Leaving Behind Venezuela and All of its Turmoil: A Familiar and Broad Perspective
In the mid-to-late 1990s, a young Venezuelan man named Alvaro Garcia--my stepfather--had a foreboding premonition about the socio-economic crisis that was coming to fruition in Venezuela, due in part to the rise of a new political figure coming up through the ranks of Venezuelan politics. His name was Hugo Chavez.
While studying at the Universidad Central de Caracas, the young, soon-to-be Dr. Garcia witnessed a drastic fluctuation in political consensus among his peers and family members, with ideological preferences slowly turning in favor of the “revolutionary” Hugo Chavez, who was elected in the 1998 elections. Chavez’s policies were predicated around rebuilding the poorer communities through government subsidies and reconstruction projects throughout the entire country, especially in smaller cities such as Maracay.
Normally, someone like my stepfather, being the left-wing, social justice advocate that he is, would not have been opposed to the government using its money to help redistribute the wealth among those who were socio-economically less fortunate. Those promises were tragically misleading, however, because of one major caveat: Venezuela’s money under Chavez came from mass exportation of oil. Chavez began to create a Venezuelan pseudo-economy that printed money whenever it felt necessary, thus drastically increasing inflation and reducing purchasing power of its national currency, while also scaring away foreign investors that supply foreign capital. The oil money created closed curtains that hid the glaring problems of economic failure from the Venezuelan people and the majority of the rest of the world.
Many Venezuelans, like Garcia’s family, at that time foresaw this happening but did not act upon their foresight and remained within the country’s borders with the hope that the situation would improve under Chavez. Garcia, on the other hand, did not take any chances, and after medical school ended, he was able to move to the United States during 2000, therefore escaping the darkest downturns of his premonition. His family, however, was not as quick to act. Unfortunately, they remained five more years after he escaped and suffered many of the social and economic effects that Chavez promised wouldn’t happen under his regime. Through fiery, demagogic language, Chavez promised his constituents and the Venezuelan public that corruption in government would be eradicated and monies would be allocated correctly and fairly throughout the economy. Garcia’s family witnessed first hand that neither of these promises were acted upon, with the majority of profit from oil money going into corrupt bureaucrats’ pockets. Through sly political maneuvering and Garcia’s constant pressuring, his family was finally able to leave Venezuela in 2005 and take up residence in Barcelona, Spain.
After 10 years, and under a new political regime in the form of President Nicolas Maduro, not much has changed other than the fact that more Venezuelans are realizing that the country’s conditions are only worsening, and the only way to solve the problem is escaping. In recent years, crime has drastically increased, communication with the outside world has becoming increasingly limited, and the situation for the impoverished has remained stagnant. All of these conditions are causing a mass exodus out of Venezuela. According to a study conducted by Tomas Paez, a sociologist at the University of Central Venezuela, at least 6% of the population is now living abroad: that’s 1.9 million people, most of whom left under Chavez and are now leaving under Maduro. In an interview with the New York Times, a disillusioned boat manufacturing company owner named Ivor Hayer claims that he couldn’t wait to get out of Venezuela and move to Colombia, especially because the Venezuelan government is on a mission to seize small private businesses.
Is there a way to solve the problems that many native Venezuelans are facing other than escape and asylum abroad? I’m not sure there is a concrete answer to that. One social media movement did take place throughout much of South Florida and around the globe, however, and it was aimed at shedding light on the brutal conditions that filled Venezuela’s communities. With #SOSVenezuela being the focal point of that movement, many Venezuelan Americans shared experiences about their trials and tribulations under Chavez, and many native Venezuelans trapped in the dystopia used the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to send the world images of what was occurring. Major news organizations such as CNN and MSNBC used these social media platforms to retrieve the raw images and videos from Venezuela and eventually, they included them in their daily and nightly news segments, thus increasing awareness about the Venezuelan situation in the rest of the United States.
Thanks to social media and active dissenters, all is not forgotten in Venezuela, and those who have long left its lands are able to keep in at least minimal contact with their family members. But sentiments still run high in my family, especially with my stepfather. Some days, he misses Venezuela, and some he does not. Everyday, however, he hopes the quality of life for those still in his native Venezuela increases; he is also relieved for those that made it out safely. It appears that my stepfather’s sentiment is not whole-hearted nostalgia, however, and like many other Venezuelan-Americans, he realizes that what he once called “home” is now long in the past and nothing but a collection of memories of a better time.
- James Sabia