Andres Guilarte is a university student who lived in Venezuela under a democratically elected socialist regime.
Guilarte says food shortages were a daily occurrence.
Venezuelans also endure massive blackouts, political persecution, and a lack of access to health care due to the socialist government.
Guilarte joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share his experiences of living in socialist Venezuela.
“Living in Venezuela is way worse than people might think that they see in the news, or maybe on documentaries,” he says.
“You just picture that, you start convincing yourself that maybe eating three times a day is not necessary, and that the quality of the food that you have to eat probably is not that one that you expect it to be,” he added. “So, you have to get used to, like I was when I was in college, that if I had that breakfast, most likely I didn’t have lunch. If I had lunch, it’s because I skipped breakfast.”
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Andres Guilarte. Andres, it’s great to have you on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Andres Guilarte: Thank you so much, Rachel, for the invitation.
Del Guidice: Well, it’s great to have you with us. So, you’re a university student. You’ve lived in Venezuela. So before we get started talking about Venezuela, can you tell us about yourself and what you studied?
Guilarte: Sure. My name is Andres Guilarte. I am 26 years old. I graduated in 2018 from international relations back in Venezuela. I still feel like, in some way, I’m still a college student, especially because my job right now here in the U.S. is traveling to college campuses.
Well, I used to [travel] before the pandemic and now also online, telling students what actual socialism is like, from my personal story back in Venezuela, because I lived through that my whole life, and telling them what the actual crisis is, and just trying to make warnings to people, make warnings that what you think is good politics in the end might make for terrible results.
So that’s basically what I’m doing right now, coming back from what I used to do in Venezuela, when I used to be a political activist against the Maduro government and fighting for freedom, but now in another country.
Del Guidice: What was it like living in Venezuela? Can you tell us about things that you experienced on a daily basis?
Guilarte: Well, living in Venezuela is way worse than people might think that they see in the news, or maybe on documentaries.
You just picture that, you start convincing yourself that maybe eating three times a day is not necessary and that the quality of the food that you have to eat probably is not that one that you expect it to be.
So you have to get used to [it], like I was when I was in college, that if I had that breakfast, most likely I didn’t have lunch. If I had lunch, it’s because I skipped breakfast.
Even to this day, sometimes I just get used to that. I skip one meal, which I shouldn’t, but it’s something that you have to get used to when you’re living in a country where the minimum wage is less than $4. Even if you find money, the possibility of finding food every day, it just grows harder and harder.
A typical day was just, before going to college, getting up with my mom at 4 a.m. and go to a supermarket. I started making my line, and that line could go up four to five hours, or even to almost half the day, waiting on a supermarket.
Sometimes you may enter and you may find something, or sometimes you may enter and they will tell you, “Well, sorry that you have to wait, but there is nothing more for you here.”
So that’s just one of the hundreds of stories that I can tell people of what is actually seems to be and what it’s like living in a country where you don’t have choices. All your choices are dependent on someone else in an office in government telling you what you should do. That’s what it’s like living in a country like that. It is terrible.
Del Guidice: Wow. Well, that was one of my follow-up questions, actually was, did you experience food shortages and did you know other people who did? … Would it be fair to say food shortages were almost a daily occurrence for you?
Guilarte: Well, yes. Like I was linking to what I was saying, I had to get used to stuff like that. For me, it played out well in the sense that I didn’t dismay during college classes.
But it was common to have some friends going through the hallways in college and suddenly just started making a lot of fatigue and some people dismay. When you ask them what’s wrong, “Well, I didn’t eat today,” or, “I haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday.”
… At least one of the good things that has been forced upon you in these countries is that you start being more charitable with people. You start being more kind to people. You understand that your struggle is the struggle of a whole country.
So it was common to share your food with other people, to find or to buy something for your friends, if you have the money, or if you didn’t, trying to find some way to help your classmates. That’s just during college.
When you go out to the street, it’s way worse, especially in states around the country. I used to live in the capital, and in the interior of the country, it’s even way, way, way worse.
So one of the other things that it was common for me [when] going from my house to college is that it was a really long commute, like a 40 to 50 minutes commute.
It was common to also see people eating garbage in the street. People may think that that’s something that doesn’t happen, but it was really, really common back 2015, 2017, ’16, and forward to see families gathering behind the restaurant because they knew that garbage was coming out. So they wanted to be the first in line to see [when] something hot was coming from the garbage.
That’s not life at all. That’s a complete attack on these people’s human dignity, of a whole country’s dignity. That’s the purpose of the regime in this, to humiliate people, to make them feel that they are nasty and that they don’t have an identity, so it’s easier to control.
Del Guidice: Venezuelans endure blackouts, political persecution, and a lack of access to health care due to the socialist government there. I just wanted to hear from you, have you experienced those things or similar experiences when you lived in Venezuela?
Guilarte: Yes, absolutely. It was common also to have not only shortages of electricity, but also of water. So we could be in a normal day and suddenly there is no electricity for four, five to six hours, maybe one or two days.
