Betty Medina had the urge to stow some table napkins in her purse on a recent visit to a Fort Worth restaurant — in case the restroom was out of paper.
It’s an instinct born of sad experience in her beloved Venezuela.
Her sister Iris, meanwhile, has found it nearly impossible to ply her legal skills in Caracas without the kind of paper a lawyer finds indispensable. Even if some is available, a one-page photocopy can cost $10.
Venezuela has basically gone paperless. Not out of social consciousness, but of social breakdown. This once-rich nation abundant in oil and minerals has been driven into poverty, hunger, chaos, violence and dependency by a quarter-century of plundering, imperious, dictatorial socialism.
Few fortunes have turned quite like the Medinas’. They are a family of 10 sisters, five of whom long ago migrated to the U.S., three of whom live in Fort Worth. Their father was a successful car dealer, their educations were the best, and their adult professions include education, law, dentistry and accounting. Today, of the five living in the U.S., several are housekeepers or caregivers, while their five sisters still in Venezuela hardly eat or work and subsist partly on the meager $2-a-month they get from renting out family property.
Betty and Iris, who’ve been visiting from their deprivation in Venezuela and reveling in the bounty here, speak of waiting in line for gasoline for days, and seniors waiting in line for days for a $2 pension. Thanks to inflation, the U.S. sisters’ occasional gifts home to Venezuela must now be tenfold to have the same impact.
The Fort Worth sisters — Mariela, Maria and Dulce — take heart from the ready sympathy of fellow Texans. But they live with the constant anguish of their homeland’s decimation and their family’s day-to-day struggle to survive.
“I cry all the time,” Maria says. “All the time.”
The tears have more to do with worry, sorrow and love than weakness. The sisters credit their strong mother — celebrating her 90th birthday — for the courage to be quoted by name and their determination to be heard.
As much as some in American politics and media make it sound as if the U.S. is a hellhole, these sisters can’t say enough good things about the United States or bad things about socialism. “I think America is a great country,” Maria says. “I feel America in my heart.”
As all five sisters I met raise up a resounding chorus against socialism, Maria explains the difference between countries in a very practical way: “Freedom. You work so hard here, you pay your taxes and everything works. In our country, you work hard and you pay taxes and nothing works.”
It’s corruption — the scourge of unfailingly failing socialism, summarizes family friend Dr. Germán A. Gutiérrez, professor of Orchestral Studies at TCU and a native of Venezuelan neighbor Colombia.
“Socialism never,” one sister adds.
This family’s torment amid the ravages of socialism, one would think, would be a blunt caution for the socialist-minded of America. I won’t hold my breath: A new Gallup poll says a stunning 43 percent of Americans believe socialism would be a good thing for America. They are, in effect, eagerly joining the line Betty Medina recently spent 12 hours in for gasoline — and then received none.
It’s of note, too, that the Venezuelan military forming a protective cocoon around embattled dictator Nicolás Maduro is generously sprinkled with Cubans and the oppressive presence of Russians, Chinese and even Hezbollah. The foreign-flavored fealty of the country’s military, and the civilian ne’er-do-wells that Maduro armed to protect him, are among the reasons why the Medina sisters hope and pray for an outside military operation to remove Maduro, a la Noriega — if not by America, then by a regional coalition.
More spilled blood is coming, they predict. It may as well be spilled liberating the people, they figure, estimating some 80 percent of the populace favors opposition leader Juan Guaidó — who over 50 nations consider the true president anyway.
It rankles the Medina matriarch that any of her daughters would have to leave their chosen professions to make ends meet. But while they have sought honorable work, and Dulce proudly tells her mother that she’s a “domestic engineer,” they wanted and deserved more for their lives and their country.
While five of them watch and worry, the other five navigate the molten meltdown of a corrupt socialist government.