Memories are strange: I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember those recesses in the second-grade like they happened just a minute ago. It was 1998 and my friends and I would play at outdoing one another with stories about how our families were going to flee the country if that ‘crazy guy with a wart’ won the elections.

My cousin, Marianita, had an imagination that couldn’t be beat. She assured us that, if worse came to worst, she and her whole family were going to emigrate to Disney World and go live with Mickey.

Weeks later, another image I’d never forget: my mom disconsolately sobbing in front of the TV after wart guy miserably swore his oath over the “moribunda constitución”.


I was also crying because jealous of Marianita, my best friend, who was now going to be neighbours with Cinderella and Snow White.

I didn’t fully understand why my mom was crying that day, but I also cried, but out of fear of going school the next day only to find an empty classroom. Thinking back, I realize I wasn’t wrong, exactly — just off on the timing. My fears would come true…it’s just that it would take two decades, not one night.

Come to think of it, though, I was also crying out of jealousy: Marianita, my best friend, was going to be neighbours with Cinderella and Snow White.

The Venezuelan Millennial is someone who was born late in ‘la cuarta’ and shares some vague memories from the pre-Chavez era, but wasn’t able to do something about those 1998 elections as they were still kids. Those memories feel especially fuzzy to the middle-class Millennial: Most of them are now living somewhere between Cúcuta and Shanghai.

Only a few girls from my class did leave the country that year, but as time passed it started to add up. The ‘Yo me quedo en Venezuela porque yo soy optimista’ theme hit the radio, but no one seemed to be listening: after ‘El Paro’ failed in 2003, we had another big exodus and everyone seemed to be putting together a Plan B. It seemed crazy not to have one.


It wasn’t really a grant, but it felt like one so: if you played your cards right, you could get a college education abroad and still make a small profit from the currency arbitrage.

I graduated from high school in 2008. Chávez had been in power for 11 years, and still had another four to go. Maybe one in three of my classmates left the country that summer looking for a brighter future in Europe or North America, where the university experience didn’t include tear gas inside the campus every once in a while. They all took advantage of a semi-legal and almost free benefit of those high-oil price years days: The preferential rate dollars CADIVI would “grant” students abroad.

It wasn’t really a grant, but it felt like one so: if you played your cards right, you could get a college education abroad and still make a small profit from the currency arbitrage. More often, people would shave off $200 from the ~$900 they got out of the system, and send them back to Venezuela to be sold at black market rates to pay for dollars for the following month.

Marianita and me.
Marianita and me.

Sadly, Marianita didn’t quite manage to sell her parents on her plan to go live with Mickey. Instead, she ended up making the same eccentric choice I made: to stay in Caracas and go to a public university. It was Engineering at USB for me, Medicine at UCV for her. We were all set to live the pre-revolution Venezuelan dream: graduate from one of the best universities in Latin America without paying a cent, work a little, travel a lot, and settle down near each other ready to raise our families going to el Parque del Este and Playa Azul.

As soon as I started college, I realized I needed to make some new friends in my city, so I joined every possible students group: the Students Council, the Harvard MUN delegation, the Soccer team, the Summer Camp councils team, and more. I felt secure among tons of people who lived 5 to 30 minutes away from my house, and would rush in every time I had a party. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t: as soon as they graduated, they would start leaving one by one, decimating the network I’d had such fun building.


They wanted to live in a country where they could go out at night without being kidnapped, where they could eat whatever they wanted without queuing, and where they could eventually have babies without the stress of not finding a hospital where to give birth, and how.

Now I would have to hire neighbors if I wanted to fill my birthday parties.

Middle class millennials left. They all left, or so it felt like. They wanted to live in a place where they could go out at night without being kidnapped, where they could eat whatever they wanted without queuing, and where they could eventually have babies without the stress of not finding a hospital where to give birth, and how. More importantly, they wanted to thrive on their careers and attain all those goals and milestones that our parents and professors invited us to dream about. Whoever blames them is delusional, to say the least. Each one of them, with their own particular set of dreams and expectations, had no other choice.

Every time I run into one of the few that are still here, the ice-breaking comment goes something like: Hey! What are you still doing here? I didn’t know!… Why?

The same script, time and time again.

