By Daniel Di Martino
My grandfather, Vicente Novo, recently passed away in Madrid, Spain. Although the diagnosis was COVID-19, he was also a victim of the Spanish socialist government that expropriated private clinics during the pandemic, preventing him from getting treatment there, and of the socialist healthcare system that under invests in equipment and ICU beds.
My grandfather left Spain for the once-prosperous Venezuela out of necessity decades ago, as it was under General Francisco Franco’s oppressive rule. But Venezuela was led to ruin by socialist leaders Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro, ultimately forcing my family to flee back to Spain two years ago.
My grandfather was an everyday warrior for free markets and prosperity.
On Friday, March 27, he suddenly couldn’t breathe, so my uncle rushed him to a private clinic my parents frequently use. He had been showing COVID-19 symptoms for days but received no treatment. Every time my mother called the doctors, they said the only way to get admitted to the hospital was if you couldn’t breathe.
Unfortunately, when my grandfather arrived at the private clinic, he was told to go to a government-run hospital. Just a week earlier, Spain’s socialist government had taken over private healthcare providers, right when my grandfather needed them the most.
I was worried that the government wouldn’t treat him well because Italy, with a government-run healthcare system similar to Spain, was denying ICU beds and ventilators to older Italians. Sure enough, Spain followed suit, and on Sunday night, the doctor told my mom, “We aren’t assigning ICU beds for patients 65 years old or older.” The next day, my grandfather passed away due to a lack of oxygen.
You might be thinking, isn’t this the fairest system to impose under the circumstances of a pandemic? Perhaps, but I couldn’t wonder what would have been my grandfather’s chances in a country like the United States, where there are more ICU beds adjusted by population —more than twice than those in Spain— or if the Spanish government hadn’t taken over private clinics. Indeed, the coronavirus is a great challenge for any healthcare system, but we have the best chances against it here in America.
Death under socialist healthcare was the sad ending for my grandfather, a man who, all his life, fought against different forms of socialist oppression.
He was born in 1936, in the northern Spanish city of Ourense, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. He was left an orphan when his father died less than a year later fighting in the Battle of Brunete, near Madrid. The war ended in three years, but his misery was only just beginning. After claiming victory, Franco imposed a totalitarian government, banning most international trade and implementing strict price controls that lead to rationing and hunger.
My grandfather recalls his family’s weekly government-issued ration booklet, which, unsurprisingly, wasn’t nearly enough to feed everyone. When he became a teenager, he dropped out of school and got a job at the nearby candy factory. His mom bartered goods on the black market to get enough food for the family.
This wasn’t enough for him to have a future or help his family, so in 1956, he sailed to Venezuela, then the fourth-richest country in the world. Once there, he got a job at a garage and sent half of his income to his mother every month by mail for over a decade.
My grandfather never saw himself as an entrepreneur, but that’s exactly what he was. He ended up owning his own garage and saved to build a condominium of four apartments, one to live in and three to rent. Eventually, he sold his garage because the Venezuelan government fixed parking rates and made it unprofitable to stay in business. And his condominium was later seized by the government for a hospital that was never built.
Nothing stopped his entrepreneurial spirit. He recovered yet again and opened a clothing shop at an open market in Caracas, which he ran with my grandmother until they retired.
When my parents decided to leave Venezuela and move to Spain, my grandparents accompanied them. My grandfather returned to his native country, the very one he escaped from six decades earlier, again because of socialism—this time fleeing from Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro.
He was the epitome of a free-market conservative. He came from nothing, became independent at a young age, supported his family, and continued to adapt even when government action tried to squash his efforts at every turn.
My grandfather battled socialism throughout his life, and socialism, in the form of government expropriation of his healthcare provider and a single-payer government healthcare system, contributed to his death. He is my inspiration to continue fighting to defeat the terrible socialist ideology. I hope he can be your inspiration, too.
Daniel Di Martino (@DanielDiMartino) is a Venezuelan freedom activist, a Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise, and a contributor for Young Voices and Dissident.