One of the most memorable moments from the Republican National Convention came when Cuban-born Maximo Alvarez cautioned Americans against creeping socialism.
“I’ve seen movements like this before,” he warned last month.
The Florida businessman is hardly alone among those who fled socialist countries. On social media and in interviews with Fox News, other immigrants who settled in the U.S. say that recent political shifts here – including class warfare, riots and language policing, not to mention calls for expansive government programs – are starting to remind them of what they left behind.
And they carry the same message as Alvarez, urging Americans not to repeat history.
“The millionaires, and anyone that was rich, were ‘the enemy of people’ in Venezuela,” Elizabeth Rogliani, a young woman who left Venezuela for America in 2008 and lives in Florida, said of her former country (though she cited a term that President Trump now controversially uses against the media).
She has been using her TikTok channel to try to tell people about that history.
Rogliani says she sees a parallel in politicians’ frequent attacks on “millionaires and billionaires.”
“Division between the classes was something that Hugo Chavez wanted -- to make sure that poorer sectors of society hated anyone that was wealthy,” she said.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez often declared that being rich is bad.
He defined capitalism as the "kingdom of the egoism of inequality" and socialism as the "kingdom of love, equality, solidarity, peace and true democracy."
Once, before Chavez became president in 1999, Venezuela was the wealthiest country in South America. Venezuela also has more untapped underground oil than any country in the world, even Saudi Arabia.
But after Chavez ruled for more than a decade -- enacting strict price controls and seizing private businesses -- the economy collapsed. Last month, after decades of mismanagement, the country’s last oil rig shut down. Millions have now fled amid mass starvation and violence.
Rogliani said that in America, her biggest fear comes not from any one policy proposal – but from the overall culture.
“Seeing these riots knocking those statues … it’s so similar,” she said.
In little-known history, Chavez’s government officially renamed “Columbus Day” to "Indigenous Resistance Day” in 2002.
“In 2004, the Columbus statue came down in Venezuela. It was torn down by mobs. People had been encouraged by Chavez’s rhetoric,” Rogliani said.
The origins of unrest in the U.S., of course, are very different and unique to this country. Activists have pressed for years to take down statues dedicated to the Confederacy, arguing the country should not be honoring those who fought on the side of slavery. The push has expanded in recent months, however, to target historical figures who had been less controversial but nevertheless were connected to slavery or other institutions. Meanwhile, protests and sometimes-related looting that have hit American cities this summer stemmed from anger over racial injustice and police brutality, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Some protests continue to be peaceful, while cities such as Chicago, Portland and Seattle have dealt with more violent outbreaks for months.
Rogliani cautioned, however, that such unrest can be exploited. Chavez encouraged such thinking, Rogliani said, because he saw angry mobs as a powerful tool.
Several Latin American countries have seen an exodus of people fleeing to escape socialism. Nicaragua is one.
“What we see now has all the same characteristics as I saw there … violence, looting, damaging private property,” Roberto Bendana, a Nicaraguan immigrant in Texas, told Fox News of the recent violence in the U.S.
Bendana left Nicaragua after revolutionary socialists took power in 1981 and confiscated his father’s coffee farm.
“Even the flags! The protesters here in the U.S. are using the red and black flags,” Bendana said, noting Nicaraguan socialist revolutionaries used the same colors.
More than a million Cubans have fled to the U.S. since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Among them was Maximo Alvarez.
“I heard the promises of Fidel Castro and I can never forget all those who grew up around me … who suffered and starved and died because they believed those empty promises,” he said in his GOP convention speech in August.
“You can still hear the sounds of those broken promises. It is the sound of waves in the ocean carrying families clinging to pieces of wood. It is the sound of tears hitting the paper of an application to become an American citizen,” he added.
“My dad, who only had a sixth-grade education, told me – don’t lose this place,” Alvarez said of America. “My family is done abandoning what we rightfully earned.”
Alvarez, despite coming from poverty, founded Sunshine Gasoline and became a millionaire. Alvarez noted that Joe Biden proposes “trillions in new taxes.”
For his part, Biden maintains the proposed tax hikes would largely hit those making over $400,000. He told ABC last month the “very wealthy should pay a fair share,” along with corporations.
And the former vice president has rejected long-running efforts by the Trump campaign to tag him as aligned with socialists.
“Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?" Biden quipped last month, stressing he wants to keep the country safe from looting as well as “bad cops.”
Dating back to the primary, Biden had tensions with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a democratic socialist, over his plans for “Medicare-for-All” and other policies. But the democratic socialist wing’s influence over Democratic Party policies will be closely watched in the months and years ahead.
Lily Tang Williams, an immigrant from China who lives in New Hampshire, personally experienced Chairman Mao’s economic policies and “Cultural Revolution.”
She says she sees parallels with the unrest in American cities today.
“The riots, looters, destruction of properties, it’s so familiar. It's scary to me because I went through that,” she said. “The people who attack small businesses in cities -- you see them take private property, and they say, ‘we deserve this. This is reparations.’ And it’s just – this is the Marxist way. It’s an excuse at the barrel of a gun.”
Recently, protesters in D.C. accosted people at a restaurant and demanded they raise their fist in support of their cause; those who declined were harassed.
Tang Williams took aim at the “silence is violence” concept.
“You cannot even keep silence. You have to publicly agree with them. It’s fundamentally not American,” she said. “The tactics they use are very Marxist and communist. They did this in China. Everybody had to be PC.”
“Free speech, and free thoughts and ideas -- that's what makes America great. We don't have to agree with each other all the time, but we should be able to have a civil discussion,” she said.
"I have friends who attended Republican National Convention. They got harassed, just walking out. Thank goodness they were not harmed ... But it is scary,” she said.
On the same night, protesters similarly harassed Sen. Rand Paul and his wife, Kelley Paul, who called it the “most terrifying moment” of her life.
Tang Williams claimed that some Americans were falling for socialism only because they haven’t lived through it.
“People here are allowed to peacefully protest. The protesters do not appreciate the freedom they have in this country. … They have not suffered from hunger, real poverty,” she said.