Voluntaryism and the Struggle in Venezuela

3 months ago
49 in voluntaryism

[Here I interview Adrián Sánchez, who has become well-read in economics at this point, having found it important to set time aside to educate himself. He and others care to learn how to defend liberty despite the ongoing struggle in their daily lives for basic necessities. The internet has allowed for a rapid spreading of ideas, and the principles behind liberty that make up the voluntaryist pholosophy have amazingly and thankfully landed in Caracas, Venezuela] Mike Morris ~The Voluntaryist]

The Voluntaryist: Adrian, thanks for the interview. I hope your day is going good. You live in Caracas, Venezuela, the capital city which you call “Socialist Utopia” as a joke. Although, it's not really funny. The situation down there seems to be getting worse all the time, with shortages of every good possible, as can be expected under an adamantly socialist government. I'm curious what your daily life is like.

Adrián Sánchez: Thank you so much for the opportunity you have offered me to express my ideas, Mike. And yes, I have to point out that what we are living here is a socialist utopia, especially to the people who see my Twitter profile because some of them don’t believe what happens here. They believe there is an agenda of the media against the regime, or something ridiculous. Take into account that the vast majority of the private media are self-censored because the fear they have that they will be expropriated by the government as happened with one of the media which rebelled and informed as much as possible about the reality of the country. RCTV, expropriated in 2007, is now TV media propaganda in favor of the government and has served as an example to many other TV media, radio and newspapers, of what could happen to them if they don’t comply with the government agenda.

Regarding to my daily life, given that I have a stable job that depends more on the income that the company receives internationally, I have been able to overcome some difficulties that unfortunately people of even less resources cannot. Although this isn't sufficient to have a decent life, I still work, and I try to keep informed through the internet. I must be constantly aware of where I can buy some basic products that I need because the shortages. I also must maintain frequent communication with members of my family, to know if they are fine, or if at their work site selling some basic products that we may need, or if any of the current protests are occurring in their location, or if there is transportation to return to home safely.

After work I talk with my friends about these issues and I continue staying aware of what happens in the country. Of course, I take my time to read. Since 2014 I was able to keep interested in the ideas of Liberty and I have read a lot since then. I also try to clear my head a little by watching tv shows and movies, or playing some video games, or even making memes (always critical to the statist reality that surrounds us). It is usually on the weekends where I’m with my mom and brother trying to buy food for the rest of the week, looking for places where they sell it at a good price, or buying goods in the black market.

The Voluntaryist: You’re more than welcome for the interview. It is my goal to spread liberty around the world and share this information. So, thank you. I’m equally excited to share your situation with other Americans. I think liberty memes are an effective way of demonstrating some basic logic and realities to people that they otherwise might ignore. You had told me before that you worked. What do you do for work? How are you paid? Could you describe your working conditions for us?

Adrián Sánchez: Yes, currently I work as a programmer and consultant in Oracle Venezuela. I'm getting paid in the country’s currency (Bolívares) using one of the permitted dollar rates from the government available to private companies which is called SIMADI and obviously is way lower than the rate of the black market, which is almost 7 times higher and 500 times higher than the official rate; the official rate is only used by the government to import products of higher necessity, usually food and medicines. But as you can notice, with this general shortage, they are so corrupt that they use this money for themselves and with the remains they try to buy the loyalty of those of lower incomes.

Also, as a mandate from the government, we must get paid with a special bonus that is only for food (meal vouchers) which is a fixed amount (but subject to change at government wishes) for all employees no matter the range at the company. Generally a company of that level is pretty good for the standard here in Caracas and the country in general, but also I have the benefit to work at home mostly because they only use me to work on projects from outside (yes, like when they do this with Indians and Chinese because cheap labor). This is also because here in Venezuela there’s no demand for the products that Oracle offers to other companies. Most of the companies here use outdated software because they cannot afford the licenses to keep updated.

I consider myself fortunate to work in this conditions while I'm in this country because most of the people which don't work in the IT area must take public transportation which is deplorable. It is in overcapacity and you must wait for hours, and they must wake up pretty early because they live in satellite cities or pretty deep in the slums that surround the city (look for Petare and 23 de Enero in Google to see what I mean).

The Voluntaryist: I very much wish for the people around the world to live happy comfortable lives, and it sounds like you’re doing your best. It makes sense why anything socialized (the public transportation) is going to be over-consumed and over-utilized by those caring for it. If the government steals your permission to drive here in the U.S. you’re condemned to poor public transportation as well. It remains a cost for a lot of us as well. Are you taking care of family members too?

