I’m sad for Venezuela, and thinking about what the rest of us can do to avoid their fate.