Venezuela used to be a thriving and prosperous Latin American nation. Its citizens enjoyed a high quality of life, and immigrants flocked there to better their situation. All of that changed abruptly when socialism took over the Venezuelan government.
The once flourishing country quickly became an example for other nations as to what happens when socialism is allowed to run rampant. Violent crime skyrocketed, people lost their lives and livelihoods, and neighbors began to view each other as rivals for ever-diminishing resources.
Yet, many Americans, blissfully ignorant of the ravages of socialism, want to bring it to the United States. When they hear the word socialism, they think of “free” college and health care, as promised by politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Venezuelan Daniel Di Martino has seen firsthand the horrors inflicted by socialism in his homeland, and wants to educate people about what it’s really like.
“In Venezuela, about 30,000 people get killed every year of murder. My aunt got kidnapped one time, and when she went to report the kidnapping in the police station, one of the police officers was one of the kidnappers,” Di Martino said.
“It’s a country destroyed by socialist policies, so it’s very hard to find food, very hard to find basic necessities,” he added. “So, you have to make lines for hours. You have to bribe people. You have to be corrupt. It’s not a good place to live. And so, that’s why I’m very grateful to have been able to come to America.”
Di Martino joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share his experiences with life in socialist Venezuela, as well as to offer his advice on how to educate Americans about the dangers of the ideology.
We also cover these stories:
- President Joe Biden pushes world leaders to bolster democracy during a virtual “Summit for Democracy.”
- The Food and Drug Administration authorizes booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds.
- The parents of two girls who survived the Oxford High School shooting near Detroit file two $100 million lawsuits against the school district in federal court.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Daniel Di Martino, a Venezuelan-born freedom activist who speaks about his personal experience with the terrible consequences of socialism, as well as a senior contributor at Young Voices. Daniel, welcome to the show.
Daniel Di Martino: Thanks for having me, Doug.
Blair: Let’s start with your story. It is a very powerful story because you were born in Venezuela and you came to the United States when you were younger and got to experience both worlds. So, can you tell us a little bit about that transition from Venezuela to the United States?
Di Martino: Yeah. So, I’m 22 years old, almost 23. I was born in Venezuela, lived there until I was 17, when I finished high school there. And I moved to the U.S., to Indiana, five and a half years ago. That was in 2016. And it was a total change, right? …
I’m very grateful for having been able to come to America, because in Venezuela I would never have had the opportunities that I’ve had in this country, from incredibly high crime.
Caracas, where I was born and where I lived most of my life, was the city with the highest murder rate on the planet. In Venezuela, about 30,000 people get killed every year of murder. My aunt got kidnapped one time, and when she went to report the kidnapping in the police station, one of the police officers was one of the kidnappers.
The police is the one that commits the crimes in Venezuela—well, I mean, some of those. And so, it’s a dangerous country.
It’s a country destroyed by socialist policies, so it’s very hard to find food, very hard to find basic necessities. So you have to make lines for hours. You have to bribe people. You have to be corrupt. It’s not a good place to live. And so, that’s why I’m very grateful to have been able to come to America.
Blair: So when you left Venezuela, was the situation that you left this horrible—it sounds almost like something out of a dystopian futuristic novel where you can’t get the resources you need and the cops are all corrupt. That was what you left?
Di Martino: That’s exactly how it was. It sounds dystopian because it is, but when you live in it and when you just get used to it, it’s like the slow boiling water of the frog. It’s exactly like that. You just get used to it and you don’t notice that it’s so dystopian until you leave it.
And basic things … that’ll never change. I’ll be very situationally aware in the street, or if somebody’s making a line you always wonder what’s happening there, because that’s how it was in Venezuela. If there’s a line, then there’s something valuable people are seeking. So it changes you, and you have to slowly grow out of that.
Blair: So, it’s been a few years since you’ve left Venezuela, what does it look like now in 2021?
Di Martino: Yeah. Venezuela has changed, some things for the better, some things for the worse. For the worse is that the regime is much more powerful and much more politically cemented.
And with that I don’t mean popular. That’s the opposite. They’re much less popular. They’re not popular at all. They’re not a democratic regime. Right? But they have a lot of resources, and they’re able to stay in power because they became a drug cartel.
Now there’s no oil industry. It was state-owned. It was destroyed after so many years of nationalization. And so, the government is in power because they are a gang that has the guns and that profits of drug trafficking to the United States, to Europe. And that’s why they don’t have any incentive to leave.
For the better is that even though we have had hyperinflation for very long, Venezuela is on track to become one of the longest hyperinflation in history, even if not the highest, but the longest. And because of that, people have switched to use U.S. dollars.
And now in the street most transactions are done in U.S. dollars in cash or in Colombian pesos, and that has allowed a segment of the population, maybe half or more, to get protected from inflation. So that’s a good development.
