April 7, 2020
Over the last month, normal everyday life in the United States has come to a screeching halt as the government works to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Busy cities like New York, Los Angeles, and even Washington, D.C. have become ghost towns. Most businesses and restaurants are either shut down or open only on a very restricted basis. Grocery store shelves are empty as people scramble to grab essential items like toilet paper, water, and meat, not knowing when the lockdown will end. The stock market has plummeted and wiped out most of the Trump-era gains. Companies are being forced to lay off employees as events are canceled and revenue falls. For the first time, many in America are experiencing what food shortages and government-imposed mandates are really like.
A couple weeks ago, my roommate and I visited our local grocery store to stock up on some essential items. We weren’t planning to hoard all the toilet paper, meat, or bottled water, but we wanted to get enough in case the virus prevented us from getting out much over the coming weeks.
Growing up in eastern North Carolina, I’ve experienced my fair share of hurricanes. I’ve seen people board up their homes and stock up on generators and bottled water more times than I can count. I’ve also experienced many times how unaccustomed Southerners are to snow and ice in the winter. At the first sight of a snowflake or ice pellet, people rushed to the stores to stock up on bread and milk. To this day, I’ve never figured out why those two items seemed to fly off the shelves with the threat of winter weather. Milk sandwiches never appealed to me.
When my roommate and I visited the grocery store a couple weeks ago, I was shocked. It was relatively late in the evening and the store was still full of people. All the meat, produce, pasta, soup, milk, eggs, water, toilet paper—completely gone. As we tried to scrounge up a few essential goods, I looked at my roommate and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” To which he replied, “This is what it’s like in Venezuela—but always.”
My roommate, Israel Lopez Ramirez, has lived here in the United States in Washington, D.C. for nearly three years now. Before that, he spent his entire life in Venezuela. He owned a graphic design company and enjoyed many years of economic success. That is, until socialism overtook his beloved country.
Venezuela is one of the richest countries in South America in terms of natural resources, particularly oil. As the country became more industrialized in the 20th century, it borrowed money to develop those natural resources. When the world economy went into a recession in the 1970s and 80s, demand for oil decreased and its price plummeted. In Venezuela, this resulted in skyrocketing inflation, stagnant wages, and many people losing their jobs.
Capitalizing on the nation’s economic distress, Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1999 on a pledge to save working Venezuelans from the “evil capitalists and evil corporations.” Inspired by his hero Fidel Castro, he conducted a massive takeover of the country’s health care system and private sector industries and instituted sweeping social welfare reforms. As a result, many companies left Venezuela, leaving the country with few jobs and skyrocketing inflation. Chavez also pushed through a new constitution, which gave his government more central control and began restricting many fundamental liberties like freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech.
In 2013, Chavez died and Vice President Nicolas Maduro assumed the presidency. Maduro has continued the socialist policies of his predecessor. Many Venezuelans are out of work or severely underpaid. Inflation continues to skyrocket, and most Venezuelans cannot afford even the most basic of necessities. Grocery stores continue to experience shortages due to government controls and a lack of supply. Crime is now rampant in the country as people resort to desperate measures to find these basic necessities and as the Maduro-backed military hunts down its political opponents.
When my roommate compared the empty shelves at our local grocery store to what is happening every day in Venezuela, it really hit me. Many young Americans my age are embracing socialism at an alarming rate. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has capitalized on the enthusiasm of these millennials as well as the fury of the working class. He has normalized once radical proposals like Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal, and free college.
But what’s more disturbing is Sanders’ praise for totalitarian regimes around the world. He has repeatedly refused to call Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a tyrant. Among other things, he praised the Soviet Union’s investment in culture and their mass transit system in the 1980s. In 1985, Sanders praised the media censorship of Nicaragua’s Sandinista-led government. And he has repeatedly praised the housing, education, and health care programs of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. In a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper in February, Sanders once again praised certain aspects of the Cuban dictator’s regime. Many Democratic leaders quickly condemned Sanders’ comments, and his remaining rivals for the nomination immediately capitalized on that anger. As a result, Sanders’ polling lead evaporated, all but ending his chances at the nomination.
My roommate was forced to leave Venezuela because the government seized his assets and took over his business. Because of statements he has made on social media against the brutal Maduro regime, he cannot return to the country for fear he might be thrown into prison or worse. His family remains in Venezuela and continues to experience critical food shortages and skyrocketing inflation.
Venezuela is an example to the United States and any other capitalist nations—socialism does not work. It is always best to let markets operate free of government intervention. More importantly, it is critical to protect our fundamental First Amendment rights, something all socialist regimes inevitably take away. And while Bernie Sanders will deny any perceived comparison to the human rights violations of authoritarian regimes, some of his past statements indicate otherwise. In 2017, Sanders suggested that then nominee for Assistant Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought was unfit to hold the office because of his Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the only Savior.
While Sen. Sanders no longer has a viable shot at the Democratic nomination, we came dangerously close to having a presidential nominee from a major political party who embraced communist ideas. And while likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden is quick to criticize Sanders for his praise of communist regimes, he still supports many of the same socialist policies. He plans a further government takeover of the economy, education, and the health care system. Even more concerning is that he has made passing the Equality Act a centerpiece of his campaign, a radical piece of legislation that will severely infringe on our First Amendment and privacy rights. To put it plainly, Joe Biden is just like Bernie Sanders, except with more charm and subtlety. If he is elected president in November, he will take us down the same socialist road.
Make no mistake. History has proven time and again that socialist leaders start out by promising to work for the people. But they always inevitably descend into total government control of the economy, health care system, and education, and end up taking away fundamental freedoms. In November, we must get out to the polls and resolutely reject this radical agenda, sending a clear message to the Democratic Party and to the world that socialism is not welcome in the United States. Not now and not ever.