Venezuela, 1992. You are a young college student. You walk your normal route to school, right next to a military base. You sit at a bus stop, waiting to get picked up, and you notice that the base, usually busy with the sounds of training soldiers, is eerily quiet.
Suddenly, someone frantically warns everyone to get home as fast as possible. Confused and scared, you run back home to find your whole family glued to the television. You see the face of Hugo Chavez on the screen. You learn that he led a revolt against the government that morning, killing hundreds of people. You receive the news that one of your friends, a soldier and a recently engaged man, has been killed trying to defend the president.
Fast forward two years, you are preparing to leave Venezuela for the United States. By this time, Chavez is gaining support from Venezuelans, including some of your friends. You tell them not to trust someone that is most famous for such a bloody event, but you are met with disbelief. You watch in despair as your country votes him in as president six years later.
For Lus Shultz Martinez, a California resident, this was her life before immigrating to the U.S. She says her move here has been a huge blessing. When she thinks about going back to Venezuela to be with her family, she says she can’t.
“It’s too dangerous and I do hope that people will wake up someday soon to true liberty and Venezuela can work towards the same goal: true freedom,” Martinez said.
She also says Americans have a duty to be a voice for those that can’t defend themselves.
“America has been blessed,” she said. “At the same time, we should always try to be a voice for those who can not speak or defend their own liberty or life. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” a quote from Elie Wiesel, the famous Holocaust survivor.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country in the past few years is “the fastest-escalating displacement of people across borders in Latin American history.” Currently, the number of Venezuelans living abroad ranges from 1.6 million to 4 million, with experts predicting that these numbers will soon surpass those of Syrians who have fled their own country due to civil war.
With such a tragedy happening in today’s world, there is an important question to ask: Why?
Since 2010, Venezuela has been in an “economic war,” declared by Chavez, who came into office as part of the Fifth Republic Movement, a Socialist party. He adopted a new constitution for the country, allowing his government to nationalize key industries.
By killing private industry, this made the country completely dependent on its state-owned oil industry, which resulted in inflation, poverty and supply shortages. The country also saw a rise in government and police corruption and an increase in murder rates under his rule. Chavez’s vice president, Nicolas Maduro, assumed the presidency after Chavez’s death and he shares his predecessor’s ideologies.
With evidence of the Socialist government in Venezuela wreaking so much havoc, it is surprising that people in the United States would support such a system. According to a 2018 poll from Gallup, a polling company, nearly a quarter of Americans think Socialism is a positive step forward for the U.S., with the most support coming from younger generations, including many students at COC.
Many students say they notice that their peers are primarily left-leaning, and yet…
“There is a fairly sizable number of moderates left and right emerging with the recent distaste for partisan lines,” said student Taylor Yin, a passionate follower of politics.
“There seems to be people from all over the political spectrum,” Kevin Morey stated, another student who is politically active.
Yin says socialism is a good structure for a government but it is unlikely to work in the U.S.
“The United States promotes individualism far too much for any collectivist government to really implement true socialism,” he said. “Socialism could be good for the country but a Socialist government probably wouldn’t survive.”
Morey sees socialism as a bad idea, no matter where it is implemented.
“Socialism has failed everywhere it has been tried,” he said. “It only works until you run out of other people’s money.”
In a Socialist government, “The money you earn and the time you spent earning that money doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the state.” This means there is no incentive to work if people don’t receive any of the benefits from that work.
“Don’t let people bully you into thinking and voting a certain way,” Morey said. “You’re a free individual and have that choice. That’s what makes America great.”
David Andrus, Chair of COC’s Political Science Department and a professor, says most people who support socialism don’t understand it.
“Socialism, in general, is when the state owns the means of production; they own factories, steel mills, telecommunication industries, all of it,” he said. “This is under the theory that there should be a redistribution of wealth by the state to everybody equitably.”
Andrus says many Americans support democratic socialism, a structure where things like healthcare may be social programs while private industry still exists in the same society. In true socialism, he says, the state has “overwhelming control,” which in a country like Venezuela is seen as an opportunity for dictatorial control by the country’s leader.
An example, Andrus mentions, of someone who is a democratic Socialist but is widely “misunderstood” as a Socialist is Bernie Sanders.
“He certainly wants universal healthcare, he certainly wants corporate responsibility and he doesn’t want a disparity of wealth,” he says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he is advocating for the restriction of private ownership.”
This is someone, says Andrus, that is very widely popular within colleges, especially COC.
When it comes to the United States, “society is so complex with its political beliefs that socialism would never work,” he said. “People are never going to give up power.”
“Nothing is ever free, freedom is not free, someone had earned it for you, work hard, support a system that will help the community and the nation, which by history has proven to be capitalism,” said Martinez. “It’s important to be proactive and besides voting for the people that will help keep the sanctity of life, write your state representatives about the human rights being violated in other countries as well, like Venezuela.”