Plenty are desperate to get out. 69% of the ones who are left, actually. But the ones that truly matter are those who aren’t: a lot of millennials that, like Pancho did, are betting against their lives by working every day to get our country back. These are my heroes. They’re being empowered by many organisations that recognise in them true leadership: They work in ‘Alcaldias’, National Assembly committees, NGO’s, business incubators, startups with high social impact, and blogs like this one. They all believe that soon they will put their feet in Maiquetía’s Cruz-Diez, not to leave, but to welcome back all those friends they so deeply miss.

As soon as Marianita graduated she left her house in tears, boarded a northbound plane, and landed in Chicago with her med-school boyfriend. He wants to be an orthopedic surgeon, and she wants to be a psychiatrist, but they know it’s almost impossible to try to achieve their dreams at the University Hospital here. They have to settle for part-time jobs while waiting for STEPs applications and results.

That’s her Disney now. No looking back.

 

24 COMMENTS

  1. I have witnessed the exodus from the outside, I left in ‘ 96, the Venezuelan colony in Canada was very small, 20 years later I can buy Harina Pan and Malta Polar in Walmart, have a “cachito” with a “marróncito” downtown, and Desorden Público will be in town in the coming days… Venezuela has lost human capital that will not be promptly replaced. Sad.

  2. There is always a natural migration for young people after college of even high school.

    But the changes you see are even more profound.

    The very people leaving are the ones you need most to reinforce the pillars of democracy. But instead it will only further erode.

    A touching story no less.

  3. I’m sympathetic to what the autor is feeling (even though I’m 10 years older and grew up in Guatire) half of my cousins had left the country. A LOT of my friends had also left. But the reality is that the amount of people actually leaving the country is a small minority considering the population. I understand the reason of the article, and is probably right on it’s reasoning about midlle class. But you have to take in consideration that middle class in venezuela has always been a REALLY small percentage of the population. Is important to know and understand that, because we won´t be able to figure out a way out of this mess if there is people acting like everybody grew up in chacao-baruta-el hatillo

    • I don’t your view that the middle class has always been a really small percentage of the Venezuela population is accurate. I think you need to look at it from a historical perspective and how you define middle class. During the “good years” prior to the economic mismanagement of by Chavez and mistakes prior administrations in the 1990s Venezuelans had for the most part a good standard of living and access to most of the things of a middle class life: Good Jobs, Food, Health Care, Housing, Education, money, “Freedom of Choice”, etc. Many people from surrounding countries (Columbia, Equador, Peru, Bolivia, etc.) were migrating to Venezuela looking for to better their lives by taking advantage of what Venezuela had to offer them. That has now changed and a reverse migration is in full swing.

      Based on the various numbers that I’v seen published the % of the population that have left the country ranges between 6-10%. The percentage or the actual numbers are not the concern. The concern is that the best and brightest are leaving and not likely to return once they’ve established a family, career, and put down “roots”. These are the people that Venezuela will need to rebuilt it self after this current mess is resolved. As pointed out by article it is the younger generation that has the energy and idealism to build a better future that is leaving and will probably never return.

      Venezuela will need these types of professionals to rebuild the country. Since the Chavita’s have destroyed everything: Education, Economy, Healthcare, Legal, and political framework, etc. the loss of this ‘Small but important” % of the population is an absolutely disaster.

      Just read an article discussing a survey of Venezuela in which 69% of those surveyed said they were planing to leave. (if they had the means to do so)

      • Uhm 10% seems a little excessive to me…. that would mean over 3 million leaving the country for good. And what you’re saying is more of a fuga de cerebros kind of thing. That’s another debate and from that point of view you’re totally right, most of the people leaving are unbelievable valuable for the country and is a huge loss, but I think that’s not the topic here. What I said was more from a global point of view, of understanding our society as a whole, our history and how we got here

        And regarding middle class… dude how many people do you think in the 80’s or in the 90’s had that package of “Good Jobs, Health Care, Housing, Education” …. I’m sure it was better than right now but that doesn’t mean that at any point we were a middle class country of some sort. Far from it. And you have any idea of the conditions of life of the majority of those migrants from colombia/peru/ecuador had before arriving in venezuela? talk to anyone that lived in those countries in the 80’s or before, some heavy stuff

