A: Andrea, please tell our readers a little about yourself.
AR: In Venezuela I was working as a community manager, copywriter and graphic designer for an organic cosmetic brand located on the island of Margarita; I worked from the comfort of an apartment in Maracaibo, Zulia State where I installed a home office. I was earning four times more than the minimum salary, but it was barely enough to pay the rent and food. I had ambitions to start my own art and design company, but inflation destroyed all possibilities and I had to restructure and prioritize.
A: Andrea was it just the hyperinflation and lack of career prospects that led you to leave Venezuela?
AR: In an ideal world and if Venezuela was a stable and prosperous country, I would like to think that I would have decided to explore the world. When I was 9 years old I went abroad for the first time and I got to know the island of Aruba, just outside Venezuela on the Caribbean coast. Then at the age of 14 I had the great opportunity to spend over a month in England, and I think that those experiences fed my imagination and my desire to explore new territories, to create great moments in my memory. I’ve certainly had a desire to travel since the age of 20 years old, but it is what it is, everything has happened at the right time and I don’t complain, I’m just grateful.
Returning to your question, the real trigger to get away from Venezuela, literally fleeing, happened in October 2017 when I was yet again the victim of a crime. It was a resounding decision; ‘We are leaving Venezuela! I cannot take anymore!’ I was directly involved in the ‘Guarimbas’ of 2014 and 2017 (protests groups). I was an activist and the prospects were never encouraging; all people in uniform are either bought off or threatened and those who dare to protest are sent to the dungeons.
Security forces stealing from us, the decline and lack of humanity within society plus the hyperinflation pushed me to leave. I was stressed and annoyed that I had to flee Venezuela under such circumstances; Venezuela is in a state of involution and my aspirations are too big to remain.
A: Do you keep in touch with anti-government activists?
AR: I have kept in touch with a handful of activists, most have fled Maduro’s brutal regime and political persecution. One female activist having endured false imprisonment in 2014 has also fled the country; security forces raided a meeting and “found weapons in her handbag” which were planted there during the raid. This is what we’re up against if we dare speak or protest Maduro. She feels that Maduro has won with his control of the army and security forces. Pressure is put on families of anyone who dares speak or protest the government.
Another activist who remained in the country cannot see any hope for Venezuela unless there is foreign intervention. A starving population is trying to survive on rations, it no longer has the will to protest or speak out knowing that security forces can use false allegations to imprison and torture those that dare protest. The priority now is just to survive and stay alive.
A: How did you get to Chile?
AR: I arrived in Chile on November 14, 2017, accompanied by my girlfriend (we are together since October 26, 2012). I was able to get here thanks to the financial help of a businessman friend of my grandmother; he bought us air tickets from Colombia to Chile; (it was a loan of US$750 that we were able to pay in four months by working long hours.
To get to Colombia we travelled by bus from Caracas to San Antonio del Táchira in the west of the country. There we crossed the border into Cucuta, Colombia. We travelled for many hours and had to wait many more at the border for our passports to be stamped. From Cúcuta we took a flight to Bogota where we had to spend one night and then the next morning we flew to Santiago de Chile.
It was very long and very tiring but to be honest, in comparison to the many horror stories we’ve heard from compatriots, I know our journey was easy and without incidents, almost a fairy tale. I thank God for that.
A: How has life been starting all over as an immigrant in Chile?
AR: At first, in the difficult stage of adaptation, I was busy, anxious, full of work and extremely tired. I will not lie, in the first job I had (I got it a week after arriving in Santiago) they exploited me; I had to work up to 14 hours straight without receiving the right pay. They take advantage of you simply because you’re an immigrant. Chileans know that we need a work contract to be able to apply for legal papers and stay in the country. I endured the arduous trot for over 5 months until I could get my papers and that’s when they started paying me a little more. Currently, after 10 months in Santiago I am already in my second job, this time within the international fast food chain Subway. It’s amazing how all the people that make up the work team are Venezuelans (it’s like being with the family), better paid and taken care of with respect to what we deserve. Chileans really like our enthusiasm and diligence when dealing with the public.
Chile is a country with great opportunities, with a stable economy and I am determined to take advantage of them, even without being clear about how long I will be here, since I want to continue studying and get to know other cities in the world. I enjoy everything that is around me; it’s unknown, unique, nice (even when Chileans don’t see the funny side of things, hahaha!); here I learn and improve every day three times faster than what I can achieve in Venezuela.
