He Grew Up Under Socialism. Now He’s Urging Young People to Reject It.
Daniel Di Martino grew up in Venezuela, and left the country after socialism took its grip. Now, he’s on a mission to convince young people that socialism is destructive. Our colleague and senior news producer, Kelsey Bolar, recently sat down with Di Martino to hear his story, and today we share that exclusive interview.
Plus: Great Britain is banning “harmful” gender stereotypes in advertising. That’s a move that would shock many Americans—but then again, we enjoy the First Amendment. Rachel and Daniel discuss.
We also cover the following stories:
- Iran says it will break its uranium stockpile limit in the next 10 days.
- The Supreme Court sends a wedding cake case back to Oregon.
- Nearly 2 million Hong Kong protesters take to the streets in opposition to the extradition bill.
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Kelsey Bolar: This is Kelsey Bolar, coming to you from The Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank. I am sitting down today with Daniel Di Martino. Daniel is from Venezuela, grew up there, and just came to the United States recently, three years ago, to attend college.
So we have a lot to get to. Daniel, welcome to the show.
Daniel Di Martino: Thank you very much.
Bolar: Where to begin? You grew up in Venezuela. I imagine you still have a lot of family there. Tell us what your childhood was like.
Di Martino: So I was born in 1999, so for your viewers to know, 1999 was the year that Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela. I lived all my life during the same regime, basically.
And since they started implementing this policy such as nationalization of private businesses, price controls, controlling what we could buy from other countries, the country started progressively becoming less free.
So, there were times where I didn’t have milk at home. There were times when we didn’t have toilet paper. There were times where you couldn’t find flour, things like that.
And increasingly, it became worse and worse, and we got to the situation where we’re at.
Bolar: What type of jobs did your family hold?
Di Martino: My parents owned a gas station. So I don’t know if you’re familiar, but gas in Venezuela is actually the cheapest in the world. It’s basically free. And it is because the government nationalized all of this.
But my parents were able to keep the gas station, like all gas station owners. But we had to be provided by the government gasoline.
So, at the end, because we couldn’t make a profit by selling it because of the price cap, the government had to print money to give us subsidies, and basically keep us in business. It was a terrible, unprofitable business.
At this point, we couldn’t even sell it. It’s just there, standing, without gasoline, because now there’s not even gasoline production. That’s what my parents did.
My mom also started a chocolate business. So she purchased chocolate, she made it into bonbons, and made them for parties.
It was very hard, as well, since it was officially controlled. You couldn’t find chocolate anywhere because the price cap by the government was too low. So, we had to buy it illegally.
Bolar: The government controlled the price of chocolate?
Di Martino: Yes. Chocolate, everything you can imagine. Meat, chicken, milk, toilet paper, housing, rent. Absolutely everything.
Bolar: At what age did you start to realize your country was on the wrong track?
Di Martino:So I think I was 12, and I was in my school, I think I was in sixth grade. And my library had a book from Hayek, “The Road to Serfdom.” And they also had Friedman’s “Free to Choose” book, both in Spanish. And I took them home from the library, and that’s when I started reading it.
I’m like, “Wow, this is exactly what’s going on in my country, that the government is destroying our economy. This is definitely what we need to change. This is so simple. Now I understand it all.”
And that’s what led me to become conservative and libertarian.
Bolar: And how are you one of the lucky ones who got to attend college in the United States?
Di Martino:Well, I knew that I wanted to get out of Venezuela. And since I wanted to get out of Venezuela, and I love the United States because of its culture of freedom, it’s not just about the economic and political freedom.
It’s also about having a movement such as this. There’s so many people in this country, like you, like your viewers, and everybody else here in this conference, that love to spread the message about liberty, and wants to protect their country.
So I wanted to come to America, and what I did was I prepared very hard to take the SAT, do well in my school, do extracurricular activities, and I applied to universities here.
I got a scholarship from my university, the one I’m currently attending at UPY, Indiana University in Indianapolis. I basically paid no tuition. I got even more scholarships later to help me pay for my cost of living. I work on campus as well, and that’s how I managed to get here.
Bolar: And what is your perspective coming from Venezuela, seeing the real effects of socialism, and then going on college campus, and seeing the number of students who are now saying in polls that they view socialism favorably, and it’s something they’d want to bring here?
Di Martino: It was a shock, initially, because I come from a country where I had to leave because these policies were applied. You don’t want those things to happen once you arrive somewhere else.
I know people who escaped from Cuba and went to Venezuela, after escaping from the Castro regime, and they had the bad luck that the same thing happened again. And now they had to escape to another country. And we definitely don’t want that for America.
I think that most people who support these kinds of words, words like “socialism,” they don’t really know what it means. They just want free things. I mean, who doesn’t want to live for free?
The problem is that those things aren’t free. And we also want everybody to have a good quality of life. The question is, how to achieve that, right?
And I think that if we—people who are in favor of liberty—continue spreading the message that, if we take away government’s burden off people’s backs, if we allow people to actually prosper on their own, and perhaps even have some kind of help, charity, we have a lot of even current government programs that can be improved, I think that we can definitely get an overwhelming majority of Americans to agree with us.
Bolar: What would you say to someone who says, “No, I don’t want the type of socialism that you see in Venezuela. That’s not real socialism. I want more what you see in Denmark, or one of the Nordic countries.”
Di Martino: Well, most of these Nordic countries—and I think most people don’t know it—are as or even more economically free than the United States. And many of them don’t even have minimum wages. That’s something that I am sure the left currently would not agree with.
So, if we wanted to become more like the Nordic countries, then we would need to accept the trade-off, right?
