“There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin!”
That was June 1963 in West Berlin where President John F. Kennedy gave one of his most memorable addresses. The speech was a stirring defense of liberty and a pointed critique of communism.
Whether you agree with Kennedy broadly or narrowly, I’ve rediscovered that speech and find it to relate now more than ever to the unfolding drama in the country of my birth, Venezuela. My family and I left Venezuela when I was 10. We had every intention of returning. Then Hugo Chavez took power, promising to usher in shared prosperity for all with his “21st century socialism.” We never went back.
Kennedy’s words should be a wake-up call to my fellow Americans, and especially to his fellow Democrats, as I see more millennials rejecting capitalism and embracing socialism as “the wave of the future.” So, when Teen Vogue tweeted recently, “Can’t #endpoverty without ending capitalism!” my initial reaction was, “Let them come to Venezuela.”
Venezuela was once the most prosperous country in Latin America, but today almost 90% of its population lives in poverty. Venezuela’s economy is in shambles. Recently, Venezuela’s own government released a report showing that its annual inflation rate accelerated to a whopping 833,000% in October alone.
In practical terms, Venezuela’s misery means that it is not uncommon to see children rummaging through the garbage for food. And as basic medical supplies and medicine run dangerously low, newborns and the elderly die unattended in Venezuelan hospitals.
These heartbreaking scenes are difficult for anyone to bear, but for me, it’s personal. I know many Venezuelans who held out hope that this “21st Century” form of socialism would turn out better than the 20th century version, but their dreams were quickly dashed.
Chavez may have died in 2013, but his ideas live on through his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro. Today, Maduro rules Venezuela with an iron grip, fighting the growing opposition as more and more Venezuelans are realizing that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was right when she said the trouble with socialist governments is that they eventually “run out of other people’s money.”
Scores of people who dared to speak up against the government have been killed or imprisoned. Political dissidents have been subjected to brutality, torture, and constant persecution.
Even with all this happening in our own hemisphere, some Americans still cling to a romanticized view of socialism. According to Gallup, Democrats have a more positive image of socialism than capitalism. And in a poll taken last year, a majority of millennials said that they would rather live under socialist than capitalism.
Let them come to Venezuela.
It has been especially painful for me to see a number of candidates openly running as Democratic socialists. The prime example is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who was recently elected to represent New York’s 14th District in Congress.
And in my home state of Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came a few thousand votes shy of claiming the governor’s mansion. Mayor Gillum was endorsed by the godfather of democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has praised Fidel Castro and communist Cuba.
In a 2006 column, Sen. Sanders wrote: “These days, the American Dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina,” all practitioners of 21st century socialism. It is impossible to square that comment with the realities in those three countries today.
Let Ocasio-Cortez, Gillum, and Sanders come to Venezuela.
What’s particularly galling about Sen. Sanders waxing poetic about the virtues of socialism is that he looks the other way as socialist leaders live in opulence while the masses starve.
We all sat in stunned disgust as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was recently caught feasting at the lavish Nusret Steakhouse in Turkey, chuckling as celebrity chef “Salt Bae” sprinkled salt on his perfectly prepared steak. Meanwhile, back in Venezuela, millions of his countrymen have lost an average of 19 pounds due to food shortages.
Let Salt Bae come to Venezuela.
My family and I are among the fortunate. We left Venezuela well before the worst of it took hold and were able to stay away. But others in my extended family have not been so fortunate. For them, life is a daily struggle. It helps explain why anywhere from 1.6 million to 2 million Venezuelans are expected to leave this year alone.
Socialism has destroyed the country of my birth, and it would be wrong to believe it couldn’t happen here. So, when you hear politicians preaching the wonders of socialism in any of its forms, think of my family.
So again I say, let them come to Venezuela. They will not like what they see.