        • The 6-10% is a ruff estimate. It is very difficult to get to an exact number. Yes you can count those that left and immigrated legally counting those that left illegally is another discussion. The numbers that I’ve seen for legal immigration state that around 1.8 Million people have left. That translate to ruffly 7%

          I lived in Venezuela and traveled the country end to end 80-85. I frequently returned to Venezuela for both Business and Family from ’85-98′. My wife is Venezuelan and has a very large extended family that is spread across the entire country from Rubio in the west to Porlamar in the east and many many locations in between. I’ve done extensive reading on the history of Venezuela so I am very familiar with both the country and it history. We only stopped visiting Venezuela after my mother-in-law passed away in 2007 and the Chavista’s started giving my wife a difficult time as she was Venezuelan buy had a US Passport for fear of not being able to leave with out paying the appropriate “propina”

          In the ’70s and ’80s (especially early 80’s before the big devaluation in ’84) a large percentage of the population lived a middle class life. There were many good professional, service, and factory jobs available to almost anyone who wanted to work. Because of the large disparity in then exchange rate of 4.5 Bs to 1$ a large percentage of the population lived a middle class life style.

          In the early 80s before all of this started Venezuela had the highest per capita income in South America and was raked in the top 20 counties in the world. That translates to a a large middle class population and a blossoming “Middle Class” Country.

          Yes things started to change in the late ’80s after the devaluation but many people still had a very comfortable life. In the 90s everything started to deteriorate quickly under the economic mismanagement during the administrations of Carlos Andrés Pérez and Rafael Caldera. All of which led to the “Chavista” era when the middle class basically disappeared.

          And now the tide has turned as Venezuelan have become the migrants.

          My main point is that it is just not the “Millennial” generation that is leaving but many others born much earlier have also left never to return. My Venezuelan family has been significantly impacted by all of this. Many if not almost all of my “Sobrinos” born in the late 60’s and 70s. have left Venezuela (some legally many illegally and not counted in the official statistics). They are spread across the US, Canada, Spain, Chile and Panama.

          it is not just a “fuga de cerebros”. Many are also tradesmen and crafts men which are just important to the country as “Los Cerebros”.

          And it is a Major Long Term Disaster for the country …..

  4. I feel you! The sad part is that the majority of the people that have left are not coming back, even if this government falls. After you start from scratch elsewhere and build a life for yourself going back to live is not an option for most…visit frequently hopefully!

  5. Some 2000 years ago Aristotle taught that only cities which had a large middle class could have a stable govt , he thought that if the govt was controlled by the well off classes (oligarchy) they would rule for their own benefit , and that if poor people ruled ( i.e. : democracy because poor people made up the larges part of the population) they would try to seize the wealth of the rich creating civil havoc. The middle class however being generally better educanted and in the middle would have interests/views which tied them both to the poor and the well off so they tended to be more balanced and moderate in their positions which made them the backbone of any decent form of governance !!

    History has given Aristotle´s views some support, most Liberal Democracies flourish where there is large middle class holding the centre together …….. .!!

    The erosion of the Venezuelan middle class is a loss not only because of what their talents contributed to the economy and culture of the country but also because by its very existence it gave greater chance to its development of a liberal democratic form of governance…..

    • Bill I always enjoy your comments and I agree that the middle class is essential to Democracy. The middle class is the segment of the population that has the education and knowledge to see through the lies and false promises of the politicians. The poor vote for the handouts, not realizing that they are further enslaving themselves.

  6. But to be clear Venezuela has lost some of its middle class but it has not suffered a loss of population. Is that rigjt?

    • Unless you consider almost two million people almost fleeing the country in a population of about 30 million “not a loss of population”

  7. Todo este tema me toca el corazón profundamente. No dejo de preguntarme cómo serían nuestras vidas si todos hubiéramos podido quedarnos en Venezuela compartiendo la vida, y no fuéramos uno a uno exiliados forzados por la debacle.

  8. Just as a small note, in the past 3 months I’ve seen a different relative or friend leave every single week, I know some millenials that have seen their complete social circles gone, and I’m not talking about high-middle class, I’m talking about your average venezuelan joe

  9. Such a tragedy, it’s unfortunate that the middle class didn’t do more for the lower class before Chavez could take advantage of the class resentment. Mass envy and divide and conquer have always been the trademarks of communism. I hope that the military steps in to prevent civil war and helps to straighten out the mess.

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