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By Vickie Oddino and Ana Kugler
In case you doubt whether YouTube videos and social media have an impact on spreading the message of individualism and freedom, all you have to do is ask Franklin Andrés Camargo Armas. It was through YouTube videos that he discovered Ayn Rand and through Instagram that he found The Atlas Society.
It has been less than a year since 22-year-old Franklin escaped Venezuela, leaving behind his family to come to the United States. The regime had threatened Franklin’s life for promoting free market ideology. Making the decision to leave wasn’t easy, he recalls, but “to save my integrity and freedom, I had to leave.”
Many of us have watched footage of a Venezuela that appears to lay in ruins, with blackouts, food shortages, and 87% of the country in poverty. But it wasn’t always so. The country used to be one of the wealthiest and most prosperous in the world. It was in that country that Franklin’s parents grew up, married, and started a family. Franklin’s father became an economist and businessman, and his mother earned a degree in education.
The shift came in 1999, right after Franklin had turned one year old, when Hugo Chavez came to power. Franklin knew that his “parents were always in fierce opposition to his regime.” And from a young age, his parents taught him “the principle of self-sufficiency and the virtue of fighting for our greatest aspirations.”
But it took a few years for much of the world to see the changes being implemented and to witness the effects of Chavez’s socialism. As a child, Franklin and his family often vacationed in Orlando, Florida. He remembers even as a kid being struck by the contrast between his home country and the capitalist country to the north. He could feel the difference the moment he departed the airplane and walked into the airport. The infrastructure. The updated technology. “It was almost like moving to the future,” he remembers.
But the more time he spent in the US, the more he realized that the difference was evident in much more than the buildings, technology, and transportation services. The people were also different, “even the faces, clothing and behavior of the people. They did not transmit submission and poverty, but independence and prosperity. That marked me.”
It didn’t take long for him to realize that the difference between a rich country and a poor country was the presence of capitalism.
The effects of Chavez and socialism quickly reached Franklin’s family as well as so many others. “Socialism hit us very hard. We went from vacationing in Orlando, Florida to visualizing our completely broken businesses. This whole turnaround was in just a few years.”
Upon witnessing the change, Franklin concluded that Venezuela ought to be capitalist and thus, prosperous. So began his journey of self-study. He scoured the Internet, searching for information on freedom and free markets. This is when he stumbled upon Ayn Rand on YouTube. It didn’t take long for Franklin to become a fan:
From the first moment, she made a strong impact on me, especially because of her moral defense of the individual and capitalism. I searched for all of the information I could find about Ayn Rand -- videos and web pages. Then months later I accessed her books, and today she represents my greatest intellectual influence.
Franklin, inspired by Rand and driven by the ambition to change his country, devoted himself to promoting the ideas of Objectivism in Venezuela. And when Franklin sets his mind on something, he follows through in a huge way. He began by traveling to several states in Venezuela, where he presented a speech titled "Defending Capitalism" that provided the moral defense of capitalism as taught by Ayn Rand. A few months later, he prepared and delivered another speech, called "Let's Talk about Ayn Rand" to more specifically explain the principles of Objectivism.
But in socialist countries, speaking out is not without risk. But this was a risk he was willing to take because, he says, his parents “conveyed to me the duty to rebel against a system that demanded a false right to enslave us.”
He recounts an event in July of 2018: “When I returned from a speech that I gave in the State of Merida, the National Guard stopped the car where I was with part of my work team. Then two officers of the National Guard inspected our luggage and interrogated us for about an hour.” But this time, he was allowed to continue on his way. And that allowed Franklin to continue spreading his message.
Franklin “led peaceful protests against the Nicolas Maduro Regime, held press conferences, citizens' assemblies, political outreach, interviews on radio and television media.” And he wrote opinion articles, constantly.
This activism didn’t come without costs.
Franklin describes some of those consequences from late 2018.
Pictures of me were shown on the propaganda media of the regime, specifically in the digital media and television program "Con el Mazo Dando" hosted by Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Constituent Assembly-who also has ties to drug trafficking and organized terrorism- I received defamations along with fellow activists and the direct threat of being arrested by SEBIN (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service), and Diosdado Cabello’s order.
At the time, Franklin was also a 3rd-year medical student at the Universidad Romulo Gallegos (UNERG) in Guarico, Venezuela. But he refused to accept the political indoctrination the university pushed and found himself speaking out against it. This also came at a huge cost. On January 25, 2019, he was expelled.
