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Answering the Burning Question on Venezuelan Minds: To Stay or to Leave?

gimme-shelter

“Heart broken doesn’t even began to explain it. I live in Berlin, but my country's situation disrupts my little bubble of comfort here in the first world. ” Image made by Venezuelan graphic artist Leonardo González, used with permission.

Venezuela currently faces the highest rate of inflation in the world, along with chronic food and medicinal shortages. While the government and the opposition continue to blame each other for the dire state of the economy, Venezuelans living abroad have been reaching out to Venezuelans in the country, through social media, to say that there is a world outside their crisis-ridden country.

The crisis, which has occupied the portrayal of the country in international media, has worsened in the last few years and has, in turn, created spaces for alarming human rights violations, which echo both inside and outside the country.

In response, an increasing number of Venezuelans are considering whether they should stay in the country, or leave and seek opportunities outside. The independent online media Efecto Cocuyo published some of the statistics and the reasoning behind them, as explained by research experts in Venezuela:

[…] Los momentos de migración en Venezuela en los últimos 15 años pueden ser divididos en tres períodos. En el primero, fue la élite venezolana la que emigró entre 1999 y 2003 debido a los cambios de carácter político que trajo la llegada del presidente Hugo Chávez […] En el segundo, comprendido entre 2004 y 2009, fueron los talentos y saberes los que abandonaron el país. Ahora, desde 2010 hasta la actualidad, los jóvenes y la clase media son quienes se despiden en [el aeropuerto internacional de] Maiquetía [debido a] las condiciones políticas, sociales y económicas de Venezuela.

Migration in Venezuela can be divided in three phases: The first was the migration of the elites, that left the country between 1999 and 2003 due to the political changes that were brought by the arrival of president Hugo Chavez […] The second, between 2004 and 2009 were qualified and educated people. Now, since 2010, it is the younger generations and the middle class the ones saying good-bye at the International airport in Maiquetía [due to] Venezuela's the political, social and economic conditions.

The challenges

The voices of those who have left the country are quite visible in social media, and convey the different ways in which migrating has been challenging for Venezuelans. Community acceptance, cultural clashes, and the connection to the country's political crisis are very present in online conversations and testimonies, some of which have been shared by the collective blog Caracas Chronicles under #TheCrisisInsideMe:

Juan Cristóbal Nigel, who writes from Chile points at the ways in which the conflict in Venezuela hurts when put in contrast with what seems to be an uneventful life in comparison:

My heart is full of lead, weighed down by an inability to put Venezuela behind me.

Every day, this scene repeats itself five, six times. Whether it is in a work meeting, a comment by a student in the hallway, or a call from a friend, people’s questions are always the same: “how horrible, what is going to happen?” The other day I started talking to a panhandler. He asked me where I was from. “Venezuela? Sheesh, things there are baaaad…” He gives me his pity look.

My reaction is the same. When I talk about it, it’s the half-an-hour of lingering emotional [hangover] that gets me.

I am grateful people are concerned, but I can’t help feel a bit jealous. They go on with their lives. They don’t feel guilty every time they go to the supermarket. They don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of pesos buying medicine for loved ones to send home. They don’t spend hours and hours away from their family writing about Venezuela’s crisis.

We’re lucky. We’re not living through this crisis directly. But in a tiny way, we are.

In another post, Alejandro Machado recounts the way he feels his family keeps connected with online technology, although to him, it's just not enough to feel them close:

We’re keeping informed, but not really in touch. We’re being entertained, but not really fulfilled. My family is now split across continents, leaving group chats and video calls as our only tools for maintaining our meaningful connection. I appreciate these feeble bridges that digital technology is tending, but, having lived the real deal, they don’t fully cut it.

We are away because the crisis became too dire, opportunities sprung up elsewhere, and we took them. We were extremely lucky to be born to this loving family and to not have been victims of the real tragedies happening to Venezuelans every day.

Alas, the crisis turned my family to a virtual one, and it hurts.

“Often times, we achieve something despite our nationality rather than because of it.”

There are many experiences charged with anger, but also with ideas questioning home and country, nation and identity. Hector reflects upon these in a post shared in Medium where he explains his reasons to leave the country and the anger triggered by the system and the political conflict:

Pienso que hay que desechar esa tontería de sentirse orgulloso del país en donde uno nació sólo por eso. O sentir orgullo por los logros de connacionales excepcionales que se destacan alrededor del mundo en las distintas disciplinas. Si más bien dichos logros es porque se desprendieron de esa prisión moral y social que es atarse a una nacionalidad y actuar acorde a ella y a sus expectativas. No es casualidad que los grandes escritores o pensadores venezolanos cargaran sus obras con tanta crítica social hacia la identidad nacional, porque muchas veces los logros no son por el gentilicio sino a pesar de él.

I think we should discard the idea of being proud of the country we were born just for being born there, or being proud of the achievements of exceptional countrymen/women that shine around the world in different disciplines. Those achievements have taken place because they let go of that social and moral prison that is to be attached to a nationality and act according to it and its expectations. It's not a coincidence that great Venezuelan writers or thinkers charged their work with so much social criticism to national identity. Often times we achieve something despite our nationality rather than because of it.

Survival guides for Venezuelans abroad

Many others use social media, not only talk about the experiences and share stories of nostalgia, but also advise others who might want to move abroad as well. For many, Venezuelans are experiencing what many communities in the 20th century had to go through in Latin America and Europe, and the shocks generates both empathy and criticism. As usual, the narratives are diverse, as it can be seen in the YouTube channel Diáspora Venezolana (Venezuelan Diaspora):

Uno siempre piensa que su país es el mejor, que su cultura es la mejor, la verdad es que todas las culturas son muy bonitas. No somos de ninguna parte, sino que somos del mundo. La gente tiene que atreverse, a viajar. Yo pienso que la vida es conocer, ir a otros lados, conocer otras personas, conocer otras culturas. Ver el mundo.

We always think our country is the best, our culture is the best, and what's true is that all cultures are beautiful. We're not from one place, we're from the world. People need to dare, to travel. I think life is about knowing, going places, meeting people, encountering cultures, see the world.

  • Allen Thomas

    I notice that there was little mention of WHERE exactly those Venezuelans wishing to migrate would go.

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