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Stay or go? Two young Venezuelans must decide

Spanish translation: ¿Quedarse o irse? Dos jóvenes venezolanos deben decidir.

By Maycolt Marcel Uzcateg

In my hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, we will always remember last Christmas as the Christmas of the empty chairs. Christmas dinner is one of our most beloved traditions, but that year almost every Venezuelan family had one or several members living outside the country.  

Ironically, the vast majority of the emigrants leaving Venezuela are highly educated: Approximately 90% hold a bachelor’s degree and 40% hold a Masters Degree.  Venezuela is losing the best and brightest of a generation.

It was not always this way.

Venezuela was once a paradise that people wanted to come to; the country’s population growth was among the fastest in Latin America, with one million new immigrants, or 3 percent annually, added to the population during the period from 1970 to 1995.

They came from Spain, Italy, and Portugal, as well as Colombia and other South American countries, seeking better jobs, which were available here.

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But since the post-Chavez economic demise, the emigration rate increases every year.

More than two million Venezuelans lived abroad by 2017, according to Professor Tomás Páez, a sociologist from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. In his recently published book, “La voz de  la diáspora venezolana”The Voice of the Venezuelan Diaspora, he interviewed nearly a thousand Venezuelan emigrants in 41 countries to note some interesting trends, including the phenomenal education level of emigres.

The reasons they gave for their departures are the high inflation rate; rampant crime; food, water and electricity shortages; and lack of opportunities for personal growth.

The main destinations for Venezuelans are Spain, Chile, U.S.A., Panamá, Argentina and Colombia. Venezuelan emigration to Argentina alone rose by 55,57% between 2013 and 2014, and emigration to Chile increased 194% from 2014 to 2015. So these countries also have to adapt, to us.

Below are two  personal stories by young professionals making the choice whether to stay or leave Venezuela, starting with my own: 

“I don’t know how much longer I will be able to wait”  – MAYCOLT UZCATEGUI,  35, Caracas 


I never imagined I would want to leave Venezuela.   

When I was growing up, Venezuela was a nice place to live. You could go to the beach almost every weekend if you wanted, and find everything you needed with no big effort. I remember my extended family used to gather four or five times a year, including on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the biggest celebrations year after year. There was lots of food, new clothes, fancy toys, and parties everywhere.

My parents are from a lower middle class family; my father used to have a little restaurant inside an amusement park and my mom had a 9 to 5 job as a secretary in an engineering firm to help support the family, which included three sons. We were not rich, but we didn’t have money issues either.

I thought I would become a historian or work as a cartologist. Ever since I learned to read, I was attracted to finding out about history and different cultures. In the end, I wound up as  an engineer because I am good with math and solving problems. I never expected that one of the problems I would have to solve was whether or not to stay in my country.

For me, the decline of Venezuela began with the crucial election in 1999, when Hugo Chavez, a former lieutenant in the Venezuelan army and  the leader of a coup to overthrow democracy, won the presidential chair with his leftist rhetoric. As he moved toward communism, private companies and international corporations stopped investing in the country, and life here became harder.

Friends started leaving. Some went to the U.S., some to Chile, Colombia, Mexico, or Argentina, where we already speak the same language. Some of them are working in career fields they studied in Venezuela, but others are doing what they can to survive.

I consider myself to be one of the lucky few who managed to stay in Venezuela with a decent standard of living, but things here have started to get desperate. As time goes by, the ones who decided to stay see that there is not a way out of the political problem.

There was not a specific turning point when I decided to think seriously about leaving. It was more of an increasingly anxious feeling. The inflation rate makes it impossible to save money or even buy things for everyday living. I’m not talking about fancy watches or luxury items here: we cannot find simple things like toothpaste, deodorant or razor blades.

We live in the most dangerous country in the world. Getting back home from work every day is a miracle. We have more dead people on a single weekend than many countries like Syria that are at war. 

To buy food, we spend up to ten hours in big queues outside of supermarkets. The tropical sun, with temperatures as high as 40°C in the shade, makes this an almost superhuman task. Plus, you don’t even know what the store is going to have.  People wait outside overnight without knowing if they are going to buy flour, cooking oil, or maybe pasta or rice.  

So I’ve started thinking about leaving, too.

I have friends in Florida, U.S., and my wife’s sister went to Santiago, Chile, last October. I’ve been reading blogs like Venezolano en Chile to start planning a possible move to the southern country, finding out very interesting things that make me understand why so many Venezuelans are looking for opportunities there.

