Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's socialist economic policies and staunch opposition to American capitalism have unexpectedly benefited U.S. rice farmers.
In a strategy to help the poor, the late president nationalized large farms, redistributed land and controlled food prices, resulting in the unintended consequence of increasing the country's reliance on American imports, The Wall Street Journal reports.
"The rice industry has been very good to us," Steve Orlicek, an Arkansas rice farmer, told the Journal, adding that Chavez "really gutted" Venezuelan agriculture. "I'd like to see it turn around, and I am sure the farmers there would, too."
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The U.S. is also exporting other products such as steel and even toilet paper after the Venezuelan government took control of several major industries. Meanwhile, domestic production of steel, sugar, and many other goods have fallen in the country, leading to shortages. And Venezuela now imports beef and coffee despite it once being able to produce its own.
Oil is the only remaining strong export that Venezuela has, accounting for about half the government's income, though that could be jeopardized if prices fall.
"Chavez, who died of cancer in March, said, 'We are against capitalists and we are against big oligarchs' the Journal said. But he left the country more beholden to foreigners and foreign companies than ever before," Moises Naim of Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Journal.
Overall, during the 14 years of Chavez's rule, Venezuelan imports quadrupled from $14.5 billion in 2000 to $59.3 billion 2012, and exports from the U.S. in 2011 comprised $12 billion, an increase of 16 percent from the previous year.
A recent World Bank report found that 30 percent of people who were originally considered "not poor" in Venezuela fell into poverty between 1992 and 2006 even though the middle class grew in most other Latin American countries during that time, the Journal reports.
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