The point is that electricity mainly, [for] all the neighborhoods in the country, is completely run by the government. So government has to fix it, and they are terrible, terrible doing it. So you have to wait for them to have the wherewith to go there and fix their electricity problems. So that could take over one, two, or maybe three days.
In 2019, thankfully, I was not in Venezuela, but since my whole family’s over there, when the blackout happened that year, that almost lasted for a week. It was like seven, six days without any electricity in 95% of the country.
I felt like I was there, getting called from my mom, telling me that she didn’t have any food because the refrigerator died. So there was no power to maintain food for the coming days.
People in hospitals, if you get sick, you [are] probably going to go to a hospital where doctors were going to have to use flashlights from their cellphones. It is something that if someone just added a horror movie, it will probably feel something like Venezuela.
I don’t even think that Stephen King can make something so horrible that what people have to go through [on an] everyday basis in many places in Venezuela.
Del Guidice: Andres, speaking of health care and the situation there, you mentioned how doctors a lot of times had to use their cellphone lights to light up the room, to light up the rooms they were working with patients in. How is socialized health care in general working out for Venezuela?
Guilarte: Well, it’s working terrible. It’s working terrible because the premise of the regime over there is that they have to socialize medicine because they had to reach the poor people, the people that didn’t have access to clinic and hospital.
Well, if you put it that way, it sounds awesome because we all want for people to have more access to health care because we all … need health care in order to have a life, in order to improve … .
But the problem is that once they started socializing—and by socializing, I mean enacting laws that have to be bullied, to gain power of hospitals, to have less private clinics, to have something that they created.
That was like a small clinic that was run by Cuban doctors, which is the point, is that the Cuban doctors, they may have [been] willing to help people, but the Cuban doctors that were brought by [Hugo] Chavez—who already [had a] plan of socialized medicine—they were not first-care doctors. They were like pre-care doctors. So they were not meant to cure you from these illnesses. They were meant only to prevent you from having them.
At some point it helped people, but in many, many ways, when you standardize health care in that way that Chavez did, and [Venezuelan dictator Nicolas] Maduro is still doing, the quality starts going, going, going down because you don’t allow the health care workers, don’t allow the hospitals, the clinics to find a way to improve their services by their own means because they have to rely on a government officer to tell them what to do.
So these doctors that have to use flashlights, it’s because they don’t have generators that are working in those hospitals. So whether you have a major blackout created by a crisis in management by the government, there is no other way that these hospitals can rely on themselves because they depend on the government.
So that’s one of the many examples of how a socialized, terrible-managed medicine works.
Del Guidice: I know Venezuela is also under consistent civil unrest. The Guardian just had a piece out this week about how thousands are fleeing from the country because of a rebels clash with Colombia. Do you know what’s going on here? Even if not, have you experienced the civil unrest when you lived in Venezuela?
Guilarte: What’s going on in the border with Colombia is just plainly terrible. It’s the perfect image of a country that is not sovereign anymore on its own territory.
What people have to understand, not only about the whole economic crisis in Venezuela, but also understand the political and security problem in the country, is that the government doesn’t have power in many areas in the country. Many areas are run by paramilitary groups, by guerillas like the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], [the National Liberation Army], which are Colombian guerillas.
So they are working in Venezuela because the regime allows them to do it. They allow them because they are working together in drug operations. That’s why the Department of Justice invited Maduro and many of these officers two years ago.
When you understand what’s happening and the certain nature of the problem, what’s happening right now on the border is that it seems that there is a power struggle between forces of the paramilitary groups and the military from the government, which in many ways, they are basically the same thing because they don’t care about the population. They only care to have the power in the area.
So they have the power in the transportation of the drugs, and therefore, they get the dividends from [those] drug operations.
So what’s going on over there is just, they’re fighting each other and people in the middle of that [are] just having to experience an overwhelming war situation that they have because of the economic crisis. So they have to flee. They’re going to Colombia. Some people are going to Brazil. Some people are just waiting for it to have to go away.
But that tells you that the government can’t actually respond to a situation like that because they’re so involved with the people doing that, which are the big paramilitary groups. There is just no way that they actually can reinforce the security in the territory because they don’t have the means to do it anymore.
Del Guidice: Andres, you shared a little bit about your personal story, but I would just want to ask in a more top level, how has socialism personally impacted you when you look back at what you’ve learned and experiences you’ve had to go through? How has it made a personal impact on your life?
Guilarte: Well, Rachel, for me, socialism, it feels like really, really personal basically, because when I was a young student in high school, I used to identify myself as a socialist, basically because [of] a few reasons.
One, because the whole education system in Venezuela from primary to high school is meaning to make you feel that the U.S. is the problem, that socialism is the way, that Chavez is basically God on earth or was God on earth, and that the revolution of Chavez and Maduro is the way forward. So they tell you all that through your education.
The second reason is also where I used to live in Petare, which is a huge district in Venezuela, it was really influenced by the Chavez regime and also some members of my family, close members of my family, follow the lies of childhood.
So I used to believe that I was a socialist, but that’s the keyword: I used to believe. I didn’t actually view what actual socialism was. I was just repeating stuff that other people were saying.
