Commentary: Socialism is not a theory in Latin America

With Venezuela teetering on collapse, international student Isabella de los Reyes cautions Canadians to talk to people experiencing misrule.

One day I was sitting in the university cafeteria talking politics, and a bunch of students began talking about how communism and socialism are really good theories and that they should be applied to the Western world. They equated them with equality, fairness, good governments and new opportunities.

I was shocked to see how so many people in Canada see communism and socialism as a positive political system when people in my home country of Ecuador, live in extreme poverty, have limited freedom of speech and have to emigrate to find a better future.

I was shocked to hear how people could support these ideas, oblivious to what has been happening to Venezuela for years now and has led to the current crisis. I accept the theory of socialism can sound good. However, if these ideologies are executed poorly, the consequences can be inhumane and impoverish an entire nation.

Populism corrupts

I come from Ecuador, a South American country that claims to have a democratic government where the citizens can choose their representatives. However, in the last few years, Ecuador has experienced socialism of the 21st century.

Socialism came to Latin America with the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro, but it was revived by leaders such as Lula da Silva in Brazil, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Rafael Correia in my country. Their aim was to rescue communist ideas after the fall of the Berlin Wall and spread them through Latin America. But since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1999, and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, this has led to the ruin of the economy of the once-rich Venezuela, which is now teetering on complete collapse with street demonstrations and support for regime change from Canada, the United States and many South American nations.

More recently my country, as well as other Latin nations like Nicaragua, are living under authoritarian socialist regimes where corruption runs rampant, freedom of speech is reined in and the media is censored.

After analyzing the views of left-leaning people on university campuses, I can understand their perspectives. When you study these ideologies in theory, they seem like wonderful ideas as they talk about fairness, equality and ways to end poverty. But once you see how those ideas are distorted by populist governments and leaders, it becomes a different reality.

I am going to give you a real example. Venezuela has been ruled by populist leaders, who aim to provide fundamental needs to their people to save them from poverty. However, their policies are not sustainable for the economy. As a consequence, Venezuela is experiencing a terrible humanitarian crisis.

Right now Venezuelans are facing extreme poverty, malnutrition and shortages of food and medicine, not to mention runaway inflation that has made their money all but worthless. More than two million Venezuelans have left the country to find better opportunities. Since 2014, Venezuelan citizens have been challenging the government and demanding essential rights, leading to thousands of deaths and arrests.

Crisis could spread

My home country is in close proximity to Venezuela, and it is really obvious how those distorted ideas of socialism and populism are passed between countries, governments and leaders. Even though we are not experiencing a humanitarian crisis like Venezuela, we constantly fear that our country could end up like theirs.

Last summer when I was home, I was hit with the reality of the immigration crisis. You could see Venezuelans in every street begging for food and money. In the bus station, you could see whole families living in inhumane conditions, asking for money to make their way to the next country, hoping for a better opportunity. They make posters explaining their stories. Some had walked for days in terrible conditions, with toddlers, babies and people over the age of 95, trying to escape the tyranny of socialism.

So when I hear people talk about how socialism and communism are good, bad thoughts and feelings go through my mind. When you see how people suffer from these ideologies, then you can realize that theory and practice can be miles apart. When you have experienced leaders and governments who want to implement those ideas, then you experience the fear of losing your essential rights. Even though my country does not suffer in the same ways as Venezuela and Nicaragua, we are still ruled by populist leaders, and it scares me to think that we could end up like them in the blink of an eye.

Before you raise your glass to socialism, you should go to Venezuela or Nicaragua or my Ecuador to see the reality of it with your own eyes.

So yes, you can tell me how socialism is good, and how business owners are bad and deserve whatever happens to them. Or you can argue how socialism’s failings are all the fault of an imperialist America.

But I want you to know what that kind of talk makes me feel inside.

It is fear – fear of losing my country, fear for my family, fear of my fellow countrymen losing their basic human rights, but especially fear of not being able to go back to the country I love.

Socialism is not a theory to me.

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