Opposition supporters holding a placard that reads, “No more dictatorship” shout slogans as they block a highway during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela March 31, 2017. REUTERS

By Laura Gallardo, edited by Gabriel Delgado & Bailey Amaral

Food is scarce. Gas is rationed. Medicine is gone. Hospitals are have no supplies. Diphtheria is back. Zika is spreading. Violence is growing. Children are starving. And it’s getting worse.

Christina, a Venezuelan who migrated to this country 3 years ago, shared about all this and more in her compelling story from experiencing such chaos. When I first listened to her story, it left me speechless. It’s hard to imagine. It sounds like the survival of the fittest, where the people can barely find enough to survive day to day.

Don’t miss Christina’s first hand account of life in Venezuela:

As humans, we know right from wrong, but when something pushes us into survival mode, do we honor those morals or do we choose to ignore them? To answer that question, let’s look at the situation in Venezuela today:

  • The murder rate in Caracas, the capital, is the highest in the world.
  • You are more likely to be kidnapped in Venezuela than citizens of Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
  • Venezuela is now considered the most dangerous non-war zone in the world.

In these desperate times, we must ask: How can a country reach this point? This is a very simple question, asked many times throughout history, and especially over the last hundred years. Yet people still do not seem to understand that, in the blink of an eye, something like this can happen anywhere with the wrong set of institutions. Seeing the horrifying current situation in Venezuela breaks my heart, but many Americans still think that a socialist government is a good thing. I am aware that I cannot turn back time and reverse the situation in  Venezuela, but we, as Americans, can inform ourselves to prevent this from happening in our own country. What’s happening in Venezuela is not a joke! Venezuela was once a capitalist country, among the 20 richest in the world. Productivity and exports were high because businesses thrived, especially in the farming and oil industry.

It is important for to understand the difference between a capitalist and a socialist society. In a capitalist society, also known as a Free Enterprise System, is an economic system that allows you to have control and ownership of what you produce, distribute and exchange. It also allows you to keep the profit that you have gained from your own hard work. In a socialist society, there is equality, but not in the way that you might think. Socialism offers an equal outcome for everyone involved, meaning that you get a fair share of the product regardless if you did your fair share of the work or not. This takes the incentive away from the people to produce more seeing that they will receive the same benefit as someone who has done less work than them. It takes away the competitive economic activity and the production levels. In the end, a small group of well-connected powerful elites become rich, while the rest of the country remains poor.

In Venezuela, for example, the people are suffering from a lack of many essential supplies and services such as; food, housing, water, electricity and proper medical attention. It all started with President Maduro’s commanding control over the three branches of government and the military, which allows him to make certain regulations that only benefit a certain group of favored people. To put it simply, the government can take and give as it pleases without the consent of the governed.

With the largest oil reserves on the planet, Venezuela is a country rich in many natural resources, but its people lack incentives to produce, because the government owns and controls everything. The once trade-rich country now boasts high delinquency rates, high unemployment rates, and skyrocketing inflation. A loaf of bread that would normally cost $1, now costs $5, and the same increase goes for anything else you might want to buy. Scarce food and medicine mean that many people are suffering with little hope of relief. As people get more and more desperate, protests against the government and even riots have become part of life.  Even as people are demanding change, Maduro is tightening his grip.

We, as Americans, have the privilege of living in a country where our natural rights are protected, and we enjoy the freedom of private property rights. We get to keep what we earn. We have the freedom to choose what we want to eat and when to put gas in our cars. We can visit Walmart without worrying that the shelves will be bare. We have the opportunity to move up the ladder of economic success and build our businesses with minimal government involvement. We can visit any corner drugstore to buy Aspirin or even a fully equipped hospital in an emergency. We can go to school and walk around town without fear of a violent riot breaking out and the government deploying tanks. This is no accident or coincidence.

America is different because of its set of political and economic institution and its ideas. Venezuela, on the other hand, represents a country whose policies are crippling the economy and now starving its people. We as Americans cannot and will not, let this wonderful country wander into the same crisis.