At the beginning, Venezuela experienced an economic boom and funded many social programs. I saw Chavez go on live TV, receiving callers – like a talk show – and offering gifts like houses, cars and other goodies to the people. I remember Chavez’s multiple-hour speeches – which we were essentially forced to watch because the state blocked all other channels – announcing new nationalizations, new “missions,” or simply denouncing the press and political adversaries as traitors.
At the time, it was hard to imagine the dark future ahead for Venezuela, as money seemed never ending. But the country’s centralized control of the economy was heavily dependent on oil.
A rich country, wasted resources: Venezuela was my home, and socialism destroyed it. Slowly, it will destroy America, too.
American colleges celebrate dictators
In short, I know what real socialism is because I grew up in a country that was destroyed by the totalitarian rule of the Socialist Party.
Then this summer I saw a quote by the infamous Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, prominently displayed at my university, Penn State. I knew I had to act. Just as I took to social media to start my campaign to remove the quote, Cubans were pouring into the streets to demand freedom from that authoritarian regime.
Still, a fellow student reached out to me and recommended that I speak to an expert to help me get informed and understand the reality of Cuba. Maybe this was an opportunity to learn and understand rather than just vilify what I clearly didn't know, the student told me.
The Castro quote on the wall of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center read: “The equal right of all citizens to health, education, work, food, security, culture, science, and wellbeing – that is, the same rights we proclaimed when we began our struggle, in addition to those which emerge from our dreams of justice and equality for all inhabitants of our world – is what I wish for all.”
But the problem is, my generation doesn’t know – and posting the quote prominently in such a heavily trafficked area sends the message that the leader who spoke these words is someone worthy of the honor. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know because I’ve lived the horrors of totalitarianism.
But I’ve come to learn that U.S. campuses of higher education are part of the problem, and while I feel blessed to study at Penn State, I am distressed by the ignorance and misinformation circulating about socialism and communism, not just at my school but at college and university campuses across the United States.
Since I began my successful campaign to have the quote removed, I’ve come to learn how much higher education has contributed to the erroneous views of socialism and communism.
I’ve learned of many distressing examples of misinformation about my home country, including:
►Scripps College holding a lecture series on Venezuela, hosting multiple speakers supportive of current dictator Nicolás Maduro.
►A Marxist student club at Columbia University scoffing at "scare stories" about Venezuela.
►And a human rights professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School who said poor Venezuelans are "better off" now than they were before the socialist coup.
Young people ignorant to evil of socialism
Trust me, Venezuelans are not better off under socialism. I didn’t study it; I lived it. So much of the American higher education system has been teaching a false, positive image of communism and socialism for decades, 40% of Americans now have a favorable view of socialism, according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation – with 49% of Generation Z (my generation) viewing socialism favorably!
This isn’t surprising given the false impressions my peers have of top-down systems of government and their so-called heroes.
The University of California, San Diego, has housed a Che Cafe for more than 50 years as a “revolutionary” space for students. The cafe is registered as a student organization for the fall of 2021. Che Guevara oversaw firing squads and organized forced labor camps, so if that is the kind of revolutionary experimentation the university hopes to foster, the cafe picked the right namesake. If not, it needs to change the name and tell students why rather than perpetuate a false, dangerous narrative.
It has become my personal mission to stop the spread of socialism by educating my peers about what it truly is through the narrative on my personal experience. I am dedicated to teaching anyone who will listen about the dangers of these regimes, and the effects they have on their people.
Through my story and the stories of other victims of totalitarian regimes, I will do everything I can to turn the tide when it comes to support for socialism.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Venezuelan student: Americans don't know the truth about socialism