Blair: OK. You mentioned this anecdote where your aunt was kidnapped and the police officer was one of the kidnappers, which, I mean, is mind-boggling. I can’t even imagine that happening in America. Do you have any other anecdotes that you might be able to share with us about daily life under socialism in Venezuela?
Di Martino: Yeah. Look, I remember in my building my dad was the president of the homeowners association. And because we had a water tank that was part of the community, when there was no water coming from the street, we would have to ration it. Because my dad was in the homeowners association, he basically got to set the rationing water schedule.
Imagine how messed up it is that you have to choose for a community when they’re going to be able to shower or wash the dishes or wash their clothes. And that’s what we had to do for a very long time.
Another thing is that my mom, to supplement her income, we used to have a gas station, but that income fell down drastically because of inflation because the government took over the oil industry, and we were making just less than $100 a month from that, and by 2016, 2015.
And so, my mom started making chocolates at home, like bonbons for parties, first communions, marriages, usually religious events, and chocolate was government-regulated.
You have to protect the people from high chocolate prices, like from prices of everything. And you don’t want these evil businesses to make profits. That’s the logic of the government. Because inflation is not the government’s fault, according to the regime—just like we hear now in the United States, it’s not the government’s fault, it’s the businesses who are greedy. Right? Where else have I heard that now?
And so, they regulated that, and there was no chocolate. My mom had to buy chocolate illegally. And so, imagine having to hide chocolate in bags as if it was drugs. And we had to hide it in the back of the car, below the seats. It’s insane. But that was normal for us, and you tell that to an American and you think you’re crazy.
Blair: Right. No, I mean, psychologically speaking, that does sound like it would impact you very differently when you think about, I mean, the story with your dad where he had to decide who gets the water and who doesn’t, your mom has to treat chocolate like it’s cocaine or something illegal. Psychologically speaking, how did you find the citizens of Venezuela reacted to this type of socialism?
Di Martino: Well, it’s created a lot of suspicion. Venezuela was a very friendly country and, of course, like the rest of Latin America, it’s a very outgoing population. That’s something that I really liked.
But all the crime, all the pitting people against each other because of shortages … it creates a finite resource situation where you have to fight with other people for the things that are available, for the spot in the line, for the last toilet paper package in the supermarket. People have fought and died because of that.
And so, it created a lot of distrust, and now you just don’t see the same things that you see maybe in the American Midwest where people just say, “Hey, how are you? How’s it going? Good morning.” That’s not happening anymore. And that’s a very sad thing, right? It shows how economic policy can change culture as well.
Blair: So, one of the things that I am always so curious about when I see examples of countries that have socialist tendencies now is what they were like before. Because, obviously, Venezuela wasn’t always socialist. So what was pre-socialism Venezuela like?
Di Martino: Yeah. I can tell you, especially from my parents’ and my grandparents’ experience, right? Because I was born and this regime started to be in power the month after I was born. [Hugo] Chavez … assumed office in February 1999.
And my grandparents were dirt poor. They were born in Spain and Italy in the 1930s, where they were born. They immigrated to Venezuela in the 1950s. And Venezuela was then the fourth-richest country on the planet.
While they didn’t even finish elementary school, and yet they were able to wash cars for a living, clean homes, make shoes. My Italian grandparents, they were the ones who made shoes. We’re Italian, it’s very typical, very true. Every immigrant group had their own business. The Portuguese were into supermarkets, the Spanish had bakeries, the Italians [had] shoe stores. And that’s how it worked.
And they did very well. They sent their kids, my parents, to college. So it was a huge generational jump in wealth. And they were in the middle class. My parents, when I was born, were also very well off, making a few thousand dollars a month, like most American families do. And that’s totally changed.
Venezuela was a country that welcomed people from all over the world, not just Europe. Colombians were the biggest immigrant group in Venezuela. We had people from the rest of Latin America because Venezuela was one of the few democracies in the whole region. Everybody else was under a military dictatorship. And so, all the political refugees went to Venezuela. And that created a cultural democracy, right?
But Venezuela slowly declined, really, even before Chavez. The successively democratically elected governments expanded government power, the economy was not doing well by the time Chavez got elected, and that’s why he got elected. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. If your country’s doing well, nobody’s going to come and elect Fidel Castro. Right? So things have to go wrong for that to happen in the first place.
Blair: You mentioned that things were going wrong and on decline, and this was because the government was expanding its power. So, was socialism on the menu even before Chavez took power or was this a sort of Chavezism that he instituted socialism in Venezuela?
Di Martino: Expansive government was definitely the agenda before Chavez. I mean, oil was nationalized officially first in 1976. That is over 20 years before Chavez got into power. And then, the oil industry was failing. And then in the ’90s, they re-privatized the oil industry. It was too late. The government spent so much money and there was even high inflation before Chavez.
