Until January, Jose Martinez and his wife Arelis Morales were in the eye of Venezuela’s political storm: he worked for an opposition leader, she advised human rights groups.
But after years of opposing President Nicolas Maduro’s increasingly repressive leftist government – including 2017 protests that ended with 125 deaths – they decided to put their family life first.
“The main reason for leaving was that we wanted to have children,” Martinez, 31, told Reuters, from the rural town of Xinzo de Limia in Spain’s Galicia region where they left to live with relatives.
“It hurts, but we have to move on. How could we expose a child to everything that goes on in Venezuela?”
The exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans from an imploding economy, crime-ridden streets and constant political violence, is a well-known phenomenon, especially the flood of lower-income migrants around Latin America. There has been less attention paid to middle-class professionals who, though enjoying more resources, also face agonising dilemmas, often giving up years of training and work.
Martinez, a coordinator in the party of opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, suffered depression last year. But he is recovering in Xinzo de Limia and reinventing himself as a photographer, doing documentary and wedding work. His wife Morales, 30, wants to keep on working in the human rights field, while seeking to have a baby. “We gave everything we could for the country, until my body literally said: ‘I cannot take this anymore’,” she said, saying stress stopped her getting pregnant. Both were encouraged by recent events in Venezuela, where congress leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency after declaring Maduro’s 2018 reelection illegitimate, galvanising the opposition and earning Western recognition. The couple hopes to move back if Maduro loses power.
Thousands of Venezuelans have moved to Spain in the recent years, many reconnecting with roots after waves of immigration in the opposite direction following the 20th century World Wars. According to official data, Venezuelans living in Spain rose to 109,880 by mid-2018, up nearly 19,000 in the previous six months. Those figures probably do not include many dual nationality citizens who also moved, such as Mariana Elias.
Before moving to Barcelona in January, Elias spent years in Caracas doing two degrees in chemical and production engineering, helping to pay her way with work as a teacher. She protested in the streets against Maduro, was faculty student council president at Simon Bolivar University, and felt the chaos of Caracas close up when robbed on three occasions. Her reason for moving to Barcelona was straightforward: “My job ambitions. As I really prepared myself academically, I wanted to have the opportunity in the long-term to progress and upgrade. I wasn’t able to see that in Venezuela right now.”
Elias, 27, wants to find a job in engineering, but for now has started at a British company organising conferences. In Spain, she enjoys basic services such as public transport that her compatriots can no longer take for granted. “In Venezuela I would never take public transport unless I had no other choice. I would pray and ask all the deities to make me invisible so I wouldn’t get robbed,” said the bubbly, bilingual Elias, adding she had no plans to return home any time soon. She enjoys Venezuelan traditions with compatriots in Spain.
“The Venezuelans I know are all trying to work and make ends meet. But we meet up to talk about our country and to eat ‘arepas’,” she said, referring to the cornmeal flatbread staple. I am not able to leave Venezuela out of my mind, never.”
Text by: Andrew Cawthorne for Reuters Wider Image