Adrián Sánchez: Yes. I take care of family too. I live with my mom and my siblings. I'm the eldest one. Between my mom and my brother, we try to provide with most of the income. My sister has a part time job and also she studies; my little brother also studies. Both are graduating soon at the university. We currently live in the proper city of Caracas in two rented bedrooms. The general income here isn't sufficient to rent a complete apartment nor buy a house (most of those apartments and houses are rented to people from outside who come as tourists). In general is pretty hard to survive. Food is becoming expensive, as are the rent of the bedrooms. I also try to make an extra income mining crypto-currencies and freelancing.

The Voluntaryist: The IT field seems to offer security to many around the world. Interesting that it does for you too. It helps keep you Bitcoin savvy and informed about the world. I hear that inflation has caused daily price increases. Americans couldn't fathom such erratic price changes as others experience, even though our central bank, the Federal Reserve, has engaged in unprecedented monetary inflation over the last decade. Do you have to spend your wages immediately or else they’ll lose value by tomorrow?

Adrián Sánchez: Inflation is pretty difficult to keep track of but it certainly increases rapidly in a short amount of time. Those products that rely exclusively on dollars – mostly cellphones, computers, technical equipment in general, bedrooms, apartments, cars – will in general increase at the same speed that the dollar rises; those products which aren't tied to dollar prices – such as food, some of the clothes and other services – have their own rate of inflation, which usually occurs in a hit when the government announces an increase in the minimum wage or the value of the meal vouchers. Public services like electricity, gas, water, internet are severely cheap as they are subsidized, but with terrible infrastructure. It’s pretty easy that we spend most of our wages on food and housing mostly. The last time I bought good clothes was in 2013. I also mine cryptocurrencies which is pretty profitable due to the cheap electricity, and with that I try to save money for the future. If I get a bonus on the job I just buy Bitcoins immediately to save this money from the heavy inflation rates.

The Voluntaryist: That’s amazing that Bitcoin offers you a way to save and hedge. What is currently going on there in the streets? We’re getting pictures here in the U.S. of Venezuelans standing up against the police, stories of people eating their pets. Is revolution on the rise? If so, what do the people want? What are the politicians doing?

Adrián Sánchez: It all started in March when president Maduro tried to unconstitutionally remove from power the National Assembly, which is the legislative branch (or what you call Congress in the U.S.), with a large majority of political opposition. The opposition coalition called for going out in the streets to protest in order to get elections, and that triggered all the events that are unfolding currently, with heavy repression using the armed forces. Riots and looting ensued. Recently everything became wilder when the president started to change the constitution in order to legalize a communist regime. There are a serious disruptions in what the opposition wants. The opposition politicians want elections to elect governors to balance the political power to their favor, but the people are tired of elections. As they see, even when the opposition wins with a landslide, the government will try to just ignore this and keep governing as a single party on the power.

The Voluntaryist: It’s always good when people begin to question the government. Here in the U.S., less than 20% of the population actually voted for the victor, Donald Trump; I believe over 50% abstained from voting whatever. I can only hope that Americans will give up on elections and the political theater they put on for us. Maybe one day. Most people would still categorize you as part of the problem, i.e., "if you don't vote you can't complain." Are Venezuelans fed up with socialism in general, or just the specific people in power? Leftists in America oppose Trump, but not the presidency itself. Can you tell me about the prospects for the libertarian movement down there?

Adrián Sánchez: A good portion of Venezuelans still love socialism, mostly because the government has certainly gifted them with houses, food, cars, jobs. But some of them are realizing that that's only a price to keep them loyal to the government. They're getting tired though, as shown in the last elections; many pro-government supporters voted for opposition parties. Those people are starting to feel what they are receiving is not food of quality; that they have bad medical service; the free houses that were given to them is filled with high insecurity rates; the extensive lines for food; etc. Others are nostalgic from the illusion of wealth that they received from Chavez and they think "Well, with Chavez we lived better. It’s Maduro who isn't following the plan of Chavez." It’s like our own local form of "this isn’t real socialism.” Obviously the people in power are trying, with heavy propaganda, to show that "we are at an economic war from the U.S. Empire" and that “most of opposition are being paid by the CIA.”

