Venezuela is surrounded by paradisiacal turquoise waters in the north and an enigmatic rainforest in the south. There are no seasonal natural disasters—no hurricanes, tornados, blizzards or wildfires—such as there are in various areas of the United States. But an idea that the government should be given so much power that it could take away every right of the individual citizen—even their right to self-defense—did lead to the country’s ruination.
As a former citizen of Venezuela who became a U.S. citizen, I am now hearing many of the same things I heard in Venezuela from certain anti-Second Amendment politicians. I was an Olympic shooting competitor representing Venezuela and am now a lawful gun owner here in America. I don’t want to see this right being threatened again.
It has been eye-opening to visit and meet people from all walks of life throughout the U.S. While many Americans constantly fight to preserve our freedoms, it is alarming how many take those freedoms for granted. That is why I always share my experiences in Venezuela before and after socialist Hugo Chávez took power. My dreams as a young woman, Olympic athlete and college student ended because of the socialist ideas that hypnotized not only the poor but also the educated and powerful. To revive my dreams, I had to leave my country.
Venezuela was once a place where people could find jobs, prosper, dream about their future and, with hard work, succeed, despite social and political issues. My parents were born in a rural town where there were not even flushing toilets until the late 1950s. My mom became a high-school teacher, and my dad was a machinist who dreamed of owning a machine shop. They married in the late 1970s and lived on my mom’s salary for several years as my dad built his business. They showed my siblings and me that dreams are possible with hard work and dedication.
During that time, law-abiding Venezuelans could own firearms and apply for a concealed-carry license. My father was an avid hunter who filled up the freezer with venison, duck, rabbit and any other animals he deemed tasty. Children could go to the gun range with their parents to practice the shooting sports. I was 10 years old the first time my dad took my two sisters and me to the gun range. I needed my dad’s help to load the old Feinwerkbau M65 air pistol we used. But that day changed my life, and I have loved the sport since.
The shooting sports drastically changed my perspective. At first, it seemed like it might be easy to hit the one-centimeter bullseye at 10 meters. My mind constantly raced, however, and I realized my mindset was the most-significant asset I had to learn to control. Maintaining a steady mind was as important as keeping a steady aim. Part of that mental training was understanding that dedication, sacrifices and rewards were part of my athletic life. I trained approximately four to five hours a day, six days a week, for about seven years until I retired in 2002. I missed school parties, school trips and even my graduation ceremony; however, I finally became a member of the Venezuelan National team, and, at 16 years old, I won my first international medal at the 1997 Bolivarian Games in Peru.
Everything seemed to go in a great direction until I learned that elections have serious consequences. I became aware of how avaricious leaders and elites can pulverize the dreams of hard-working citizens.
Hugo Chávez took power in 1999 and ruled the country via executive orders from the beginning. The terrible implications of his actions were palpable, as he aimed to take farmland away from its owners. Chávez did not waste time in pushing his socialist agenda, influenced by Fidel Castro, seeding hatred and envy amongst Venezuelans. I remember one time a person on a motorcycle stopped next to my dad’s SUV and spat on it. It was a symbolic gesture showing his hatred toward us for having a good vehicle. What this man did not know is that my parents were born poor but rose through their will and dedication.
Hugo Chávez’s actions did not go by unnoticed. A Cuban friend, whom I’ll call Jose, warned many of us at the gun range about Venezuela’s future under Hugo Chávez. These warnings were, as Gabriel Garciá Márquez wrote, a “chronicle of a death foretold.” It was indeed a hard pill to swallow for many, who often replied with something like: “That would never happen here. Venezuela is the richest country in the region. Venezuela is not an island like Cuba.”
Crime is uncontrollable, making Venezuela one of the most-dangerous countries in the world—in part because of its strict gun control ... .
However, I listened to my Cuban friend and relied on lessons I learned in the shooting sports to make my decision. You see, shooters learn to control negative thoughts, fears and disappointments during setbacks in competitions. Such a constant exposure made me understand that moving forward amid doubts is possible. I learned that sacrifices and fear of the unknown are part of my journey toward success, even if that means leaving everything behind. I was on the peak of my shooting career. I had participated at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. I was a gold medalist at the subsequent Bolivarian and South American Games, and I was an Olympic hopeful for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens; however, there was no future in the “new socialist Venezuela,” and fear of the unknown would not stop me from seeking a better way of life.
Nonetheless, leaving Venezuela was a difficult decision. My parents and I argued and cried, and I became distant as they failed to change my mind. It was as if they thought Chávez was a temporary nightmare in Venezuela’s history and could not see the real threat. Breaking their hearts was never my intention, but my decision to move to the United States was made. Staying in a socialist state was against my beliefs.
I learned as an athlete to focus on the possibilities, not the limitations. I would celebrate successful athletes as role models, and see improvement as a never-ending journey to reach excellence. Conversely, the socialists in Venezuela focused on limitations, not possibilities. They fostered hate toward successful individuals instead of holding them up as inspiration. Blaming others for their shortcomings became their signature argument. Ultimately, the Venezuelan socialist regime manipulated the masses into believing that bringing down successful individuals would somehow elevate the poor. Venezuela turned into a place where leaders limited peoples’ dreams and efforts.
