This is the busiest crossing along the 1,375 mile Venezuelan-Colombian border. It is also the best place to observe what happens when the commanding heights of Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian revolution collide with real life—aka, the market economy.
Crime—kidnapping, robbery and extortion—is a big risk for travelers here and so is dealing with Mr. Chávez's National Guard, which is notoriously corrupt. It has hundreds of highway check points throughout the country and every Venezuelan I talk to is uneasy about its arbitrary power. But I've come to see how Venezuelans are able to get by under price and capital controls, the slow suffocation of the private sector, a skyrocketing crime rate and a variety of shortages. I also want to better understand how people in the provinces feel about their government.
Ironically, a bizarre form of market economics may be playing a key role in Mr. Chávez's survival. Venezuela imports nearly everything it consumes, and Colombia has long been one of its major suppliers. But in a fit of pique last year, when Colombia agreed to allow the U.S. to use its air bases for drug surveillance, Mr. Chávez announced that he would restrict trade with his neighbor.
Food imports are now denied health-department permits, and expiring import permits for some other goods are not being renewed. Mr. Chávez says that the country can get what it needs from allies like Brazil, Argentina and Nicaragua.
Yet there is a long line of trucks waiting to enter Venezuela. A partial explanation is that some of these trucks are carrying goods produced outside of Colombia. Venezuelan ports have deteriorated so much under Mr. Chávez's rule that importers are increasingly offloading in Colombian ports and using overland transportation to the final Venezuelan destinations. This theory is supported by a recent report in the Colombian daily El Tiempo that said 50,000 tons of food had spoiled in Venezuela's northern Puerto Cabello because of government mismanagement...Read "Chavismo Meets the Market" at WSJ