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Nicolás Maduro VENEZUELA

[10/19/16]  It was one of the more macabre stories to emerge out of socialist Venezuela — and served as a metaphor for the final days of the rotting regime.

In a hospital morgue, a bloated corpse exploded.

The morgue’s barely functioning cooling system was to blame – hardly a surprise in the oil-rich yet impoverished nation whose health-care system has collapsed under the socialist government. Decomposing for two days in the tropical heat, the corpse finally exploded in a spray of toxic fluids and gasses. The ghastly incident earlier this month necessitated the partial evacuation of the hospital, University Hospital Antonio Patricio de Alcalá, located in Cumaná — a city of 825,000 in eastern Venezuela. Patients in nearby rooms and corridors were sickened to their stomachs by the stench.

“It’s not the first time that a body exploded,” a hospital employee told a Venezuelan media outlet. “It has already occurred two times since the middle of September.”

The hospital certainly was not always a house of horrors. It was once regarded as one of Venezuela’s best public hospitals — a standard-bearer for health care, according to the Venezuela news site La Patilla. Recently, La Patilla sent a reporter with a hidden camera through the facility: it revealed patients unattended in hallways and the emergency room, shortages of essential equipment, and a lack of air conditioning in wards. The hospital is yet another example of economic decay under “21st Century Socialism” – what Venezuela’s late firebrand president, Hugo Chávez, had pledged would turn the South American nation into a workers paradise. Socialism, however, has turned Venezuela into a workers hell.

To be sure, the collapse of Venezuela’s health care system was well underway during Hugo Chávez’s presidency, even as high oil prices filled government coffers — a fact that alarmed officials at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. They described their concerns in a “confidential” diplomatic cable sent in December 2009. Published by WikiLeaks, the cable was written during Hugo Chávez’s tenth year in office when his socialist agenda was well under way — from command-and-control economic policies to nationalizing large swaths of the economy. By then, Venezuela was hardly a workers paradise, however — as was underscored by the increasingly deplorable state of its health-care system. Some of Venezuela’s hospitals were closing while others were ridden with crime, noted the diplomatic cable. Many physicians were quitting medicine — starting new careers in Venezuela or migrating abroad, upset at being paid a pittance or nothing at all. Medical supplies were in increasingly short supply. The cable blamed Venezuela’s ongoing health-care crisis squarely on President Chávez — his Cuban-style health care initiatives and the politicization of the Venezuela’s health care system. Physicians perceived as being anti-Chávez were being disciplined, while incompetent military officials were placed in charge of public hospitals.

The economy’s tailspin has worsened under Chávez’s successor, Nicholas Maduro, a bus driver-turned politician, who has double downed on his predecessor’s socialist policies amid slumping oil prices. Now, acute shortages of food, medicine, and even toilet paper are part of daily life in Venezuela – thanks to a command-and-control economy that abhors free-markets and fails to respect private property. In the morgue where a corpse exploded, for instance, there were no disinfectants, chlorine or formaldehyde, according to employees. Draconian currency exchange and price controls are among the policies that are rightly blamed for the scarcity of basic goods.