Standing in front of a room packed full of college students on an American university campus, I have an unpopular opinion to share: Despite what many young Americans believe, socialism is not the answer to the nation’s problems. I know it could be a tough crowd to convince — the majority of Gen Z adults ages 18 to 24 have a negative view of capitalism.
But I have the best evidence anyone can have — my testimony. My story includes escaping unimaginable conditions and persecution in Venezuela, just as 6 million other Venezuelans have done in the shadow of dictator Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime. The record of socialism in Venezuela is one of political upheaval, severe socioeconomic instability, and one of the worst humanitarian crises Latin America has ever seen. If we do not act, if we do not change the perception of what socialism truly is and how it destroys the countries it claims to help, America may also go into decline and see its freedom and prosperity wither.
It’s an important reminder during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 in the U.S. This month recognizes the contributions made by the American Latino community through its diverse cultures and extensive histories. But history never ends; it is made every day, and as the adage goes, if we don’t learn from the mistakes of our past, history is bound to repeat itself. In my home country of Venezuela, history is unfolding before our eyes with devastating effects. So, it’s crucial to acknowledge the struggles many endured in the face of socialism and to ensure their present realities don’t emulate the horrors of their past.
In Venezuela I saw these horrors in person: Children dug through trash cans on the street, looking for their next meal. People died simply because they could not find insulin in the medical marketplace. Individual liberties were trampled in the name of state authority and oversight. But it wasn’t always that way. As a child, I lived a comfortable middle-class life, but when Hugo Chavez began to impose socialist policies in the early 2000s, Venezuela went from the richest country in Latin America to the poorest.
In the face of these conditions, I knew I had to act. But in speaking out against Mr. Maduro’s tyrannical administration, I faced political persecution. I fled to the U.S., where I enjoyed the fruits of liberty, justice, individualism and autonomy.
But I also noticed an alarming trend. Unlike the young people of Venezuela, who took to the streets in protest of socialism and its appalling effects, American youth were congregating on college campuses and engaging in political action in favor of socialism.
The next generation of leaders simply must understand that socialist concepts are the very cause of radical regimes and the crises they produce. That’s why as an outreach fellow for The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), I began traveling the U.S., visiting universities to speak to young people as a witness to the real story of socialism, and how that story ends — in a loss of free speech, state-policed oppression and economic collapse.
Many are receptive to my message; others are not. Some say that common problems plaguing the American people — rampant inflation, runaway health care costs, increasing student loan debt, and lack of affordable housing, for example — are a direct outcome of capitalism. My experience tells me otherwise: That it is excessive government intervention, not capitalism, that has caused these outcomes.
Surprise hospital bills and excruciating wait times to see a doctor are not the results of free enterprise. Rather, they are the byproduct of bureaucratic regulations and lack of transparency — two practices that are the opposite of capitalist values. Sky-high student loan bills are also the consequence of government intervention; colleges have been free to drive up the cost of tuition, knowing that the federal government would eventually foot the bill (or simply cancel the student debt, which we’re now seeing).
Explaining the truth about socialism is how we will change hearts and minds, though it is often an uphill climb. However, just as I saw young people turn away from socialist ideology in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, I know that it can happen among America’s college students, too. This Hispanic Heritage Month, we must uplift the voices of American Latinos and migrants who have seen the true cost of socialism with their own eyes. By heeding these warnings, Americans can preserve the blessings of freedom and avoid Venezuela’s fate.
• Jorge Galicia is an outreach fellow for The Fund for American Studies (TFAS).
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