What’s Behind the Venezuela Crisis—Rep. Chris Stewart

By Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Senior Editor
Jan Jekielek is a senior editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, "American Thought Leaders." Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, and international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as website chief editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."
May 3, 2019 Updated: May 6, 2019

In this episode of “American Thought Leaders,” Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek sits down with Republican Utah congressman, author, and former B-1 bomber pilot Chris Stewart, who is a member of the House Intelligence, Appropriations, and Budget committees. He recently founded the House Anti-Socialism Caucus.

Jan Jekielek: So you really caught my attention a few weeks back when you wrote on Twitter about the new Anti-Socialism Caucus you’re starting; I’d love to know more about that. But before we jump to that, we’re hearing a lot of news from Venezuela that’s very apropos. And we are even hearing that Nicolás Maduro is ready to leave, but he was told not to by Russians. People have been killed in the streets. … This is what the news is reporting. Would you like to comment on this?

Rep. Chris Stewart: It’s a mess. And if you care about human rights, if you care about human dignity, if you want people to be able to live happy, fulfilling lives, you have to be cheering for the people in Venezuela who are trying to overthrow what is a repressive, dictatorial, socialist government that doesn’t care about any of those things. And I think, again, if you try to tie those two together—Venezuela and then our efforts here in the United States—to look at socialism and say: Is this really the future that we want for our children? Then, look at Venezuela and say, “This is where we will be.”

So we hope the people down there are successful in bringing back a democracy: a government that respects their dignity, and wants to provide them with an economic future. But you see how hard it is. And we’re not sure what the outcome is going to be.

[There are] a couple of things on that, though, that I think are worth mentioning. Maduro doesn’t have the support of his people, and he wouldn’t be in power were it not for foreign intervention. No question about it, Cuba is propping him up right now, as has been reported. Almost his entire security apparatus around him is Cuban. He has lost the support of his own security personnel. Russia is clearly intervening there, interfering there, and convincing him, as has been reported, to stay rather than leave.

That’s an unacceptable situation from a national security perspective, as well as one that we have to be willing to face and ask the question, “What’s the right thing to do?”

Mr. Jekielek: It’s hard to fathom, I think, for most people in free societies in the United States and North America, how a really vibrant, wealthy state like Venezuela—and it certainly was—could descend to this, what we’re seeing today. How does that happen?

Rep. Stewart: Because it always happens under socialism. It’s inevitable under socialism—true socialism. It represses and destroys the … innovative spirit. It destroys the willingness [and] the ability to take economic risks, to create economic vitality. It moves all of the power, which eventually moves all of the wealth, to a few, almost entirely government leaders. Show me a model of socialism—true socialism—that didn’t always end up in this.

Venezuela was, at one point, a very vibrant and economic powerhouse—an economy and a government that provided great hope for its people. That has been disrupted.

But the good news is, we know that foundation is still there. The Venezuelan people are still good people. They have these great natural resources, with oil among others, and given the right circumstances, given the right economic model and a government that would protect economic freedom, they can reclaim that once again.

Mr. Jekielek: So you believe Juan Guaidó can provide that sort of setup?

Rep. Stewart: Well, we would hope so. And it won’t be him by himself. He has to have the government around him, he has to have the Parliament and others that would be supporting him. But it’s certainly a better proposition than what we [have] right now with Maduro.

Mr. Jekielek: So tell me a little bit about the genesis of this Anti-Socialism Caucus. I mean, aside from the foreign-policy issues that you just described.

Rep. Stewart: Yes. I have my Air Force wings on here—these are actually my father’s Air Force wings—but I was a pilot in the Air Force. And when I was a young lieutenant, we were expecting to fight the communist or Russian socialist. … I truly never imagined that we’d be having that conversation—that true battle here in the United States about, “Is socialism a viable economic model? Is it what we want to provide for our children?” But I think the seminal moment for me and for a lot of people—and I’ll bet as you listen to me you’ll understand and remember this—[was] the president’s recent State of the Union address. He says at one point, “We believe in democracy, we believe in freedom, and we will never be a socialist country.”

