By Dr. Kyle Varner
Many of my libertarian friends are surprised by my extreme interest in Venezuelan politics. As an American, why should I fly all over the world to support political reforms in a country other than my own? Why did I release a Spanish language video talking about the internal politics of a foreign country?
The story starts in early 2010 when I was a medical student in Puerto Rico. I showed up on the island knowing next to no Spanish and was highly frustrated because I was told I wouldn’t need to speak Spanish. But I was given a syllabus in Spanish, and almost no one was willing to speak to me in English. After much complaining, I decided to make the best of the situation and began to learn Spanish as rapidly as possible.
One of the most difficult steps for me was to develop my aural skills–the ability to understand spoken Spanish–which is more difficult than simply learning vocabulary. At the time, I couldn’t understand most people when they spoke at conversational speed, and it frustrated me. But there was one figure I could easily understand: Hugo Chavez.
Hugo Chavez gave long speeches. He spoke slowly and he repeated himself ad nauseam. The things he said were hideous–but he said them in a way that I could understand. So, I watched every YouTube video of a Hugo Chavez speech that I could find–over and over again–until my aural skills developed to the point where I could understand anyone. In the process, I developed a deep appreciation of how profoundly evil this monster was. A manipulative Marxist who had won the natural resource lottery and used to it bribe everyone he needed to in order to destroy the rule of law in his country.
At that time, it became obvious to me that while there were (and still are) severe problems in the United States, the magnitude of the problems were so much greater in so many other parts of the world.
I developed a deep appreciation for American institutions that protect our liberty. I understood that while we have a lot of work to do in the United States, we are blessed with a system wherein we can do that work in relative safety and security, and where the basic tenants of a free society (free markets, rule of law and private property) are largely intact.
In October of 2012, I went to Miami to do my final clinical rotation of medical school. The building I lived in was full of Venezuelan expats, and I enjoyed getting to know my new neighbors who were eager to share their stories about how they ended up in the United States. Naturally, we discussed Hugo Chavez at length–especially because he was up for re-election. There was a real sense of hope–Henrique Capriles, then governor of Miranda State, was running a vigorous campaign against Chavez, and my neighbors were mobilizing to rid their country of the Chavez infestation.
Most Venezuelan expats at the time lived in the Miami area and had intended to vote at the consulate in Miami. However, the Chavez regime closed that consulate in the run-up to the election. So, my neighbors chartered a bus to New Orleans. I contributed $30 to help pay for the bus (not much, but it was what I could afford at the time). Every Venezuelan I knew in Miami made the trek to New Orleans. On October 7, Chavez won re-election, despite the devastation he had already done to the nation. He had used every dirty trick in the book, and it had worked. His evil regime would persist.
I remained interested in Venezuela, but with residency had little time to engage. I lost touch with most of my Venezuelan neighbors and moved to Hawaii.
Then, in 2017, I attended my first world conference of Liberty International, back in Puerto Rico. There, I met Leo Brito, a libertarian from Venezuela who worked with the Bastiat Institute. He gave a very compelling talk about the state of freedom in Venezuela. After his speech, I took the microphone and asked him a question that had been on my mind for a long time: Why do you stay? Why does anyone stay in Venezuela when conditions are so terrible when the tyranny is so overt. With tears in his eyes, he answered, “They killed my friends. I have to fight them.”
Together with some other libertarian friends, I began to support the Bastiat Institute of Venezuela, and little by little I got to know more and more libertarians in Venezuela. While we couldn’t meet in person, we kept in touch via WhatsApp and Facebook, and I sent bitcoin to fund their activities–frequently barbecues where libertarian ideas were discussed, or to fund the printing of T-shirts.
My circle of friends in Venezuela began to expand, and naturally I began to care more and more about the situation in Venezuela. It became clearer and clearer to me as the situation worsened that the problems reported on the news were only the tip of the iceberg. The death, devastation and destruction shocked my conscience. Everyone I knew had a personal story of tragedy.
When Nicolas Maduro held a sham election for another term, no one was interested in playing along. The Maduro regime had banned all of the viable candidates from running, and the elections council was composed of loyalists. He had created his own fake legislature, called the ‘constituent assembly,’ and packed it with party loyalists. The independent supreme court members had all fled the country and he had packed the supreme court with loyalists. He had shredded the constitution and created what opposition leader Maria Corina Machado called a “neo dictatorship”–a brutal dictatorship dressed in the costume of a democracy.
An election is an expression of a polity’s choice, and it is from this expression of their choice that elections and the resulting governments gain their legitimacy. Maduro’s election, which did not permit the participation of viable opposition candidates, which used violent repression against opposition activists, in which doctors were instructed to use medical care as leverage to manipulate voters, in which the votes were to be counted by Maduro’s loyalists, was not an expression of any choice–it was a charade designed to put a democratic costume on a dictatorial regime. It was rejected by the democratically elected national assembly, by the Venezuelan people and by the international community.
