A: Hi Carolina, thank you for taking part in this interview as I know it has not been easy leaving Venezuela and starting all over.
C: Hi Anastasia, it was my 40th birthday recently (Sunday 2nd September) and I spent that day working so as not to become depressed while enduring my solitude. Although I’m a professional with a university degree and a master’s degree, I started my life here in Buenos Aires, Argentina, cleaning flats. I currently work four days a week, including Sundays, in a very small laser hair removal company; nothing to do with the professional career I had in Venezuela. My current job is not secure as I do not have a contract, I get paid less than the minimum wage with no benefits whatsoever. What I earn is barely enough to pay for shared accommodation and food.
A: What was your profession in Venezuela?
C: I have a first degree in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Finance. I was working as a Finance Analyst in PDVSA, the state-owned oil company. I worked there for 12 years.
A: What was the trigger that made you leave your family and friends in Venezuela?
C: There are many reasons why I left my country but one of the main reasons was the hyperinflation. Every time I went to a place, especially supermarkets and pharmacies, the money I earned wasn’t enough to buy even the most basic products. On the rare occasion that I had enough money, the products found after queuing hours for them and if there were still some left were of very low quality. Often a bad substitute for what we used to have as they were the products imposed by the government.
Also, I didn’t feel safe outside in the streets, it is not normal to live looking over your shoulder every time you leave the house, thinking someone is going to snatch from you the little money you have or that food or medicine that you just managed to buy. I went to work, finished at 5pm and at 6pm I was sheltered inside my house; socialising with friends was out of the question as too expensive and too risky to go out. I had no quality of life in Venezuela.
A: How do you feel about the current Venezuelan government?
C: Most of my fellow countrymen and women feel resentment and hatred towards the government. I feel the same but while I am in another country I try to think of other things. But this situation is so distressing, especially if you still have relatives in Venezuela; my mother still lives there, and you can’t stop thinking about it and get obsessed with wanting to get relatives out of there.
A: How did you get to Buenos Aires?
C: I’m very fortunate to have a sister living in England who helped me financially and bought my air ticket, so I could get out of the country. I flew to Buenos Aires from Caracas via Panama City. I was very fortunate as flights are very expensive and there are very few flights from Venezuela as several international airlines have stopped flying there. Such is the desperation of Venezuelans, many sell all their possessions and do anything to be able to leave.
Although it was very expensive to leave and took a long time to organise travel documents, it is now virtually impossible to get on a flight and leave even if you have access to lots of money, as without a passport nobody can board a flight. The government says that there is no material to make passports, so some are leaving on foot via Columbia without a passport just the Venezuelan ID card or Cedula de Identidad.
A: How are you coping?
C: Although you get to meet lots of people and have them around you (especially having to share the bedsit with several other people), deep down you feel lonely when you start a new life as an economic immigrant. In my case, I arrived at the flat of a family who were acquaintances of my family in Venezuela. I was there for a few days. Then I had to move to a ‘residencia’. This is a flat or house with several bedrooms where they rent bedsits. I’ve been in Argentina for about eight months and I have had to move five times.
A: It is difficult to believe but there are still some in Venezuela that are pro- government, why?
C: The government forces Venezuelan people to take part in acts of support for the government. I had to attend events I didn’t want to otherwise I’d lose my job. It also blackmails people by offering things such as a monthly box of food with fewer than ten items. Hardly enough to feed a family of four for a week, let alone a month. The government are abusing the people of Venezuela by controlling the distribution of essentials such as food and medicines and people are starving and dying.
A: What has leaving Venezuela taught you?
C: It has taught me to value family and friends even more. I think there is hope or I’d like to think there is hope. If all Venezuelans around the world unite, and once we come out of this nightmare we’re living now; and return we can rebuild our country. Right now, I don’t know if I will, but we must not lose hope that the country will prosper again.
A: What would you like to see happen?
That the current dictatorship my country is under comes to an end and there is no more division between Venezuelans. No more divisions of colour or political parties and especially no classification of first- and second-class citizens. We’re all equal and including those who have left, deserve the opportunity to go back to our country.
Thank you writing about the worrying situation in my country, there is still a lot to say about how badly my country currently is politically, socially and morally but I must go for now.
A: Carolina, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, we wish you all the best.
Photos below taken by my Sister Veronica in Puerto Ordaz in October of people queueing for basic items.