And almost every one of my Democratic friends, with a few exceptions, almost all of them not only sat on their hands, but they sat on their hands and scowled at that. And for many of us, that was, as I said, a powerful moment, a seminal moment, where we said, “What in the world are you thinking? How can you not cheer that? How can you not say, ‘Yes, we will not be a socialist nation?’ That isn’t what we want for our children.”

And I think that was when I said we have to do something about this. This is when I really realized a lot of these people actually think socialism is a viable alternative. A lot of these people think this is something that we should propose and support and fight and defend. And that’s where we thought, we have to do something in Congress. We have to form this … Anti-Socialism Caucus, so we can educate people, remind people of history, of the truth, and try to persuade people. This is a horrible future for our country. This is a horrible future to provide for our children.

Mr. Jekielek: A number of people that I’ve spoken with who are advocates of socialism will say, “Well, socialism is the one that stands up for the little guy. Capitalism is empowering the affluent.”

Rep. Stewart: Well, it’s just nuts. I mean, it just is. Show me where socialism stands up for the little guy. Did it stand up for the little guy in Venezuela? In China? In the former Soviet Union? I know that’s the claim, but the claim isn’t the reality. And the only reason it’s the claim is that’s how they get the support of the people. But the economic reality is exactly the opposite. In order to implement socialism, you have to take power away from the people, away from the little guy, away from people like you and me, and move that power to the federal government. Otherwise, you can’t compel them to implement socialism and socialistic policies. And once that power has been migrated to the federal government, then the wealth always follows that power.

Look, history on this is very clear. It has never lifted people out of poverty. Two hundred billion people [were] lifted out of poverty in my lifetime because India and … African nations and a handful of other nations around the world in my lifetime have moved away from socialistic policies to free enterprise to capitalism to democracy—375 million people in India alone because they turned away from socialist models toward free enterprise. Show me a single example of a nation that has lifted millions of people out of poverty through socialism—because there just simply isn’t any.

Mr. Jekielek: I see that education is one of your priorities in this new caucus. Obviously, it seems like everything you just talked about maybe isn’t known to all Americans. But what steps have you taken since the announcement?

Rep. Stewart: Well, part of it is what we’re doing now—we talk to the media. But this isn’t something I can do by myself.

Mr. Jekielek: Who is on board?

Rep. Stewart: Well, a lot of my Republican colleagues right now, and we actually haven’t had the kickoff of this thing yet. We’re in the middle of putting together our kickoff event, kind of our inauguration event, where we’re going to have various people come and speak and address this—people from different backgrounds—and invite members of Congress and eventually a Senate caucus as well. But it has to go beyond the Congress. It has to go beyond the Senate. We have to go to the American people. And this is the defining issue of the next election. I’m just sure that’s true.

Mr. Jekielek: I was just about to ask you.

Rep. Stewart: Is that not very clear? And it will be one of the pivotal conversations we’ll have in 2020 as to who will be our next president. What kind of leadership will they provide? So at the end of the day, we can’t have much of congresspeople convince you. We have to go to the American people and convince the American people.

Mr. Jekielek: Building a little bit on the Anti-Socialism Caucus. You were speaking at the “Committee on the Present Danger: China” event a couple of weeks back. And one of the things I saw that you mentioned was that China, a communist socialist state, presents a generational challenge to America. Can you just expand a little bit on what you meant?

