Fleeing Venezuela

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 8th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: first-hand stories from families fleeing the socialist nightmare of Venezuela.

This past weekend the Trump administration offered incentives to the Venezuelan military to turn against President Nicolas Maduro.

The administration also promised financial assistance for refugees who fled that country.

In recent years, some 70,000 Venezuelans have come to the United States seeking refuge.

Many landed in the city of Doral—a suburb of Miami. It has the largest population of Venezuelan expatriates in this country—earning it the nickname: “Doralzuela.”

EICHER: New arrivals come on tourist visas.  But many begin the application process for political asylum once they’re here.

Most who choose to stay have to restart their lives from scratch. Some hope to go back one day, but they realize that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Paul Butler has our story.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Jenny Morales still looks shell shocked. Her three children huddle together in the lobby of a self-storage facility about a mile from the Miami International Airport.

AUDIO: [Sound of Raices Venezolanas]

Until four weeks ago they lived in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The March 2019 blackouts were the final straw for the young family. The first power outage lasted five days, the second stretched on for four.

During the blackouts, she was afraid to go outside. That’s because of the collectivosMaduro’s thugs who patrol the streets. An interpreter helps explain her story.

MORALES: She was living in a place that the worst collectivos work. They hit the people because they wanted to. Fearful for your children. She was afraid the first time they lost electricity. They went to the supermarket and collective were shooting the guns. They couldn’t go out from the house.

Since Morales and her husband had passports, U.S. visas, and money for plane tickets, they left Venezuela for Florida—leaving nearly everything behind.

That’s Patricia Andrade. She runs an organization called Raices Venezolanas, or Venezuela Roots. It operates out of seven self-storage units. It collects linens, household items, clothes, and toys from the Venezuelan community in south Florida. Then it distributes them to newcomers in need—like the Morales’s.

ANDRADE: We have a unit with toys for the kids. Let’s go. They can have a box like this. Many toys. because when they travel, they can’t travel with toys because it’s only one suitcase.

Venezuelans learn about Andrade’s organization through social media. She has 19,000 followers on Instagram. That’s where Jenny Morales heard about her, while still in Venezuela. Now she’s here to replace things she couldn’t bring with her.

While her younger two children search for toys in a close by unit, Morales sorts through clothes and describes conditions back home.

MORALES: When they go to buy the bag of food, they were checking. No, you are against the regime. you don’t have the bag of food.

Morales was a Venezuelan customs official before coming to the U.S. Her husband worked in the oil industry.

At one point, they were comfortable members of the Venezuelan middle class. They lived close to their parents and in-laws. They had two refrigerators, and a generator.

After 2015, life became a daily challenge, but they didn’t want to leave. Then the price of generator fuel went up.

MORALES: Before blackouts, she was helping people in the community because they needed to keep stuff in the fridge. Dad needs surgery, they can’t do it. Diabetic father-in-law, insulin needs to be in fridge. He can’t skip food. Mother-in-law has high blood pressure and she said it is very expensive to buy the medicine.

The Morales family made the difficult decision to leave. They now live in a trailer in south Florida.

Jenny Morales’ father and in-laws are still in Venezuela. They have passports but no visas. And without a U.S. visa, they’re stuck.

In February the government stopped issuing visas in Venezuela. That made it nearly impossible to get travel paperwork to enter the U.S.

The UN reports that over the last four years, more than 3 million Venezuelans lacking passports or visas have fled the country on foot to neighboring countries: Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador. Malnutrition and illness are common.

AUDIO: [Sound from restaurant]

Karen Ferrer is a jewelry designer and producer who escaped to the U.S. last year. Over lunch she described that most Venezuelan adults can only afford protein-rich foods twice a month.

Many fill up on cheap cassava, a woody shrub. When her lunch arrives, she prays that her friends and family may have something to eat today.

Karen’s husband Alicelis Hurtado is an engineer. He says the nation’s water supply is also compromised. It is so polluted it burns the eyes when showering. It stains clothes instead of cleaning them.

Karen and Alicelis saw the problems coming and planned accordingly. They obtained U.S. visas early so they would be ready to leave when necessary.

That time came last year. The government accused Ferrer of aiding the resistance after she led prayer groups and shared medicine and food. The collectivos held her for three hours, threatening her along with her daughter and her 91-year-old grandmother.

Now a year later, the situation back home is even worse. The average Venezuelan has lost 25 or more pounds. Cases of measles and diphtheria are dramatically rising.

AUDIO: [Sound of Raices Venezolanas]

Back at Raices Venezolanas, Jenny Morales is grateful to have made it out with her children, but she gets emotional when speaking of the family that remains behind.

MORALES: She said it’s very hard because her family stayed in Venezuela, but her kids don’t want to go back. They say, I don’t want to come back to Venezuela. She’s thinking about the future of the kids.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler.

Special thanks to Susan and Marvin Olasky for collecting the audio and interviews for this feature. To learn more, you can read Marvin’s story at wng.org.

(Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) Members of Venezuela’s exile community in Doral, Fla., hold a rally in support of opposition leader Juan Guaido and call for an end to Nicolás Maduro’s presidency. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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