By ANDREA PARGEL
January 11, 2017
” It was really hard: my parents in particular doubted their decision, especially after Venezuela’s economy improved during the oil boom of 2004–2007.”
When my parents and I left Venezuela, we were quite wealthy. My parents owned a beautiful penthouse in one of the best neighborhoods in our city, they had brand new cars, and even had a beach house in which to spend their weekends. Life was good: we could travel often, they owned their own business and could spend their money in small and big luxuries.
That my parents (by then 52 years old) resolved to leave all of this behind and forfeit the fruits of decades of work to try to start anew in a new country, tells you a lot about the concerns that some of us Venezuelans had about Hugo Chavez’s policies, well before shit hit the fan.
By 2003 (which is the year we left Venezuela for good), the economy was in shambles – but still nothing compares to what is going on right now. People used to say that we were crazy: I have lost count of all the people that said
“why are you leaving? You are going to lose your status for what? Cleaning toilets in the US?”.
We left without even letting our closest relatives and friends know. Because we knew that we were living on a ticking time bomb. We sold as many assets that we could – but the most valuable we still have: with the currency exchange controls it is extremely difficult to find a buyer that can buy real estate in dollars or euros that was in no way involved with the government or with drug-dealers.
We worked hard as soon as we arrived. My dad, a quality control specialist that had worked for large transnational companies such a BASF found a minimum wage job washing cars in a car dealer. My mom worked at a daycare. I found a clerical job in a small real estate firm. It was really hard: my parents in particular doubted their decision, especially after Venezuela’s economy improved during the oil boom of 2004–2007.
But we were thankful for the peace we had: a neighbor was gunned down in front of his children right in front of our apartment complex. An ex-boyfriend of my sister’s barely escaped a kidnapping attempt. But still people told us
“You should return, you lived better here in Venezuela. This will never become Cuba”.
But my parents and I knew that history and human nature are forces that cannot be controlled. You see, when a leader appeals to resentment, to pit citizens one against the other, to incite violence against opponents – and considers himself above the law, while the powers that are supposed to restrain and act as a counter balance start looking the other way and become complicit in his wrongdoings -there is no way to go but down. I knew my Venezuelans quite well: I knew that they were happy-go-lucky people, eager to look the other way as long as the government gave them goodies, whether it was new appliances or discounted CADIVI dollars to travel the world for free. They voted for him again and again -until their vote mattered no more because the people that count them are nothing but government lackeys. Now this is their reality, and they won’t be able to ged rid of it without massive violence.
After 14 years of living in the US, I have been starting to feel the unease and the anxiety that I felt when I lived in Venezuela. I kept telling myself: “Americans are different than Venezuelans, the justice system is independent, we have check and balances” and I often wonder if I am right, or if I am deluding myself, just like my fellow Venezuelans did several years ago. Only time will tell.