Rep. Stewart: There’s just no question about that. If you speak or spend some time with national security experts, people who truly understand the world globally and generationally, what are the things that keep us awake at night? I had dinner with [national security adviser] John Bolton not long ago, and we had this conversation. I’ve had this conversation with Secretary Pompeo, when he and I sit together on the House Intelligence Committee. [With] many of them, you can talk about, “What’s the thing that worries you most? What’s the thing that keeps you awake at night?” And there’s a long list. I mean we could talk about Vladimir Putin in Russia. We could talk about the mullahs in Iran, nuclear proliferation, cyber—which is an enormous threat, no question about it—North Korea. The list goes on. But I think there’s a near-consensus [about] the long-term strategic challenge that we have in China. It’s the challenge that our children are going to have to solve, which is one of the reasons that I appreciate this president who’s confronting China in ways that we just haven’t in the past.

It’s one of the reasons that I’m very glad that the business community is, for the first time, really, in my lifetime, looking at their partnerships with China and asking, “Are these fair?” “Are we assisting the Chinese Communist Party?”—which are partners or equity holders in many of these large companies that they’re partnering with. “Are [we] talking about some of the exchange in educational opportunities between the two countries, which I support and want to make available?”—but also recognizing that China can use that for intelligence gathering and for recruiting.

I think we’re looking at China through a different prism than we had before because many people are recognizing that China’s goals and ambitions—if you look at the Belt and Road Initiative, if you look at what their goals are—by the 100th anniversary of the creation of the communist party in China, it’s to be the single dominant influence in the world. And we have to recognize that and be willing to make policy decisions that will counter that.

Mr. Jekielek: So, basically, to subvert the U.S. position.

Rep. Stewart: No question about it. Diplomatically, economically, militarily, culturally. You know, it used to be that China’s claim was, “We just want to influence the Middle Kingdom, we want to influence our sphere in the world.” But that’s not their goal any longer, and they’re pretty open about that. And like I said, look at the Belt and Road Initiative. It’s a great example of that.

Mr. Jekielek: And Confucius Institutes, in America.

Rep. Stewart: Yeah.

Mr. Jekielek: What do you think is the most immediate first thing that can be tackled aside from trade, which the administration was tackling?

Rep. Stewart: In regards to China?

Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.

Rep. Stewart: I don’t know if I can say “the,” because that indicates only one. Let me pick a few if I could.

One of them is just recognition in the business community, which is why the intelligence community and so many intelligence leaders are spending a lot of time with our business CEOs. And some cases are actually on a limited basis and one-time basis, revealing some classified and sensitive information to them. So they understand truly the threat from China from the business partnerships.

A good example of that is 5G, with Huawei and ZTE. And if you’re looking at 5G and you expect to have a secure system, you can’t have Chinese suppliers in that supply chain anywhere along the way. And people are beginning to see that.

I think the second thing is recognizing that we have to maintain the balance of power in critical parts of the world—for example, the South China Sea—that we have [had] for a generation that have been challenged. Freedom of access. Freedom to navigate. China creating these, essentially, military outposts with these islands they’ve created and saying, “This is our territory now.” And not allowing freedom of navigation to them. We would have to confront that as well.

Again, I could list others. You asked me for one or two, but I think that’s a few of them.

Mr. Jekielek: I also noticed that you have a new bill on the table, right? You have a bill about the smoking age.

Rep. Stewart: Tobacco, 21.

Mr. Jekielek: Seems like a no-brainer.

Rep. Stewart: Yeah. Although it’s funny that some people oppose that. And they say, “Well, you can send someone to war, but you won’t let them smoke while they’re doing it.” Well, you know, that’s not comparing apples and apples, that’s apples and orange juice. It’s really quite different.

I mean, our effort in this is really clear. If you think that the health effects of smoking are detrimental, especially to youth when they’re addicted early, let’s discourage that. Let’s send the message that this is unhealthy, that it’s unproductive, and make it harder for them to smoke rather than easier. And that’s really our intention.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

American Thought Leaders is a new Epoch Times show available on Facebook and YouTube.

Jan Jekielek
Senior Editor
Jan Jekielek is a senior editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, "American Thought Leaders." Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, and international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as website chief editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."