In part one of my interview with 20-year-old Venezuelan expat Daniel Di Martino, we discussed his life in Venezuela, parallels in political policy between Venezuela and the United States, and two of the Democratic presidential candidates (Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren).
In part two, we talk about his life in the U.S., his parents fleeing Venezuela, how to argue against socialism, the “Nordic model,” the importance of the Second Amendment, and much more.
DW: What are your plans after you graduate?
DI MARTINO: I graduate in December. This is my senior year and I graduate one semester early. Right now, I’m looking for a job for the period at least from January to July. I’m on a student visa, so I have one year for work authorization after I graduate. And I’m also applying for PhD programs to start next August here in the U.S. Ideally, in the future I would be working in public policy think tanks and things like that.
DW: What about your parents? In your op-ed, you mentioned that they left Venezuela in 2017?
DI MARTINO: Yes, I came to the U.S. in 2016 – the fall of 2016 was my first semester in college – and my parents, they stayed in Venezuela then, but I really pushed them to leave because we owned our apartment from the year that Chavez won. That’s when we had bought our apartment, before things went bad. And we owned two cars that we had bought many, many years ago. And I told them, and they agreed, that if we wait any longer, our property value is just going to keep going down, which is what had happened and keeps happening. And then we’re not going to have a dime to leave the country ever, and they’re going to be trapped there without food or anything.
So, in 2017 they made the decision to sell everything we had, which were basically two cars and our home, and they left there with my uncle and my two grandparents to Madrid, Spain. They rented a place, and set up a small coffee shop. They are living together, and that’s how it works.
DW: How do we avoid ending up like Venezuela? How can we educate voters who might not understand that a socialist system is not a good idea?
DI MARTINO: I think we have to make the arguments on the policy specifically. So we cannot just say “socialism is bad because the story of Venezuela,” even though that’s true. We have to say that price controls created shortages because businesses cannot profit, and if they can’t profit, they won’t produce. And that’s what happened to Venezuela – and that’s what would happen if we put price caps on drugs in the United States. There wouldn’t be any drug production; there wouldn’t be any innovation. Why do you think all the drugs that are created in the world, the huge majority of them, come from America? Because they don’t have price caps, right? In Europe, they do. So they don’t innovate anything.
So I think that we have to make this argument specifically, and I know it’s hard because sometimes what people like or care about or have the time to see is short clips, but if we don’t make the arguments to people, they will just think that, “Well no, socialism is in the Nordic countries,” when in reality it’s not. Many people don’t know that these Nordic countries don’t have minimum wages, or that these countries have lower corporate taxes. I think it’s fine to use them as a reference, but to just argue in favor of the parts that you like, and then even propose things that are completely different and more expensive, it’s just an unfair argument, and we have to point out those differences.
DW: There are a lot of people, especially on the Left, who used to exalt Venezuela as the pinnacle of working socialism, and then once everything started to crumble, they said, “Well, that’s not real socialism.” What would you say to someone who would try to argue that what we’re seeing in Venezuela is not real socialism; that it’s just corruption.
DI MARTINO: Sometimes people argue it’s corruption; sometimes they say it’s the sanctions; some say it’s the oil price. I think that there are very easy ways to debunk those three myths.
One, there are many other corrupt countries that are not going through starvation. In fact, most Latin American countries are very corrupt. Mexico is very corrupt. Colombia is very corrupt. Brazil, Peru, Guatemala. Those countries are not seeing the kind of economic crisis that Venezuela is seeing, where we have lost two thirds of our economy in just the last three years because of the socialist policies.
It’s not the oil price. You don’t see people starving in Saudi Arabia, which is a country whose whole economy depends on oil even more than Venezuela – and they can’t even produce food because they’re a desert. We’re a country where you can throw a seed in the ground, and whatever that seed is, it will grow into a tree because our soil is so fertile, and we’re near the equator. Despite having so many natural resources, despite having so many things in our favor – gold, aluminum, actually everything you can imagine – despite all that, they ruined it.
You could say, “Well, it was corruption,” but then why is it that other corrupt countries aren’t ruined in that way? In Venezuela, they implemented policies such as price controls, such as excessive government deficits because they spent so much on welfare that they had to print money. That’s what destroyed our country. Huge minimum wage hikes that people don’t talk about at all in Venezuela. We had countless minimum wage hikes to the point that the person who cleans the school earns the same as the principal of the school, and the person who was a doctor in the hospital made the same as somebody who was a construction worker or a teacher.
Everybody started earning pretty much the same, so people just stopped working. We had a huge brain drain of skilled workers leaving our country. That’s a real consequence of drastic increases in the minimum wage.
DW: There are those who argue that Chavez’s brand of socialism worked, and Maduro’s didn’t, which is what caused such a quick collapse. What would you say to that?
DI MARTINO: Honestly, it was the same. Some people try to forgive Chavez, saying that, “No, it’s Maduro. It’s not Chavez.” The truth is that Maduro has not changed a thing from the policies that Chavez had. It’s just the natural progression of the policies over time. The difference is that when Chavez was in power, his last year, inflation was still in double digits. Inflation in Venezuela over the last 20 years has very few times been below 30% a year – but that is more than the United States has ever had in any year in its history. 30% inflation in America, nobody in this country has ever experienced that.
People now look back at the Chavez years as if they were good, when they were actually pretty bad. He was the one that nationalized most of the businesses. And the longer the government owned these businesses, or the longer the government owned the electrical grid, the more under-investment there was, and therefore over time, the infrastructure just diminished to collapse. It’s just the natural result. If Chavez hadn’t died, we would still be in the same place.
DW: Lastly, is there something that you would like people in the United States, or our readership specifically at The Daily Wire, to know that we didn’t already touch on in this interview?
DI MARTINO: I would say that the root of the problems of Venezuela were emotional, that initially, people liked Chavez because they were very mad at the political class because it was corrupt. Venezuela was not perfect before Chavez, of course. It was a country with problems, but we need to be grateful. We should be grateful for how great America is because while it is not perfect, it is a country where everybody has a chance at success, and it is a country where I have been able to come as an immigrant – I’m not rich at all – and I’ve been able to get a college degree.
People here in America have even more opportunities than I have because they are citizens who have that as a birth right. And there are millions and millions of people all over the world who would love to come to America to live, yet there are millions of Americans that don’t like America – and that is scary and sad, and an insult to immigrants as well. It’s many things at the same time. We really need to be grateful, and that’s the way to build upon the good and take the bad out.
Also, it’s important to say that the Second Amendment, people usually give the argument about, “Well, it’s about self-defense.” No, no, no. It’s to protect you from tyranny. If we’d had a Second Amendment in Venezuela, we wouldn’t be where we are, where we’re just a defenseless population against an armed socialist military and drug dealers. At least we’d be able to give a fight, and now we can’t, because we don’t have any weapons.
I’d like to thank Daniel for taking the time to speak about his life, and discuss the important social and political issues facing the United States and the world today. For more information, follow Di Martino on Twitter.