Just how bad are things in Zimbabwe? Belmont Club links to a International Herald Tribune story that describes just how bad things are in the former “breadbasket of Africa”:

Tobacco exports, tourism and mining were the nation’s main hard currency earners before the land seizures. Tobacco production this year is forecast at one-fifth of the 1999 level and food output is at one-third.

Official inflation is nearly 1,600 percent, the highest in the world. Zimbabwe is facing acute shortages of food, gasoline, medicine and other essential imports. Power and water outages occur most days.

In the past month alone, prices of many household supplies have doubled and the International Monetary Fund has forecast official inflation at 4,000 percent this year.

Mugabe’s racism led him to steal the farms of the white farmers, who were the back-bone of Zimbabwe’s economy. His tribal cronies, who received the spoils, had not a clue about farming, and the result was obvious from the get-go. The economy collapsed.

Chavez has a better resource than hard-working white farmers growing agricultural products. He has oil. But that only goes so far. It takes capital, technology and expertise to maintain an oil production capability. Chavez has started to destroy that capability, as the Financial Times reports:

Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, said on Thursday that his government would seize majority state control of four major foreign-run oil producing units by May 1 as part of his self-styled “socialist revolution”.

The Venezuelan government had been negotiating with multinational energy companies to gain majority stakes in the four “strategic association” oil projects in the Orinoco River Belt for about six months.

But the negotiations have been slow-moving and Mr Chávez’s appeared to signal on Thursday that his government is prepared to take over the assets without negotiations if necessary.

“We want to negotiate,” Mr Chávez said on Thursday. “But my instructions are that on May 1 all those oilfields will see the light of day under our control.”

Mr Chávez’s announcement came barely hours after the country’s legislature granted him powers to rule the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter by decree until mid-2008. Last month, Mr Chávez said his government would nationalise the country’s main privately-held telecommunications company and the electricity company that serves the capital, sending the Caracas stock market plunging.

The partial nationalisation of the Orinoco strategic association units, which produce about 600,000 barrels per day, or around a quarter of the country’s daily oil output, will affect several major international oil companies. ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips of the US, plus Statoil of Norway, Total of France and BP of the UK all have varying-sized equity stakes in the Orinoco projects, which were set up in the 1990s.

The multinationals have together invested an estimated $17bn in the Orinoco projects since their inception, and the assets, including upgrading plants that convert extra-heavy crude into synthetic crude, are worth about $33bn.

Petróleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, the state-owned oil company, currently holds stakes in the projects varying between 30 and 49 per cent, but the government will increase that stake to at least 60 per cent, Mr Chávez said.

Mr. Chávez has just helped himself to billions of dollars invested by the shareholders of the major international oil companies who made the mistake of investing in Venezuela. They won’t make that mistake again.

Back on the home front Chavez is playing the old communist game of ignoring the laws of supply and demand. This WPO report explains what is going on:

Meat cuts vanished from Venezuelan supermarkets this week, leaving only unsavory bits like chicken feet, while costly artificial sweeteners have increasingly replaced sugar, and many staples sell far above government-fixed prices.

President Hugo Chavez’s administration blames the food supply problems on unscrupulous speculators, but industry officials say government price controls that strangle profits are responsible. Authorities on Wednesday raided a warehouse in Caracas and seized seven tons of sugar hoarded by vendors unwilling to market the inventory at the official price.

A supermarket worker explains to a customer that their meat section is out of beef and chicken in Caracas, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007. President Hugo Chavez’s administration blames the scarcity of basic food products on unscrupulous speculators and government opponents, but industry officials blame government price controls which they say are strangling profits and causing distortions in the market.

Major private supermarkets suspended sales of beef earlier this week after one chain was shut down for 48 hours for pricing meat above government-set levels, but an agreement reached with the government on Wednesday night promises to return meat to empty refrigerator shelves.

Shortages have sporadically appeared with items from milk to coffee since early 2003, when Chavez began regulating prices for 400 basic products as a way to counter inflation and protect the poor.

Yet inflation has soared to an accumulated 78 percent in the last four years in an economy awash in petrodollars, and food prices have increased particularly swiftly, creating a widening discrepancy between official prices and the true cost of getting goods to market in Venezuela.

“Shortages have increased significantly as well as violations of price controls,” Central Bank director Domingo Maza Zavala told the Venezuelan broadcaster Union Radio on Thursday. “The difference between real market prices and controlled prices is very high.”

Most items can still be found, but only by paying a hefty markup at grocery stores or on the black market. A glance at prices in several Caracas supermarkets this week showed milk, ground coffee, cheese and beans selling between 30 percent to 60 percent above regulated prices.

The state runs a nationwide network of subsidized food stores, but in recent months some items have become increasingly hard to find.

Who should America blame for the sad state of affairs in Venezuela? How about the man who certified the election of Chavez in an outrageously corrupt ballot?Why, it’s our old friend the peanut farmer:

There is speculation that Carter blessed Chavez’s stolen election to prevent further violence, but it should also be kept in mind that Carter also enjoys seeing the interests of the United States, especially when defined by Republican presidents, humiliated. Chavez’s anti-Americanism will now intensify, thanks in part to the worst ex-President in American history, who has never been content to let his four years of ruinous rule be his last public deed.

I think that should have read “misdeed”.

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