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Emigration of professionals increases Venezuela

Emigration of professionals increases Venezuela

Posted by Dubraswka Aguilar on October 16, 2014

After spending three weeks trapped in her own home, Natalie Pereira and her family finally decided: We should leave Venezuela.

"I could see the clashes, tear gas, that happened all day from the window of my apartment," Pereira said, recalling anti-government protests earlier this year that left at least 43 dead. "Demonstrations confirmed it (...) it was best to leave."

As political polarization and economic crises deepen, the Venezuelan middle class is seeing increasingly harder, its future abroad.

Having voted against the deceased Hugo Chavez during his 14-year presidency, they expected a change after his death from cancer in March 2013.

However, his political successor, Nicolas Maduro, won the elections and, surviving the worst wave of anti-government protests in more than a decade, has consolidated his position to govern the country with the largest oil reserves until 2019.

But insecurity, which for years was the biggest concern of Venezuelans, has recently been overtaken by the scarcity of commodities.

"Of all my friends I only have one in Venezuela," Pereira said in a telephone conversation from Houston. "Everyone left the country."

Official figures are hard to come by, but a university study shows that about 1.6 million Venezuelans have left their homeland since Chavez came to power in 1999 and migration intensified in the last five years.

Chavez's social reforms were well received among the needy, but not between the middle and upper classes who believe the economy will continue to deteriorate, whipping crime and political polarization.

MORE LEAVING

Thomas Paez, a sociologist at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and author of the research on the Venezuelan Diaspora says that 1.6 million of their compatriots live abroad; 5.5 percent of the 29 million.

The vast majority of them have been left since 1999 and nearly 90 percent have at least college education, according to Paez. Their flight represents a brain drain affecting many sectors, from oil to health.

"It is very educated people, enterprising people, people who want to invest, people who want to create business, want to create jobs," said Paez, who used official figures from the countries where the Venezuelans come as well as the surveys. His team spoke with about a thousand Venezuelans in 33 countries.

Although the numbers are small compared with countries like Colombia or Peru, whose diaspora reaches 4.7 million and 3.5 million, respectively, it is unusual for Venezuela, which housed thousands of Europeans during the twentieth century. When Veronica Leniz was pregnant she felt her only option was to leave Venezuela, considering the intermittent shortage of diapers, milk powder and toilet paper.

"I could not raise a baby in that environment," Leniz said in a telephone interview from Miami.

The number of Venezuelans seeking resident visa in the United States varies from year to year but has grown since 2011. Last year, more than nine thousand 500 Venezuelans were granted permanent resident card in the United States. The numbers of such visas, however, does not illustrate the magnitude of the phenomenon, as some migrants applied as students. The number of Venezuelans who managed student visas to the United States has grown more than doubled since 2009, to 21 000 725 last year.

"It's something else entirely (living in Miami), an amazing, weird much difference, I miss Venezuela but I would not change the experience of coming here," said Leniz, 26 years old, whose daughter is now 18 months old.

As Pereira and Leniz, many immigrants choose America as their new home, but many others come to Europe and some Latin American countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Panama.

In Colombia, Venezuelan identity cards have more than other nationalities. In August, about 10,000 Venezuelans were carrying valid certificates of identification, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia. In the first five months of this year, Mexico granted 975 permanent identification cards, almost double over the same period last year. "Most of my clients are Venezuelans," said Jorge Udelman, a chef who moved to Mexico four years ago and now runs a restaurant.

The Venezuelan government did not respond to requests for official figures on migration.

BUSINESS

Companies that offer the service to potential migrants say that requests for their services have soared in the past year.

"Everyone has a deep fear for their future or the future of their family, if they stay in Venezuela," said Esther Bermudez, owner of the information portal "Me Quiero ir" (I want to go). The visits to the site of 13 years have doubled in the first nine months of 2014 to 3.5 million every month.

 "They're looking for personal safety and quality of life that they do not have in Venezuela," said Bermudez, who now lives in Canada.

Interest in English courses abroad has grown by 70 percent in the last year, said the manager of a language school in Caracas.

"Today it is very difficult to find middle class people that do not have a story of a son, a brother, or a relative who is leaving," said Oscar Hernandez, a career diplomat who runs a migration consultancy in Caracas.

Government supporters mock the exodus of the middle class, who qualify as selfish, unpatriotic and resented the redistribution of wealth from Chavez. "We are building socialism in Venezuela and if they do not want to participate, they better go," said Elizabeth Gutierrez, a community leader of 33 years old.

"The rich have never been interested in us," Gutierrez said in the largest slum in Latin America, Petare.

Once they get to other countries, Venezuelans are facing small changes, like learning a new language, find a job, while they miss home. "I have lived through difficult days, days where I sit and mourn," Pereira said. "But then I think of my little girl and I think in the future that I will give her here in this country and we the best for her."

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