The coronavirus pandemic should remind all Americans how fortunate we are that we don’t live in a socialist country.
Most of my family fled to the United States from socialist Cuba; not all of them made it out alive, and some of them are still there. Growing up in California, I heard countless stories from my mom and grandparents of the government oppression that my relatives faced in their daily lives.
This shock you feel should serve as a reminder that we’re all united by our great fortune to live in the most free country ever to exist. There is no better time to reflect on and appreciate our freedom as we get a small glimpse into what others living under communism and socialism experience every day.
Counterintuitively, the sight of bare shelves in grocery stores across the country also underscores the superiority of our capitalist system. Americans are shocked by the fact that it has become difficult to obtain certain staples such as toilet paper, but for citizens living under socialist regimes, severe shortages are simply a fact of life — and they don’t even have the option of settling for lasagna instead of spaghetti, because the shortages they endure day in and day out are far more widespread than anything Americans have encountered in recent weeks.
Rationing is common in Cuba for this very reason. The government limits the amount of food and supplies each Cuban is allowed to buy, and enforces those limits brutally.
When my mom’s cousin was dying of cancer in Cuba, the government wouldn’t provide sheets or food for her feeding tube. Our family in Cuba had to scour the black market to get her the appropriate food to be able to feed her through a tube during her last days. This was after the Cuban government missed her brain cancer diagnosis for years due to broken machines and poorly educated doctors. It was only discovered when she had months left to live.
When you hear that “health care is a right,” this is an example of what the health care Cubans have a “right” to looks like.
Innocent Cubans have been killed and jailed over violating rationing rules and for speaking out about their hunger. We don’t have to worry about that here in the United States. The closest thing to rationing that we’ll ever experience are reasonable per-customer limits on high-demand products put in place by the stores themselves.
President Trump may have encouraged Americans to scale back their hoarding of toilet paper, but there’s no way he would ever restrict how much we can buy, because he knows that the free market will restock those shelves far faster than any draconian government intervention could possibly manage.
Since long before the coronavirus crisis, I have been concerned that too many Americans have accepted a whitewashed history of socialism that glosses over the widespread brutality and hardship that characterize socialist governments. It’s no secret that our education system is dominated by the ideological political left, who have made strides in normalizing socialism as a Norwegian fairytale, ignoring the fact Norway is not a socialist country. I’ve seen American teachers with my own two eyes proud to prominently display a celebratory image of Marxist murderer Che Guevara in their classrooms — a distressing sight for those who actually know the brutality of his actions.
It seems that some Americans are so accustomed to freedom that we can’t even imagine the privation and fear that families like mine endured under socialism. It’s easy to think socialism is the answer when the words sound pretty, but when faced with the ugly reality it becomes too late to turn back. Once these ideologies take root in a country, the rot rapidly infects every crevice of the government and suddenly the citizens have no freedom to lawfully change it.
It’s no surprise that Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants living in the United States are overwhelmingly conservative and pro-capitalist. We see the empty shelves in the meat, dairy or toiletry sections at the grocery store caused by this pandemic and are reminded that in our home countries, the everyday reality is much worse.
For people like my mom, it evokes memories of having her last possession, a doll, destroyed and stolen from her by a Cuban government official. That was the one item she was allowed to flee with, but an overwhelming need for control drove the official to make sure my mom wasn’t hiding money inside of the doll.
Similarly, we were bewildered when Democrats praise the government-run health care system in Cuba — the same type of system that is failing so spectacularly to cope with coronavirus outbreaks in countries such as Italy.
When my grandpa visits our family still stuck in Cuba, we all rally together to fill suitcases full of medicine, female hygiene products and other basic health necessities because we know those things aren’t available in a socialist country. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is exposing the deficiencies of socialized medicine in a much more serious way — ventilators aren’t nearly as easy to fit in a suitcase.
As state and local governments across the U.S. ask citizens and business owners to make sacrifices in order to stop the spread of a deadly virus, I’m reminded of my time traveling in China with the recording artist Akon, where our guide was required to obtain special government permits just to enter certain parts of the country. Curfews, internet firewalls, bans of social media like Twitter and shutdowns are a regular part of life in China — and violating them brings severe consequences. Freedom of speech does not exist in China; people live in fear of vocalizing their thoughts. When I’d ask a hard question about living under communism, their eyes told me what they could not vocalize due to their fear of being monitored. Even Chinese citizens are restricted from entering certain districts, based on their status. As an American, that was strange to watch; it felt like we had been transported into the Hunger Games universe. It served as a stark reminder that we have such remarkable freedoms and opportunities in America that we often don’t even realize just how good we have it.
The parallels between our temporary “coronapocalypse” and everyday life under socialism should make us wary of those who try to present socialism as some kind of panacea. It should also make us grateful to have a president who knew communist China wasn’t being honest with us about the severity of the virus that originated there. President Trump’s instincts about communist China led to flights from China being shut down in January, despite the protests of xenophobia from Democrats, a decision we now know saved countless lives.
Most of all these parallels should make us grateful that we have a president committed to ensuring that the United States of America never becomes a socialist country. As I reflect on the difficulty my relatives stuck in Cuba face every day, I’m more grateful than ever to be an American.