Living in Venezuela today is not easy. The country, once the richest in Latin America, but today is undergoing a great crisis, the largest and most devastating on the continent in many years, affecting the country since 2013.
And of course, this includes the historic Greek community in Venezuela as well.
A few years ago, the Venezuelan economy went into decline, intensifying in 2015 under the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro; characterized by hyperinflation, increased poverty, crime, and increased mortality, it has led to massive emigration from the country.
The devaluation of the Bolivar, its local currency, has gone on for eight years. According to the Venezuelan Finance Observatory, the country’s inflation rate was 470% so far this year — the highest in the world.
The Maduro government has alleged that the crisis is the result of an economic war against Venezuela. On the other hand, its detractors cite undemocratic governance, corruption, and poor management of the economy as the main causes of the crisis.
The financial situation in the country has become dire; this is of course true for the Greeks who came to Venezuela looking for a second home as well.
The young Greek descendant
The case of a young man of Greek descent is just one example of the desperate situation faced by Venezuelans today. He, like the rest of the interviewees, must remain anonymous in this report.
For him, the situation in the country is worse than what the media shows; it is a challenge to just live in the country, he tells Greek Reporter. “You can live but, it is difficult; you can see that in the number of migrants who do not stop leaving the country every day, due to the crisis,” says the young man.
He continues, adding, “those of us who live in Venezuela today try to find anything just to be able to live the day-to-day.”
Today, it is routine to use other unofficial currencies within the country to exchange non-governmental goods or services.
Like many people in the country, the young Greek is self-employed, which means he works on his own. In his opinion, it is better to work this way than to have a formal job at a company run by others. “Jobs, with a boss and in a company, are poorly paid, the salaries are 40 or 50 dollars a month,” (an amount of money that is not enough to buy much at all) the young man says.
With such low salary levels, many people have now turned to selling items and services on the streets or in their homes rather than working for a company as they used to.
“The government offers all public services such as energy and water, but they are of low quality; for example, we have utilities every day, but it is common for power outages to occur approximately every 3-4 hours,” says the young man.
The Greek lawyer
Like the first young man interviewed, a Greek-Venezuelan lawyer also decided to stay in the country. For him migrating is not an option, since he has a good life despite the crisis. He was born in Agios Nikolaos, a small town in Crete, Greece; he arrived in Venezuela in 1973, with his brothers and his parents. Today he is a lawyer, teacher, and a writer and stands out in all his chosen fields.
He tells Greek Reporter how many Greeks have indeed given up and left the country “a while ago you could find about 25 families in San Cristóbal; today there are only about 12 or 10 left. Most of them are still in business”.
The lawyer tells how life has changed in Venezuela after the crisis. He has been financially limited many times; even his salary as a teacher was not enough to pay for his gas, which is why he had to leave his job as a teacher and dedicate himself to the legal profession.
Product shortages are common due to boycotts placed by many other nations which refuse to do business with Maduro, the strongman who wanted to turn Venezuela into a socialist utopia.
“Certain types of food are considered a luxury; there are almost no products to buy, and the ones that do exist have very high prices. Products such as rice, eggs, or cheese can cost millions of millions of Bolivars,” says the lawyer.
He says that he does not see a future in the country, least of all for young people. “The best thing is that the younger generations go out to look for opportunities. It is difficult to find a job; it is also difficult to study because there is a shortage of teachers. The vast majority have left the country. There are no good salaries; the health systems lack many resources as well as education and housing”.
The businessman who emigrated from Venezuela
A different reality from the one that had imagined now faces those people who decided to migrate to other countries, such as the case of the Greek-Venezuelan businessman who gave up on Venezuela due to the crisis and emigrated to Greece. He had been born in Valencia, Venezuela.
His parents were born in Greece and came to the country in 1964, dedicating their lives to building up a business to provide for their family.
In the years before the crisis, his family had a company that imported products from France; however, the crisis affected them immediately, inflation, limited access to raw materials, and state controls led to their closure.
As a result of all these restrictions and unsustainable economic viability, he was forced to emigrate to Greece with his family. “It was not an easy task, the process to acquire Greek nationality is very complex,” he tells Greek Reporter.
He adds that he was also scammed into investing his savings with which he planned to travel to Greece; however, together with his family, he was finally able to make the long-awaited trip to his homeland.
Like other Venezuelans, many Greeks and descendants of Greeks have left the country; some have returned to Greece and others today are in neighboring countries in South America.
Many Greeks who once came to the country hope to see in freedom the land that welcomed them as their home, trusting in what they can do to try to get ahead in some way, driven by that same force that one day had motivated them to get on an airplane to Venezuela.