Since 2015, a few libertarian movements started to arise. I’m currently a member of one which is called Movimiento Libertario de Venezuela (libertarian movement of venezuela), and there are others like Rumbo Libertad, Movimiento Libertad de Venezuela, and a political party of social-liberals to classical liberals called Vente which is lead by Maria Corina Machado, a center-right politician. These people criticize the government for what they are: a bunch of socialists; something that most of the other opposition parties don't do because they are social-democrats and believe that we must only restore democracy in order to make good the welfare state that Chavez couldn’t.

The Voluntaryist: Glad to hear there is some ideological opposition for the cause of liberty! States everywhere are able to fool people by letting everyone share in their loot (military members, welfare recipients, bankers, etc) as to keep the people apologizing for the system they benefit from (though the economy as a whole loses). They can’t see the “unseen” effects of their policies. Thankfully the internet has helped to spread ideas across state-borders. Did the internet lead you to discover anarcho-capitalism? Are you alone among your friends in your beliefs? I very much am.

Adrián Sánchez: Of course, starting 2014, when a wave of riots surged and Leopoldo Lopez were kept captive, I started to question myself why socialism fails. At that time I considered myself as a centrist and believed that socialism could work in "The Nordic Way", more or less the way that Bernie Sanders believes this. Like others, I started to read Mao, Marx, Che Guevara, and a popular book of Galeano called "The Open Veins of Latin America" which is a pretty popular book (you can also find a Youtube video where Chavez gave to Obama this book).

But then I discovered a libertarian page, but I didn't knew what libertarianism was. I only followed it because it was also an atheist page and I considered at that time an atheist. The page is called Frente Ateo Libertario and there was a moment where they recommended reading "The Fatal Conceit" by F.A. Hayek, and I thought “this is the book I was looking for.” It kept me convinced, and from there I became very interested in more. I read "The Road of Serfdom", also by Hayek; then I found some other authors like Bastiat, Hazlitt and Ayn Rand. At that time I only considered myself a minarchist, but it was only a matter of time before I started to read Ludwig von Mises, Stephan Kinsella, Lysander Spooner, Murray Rothbard, David Friedman, Bob Murphy, Bryan Caplan, SEK3, etc. I also followed the Anarchyball page on social media sites. All of this helped me go full blown anarcho-capitalist.

As far as my main group of friends, they don't share the same political visions as me. They see me as too radical. I’ve tried to convince them at least that markets works better than government, and some of them have realized this, but the word "capitalism" has so bad reputation that they refuse to at least accept classical liberalism, even. Every idea of market liberalization was heavily satanized by Chavez using the term "neoliberalism" mostly due to the policies that president Carlos Andres Perez tried to implement in the country (a sort of Reaganism) which lead to some riots and the failed coup that Chavez gave to him.

The Voluntaryist: I just love to hear that such ideas can spread to Latin America. That’s truly wonderful. Being that states rest on public opinion, ideas matter. I myself hold great convictions that a private property rights order is the path to prosperity as well as the only compatible ethic with the self-evident truth that we own ourselves. Anarcho-libertarianism is mostly a Western philosophy, though, likely with most of its followers living in the U.S. Many of my friends will still cite Scandinavia as the alleged successes of socialism. They will, however, conveniently ignore places where its disastrous end has materialized, as in Venezuela. You mentioned that there is minarchist organization down there, too (that’s better than nothing). Are they doing anything? You also told me you discovered an anarcho-capitalist group. Can you tell me more about either of them?

Adrián Sánchez: Yes. There is some rising of libertarian movements. The organization that I mentioned is a classical liberal think-tank called CEDICE and it has done some good work spreading liberty ideas. They mostly do talks in some libraries and spaces that let them, and also they are selling some books including Rand, Mises, Hazlitt, Bastiat, Friedman, Rothbard, Hoppe and Tucker. Currently the movement which I am a member of there are other anarcho-capitalists that I consider my friends. They found me on Twitter when I was Tweeting some captures of my Rothbard readings. Also some of them founded the Mises Institute in Venezuela and some of the time we try to spread the ideas of Liberty using memes or positioning trending-topics on Twitter that were successful. We also give some talks and go to streets with our libertarian flags. Some of them also give classes on universities and try to spread the ideas, in a subtle way of course.

The Voluntaryist: This makes me feel grateful that I’m freer to express my disloyalty to the world’s largest criminal gang, the U.S. Government. I could see your need to be subtle, though. Some members of Mises Cuba were arrested for “distributing enemy propaganda.” By “enemy”, they meant liberty. Is such a threat to people like you? How openly do you speak of your views to family and friends and how much of a risk is there in doing this? Doing so here in America will reduce you to an outcast as well, but it hasn't got me killed yet.