But when I say high inflation before Chavez, is that there was a year when there was a banking crisis and some banks went broke because we didn’t have what the U.S. has now after the Great Depression, which is [the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.], which is bank insurance. That didn’t exist in Venezuela until the ’90s. And so, you can imagine that there would be bank runs, and there were bank runs.
And there was a year in Venezuela in the ’90s where there was 100% inflation, which is incredibly high. Right? It’s doubling prices in a year, but now that’s the menu every week in Venezuela. They double every week. So it looks like a joke.
And so, yes, those policies led to a disaster that then led to people trusting into somebody who they never should have trusted, which was Hugo Chavez.
Blair: So, I mean, Hugo Chavez is—you cannot separate the wrath of socialism in Venezuela without talking about Hugo Chavez. So, your experience with Hugo Chavez, how would you describe it, in Hugo Chavez’s … Venezuela? Tell me more about that.
Di Martino: He was an egomaniac, narcissist, power hungry, horrible individual who was very good friends with Fidel Castro from the beginning.
He had attempted a coup in 1992 in Venezuela, seven years before he got into power democratically. He was in the military. He was a lieutenant and in the army, and he organized some members of the military to try to overthrow the democratic government in 1992, what was called El Caracazo.
And he flew planes, threw bombs, drove tanks through the cities and killed people. And he went to jail. But the big mistake that Venezuela’s elected elite did was that they pardoned him after that. The following president, the person who preceded Chavez, Rafael Caldera, he passed away long ago, he pardoned him. He gave him a presidential pardon, and that’s why he was able to run for office.
And then people voted for a murderer. Right? Imagine how bad things have to go that people will be willing to trust somebody like that. And so, that’s who Chavez was.
Every year he would—well, not every year, but successively happen more and more, but in Venezuela the government had the authority to put the president on TV any time that they wanted. Imagine that [President] Joe Biden was able to just appear on your TV whenever he could. That happens in Venezuela all the time.
And Chavez started doing then a Sunday show where he would appear in your TV every Sunday, then sometimes unexpected, and he would talk for hours, hours straight. People thought that he must have been on some kind of drug, because this is impossible, and he did. And it was that culture of the man, right, culture of—
Blair: Cult of personality.
Di Martino: … cult of personality. That’s it. That’s the word.
Blair: No, I mean, I remember when I was younger watching videos of Hugo Chavez, and I believe it was President Bush, he would just criticize Bush over and over and over again. And I’m curious that Hugo Chavez seemed so anti-American. What was the average Venezuelan’s view of the United States?
Di Martino: Yeah. Venezuela had always been a U.S. ally before Chavez. During Chavez, he changed that a lot, especially when he was popular at the start. And so, a lot of the population turned against the United States and because of what he said. Lately, that totally changed, because the only country that has stood by Venezuelans as the regime has massacred our population has been the United States.
And so, that totally changed and now it’s the opposite, right? The U.S. is a very popular government. There are polls that have been done and Russia is very unpopular among Venezuelans; Chinese, very unpopular; Cuba is the least popular country among Venezuelans. And America is the most popular, is the most favored. And that’s why Venezuelans want to come to America, and that’s why Venezuelans don’t want the regime to continue.
Blair: So, we’ve been discussing this entire conversation about how horrible socialism made Venezuela. Venezuela was a prosperous, free society. There were good things. It was the fourth-richest country in the world. And then all of that changed as a result of socialism. Now, in America, we have young people who look at socialism as the Bernie Sanders style, the government gives me free stuff. How did we get this wrong? Where did we go wrong on this?
Di Martino: We have been going wrong because the socialism that’s happening here is just like in every other country in the world and … I think it comes from envy. And it comes from a lack of teaching good values to children when they’re young.
We know envy is a capital sin, but it’s also a natural feeling among humans. And it is one that we have to fight, because it’s a bad one to have.
We shouldn’t feel envy, but we should feel admiration. We should feel, “How do I get there?”, seek mentorship, things like that, but not, “Oh, you shouldn’t have this, you don’t deserve it,” if you earned it rightfully. And many people in this country don’t feel that way. Many people in this country think a billionaire shouldn’t exist for the sake of them not existing.
I’m not saying that people can’t do bad things and be corrupt and earn things in the wrong way. That, of course, shouldn’t happen. But if somebody earned your money voluntarily by offering you a product, that person deserves what he got, and you gave it to him voluntarily. Then that is totally fair, and we need to teach that.
… In Venezuela it was all class warfare, right? The discourse was the rich against the poor. They haven’t just done that in the U.S., because that’s not enough. I think that the reason is that this country is very pro-entrepreneurial, people want to do better, people want their children to do better, people want to be rich in this country. Chavez used to say being rich is bad while he carried a Rolex …
And so, people want to be rich in this country, and that’s a good thing, but the left has exploited America’s weakness with race, with sex, and they want to pit us against each other on those lines. And so that’s why you see all these Marxists saying that capitalism is bad for minorities, or capitalism is bad for women.
