Venezuelan migrants say it’s time to go home

Caracas (AFP)- For five months, Victor Fernandez has been saving money to buy a ticket back to his native Venezuela, where the shattered economy is showing signs of recovery.

“I did what I had to do in Chile,” said the 32-year-old, one of the roughly six million people who have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to the UN refugee agency.

During the South American country’s eight years of recession, including four years of hyperinflation, many stores stood empty and queues lined up in front of those that didn’t.

But since 2018, when Venezuela eased its tight exchange rate controls for two decades, economic pressure has eased, though the improvements are far from the oil boom of the 1970s and 2000s.

The de facto dollarization of the economy and the easing of price controls have allowed businesses and merchants to increase imports, leading to an increase in the range of goods offered and the opening of new stores selling clothes, shoes, household appliances and more.

This image of change has recently flooded social media, partially diluting Venezuelans’ memories of suffering.

While three out of four Venezuelans still cannot afford basic necessities, many migrants are tempted to give their country another chance.

“It’s time to go home,” Fernandez said after a five-year absence.

He first began his journey as an undocumented migrant and lived under difficult conditions for some time.

“I slept outside for two weeks… I talked to my parents and told them everything was fine before hanging up and crying in frustration. »

Good restaurants but poor service.

Although there is no official data on the number of returnees, a third of the population still wants to leave, according to the survey.

The idea that Venezuela has ostensibly solved its economic problems has led to a sarcastic phrase that has gone viral on social media and has even been dismissed by President Nicolás Maduro, who dismisses the figure of the UN migrant as exaggerated.

Since returning to Venezuela, nail artist Yara Gonzalez has been working from home, making more money and feeling happier than in Peru. Christian HernandezAFP

“Some people said, ‘Venezuela has solved its problems.’ No, it didn’t fix anything. It keeps getting better and better. Venezuela has improved, Venezuela will improve,” Maduro told state television.

Venezuela’s GDP fell by 80% over an eight-year period before the economy expanded by 4% in 2021.

“This is suboptimal growth that depends on incomplete openness (of the economy) … which favors some more than others,” said economist Henkel Garcia, director of Econometrica.

“This is an economy based primarily on trade, without major structural changes. »

For many, overcrowded restaurants, luxury stores and supermarkets are a “bubble” as utilities such as water and electricity continue to fail, especially in areas outside major cities.

hamster wheel

Fernandez sent his documents to Chile and “survived” by working as a courier in the tourist center of Valparaiso, about 100 kilometers west of Santiago.

What he earns barely covers his expenses in Chile and those of his family in Venezuela.

While economic trends in Venezuela seem to be improving, three out of four people in the South American country cannot afford basic necessities, and a third says they want to leave. Federico ParraAFP

He says that it is not worth continuing so far from home, family and friends.

He laid the foundation for his comeback by saving enough money to buy a motorcycle and invest in a small grocery store in Caracas.

“There are opportunities in Venezuela, there are options,” he says from his modest apartment in Chile.

Many Venezuelan migrants have faced racism and xenophobia in their foster families as their numbers have grown.

“It was like a hamster wheel,” said nail artist Yara Gonzalez, 29, who returned from Peru.

He laughs, remembering the Peruvian woman who crossed herself when she heard his accent and asked him, “Are you Venezuelan?” »

His return exceeded his expectations.

“I feel like I have more opportunities than I could have had in 2018 or 2017 when there were absolutely none,” Gonzalez said.

Before emigrating, Gonzalez said he couldn’t get the acetone, glitter, and other materials needed for his work.

Now he works from home, earns more and feels happier than in Lima.

Instead of “traveling all over Latin America and failing, I stay at home” and manage, he said.

As for Fernandez, he is still trying to find enough money for a ticket home and has put off his return.

He desperately wants to see his wife, son and parents.

“Loneliness kills,” he said.

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