The Venezuelan military continued to back Maduro. Why? Because in every military unit, there are Cuban operatives whose function is to enforce obedience. The military’s loyalty comes at the point of a Cuban gun.
And so here we are… a situation where Cuban enforcers garner Maduro his loyalty at the point of a gun, where millions desperately try to flee across the border. The body count is rising, some from direct violence but the majority from starvation and preventable disease.
And here I am, a libertarian doctor from the United States, who can’t stand to see people he cares about murdered and oppressed.
What have I done about it? I’ve doubled my efforts to support the libertarian movement in Venezuela and the political party with which they are aligned, Vente Venezuela. Their leader and presidential candidate, Maria Corina Machado, is a classical liberal who understands that freedom and free markets are the way to build a prosperous economy and a secure nation.
I’ve invited Venezuelan refugees into my home, paid legal fees for asylum cases, given medical advice to activists who are having problems and even helped someone escape the country while Maduro’s thugs were out to get them. In two weeks, I will head to the Colombian border with Venezuela to provide direct medical care to refugees.
About a month ago, a Movimiento Libertario activist who had recently been beaten by Maduro’s thugs asked me if I could make a video to show the activists in the country that they have the support of the global libertarian community. I happened to have use of a professional film studio at the time because I was recording a series of health education videos for my business, and I quickly asked my crew to make a support video. It was shown at libertarian gatherings in most states within Venezuela and brought tears of joy to the eyes of activists who are risking their lives fighting for freedom. Then, I posted it online, where it has now received almost 80,000 views.
The US libertarian community responded with resounding support. Libertarian Party chairman Nick Sarwark shared the video, and messages of support poured in. We have all seen the images from the demonstrations around the country. When government tanks run over demonstrators in the street, it is not difficult to figure out which side libertarians will be on.
Sadly, in the last few days, the video has drawn some hateful attacks from elements of the libertarian community who support Nicolas Maduro. They claim I am a useful idiot for John Bolton, and that I’m furthering some nefarious conspiracy of US Imperialism. They label Juan Guaido’s interim presidency and his attempts to rid the nation of the Cuban-supported mafia as some kind of US-backed Coup. At the same time, due to their paper-thin knowledge about the actual situation in Venezuela, they can’t even understand that my video is actually supporting the classical liberal Maria Corina Machado–whose photo appears over and over again in the photo montage.
The steps that I outline to restore Venezuelan prosperity in the video aren’t something I just made up–they are Maria Corina’s plan, which is supported by Movimiento Libertario Venezuela.
Venezuelans understand this–which is why I got hundreds of messages from people inside the country thanking me for the message. It is why leaders of Vente reached out to me to say thank you.
My critics in the United States are good people. They hate war, as they should. But rather than first seek to understand the actual situation in Venezuela, their knee-jerk reaction is to simply parrot Maduro’s talking points without first considering whether it is moral or wise to lend their support to this murdering mafia. By doing so, they undermine their own agenda. A peaceful world cannot ever be built by licking the boots of tyrants, and they would understand this if they understood the situation.
Two prominent critics were offered the chance to debate me on a popular and well-known libertarian podcast. They turned it down. I suspect that they did not like the idea of having their ideas subjected to scrutiny. They can repeat Maduro’s talking points like parrots, but they cannot have a detailed discussion of the actual situation because they are woefully ignorant of it. They are so lacking in the ability to defend their position, that when I attempted to engage their executive director on Twitter, his response was, “You lose. You say dumb things.”
My position on Venezuela is based on years of close involvement with activists, on deep friendships with libertarians currently fighting on the ground in Venezuela and on hundreds of hours of studying the intricacies of the internal politics of Venezuela from original sources in their original language. My position is informed by a lifetime of deep appreciation for libertarian philosophy.
Libertarians hate war. If we get down on our knees and lick the boots of a dictator every time Washington confronts them, we will never build a more peaceful world. Advancing false narratives that support despotic regimes, slandering the domestic opposition to murderous dictators and attacking Americans who try to help oppressed people regain their liberty will never bring down the military industrial complex. It will, however, confirm everything critics of libertarians have ever said about our foreign policy, it will stain our movement in the eyes of decent people everywhere, and will relegate us to an eternity as a political sideshow.
The way libertarian thinkers react to the crisis in Venezuela shows something about their character and intellectual quality. Those who spout off without understanding, or whose first instinct when they see civilians mowed down by tanks is to support the dictator, give us a glimpse of who they really are, and I don’t intend to forget that.