Venezuela: Mob Douses Man in Gasoline, Sets Him Ablaze over Five Dollars

This 2013 picture, courtesy of Yesenia Castro, shows Roberto Bernal cooking in his aunt’s kitchen in Caracas, Venezuela. On April 4, 2016, a mob beat Bernal unconscious and then burned him alive on a busy intersection after he was accused of stealing the equivalent of $5. (Yesenia Castro via AP)
Yesenia Castro via AP

A mob in Venezuela beat a man senseless, doused him in gasoline, and set him ablaze for allegedly stealing the equivalent of five dollars.

As the Associated Press tells the story of the April 4 attack in Venezuela, a swarm of “dozens of men loitering on the sidewalk next to a supermarket” noticed 42-year-old Roberto Bernal running down the road, decided he had a “criminal’s face,” and beat him to a bloody pulp.

When a “stooped, white-haired man” told the mob Bernal had mugged him, they looted him of about $5 in bills, handed the cash over to the old man, doused Bernal’s head and chest in gasoline, and set him on fire with a lighter.

“We wanted to teach this man a lesson. We’re tired of being robbed every time we go into the street, and the police do nothing,” one of the vigilantes explained.

Bernal maintained his innocence to the end, while the victim insisted he was the mugger. Bernal, a Venezuelan army veteran described as a straight arrow by his family, had just dropped off his daughter at school. He was a professional chef, who told his wife he was heading to a new job at a restaurant in Caracas that day.

An onlooker named Alejandro Delgado, a youth pastor, smothered the flames and got Bernal to a hospital. The crowd rewarded his lifesaving efforts by pelting him with bottles.

Thanks to the wonders of Venezuelan socialized medicine, it took a while to find a hospital that could treat him. When Bernal’s wife arrived at the hospital, he was so badly burned she didn’t recognize him. Informed of the circumstances, the trauma nurse — a victim of multiple robberies himself — shrugged and said, “If the people grabbed him and lynched him, it’s because he was a thug.”

Bernal succumbed to his injuries two days later.

The AP notes that vigilante violence has become commonplace in Venezuela, which was one of the “richest and safest” countries in Latin America before socialism got hold of it. There are weekly reports of group beatings, dozens of investigations into vigilante murders, and polls showing a majority of Venezuelans support mob retribution. The country now boasts one of the highest murder rates in the world.

“The revenge attacks underscore how far Venezuela has fallen, with the lights flickering out daily, and food shortages fueling supermarket lines that snake around for blocks. As the plunging price of oil has laid bare years of mismanagement, the economy has come apart, and with it, the social fabric,” the AP reports.

Over a month after Bernal’s murder, only one of the perpetrators — the one who poured the gasoline on the victim — has been charged with a crime. He is Maickol Jaimez, a 23-year-old law school dropout with a previously clean legal record, who has been working as a security guard. He expressed confidence that he would never be convicted because his face is not clearly visible in video of the attack. Meanwhile, Bernal’s wife and children are living in fear, and his 11-year-old son has reportedly dropped out of school.

“Bernal’s blood still stains a motorcycle taxi sign above the cracked sidewalk where he was burned,” the Associated Press writes in a grim epilogue. “The men here say they won’t wash it off; it’s their trophy from the time they stood up to one of the criminals who have made city life a cauldron of stress and fear.”

Every foolish young American who thinks socialism is cool should be required to study the horror show in Venezuela very carefully. This is a nation rich in natural resources, hailed as an economic miracle by American liberals only a few years ago. The previous dictator, Hugo Chavez, got the full Ted Kennedy “lion of the Left” treatment when he died.

The variables of the socialist equation change, from one country to the next, but the outcome is always the same. A country with rich human resources to match its natural bounty — a country like the United States, coming off a century of productive capitalism — can stave off disaster for a long time, and help its allies do so as well, by such methods as covering most of their military defense needs.

Eventually, the socialist rot will eat too deeply into even the brawniest economic muscles, and the money will run out. The common factor uniting every socialist basket case on Earth is surprise. Collapse always came so much more quickly than the people expected. The left-wing elite promised everything was under control until the day before the banks closed.

As pundit Glenn Reynolds puts it, “Under capitalism, rich people become powerful. But under socialism, powerful people become rich.” The powerful defend those riches with violence. Corruption sinks deeply into every level of government. The power and money of the State are increasingly dedicated to preserving the royal lifestyles of the political elite, so the government becomes very bad at fulfilling its basic duties to those who lack power.

Socialism is legalized theft, and the legal rationale grows threadbare as the money runs out. Eventually, people who refuse to give up their property get killed. If the government doesn’t kill them, desperate people on the streets will.

Crime can be a leading indicator of collapse because criminal justice is hard work. Properly policing an unhappy populace costs a lot of money and requires a high-quality civil service, from beat cops to bureaucrats, judges to jurors. It also requires a level of fidelity to the rule of law that tends to degrade in socialist societies, because they are in love with power, which means they disdain laws that bind the government and ruling class.

“This corruption hasn’t just enriched the few. It has also impoverished the many. That’s because the government has tried to control the economy to the point of killing it — all, of course, in the name of ‘socialism,’” writes Matt O’Brien at the Washington Post, arguing that the slump in oil prices gave an already rotting social and political edifice a firm shove into ruin.

O’Brien describes the result as, “what would happen if an economically illiterate drug cartel took over a country.”

Socialists always seize power with talk of “justice.” Ask the family of Roberto Bernal about the state of justice in the socialist paradise of Venezuela.