In an op-ed online for Newsmax.com, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) writes that Venezuela is in crisis and harming people like Tito*, a Venezuelan student studying in her district at Washington State University. The Chair first shared Tito’s story on the House floor following Captive Nations Week in July. In her new op-ed, she explains that to protect the freedom we cherish in America, we must learn from Venezuela, where socialist policies have driven a once prosperous economy into the ground, created chaos, and left people worse off.
Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis Escalating Rapidly
By House GOP Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Venezuela is in an economic and humanitarian crisis that has left its people starving, poor, and fearful of their authoritarian socialist government. Chaos and civil unrest reached a new height over the weekend when President Nicolás Maduro’s life was threatened with a drone attack.
The horrors of socialist policies in Venezuela became real when I heard Tito’s* story.
Tito is a young man from Venezuela pursuing a degree at Washington State University in my district.
When Tito was home, he underwent a routine checkup that found his white cell blood count was too high. However, because the government blocked humanitarian assistance and Venezuelan doctors don’t have the resources they need in a failing economy to care for patients, he was not properly diagnosed.
It wasn’t until Tito flew to Houston for a bone marrow test that he was diagnosed with leukemia and able to begin treatment.
Stories like Tito’s illustrate how Venezuela is in crisis. Imagine your loved one going through Tito’s nightmare. Basic necessities such as electricity, running water, adequate food, medicine and medical care are in high demand and low supply. But it wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2005, Hugo Chavez said he was “convinced that the path to a new, better, and possible world is not capitalism, the path is socialism.” With this ideology guiding his policies, he took this once vibrant and prosperous democracy and ran it into the ground.
At the beginning of this century, Venezuela was not only the richest Latin American country, but one of the top 20 richest countries in the world. It had greater oil reserves than Saudi Arabia. Now, Venezuela is one of the most economically repressed in the world. The International Monetary Fund recently projected that inflation will hit 1 million percent by year’s end.
Caracas was once a vibrant cultural center and top tourist destination; today, it is the crime capital of the world. The average Venezuelan citizen has lost over 20 pounds in a year thanks to the involuntary “Maduro diet.” The man who gave his name to this diet is living like a king while his people are starving and dying in the streets. This appalling situation has created a refugee crisis, with thousands of Venezuelans fleeing into neighboring countries.
How did Venezuela’s fortunes tumble so quickly? A few years after taking power, President Chavez nationalized all of the utilities — water, power, and telecommunications. This was in addition to laws he already passed that cemented state control of petroleum— which for a time fueled the economy. And he instituted “land reforms,” a euphemism for private property confiscation and redistribution, which are a core pillar of socialist ideology that we saw in the Soviet Union. Chavez even set up “military security zones” in major cities, which amounted to confiscation of the best real estate.
Remember, under socialism, it is not equitable or fair for private property owners to make a profit by selling goods to workers and others. As Chavez himself said, “To those who own the land, this land is not yours. The land is not private, but the property of the nation.”
Many Hollywood celebrities praised Chavez at the time of his reforms. Sean Penn said that Chavez’s revolution has “done incredible things for 80% of the people there.”
But, like many revolutions grounded in socialist ideology of the past, the utopian promises never materialized. Instead, power was centralized in the government and the people suffered the consequences. People like Tito.
The promises of socialism always fall short because of the flawed premise that centralized state control will be equitable, fair, and better at providing services than the free market. Chavez’s government ownership of utilities, property, and industries resulted in shortages of food, electricity, and health care for the working man. In the end, like in Cuba and the Soviet Union, the only winners are the government elites.
Telling the story of Venezuela is more important now than ever. This year, a Democratic Socialist candidate won a primary race in New York, and a shocking 44 percent of millenials in America say they would prefer to live under socialism rather than capitalism.
Some progressives are even calling for “Internet for All,” and many Democrats have recently embraced socialized medicine, or “Medicare for All.” What may sound like a good idea to some — “free” healthcare for all— is in reality a program that would come at an estimated $32.6 trillion cost over 10 years. The Medicare program’s finances are already shaky, and expanding Medicare to even able-bodied, young adults would undermine the ability of seniors to rely on Medicare coverage for years to come. Further, countries that have implemented a similar scheme have dealt with rationing of care, doctor shortages, and long wait times.
Even those on the Left have had to admit that their Medicare for All plans, which is spin for government-only healthcare, won’t work. Just look at California, where a Democrat-controlled legislature and governor could not get their plan across the finish line when the truth came out that it would cost the state $400 billion annually— funded in part by a huge tax increase in an already high-tax state.
As we saw in Venezuela, when the state assumes control over a sector— be it healthcare, utilities, or the internet— the outcome bankrupts the country and leaves the people worse off than they started.
What makes America the greatest experiment in self-government the world has ever known is the belief in our God-given freedom and the dignity of the individual. In order to protect both of these, we must protect our economic freedom, our freedom of conscience, and our political freedom. We need only look to countries like Venezuela to see what happens when a people begin to cede any one of these freedoms to state control.
* Name changed for protection.