I refused to live where hard work was not celebrated but punished. I wanted to live in a nation with true freedom. So, at 21 years old, I chose the hard path toward freedom. I left behind family, friends, higher education and the possibility of participating in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. My suitcase carried only clothes, photos, my coin collection, a few gold medals and my Olympic uniform. I was armed only with hope, the will to never give up and the knowledge that I could withstand anything life would throw at me with God at my side.
The future looked bright in the U.S., even though the transition was intimidating. The American culture, ideology, language and people were unfamiliar. While adjusting was not easy, my immigration lawyer’s confidence in my case gave me hope I could soon call America my permanent home. It turned out that my hard work and dedication to my Olympic shooting career provided more than just medals; my application for an Extraordinary Ability Visa (O-1 visa) was approved in 2004, granting me a green card soon after. I could finally call the United States home, and it was a home with true freedom, which never seemed as clear as it did on the day I purchased my first 9 mm pistol—an act I could never have imagined in Venezuela.
My life in the U.S. has been filled with ups and downs. In 2010, my ex-husband left me right after becoming a U.S. citizen. I lost my job the same week. I was alone, depressed and sinking into debt without a job. A few months passed before the fighter in me ignited my soul, and I began to strategize how to overcome my struggles.
I found a part-time job to cover most of my expenses, which allowed me to build up my career as a firearms instructor. I worked between 10 and 12 hours a day to cover my expenses and to pay my debts. Then, something unexpected happened. I applied to participate on season four of the show “Top Shot” on the History Channel, thinking they probably would not pick me. A month later, I was in Los Angeles for the selection process. A meeting with one of the producers became one of my most memorable moments. He asked if not doing well in the competition was a concern for my career as a firearms instructor. I explained that regardless of the outcome, nobody could take away all my achievements. I was not concerned about anything else other than doing my best! I made a calculated risk to quit my part-time job and participated both in that season and in season five’s “All-Stars” competition.
While life seemed to be smiling at me again, I could not ignore how some U.S. politicians used their powerful voices to divide our country. So, in 2012—coincidentally the same year Venezuela outright banned commercial gun sales—I cast my first vote as an American citizen against now-former-President Barack Obama (D).
As the socialist agenda gained ground during the years of the Obama administration, I became an advocate for freedom. The NRA gave me an outlet to reach more people with videos addressing the American dream, gun bans and the dangers of socialism. The organization knew that my life story could help Americans understand the dangers of taking freedom away. Becoming an Army wife and then a mother further solidified my decision to continue my advocacy. Since then, I have joined forces with other organizations, like the DC Project, to talk to legislators about protecting our Second Amendment rights. Today, I speak at public events against gun control because America is not immune from embracing the socialist agenda.
Many Venezuelans and Americans behave similarly, despite academic and economic differences. They are willing to relinquish rights like the Second Amendment for the “common good.” The far left in both countries rejoices in the silencing, unfair treatment, intimidation and apprehension of those who have opposing political views.
Two decades of socialism have changed the lives of millions of Venezuelans. To put it into perspective, a 25-year-old Venezuelan today only knows life with severe shortages of food and medication. It is estimated that 96% of Venezuelans live in poverty today, while Venezuelan politicians enrich themselves. Crime is uncontrollable, making Venezuela one of the most-dangerous countries in the world—in part because of its strict gun control, ensuring ordinary citizens cannot defend themselves against aggressors. Not surprisingly, the incompetent president Nicolás Maduro and his allies refuse to acknowledge the crisis and blame everyone else for Venezuela’s demise.
I know it is hard to imagine that any of this could happen in America, but it is. The same divisive rhetoric I heard in Venezuela and then from Obama is used even more today. Venezuela’s current situation is the result of giving more power to the government, eliciting corruption, mismanagement and excessive spending; moreover, it was not an immediate change. Socialists took Venezuelans on a one-way journey to misery one step at a time. Unfortunately, I see America heading in that direction if we continue with the current socialist agenda that favors a powerful government, gun control, more regulations and a politicized justice system. Thus, it is imperative that Americans rally to preserve our Constitution and our nation by voting out anyone who wishes to undermine our constitutional rights.
To better protect our country, we must constantly strive to become our best, whatever that may be. For me, this involves finishing my bachelor’s degree. So, I enrolled in college in 2019, despite knowing little English grammar or how to write a paper in English. Pursuing a higher education as a full-time student has been challenging, considering I am a mother, an Army wife, an entrepreneur and a pro shooter; however, the hard work and determination I learned from my parents and the shooting sports are seeing me through. I am on track to graduate with honors in psychology in May 2023, and, though it may sound clichéd, I aim to do something meaningful for society.
There is a lot more to do personally and professionally. My studies will help me better share my story, showing that tears, hardships and sacrifices can lead to a life full of hope and happiness that motivates others. I will serve the American people with honor and will fiercely protect our Constitution and our liberties so more generations can enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy today. Achieving excellence and fulfilling one’s dreams is not only attainable, it is the American dream!