I don’t know if you saw this article saying that women used to have better sexual relations in the Soviet Union than in the United States. What is going on? What are we talking about? This is a genocidal regime. And so, they have used that, and we need to fight back against that.
Blair: So how then do you explain socialism to young Americans who think it is “I get free stuff from the government”?
Di Martino: Yeah. I think that you explain two things. One, the firsthand experience of people who have lived in socialist countries—Venezuela, Cuba, and China. Then they’ll say, “Maybe it’s just in Nordic countries.” OK. Then let’s explain what the Nordic countries do to children in schools. Even bring people from Norway or Sweden if need be.
But the truth is that the Democratic platform, the democratic socialists of this country do not believe in turning us into Norway. They do not want to propose those things.
It’s like, I don’t know if you’ve seen these interviews [where] they ask young people, “Oh, Bernie Sanders is proposing this thing,” and then they describe the Trump tax cuts. And then they say, “Oh, yes, this is so great.” And they’re like, “Actually, this is Donald Trump’s proposal.”
So obviously, this is not grounded, in many cases, in policies. It’s grounded in some sort of feeling against a person or against the party. And … I think it’s at home that you can do that, really. Yes, you can educate people in schools, and that’s very important, but the primary educators, the primary transfers of values are parents to children.
Nobody has better trust with their children than their own parents, nobody should have better than their own parents. And so, I think that it is up to parents to really change that in their children’s minds.
Blair: So, it’s up to us almost to educate our children a little bit more about socialism. I’m curious, as somebody that has lived through the horrors of socialism, when you hear people say, “I want socialism here,” how does that make you feel?
Di Martino: It scares me. I’m a Ph.D. student at Columbia University. And right now the biggest strike in the country is happening at Columbia University. It is some of the grad students. I’m not on strike.
Blair: I would hope not.
Di Martino: No. And they posted this picture yesterday where the Marxist, the revolutionary committee or something went to the picket line with them, and they had these pictures of the hammer and sickle, “the revolution is coming,” or something like that. And that’s what the union was standing for. Of course, why do you wonder I’m not striking, I don’t stand for that.
But what’s happening here, the most counterrevolutionary thing you can do is live a normal life, is work. They get angry at that fact. They get angry at the fact that you send your kids to a different school of your choice. They get angry at the fact that you homeschool them. They get angry at the fact that you don’t wear masks. They get angry at everything you do that is what you believe in, that you teach religion. And so, we need to keep doing that.
And yes, it scares me that some people think that way, but it also gives me hope that there are so many Americans who think the opposite. We didn’t have this in Venezuela, Doug. In Venezuela there was no conservative movement like this. In Venezuela there was no movement that had such a long precedent in this country since its independence for freedom. Venezuela had just been a 40-year democracy by the time Chavez got elected.
So I think that we have a big threat in front of us, but we also have a lot of things going for us that nobody else has.
Blair: As we begin to wrap-up this interview, I’m curious, as we’ve been talking, it’s been ruminating around in my head that a lot of the things that we’re seeing happen in Venezuela seem to start to be happening here where a fully functional democracy can go from this place of strength and power to a position like Venezuela is in currently. Do you see a lot of what’s happening in Venezuela happening here?
Di Martino: Yeah. I think that, especially after the COVID crisis, a lot of people have seen that the politicians and even everyday people are really tiny tyrants, I call them. As soon as they taste some power they want to exercise it upon you. And it’s sad. And it’s happened with the COVID restrictions, except for them, they have their own rules. It’s happened with government regulations for a very long time.
And it seems like there’s a two-tiered justice system, right? It’s for the regular people and then for the well-connected, and that has to change. And we can change it, because most people are not the well-connected. We just need to give that a priority.
As I said, we have a lot of good things going for us, and that is our Constitution. We have a very large contingent of Americans who believe in freedom, who believe in the Constitution, who believe in conservative values, and nobody else has had that. So we really need to take advantage of it.
Blair: OK. Well, Daniel, if people want to read more of your work or learn more of about socialism in Venezuela or other places, where do you recommend that they look?
Di Martino: Yeah. Well, go to my website. That is danieldimartino.com. I have all my articles, interviews, videos. I come up with now new content, especially related to economics and economics of immigration, which is my area of specialty in the Ph.D. program. And then, also, my Twitter, which is just @DanielDiMartino. I am very active on Twitter and on social media. Yeah.
Blair: Excellent. Well, that was Daniel Di Martino, a Venezuelan-born freedom activist who speaks about his personal experience with the horrible consequences of socialism, as well as a senior contributor at Young Voices. Daniel, thank you so much for your time.
Di Martino: Thanks, Doug.
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