I haven’t taken the trip myself because I do not want to leave my parents to deal with this situation on their own, while I go out and solve my financial problems somewhere else.

Since I am married, my wife and I talk together about the possibility of leaving from time and time. The plan would be for me to go first and work hard to get settled, then send her a ticket to come later. But it’s not so simple to leave my parents or her dad, who lost his wife two years ago and would be left alone if my wife joined me.

I have not decided yet. But I’m angry. Really angry. I don’t care how this is going to end, but I just want it to end. To me the communist leadership has destroyed the country and now want to rule over its ashes. They stole everything, and know, with the oil prices so low and the resentment growing among the people, that their time in power may be short. The clock is ticking.

I know if I stay, I might even be in the right place to lead the biggest recovery of an economy since WWII. I am not kidding: this country has so much potential for growth, so many things to be fixed, and the ones that decide to stay will be in charge of companies rebuilding almost every sector of the economy, from telecommunications to the oil industry, in a country with the biggest oil reserves in the world.

The company I work for today, for example, uses only 20% of its installed capacity because the government will not let us sell our beer outside the country. The same happens with almost every company in the country, because all transactions in foreign currency must be carried out by the Venezuelan government’s financial institutions.  

On the other hand, I am 34 and want to get on with my life. In these conditions, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to wait.  

Maycolt Uzcategui  can be reached at maycolt@gmail.com


“Should I stay or should I go?”  ROBERTO LAHOUD, 23, Caracas

Okay, I’m a Clash fan and I love old rock. My uncle introduced me to many of the great rock bands from before I was born.

But as I approached graduation with a BA in Communications. the lyrics, “Should I stay or should I go?” kept running through my head, over and over. I have many dreams to accomplish that could never come true here in Venezuela. Like many other Venezuelans, I must choose.

While I have worked as an editorial designer for three national news journals, and I am good at what I do, pay is low. 

I have also always dreamed of working full-time as an actor and still take part in several plays; I really want to be a movie star and have always wanted to be part of Hollywood and Broadway.

One of my biggest dreams is also to have a family of my own, finding true love, and all that cheesy stuff, and that takes money, too.

Here, I simply struggle to get by, living with my parents and my brother – sadly another brother passed away in January. And that also made me think deeply about my choices. 

In many respects, I am one of the lucky ones; my father is a college professor at Universidad Central de Venezuela and Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, two of the most important universities in Venezuela. My mother is the director of an NGO that works with children and adults who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  

But as the economy has deteriorated, so has life here.

In recent years, many of my family and friends have left the country. One cousin received a promotion at his job in Telefonica, and was able move to Spain, taking his whole family. Another cousin went Europe simply looking for luck; she has traveled through Italy and Germany and now she’s living in Ireland.

Friends from college have emigrated around the world: Argentina, the U.S.A., and Europe, especially Spain.

The hardest part of leaving would be to leave my parents and the girl I’m in love with, who is also my best friend. I have other friends, too, who I talk to daily. And I worry mainly because my loved ones will have to endure the situation here, and in a way my parents will have lost two sons.

But there are too many pros for me right now; and for them too. I believe I can be more useful out there. 

So I have started thinking about where to go –  Madrid, where my cousin lives and Spanish is the main language makes the most sense. I already have an EU passport, plus friends and friends of my family there.

(The passport simplifies the process, but for documents (especially the academic ones) to be recognized internationally, they need seals of the Apostile Convention, and that is quite a complicated process. Now that our government knows many of us want to leave, they make the process complex and corrupt; we have to pay third parties that have contacts with the government issuing organizations.)

The tipping point was last August, when I got really frustrated at my job and felt discouraged about how little money I was paid. It pretty much runs out in a few days. The job doesn’t seem to be leading me any closer to my dreams.

So I have decided that I have to leave. And I’m really happy to make that decision, because I feel ready to fly, to leave the nest and fulfill my destiny.

We should not leave thinking we are fleeing. And no, we’re not being selfish; we’re being human.

And it becomes even more obvious when a “chavista” – one of Chávez’s supporters – leaves. Why would they leave? 

I hope one day I will come back and feel the same happiness I felt as a kid. The same happiness of going to the places where I used to gather with my friends. I just have to say “adiós”, but I hope to see you again, and in a more beautiful manner.

For now, I have the answer to The Clash’s famous question. I should go.

Written by

Roberto Lahoud is a Venezuelan writer and actor who received a BA in Communications from Universidad Central de Venezuela and is currently struggling with the "Should I Stay or Should I Go" (courtesy of The Clash) dilemma with his country. He may be reached at lahoudrob@gmail.com

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