Adrián Sánchez: Currently there are no heavy risks. Even Vit Jedlicka and Gloria Alvarez came here to give some speeches and appeared on national television with no harm. I openly talk to this mostly with my family and my friends. I tend to avoid these topics in meetings and with people from work because political topics are extremely intense and don't end very well. They can cause wild verbal confrontation, but at the level of being persecuted by the government like in Cuba, we haven't reached that level yet. They are busy repressing protests instead.

The Voluntaryist: Same here. It’s a shame everything is so politicized. I always wonder what we might be discussing instead if politics hadn’t invaded our lives. I find it very hard to keep my mouth shut at work when I hear people spewing economic fallacies. Many prevail. Socialism is still popular in the U.S. among the younger generations, seeing the rise of Bernie Sanders in the recent 2016 presidential election. On Bernie Sander’s Senate website, you can still find a statement from 2011 that “the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal.” (Sanders) Obviously, Sanders has zero understanding of economics. That, or he's a liar. But what would you have to say to these Americans, or to Bernie Sanders? It’s sad to say that I don’t think you’re living the dream down there.

Adrián Sánchez: Yes, I noticed that as well. I try also to keep track of what is happening in the world, mainly in the U.S. People who believe in Sanders must study very well the history of Venezuela. It started just like that, with the soft-left and social-democrats; when they couldn't handle the crisis that this type of government can create, the people who were used to this type of policies wanted more. It comes the point where hardcore socialists start to reach power. This also occurred in Greece. and I’m starting to perceive that this will happen to Europe. Just like in Venezuela, we’re rich in the good old days and then we ended in this disaster, primarily because the social-democrats opened the door.

The Voluntaryist: This is where we are in the U.S., too. One failed intervention after another leads to more interventions to “fix” the last one. There is ever-greater production of laws, taxes, regulations, and proposed solutions to the mess they’ve already created. Nothing will suffice to reverse it but a desocialization, and that's hardly a part of the allowable debate. No one can begin with socialism, because they’d never achieve any sort of significant wealth. Socialism doesn’t create wealth; it is a plan to expropriate, redistribute, and consume existing wealth. As Murray Rothbard put it, “production must always precede predation.” It would seem the socialists in Venezuela don’t understand that to have something to loot, someone must have produced something first. If you had to guess, how much of the population still believes that government will save them despite all these troubles?

Adrián Sánchez: I think there are mixed views. There exists those who believe a politician like Obama must take the power; others that think that Chavez wouldn't go as wrong as Maduro; there are people who want that the military to overthrow the government sort of like Pinochet did it in Chile; etc. We libertarians and even classic liberals are such a minority here but we are trying to keep it up.

The Voluntaryist: Well I encourage you to stand by your principles no matter what, Adrian. It’s people like you who can change the world. I imagine many “black markets” have formed since private property rights are limited, including ones for money. Do you turn to these “illegal” markets for anything?

Adrián Sánchez: Yes, mostly for food and hygiene products. There exists a lot of resellers of these products mostly because those who make up the lines get them subsidized and resell them at the black market with higher price. As I don't have time to make those lines because I work, I mostly buy some of it. Even bread is getting sold at the black market. Usually one must be cautious because there are people who alter those products in order to cheat you, although the internet has helped to spread information on who tries to cheat you and how to detect an altered product. It’s like a sort of spontaneous order of justice.

The Voluntaryist: I understand Venezuela was relatively free economically (though ruled by a military dictatorship) and rich before the social democratic parties of the 1960s took power and began many socialist projects. Americans can look back a couple decades even to less taxation, regulations, laws, and rising healthcare costs, etc. Do the people know of this history or does nearly everyone remain a true believer in socialism?

Adrián Sánchez: Yes. Chavez and his propaganda machine made people believe that all of that was "neo-liberalism" and wild capitalism that concluded with the "radical" policies of Carlos Andres Perez that I told you earlier. In the Libertarian Movement we try to explain that all of that was the social-democracy which lead us all to what we are living in now. Not all Venezuelans believe that those governments were "wild capitalists" as Chavez also said. There is also rising nationalist movements that try to spread that the government before that—a right-wing dictatorship led by Marcos Perez Jimenez—was the real good old days without socialism, and that we need to restore that. Venezuelans were ruled constantly by caudillism (warlordism) and an illusion of wealth that oil gave them. It was like a spiral of events that led to this disaster of constant State enlargement we have now.