When I went through college and I started hearing other ideas from other people, and I started having friends that didn’t think at all like me and I started reading what actually Marx said, what Lenin said, what Hegel said—and they also did, they gave me the insight of what Nietzsche said, … and all these people.
I started seeing that, well, I have the correct values. I wanted to help people. But the other means that socialism was giving me was actually just making it worse.
So I do a whole 180-degree switch. I started to become a political activist against socialism, against the regime. I entered Students for Liberty groups in Venezuela. I entered the political movement against Maduro. I started a chapter of a student group in the university to teach people, teach students more about the freedom literature.
So, for me, it feels personal also when I go here and speak to students, that they may feel that they are socialists, because I know what it’s like to be wrong in that way. I know what it’s like to believe that you want to help people.
You want to help the people that don’t have the same means that you do, but [where] the actual theory of socialism is going to take you to, if you follow it, like they did in Venezuela, is to completely take those people to even worse situations with misery.
You’re going to bring down the people that are doing good to also misery, because the ultimate goal of socialism is to make everyone equally miserable. That happened in Venezuela, it happened in Cuba, and it’s going to happen everywhere.
Del Guidice: Andres, I wanted to ask, how does living in the United States compare with living in socialist Venezuela?
Guilarte: Well, I cannot begin to picture what the contrast is. Just to give you an example, every single new year in Venezuela, everyone had traditions with their family. So one of the traditions in my family is that you receive a new year by holding a small miniature car in one hand and in the other hand, you use to grab a dollar.
The symbolism of that is that you may receive the new year with a new car and with more money, but you never hold a bolivar in traditions. Never. I never hold a bolivar. I always used to hold a dollar because we knew what the actual value of that was.
So when I came here to the U.S. and the first thing that I do in the airport was going to a place and buy something to eat. When I saw my dollars given to that work, then for an exchange of that feeling, it was the first time that I paid [for] something using dollars.
Coming from a country where I used to save one bill of dollar, it was $1 in my room, and I didn’t touch that for the whole year, because if you touch that, maybe you were out of luck.
So you just imagine the contrast of someone, not only me, but thousands of Venezuelans and people in other countries live in the same situations, where you actually realize how lucky people that are living in this country [are], that are borrowing freedom, that they do everyday stuff like having running water, having food, having dollars to buy anything if they want to. And if they don’t have the means, they can achieve them, if they have the willing to do it.
When you realize that, you understand how lucky that people and how lucky I am to live here, because it’s also a way that I can help my family over there.
Del Guidice: As you mentioned, Andres, and you well know, given all the outreach that you do, college campuses across the country as well as a lot of politicians on the left are elevating socialism as a solution to issues in this country when it comes to health care and education. What is your message, Andres, to them, since you’ve lived socialism in action?
Guilarte: My message will be to stop using that word, for God’s sake. It’s a terrible PR situation for everyone in this country to start using “socialism” for basically anything—from the networks you’re seeing, from that far left, from some politicians that, thankfully, right now, we think it’s the minority. Who knows in the future?
But they start calling everything that they do socialism. That brings all the bad weight that goes behind socialism. That also takes Republicans to call everything that they do as socialism, which will hide that I know what the actual practice is of those theories. I know what actually fewer socialist policies are.
Many of the policies that are being called socialism here, they’re probably tearing up. But the point where you start calling everything socialism that you do and your style, like some politicians, like you say, start saying that, “Well, socialism is the way that is going to help the United States.”
Even some of the socialist politicians … used to say, before the crisis exploded in Venezuela, that Venezuela was built in paradise on earth, that what was going on in Venezuela was awesome. Well, eventually, they had to go backward because that was not the case in the country.
Well, I would tell them to stop using the word like that because people [are] being confused about it. I have spoken with students that they say that they are socialist, but when you start speaking with them, they have no idea what socialism is. They think like Denmark and Sweden are socialist countries.
We all know that Denmark and Sweden are free-market countries with a strong welfare state. If that works or doesn’t work, those people in Denmark know about that subject. But you can tell, you can be sure that in Denmark, no one is saying that their own government is socialist.
What actual socialism looks like is in Venezuela, is in Cuba. It used to be Chile decades ago, is what it was under Mao. We all saw that, and that’s what actually socialism is.
So I will have to say that everyone, when I speak to people, is first to understand why they want socialism, to understand what is their values, their principles, and what is affecting their lives to the point that they believe that the problems in the U.S. are because of capitalism.
Since they hear in the media, they hear in politicians, in their universities everyone uplifting socialism, they of course, they think, “Well, capitalism is a problem. Let’s go to socialism.”
That’s not the reality. The reality is for people in the U.S. of many, many sectors is actually too much government intervention, which is not capitalism at all.
So that will be my message: Do you know, we have to fight against the actual misconception of socialism through actually understanding why so many young people, specifically, and people across all ages are using that term, and in many ways, being in a wrong way?
Del Guidice: Well, Andres, this has been a fantastic conversation. Thank you so much for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Guilarte: Thank you so much, Rachel, for the invitation. Thank you so much.