A: How do you feel as a Venezuelan citizen with relatives still living there?
AR: As a ‘normal’ Venezuelan citizen, I am currently immersed in a flurry of emotions regarding the relatives that are still there and the terrible recurring question of when will I enjoy my country again? When will it be safe? It is inevitable to check the news and not feel at times very distressed but equally I try to live every day with the best attitude and move forward towards my dreams and those of my family.
Honestly, there are days when I feel totally hopeless, but that is the last thing that should be lost, right? We work every day not to lose it, even more, when there are many Venezuelans of power or with great influences in different areas, working hard around the world to form alliances that soon may help to infuse the internal changes that the country needs, in order to begin a real restructuring from the ground up. But most of the time we feel worried, anxious, we can’t deny it.
A: What would you like to tell the world about what is happening in Venezuela?
AR: Well, I would like to confirm that in Venezuela there is a military dictatorship, also known as Narco-dictatorship and that is a good description because it is exactly what it is. All the people in high ranks of the government are into illicit businesses that range from child trafficking, arms and drugs. That is not a lie, everybody knows it. The international public should not be deceived. Hugo Chávez began with the work of gradually transforming Venezuela into a second Cuba and Nicolás Maduro has placed the icing on the cake; our country is in ruins. Whoever has eyes can see that there is no separation of powers; the presidential cabinet does what it wants when it wants. They are subjecting the weakest and poorest citizens and have turned the ordinary Venezuelan into a beggar. There is no control in any area, everything is a mafia, everything goes hand in hand with the corrupt expression: “how much is there for that?”
A: What has this experience taught you?
AR: This experience could make anyone feel almost like a modern Anne Frank, if the comparison is allowed. Despite so much modernity, so much technology and all that “democratic” screen of the 21st century and although I was born into a family of good possibilities, I have seen many children eating from garbage to survive, I have seen how as many as 10-20 new born babies can die in a single night in their incubators because there is simply not enough electricity in the hospital to function. The government does not care at all; they rather pay to hide the news and if they find journalists wanting to follow the cases, they put them into prisons. How is it that cancer patients are not able to access their medicines? How is it that you can’t get a deodorant in a supermarket? It’s not necessary to have gas chambers or to throw bombs to destroy a country, this government has done it slowly and shamelessly and without any apparent remorse. I am saying that the people who govern Venezuela, who oversee running the country, are insensitive, inhuman and socially resentful men and women with longings for an infinite power. It’s for that reason that the panorama looks so devastating. We have had to understand that Venezuela lives its worst moment, with casualty numbers like those of the wars in the Middle East and without having car bombs. It’s devastating when you really care about your people and your place of origin.
A: Is there hope for Venezuela?
AR: At this point I honestly don’t know what to think, I don’t know what Venezuela needs to start restructuring. When I was there I marched and protested so much against the government, I shouted, I made artistic protests, I gave talks to the most vulnerable, and I could see as friends’ activists were taken to jail for simply thinking differently. Once when we were protesting, we were attacked by a government supporter with a firearm. So many things in a few years that make you lose the desire to continue fighting, you feel hand tied and you feel terrible because you think that you failed. At this point I would support a foreign intervention only because I think we have exhausted all the means from within. Also, we don’t have a serious and structured opposition; some of them are accomplices of the government.
At this moment we can only continue to improve as citizens, as professionals, and pray for a future full of light for the country.
A: What would you like to see happen?
AR: I would love to see the entire presidential cabinet fall, together with the military high command that is currently on their side and all the “plugged in” people that contributed to the biggest embezzlement the country has suffered; they must pay for what they have done.
Thanks to their lust for power and money, millions of Venezuelans have been left without future options within our land. Many Venezuelans who managed to steal millions of dollars from the oil industry and internally with other state companies are currently enjoying a life of luxury and lies at the expense of the misery of many others; they are as guilty as the politicians so I hope that if it is not the “justice” of society that punishes them, then divine justice does its job.
I want it to happen soon, to be able to return to Venezuela at some point along with thousands of Venezuelans who are academically prepared to help restructure our country for the new generations. We keep praying.
A: Thank you Andrea, we wish you well.
AR: Thank you Anastasia for writing about the devastating situation in Venezuela and thank you Country Squire for publishing, maybe sooner than we hope a miracle can happen.