He explains what happened:
The UNERG University is known for its links with the Nicolas Maduro regime, the security agencies of the tyranny, and paramilitary groups. The dean of the medical school at UNERG University told me "You're expelled, don't provoke me. You're a criminal" and later threatened to call security forces, so I immediately decided to flee the school. On January 26, 2019, I received a call from the leader of the communist student movement at the university to threaten me, and later, on January 28, he held a press conference to defame me and point out that I intended to burn down classrooms and attack students and authorities. This is absolutely false. This political operation is common in Venezuela, slandering to justify police action against me. In February, through two sources that I cannot name for their safety, I received the news that an arrest warrant was being processed against me.
Franklin knew. It was time to leave Venezuela.
“For days I slept in an aunt’s house, acting cautiously, and planning my escape. Believe me, under a socialist system individuals have no right to exist. Our lives, knowledge, and work belong to the state.”
When he finally had a plan and made his way to the Caracas airport, an airport patrolled by military personnel, he feared the possibility of being arrested before he could get on the plane. And it didn’t help that his flight was delayed by eight hours. But he knew that staying in Venezuela was a sure-fire prison sentence, if not worse. Thankfully, he wasn’t stopped, and once the plane landed in Miami, he finally felt safe.
Franklin recalls an Ayn Rand quote that resonates with his journey: "Call it fate or irony, but I was born, of all countries on earth, in the one least suitable for a fanatic of individualism.”
Not surprisingly, the government then turned its sights onto Franklin’s family.
The danger of my family receiving some kind of attack was latent. In fact, my older brother who has the same name as me and was studying medicine as I was, was expelled from his medical school just like me. For this reason, my family later had to make the difficult decision to flee Venezuela. It is well known that the family and friends of the politically persecuted receive reprisals from the regime in order to intimidate them. Today my parents and my only brother are in the United States of America.
Franklin is not a typical immigrant to the United States. After all, he was not seeking to move here and not looking to start a new life. He had hoped to stay and bring capitalism, and Ayn Rand, to Venezuela. He dreamed of graduating from medical school. Instead, he became a political refugee, “fleeing persecution by the Venezuelan regime who accused me of being a terrorist.”
Since coming to America, Franklin’s goals haven’t changed much. He still wants to graduate from medical school, and he still wants to spread the ideas of small government and a freer economy, whether that be through talks at conferences and universities, through writing books and essays, or through video.
One of his current projects is working as part of a group of seven young Venezuelans, all raised under a socialist regime. Five of them live in exile and two remain within Venezuela. Just as Franklin went to social media in his search for those who shared his ideas, the group, with the support of Students for Liberty, provides content through webinars on YouTube for others who may be seeking a life of freedom. They are also writing a book to be printed in both Spanish and English: After Socialism, Freedom. Franklin is responsible for writing the chapter titled “Socialization of HealthCare and Education in Venezuela” In it, he “highlights the inherent danger of a system where politicians ensure that without state aid, individuals cannot survive and where politicians pervert individual rights to gain political power.” He also explains “the importance of personal independence of individuals to be free from physical coercion by the state.”
In addition to other videos educating viewers on the destruction of Venezuela through socialism, in an upcoming video, titled "Franklin Camargo on How Collectivism Destroyed Venezuela," Franklin will compare the points that Ellsworth Toohey makes in The Fountainhead in a speech to Howard Roark about how to dominate and control individuals to the exact tools used by Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro to collectivise Venezuela.
At a Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in West Palm Beach, Florida, Franklin had the opportunity to meet both Jennifer Grossman and Ana Kugler and has since become one of our Atlas Advocates. He also sees the importance of reaching both the Millennial and GenZ crowd and believes The Atlas Society is doing a great job not only digitally and in the media, but also in colleges and universities. “I also truly love the Spanish memes and videos that The Atlas Society has recently been publishing,” he adds.
Back in 2019, Franklin had a place to stay in Miami for his first three nights in America, and after settling in, he spotted a bookshelf. He loves to read, so he thought he would browse the shelf, see if anything interested him. And within just a few hours of being in the United States, he spotted a novel he knew well: Atlas Shrugged. His first thought was “Yes, I am in the right place.”
Franklin now lives in Utah and where he is taking classes to perfect his English, working, and spends his free time fighting for freedom. If you would like to connect or learn more about Franklin then you can find him on Instagram @frannk97.