The Voluntaryist: Socialists will inevitably say that “it wasn’t real socialism” once it fails. What would you say to them? Chavez, and all of them, are ideologically Marxist. Chavez was sort of a “true believer” in it all. I have even heard leftist anarchist friends say that it’s American propaganda that Cuba, Venezuela, etc., are bad; that “the capitalist U.S. government wants you to believe that”, while those places in fact have barely operating economies. What do these hipster Marxists know?

Adrián Sánchez: Even Noam Chomsky admitted that Venezuela is in ruins because of government incompetence. But for those of you who live outside of Venezuela, who are drinking at Starbucks while claiming that Venezuela is just fine, I will gladly accept an exchange in our locations: you can live here, and I’ll drink your Starbucks for you there and we’ll see if everything would be just fine for you. Any takers?

The Voluntaryist: Indeed, the Marxists in America are well-off white kids who were just indoctrinated in the public schools and underwent further leftist political correctness in the universities. They wouldn’t accept your offer; they’re hypocrites of the finest. I saw in Brazil that many were holdings signs “Less Marx, More Mises.” Is this going on in Venezuela too to such a large extent? What Latin American countries hold some hope for achieving liberty if not Venezuela?

Adrián Sánchez: Well, in the Libertarian Movement here we carry our flags and try to spread our liberty message during the protests. We also have some talks. Besides Brazil, which I am amazed at how big the libertarian community is there, I'm seeing that Colombia is moving in a good way too. There are some Libertarian movements in Mexico and Ecuador I am aware of. I have friends in Chile that moved out of here that are spreading the Liberty ideas as well.

The Voluntaryist: When I see Venezuelans in videos, or by talking to you, it’s always a good reminder that you all are just trying to get by like the rest of us, however oppressed more heavily by "your" government. Do you plan to leave Venezuela? Do you want out?

Adrián Sánchez: I don't have plans yet to leave Venezuela. The high prices for plane tickets also prevent me from moving, and the government is not giving passports anymore (although if you give them dollars you can get one but it is expensive). But yes, I want to move out of here.

The Voluntaryist: America is by no means free, but it’s relatively capitalist to other countries, and richer for that reason (among other things that temporarily keep the system propped up). How do Venezuelans view Americans? Are we “the imperial menace”, or do people look favorable on Americans? I always hope people around the world can separate the state from the people it rules, to see that we shouldn’t partake in the hatred states want us to have for other people around the world. The U.S. government has long been manufacturing enemies, whether it’s Muslims, Mexicans, North Koreans, Chinese, Russians, everyone. This is how these protection rackets stay in power by keeping the people believing they’re our protectors.

Adrián Sánchez: Venezuelans tend to look on Americans in a favorable way, also some jokingly say "please come to invade us, United States" just to piss off the pro-Chavez people. But even with your political problems Venezuelans still see the U.S. as a land to reach to have a good life, mostly because of the nostalgic tales of our grandparents who could then afford to travel from time to time to the U.S. People here still enjoy your culture; the pro-Chavez people only look bad onto the U.S. government and the corporatists, but they tend to look good onto the ones who are from the working class, feeling shame because "they are just alienated."

The Voluntaryist: Good to know. I certainly don’t hate the Venezuelan people! I wish you all best of luck in reversing state power! The U.S. is definitely imperialist, but this is statist thing. Maybe one day they’ll stop calling it “capitalism.” Stay strong, friend. Anything else you would like to say?

Adrián Sánchez: I enjoyed the interview and I'm glad that people are keeping interested in what's going on in Venezuela, which is an example of how ongoing statism goes wrong. If you wish, follow our Libertarian Movement on Twitter @: MovLibVzla and @: MisesVenezuela; on Facebook were are "Libertarian Movement of Venezuela" and "Instituto Ludwig von Mises Venezuela" (Mises Venezuela). These will help you to keep up on how we spread the ideas of Liberty. Thank you!

The Voluntaryist: [Thank you so much for your time, Adrian. If the time ever comes for you, I would be happy to help run a campaign as part of this paper (The Voluntaryist) to help get you a passport and arrange a flight for you out of Venezuela, if you were ever ready to do so. I’ll have you back some time in the future. Take care, stay safe, and keep in touch.]

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