A True Story About Healthcare in Venezuela

David D. Hopkins

An elderly woman hit the ground with a horrifying thud. The impact was devastating. She suffered a broken leg, a broken arm, and a gash over her eye. When the family rushed to help, she was in excruciating pain.

If this happens to an elderly parent or grandparent in the United States, the action is obvious. Call 911 and competent professionals get them to the closest hospital.

Well, this event didn’t happen in America. It happened in Venezuela to my mother-in-law. In the land of socialized medicine the solution isn’t so simple.

Here is what happens when you have a medical emergency in Venezuela.

Free is never free

In Venezuela, there is no 911, so the family had to figure out how to get her to the hospital. There were only a couple of options: take her in a car or hire a private vehicle.

Once they got her to the hospital, the doctor was kind enough to put six stitches in her head to stop the bleeding. However, they wouldn’t operate.

No US dollars, no surgery. No exceptions.

A nearly 80 years old woman, with a broken leg and arm was sent home. If you have money in Venezuela, you get healthcare. If you don’t, forget about it. You are sent to the street.
The reality of socialism never matches the propaganda. Hugo Chavez in his closing speech at the World Social Forum in 2005:

Privatization is a neoliberal and imperialist plan. Health can’t be privatized because it is a fundamental human right, nor can education, water, electricity and other public services. They can’t be surrendered to private capital that denies the people from their rights.

Yeah, sounds great, in theory. Somehow the hospitals in Venezuela missed Chavez’s memo when it came time to treat my mother-in-law.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Cuba, China, North Korea, the former Soviet Union, and now Venezuela prove nothing is free, ever. There is always a price for everything.

Private Health Care in a Socialist Country

But back to the story.

We scramble to get the thousands of dollars lined up for the surgery. It takes about three days. Three days of hard suffering for my mother in-law. She sat at home, with over-the-counter ace bandages wrapped around a broken leg and arm.

The hard part was getting the dollars into Venezuela and in the hands of the private clinic. You may say, well, what’s the big deal here? Electronic transfer of funds is easy in our modern world. No so much in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government outlawed owning, holding, or using US dollars. So everything is under-the-table, black-market operations.

For anyone trying to help a family member in Venezuela, it is essential to have one or two connections that can facilitate the fuds transfer.

It is hard for everyone except, of course, socialist party officials to deal in dollars. They have unlimited access. The higher up you go in the socialist party, the more access to dollars. Venezuelan socialism makes crony capitalism look like child’s play in many ways.

Luckily, this chapter of my mother-in-law’s story ends well. It wasn’t our first rodeo dealing with health care problems in Venezuela. We paid thousands of dollars to a private clinic and the doctor operated on her leg and arm. She is now recovering.

Yet, we know every single health event for the rest of her life, we will be repeating this process. A person with access to US dollars for healthcare lives. For the poor without connections or dollars, dying in the public system is a common occurrence.

This isn’t hyperbole, it is a fact.

If you think private health care is barbaric, try Venezuelan healthcare

No matter what moronic actors like Sean Penn or Oliver Stone may say, the socialist healthcare system of Venezuela is a disgusting, hot mess. It is a world where the most impoverished bear the brunt.

“What Chavez has done [in Venezuela] is that he has brought extreme poverty to an end.” ~Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone is spewing ignorant dribble from his Hollywood mansion. Nobody should ever buy it.

The Reality of Venezuelan Healthcare

  1. There is a lack of qualified medical professionals. Most competent doctors and surgeons have fled the country. I don’t blame them for leaving. The UN Refugee Agency believes 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country. Skilled professionals in all sectors of the economy are gone.
  2. There is a lack of basic medical supplies. Bedsheets, medicines, or standard medical supplies are scarce, if not non-existent. It is not uncommon that a person in the hospital has to bring their own bedsheets. Seems impossible? It isn’t. I know it first hand.
  3. There is a morbid, standing joke that Venezuelans go to the free public hospitals to die. Sanitation is non-existent, rolling blackouts leave critical care hospitals without electricity, and infections and viruses are everywhere.
  4. Dog-eat-dog Capitalism. It’s ironic that Venezuela’s free healthcare has led to rampant corruption. Everything gets done on the black-market. Without access to private clinics, the poorest suffer the most. No dollars equals no health care.

The Brutal Truth

I will not defend the United States health care system. Our system in America is a disgrace. We pay far too much for far too little service. And don’t get me started on drug pricing.

The political system has prostituted itself to big pharma, insurance companies, and mega health care conglomerates. Nothing gets fixed and prices keep soaring.

Yet, we should reject any politicians trying to use the same rhetoric as Chavez.

Convinced as I am that the world needs a new moral architecture over all, I believe that this should be the first topic to debate in our world of today — ethics, and morality…[Capitalism is] an infernal machine that produces every minute an impressive amount of poor, 26 million poor in 10 years are 2.6 million per year of new poor, this is the road, well, the road to hell.
~Hugo Chavez

Great quote by Chavez, but the road to hell, wasn’t paved by capitalism, as he says. It was his socialist revolution. The actual road to hell looks like this:

These are the results of his grand socialist experiment.

Where do we go from here?

For Venezuela, I don’t hold out much hope. They are twenty years deep in their toxic socialist experiment.

Socialism destroyed a vibrant, healthy, financially stable country. A country with some of the happiest and most amazing people have been beaten down. Socialism tends to do that to people.

It breaks my heart to witness the devastation in Venezuela.

For American healthcare, I don’t have the solution either. However, I know it isn’t socialized medicine. I have seen up-close and personal how it works. It’s ugly. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Sometimes state-run healthcare works relatively well in Europe and Canada. I am open to alternatives.

But for now, what I see in Venezuela, I pray it never happens in America, or anywhere.

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David Hopkins has been a college professor for 20+ years, published author, podcaster, and editor of the online journal "The Road Less Traveled." You can follow him directly on Substack: https://daviddhopkins.substack.com/ Follow me on Substack: https://daviddhopkins.substack.com/

Tampa, FL

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