We see that in Europe, unemployment is much higher than in the United States. People earn much less. There is less inequality of income, but there is also less prosperity. So, we either accept a society that can prosper and that can be improved.
There’s many things that can be done in the U.S. to improve criminal justice reform that is currently being done. You can improve the tax system to make it simpler. You can improve regulations so that it’s not as burdensome for people.
But if we want to have the system that the Nordic countries have, people would need to understand that this is not about taxing the rich, this is about 40% income taxes for the poor, and 20% sales taxes.
That is unseen in the United States. I don’t think people are willing to pay what it would take to achieve that. That is not even a better outcome.
That kind of socialism is not real nationalization, so it wouldn’t be a disaster for the country, but it would lead us to stagnation. It wouldn’t be the prosperity that we see today in America, with low unemployment, more jobs available than unemployed.
The worst case scenario, if you apply policies like the Green New Deal, like “Medicare for All,” that would bankrupt this country, you would need to print money to pay for them.
It’s impossible to pay for $100 trillion in 10 years with taxes. You have to print money, and that would be like Venezuela.
Bolar: What is the monetary situation in Venezuela? How much cash do you have to carry to go get milk?
Di Martino: So actually, believe it or not, there’s a shortage of cash. Because the government is only printing the money online, now most of the money is actually just in bank accounts online, and you can’t actually take it out from the bank in cash.
So if you don’t have access to the banking system, you don’t even have access to cash.
So people are actually starting to use U.S. dollars to purchase in the streets. It’s crazy, the situation. You would never think that you could have a shortage of money, having so much money actually online printed. It’s a little complex.
But it all comes from the fact that when the government spends more than it collects in revenue, there’s a deficit, just like here in the U.S. The U.S. can cover the debt.
But at some point, international borrowers will not be willing to lend you money. And that’s what happened in Venezuela. Because nobody is willing to lend them money, then they had to print it. That’s what led us into hyperinflation and this misery.
Bolar: I’m curious to hear more about the personal effects of socialism, particularly in the last couple of years, where things have really heated up to the point that Maduro’s regime is using tankers to run over protesters, his own citizens, in the streets.
Are people you know actually out there protesting? What are the risks involved with that? And what is the day-to-day life for your family?
Di Martino: They are, they are. Thankfully, my parents are not there, but I still have uncles, cousins, and a lot of friends in Venezuela. They are going to protest, and they obviously want Maduro out.
Over 90% of the population agrees, we don’t want this socialist system. In fact, there are polls in Venezuela that say that over 80% of the population thinks that socialism is the worst economic system ever devised in history.
You only say that once you go through it. We’re humans, we learn from each other, and we don’t have to go through that in America to learn that.
So yes, people are protesting. The risks are terrible. I have friends who have been kidnapped by the regime and that have been tortured. There’s videos online that people can look themselves up.
It’s a very sad situation. While it looks complex for people, because they see, if all these people are against the regime, why doesn’t the dictatorship fall? And I guess that your viewers, they wonder that.
And the reason is that, even if you have all the civilian population united, when you have a military that is armed against them that is loyal to a dictator because they either get the drug money from cocaine trafficking that comes to the United States or they have the Cuban spies that control them and therefore they can’t plan a coup against Maduro, then there’s no way for us to fight back, because we’re also unarmed. We don’t have [the] Second Amendment.
Bolar: Right. A lot of people don’t know the history of that. How long ago was it that they actually banned citizens from owning guns?
Di Martino: Around the mid-2010s, around that time. I don’t remember the specific year, but it was recent. They banned gun ownership completely. We never had a full Second Amendment either, that was never in our Constitution.
That was never part of our culture. But we did have the possibility of people to purchase weapons, legally, through licenses.
And that was something that was completely taken off of the table several years ago, and it’s part of why now only criminals and the military own weapons. And I’m talking about high-caliber Russian weapons that they bring on purpose to kill civilians.
So, it’s complex. It’s complex, the solution, not so much the problem. The problem is simple: socialism and government power.
Bolar: Well, you clearly have a very bright future ahead of you. I’m curious, what do you hope to do here? Do you plan to stay in the United States? Do you want to return to Venezuela, hopefully, in what will be a better situation than it is now?
Di Martino: So, I love being in the United States, so I’d love to stay. If Venezuela were to obtain freedom, which is my goal, I’d love to go there as well. But as of now, my plan is to be in the U.S., and fighting, especially advocating for freedom in Venezuela.
I’m currently with two organizations. I’m with Young Voices, which is this nonprofit that helps young people like myself to spread the word of liberty in the media.
That’s how I’ve been able to be on Fox News, CNN, to write articles for different news media outlets.
And at the same time, I’m a spokesman for Vente Venezuela, which is a political party in Venezuela—their main conservative party there, libertarian party.
We focus mainly on economic issues rather than social because that’s most of our problems in Venezuela.
We’re really pushing to obtain help from other countries because we know that we can’t do it alone since we’re unarmed. So, our goal is to obtain freedom for our country, whichever way possible.
Because otherwise, we’re talking about a huge humanitarian crisis, and we don’t want another genocide to happen, not even in our hemisphere.
Bolar: Daniel, you have such an important perspective, particularly for this time period right now. For anyone listening, where can they go to follow your work?
Di Martino: You can follow me on Twitter. That is @danieldimartino, just my name and my last name. You can follow me on Facebook, request me as a friend. Look me up on my website danieldimartino.com. You can see all my media appearances, you can contact me by email over there.
I’m always happy to talk to anybody about anything they want about Venezuela, about socialism, about economic policy, in general. I’m always willing to have a conversation or take an opportunity.
Bolar: Well, thank you for joining us. We wish you and your home country the best. You are all in our prayers. Thank you.
Di Martino: Thank you so much.