With Spain becoming one of their preferred spots to settle abroad for wealthy Venezuelans, I think of Andrés. A young, hard-working man, Andrés has a dilemma. On one hand, he could stay in his homeland, surrounded by his loved ones. The other option? Migrate. Leave behind the life he has known and try his luck in a foreign country far away. He knows that,abroad, many people —including a few good friends— have found a life he can only dream of back home.

This is his magical adventure:

Pasaje a Venezuela (Ticket to Venezuela), is a 1957 Spanish film starring José Luis Ozores and Simone Bach, written and directed by Rafael J. Salvia, the man behind Manolo Guardia Urbano (1956), Las Chicas de La Cruz Roja (1958), and other awful-sounding productions you have never heard of. Pasaje a Venezuela opens on a ship, with Andrés saying goodbye to a friend heading off to La Guaira. The irony is thick from the start; this may not be the best Spanish cinema, but it is a reminder that, within living memory, migration between Spain and Venezuela went the whole other way.

We’re then introduced to Andrés’ family. There’s his father, a charming, peevish old man; his angry, no-nonsense sister and her lovable scamp of a son. They all live together, barely making ends meet, doing the Franco era equivalent of selling cupcakes and matando tigres. For the most part, they depend on remittances Andrés’ brother-in-law sends from abroad.

Can you believe it only took him 3 months?

No one in the flick is all that interesting, with the exception of their Mr. Burns-style old boss. These characters exist to be sounding boards for Andrés’ migratory fantasies, inflamed with a letter from a Spaniard in Caracas. He just bought a car for $500 (about $4,335 in today’s money), an impossible sum for a Franco era bank clerk. The kind of story I constantly see from my friends abroad on Instagram.

For our Spaniard hero, irse demasiado is more a get-rich-quick scheme than an alternative to improve his standard of living. In fact, politics is the elephant in the room the movie never quite acknowledges. You’d never guess Franco had been ruling Spain for two solid decades at that point.

Look, this is not Buñuel or Berlanga, social criticism isn’t the point. Spain was one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, way poorer than Venezuela. Spain meant isolationism, protectionism, shortages, depleted foreign reserves, multiple exchange rates, by the hand of an authoritarian ruler and an awkward cadre of several political factions under an umbrella party. Andrés, pana, I feel you.

The reality, you slowly grasp, is you’re watching regime propaganda. The film portrays migration as a whim. It’s never portrayed as a rational choice, much less as a last ditch escape from outright persecution. The only moment the film acknowledges things aren’t great in Spain? The grandpa, jokingly says they could save some pesetas by eating every other day.

Ouch.

Andrés’ justified reasons for wanting to migrate are dismissed. He’s told he should think of his family, that he’s being selfish, that he will face hunger and hardship. That he should work for his own instead of pulling a cart, which apparently is Spain-in-the-50’s equivalent to cleaning toilets. The shallow arguments are contrasted with his single-minded obsession, which drives him to get a passport, a recommendation letter from a resident in Venezuela and collecting 8,000 pesetas (around US$ 1,730 today) for his first-class boat trip. He even hangs a giant map on his bedroom! What a piticriollo!

No Guyana? Andrés, I thought you were on our side!

While all this is going on, Andrés meets Carmen on a bus to work. They have the chemistry of bleach and ammonia but since she’s the only other woman in the movie besides his sister, she becomes the romantic interest. She also has an ailing, disabled father to take care of.

He soon gets a second job selling fish on the streets, a job so lucrative that he quits his job as a clerk. For some reason (it’s one of those movies) he’s forced to choose to either stay and invest in a fishing boat or finally travel and make his dreams come true. What, oh what will he choose?

Spoiler alert! —he stays for the love of Carmen, and works hard and invests in Spain. Andrés spares his grandchildren the joys of having to legalizar a giant stack of documents so they can make the trip back two generations later, and end up in an argument in a bar about the joys of 21st Century Socialism with some Podemos supporter. Yay.

For all its propaganda, the Bolivarian regime hasn’t lifted a finger to keep our generations from leaving.

Interestingly enough, the movie’s release coincides with the start of the Spanish Miracle, an economic boom that would spark a decline of massive Spanish migration as Franco’s government embraced more liberal economic policies while keeping its authoritarian ideology. Some say the Miracle gave new life to the regime, but it’s easy to see it has more to do with post-war Marshall Plan-funded European reconstruction. You know what else helped? Remittances from Spaniards abroad, which reached the sum of $238 million in 1964.

Pasaje a Venezuela is a third rate movie, but a world-class mine of ironies for contemporary Venezuela. The upsetting thing is that there isn’t a chavista equivalent of this film. For all its propaganda, the Bolivarian regime hasn’t lifted a finger to keep our younger generations from leaving.

In its own way, that’s the biggest insult of all.

Who knows? Maybe one day the grandchildren of the young people who left for Miami, Toronto or Madrid will find themselves applying for Venezuelan passports to flee some god-awful regime there. Sounds outlandish, but think how crazy our situation would have sounded to Andrés.

24 COMMENTS

  1. There is no place like home. Born in the USA but living most of my formative years in Caracas, calling it “home” for most of my life, I really felt like I got to know the place. How could anyone anywhere begin to recount their entire life experience, everything they saw and heard and breathed? Looking at what is going on down there, knowing how it developed, and knowing I will probably never go back to see that particular dust on the streets and sidewalks, smell that particular smell of an autobus (I’m sure it has changed, and I could probably tell the difference) … yeah, I have a half a lifetime of memories, very personal sensations and feelings, and I have Venezuela to thank for that, it was great. But I am happier here, because it is home.

    You grow up in a place and it becomes part of you, but your parentage and your culture are still what you relate to best. When you have both together, parentage as well as growing up there, there is no way to change it all. I feel sorry for the man who leaves his home country, I really, really do. The graphic of half a man, at the head of the article, is right on. We all hope we never have to literally fight for our lives in our own country, and we all try to take preemptive measures to ensure that doesn’t happen, but really, it is a better choice. It is better to win, than to be defeated.

    • I can relate to your predicament, although it varies. I was born in Venezuela and left at a very early age. I was raised in the USA to both 100% Criollo parents.

      Assimilated enough to get things done, but can’t escaped that I wasn’t raised with many of the customs of the USA. Traveling often made it impossible.

      It makes you like an alien in where you have lived most of your life.

      These days, I fashion myself as some sort Francisco de Miranda figure who spent most of his years outside of Venezuela around the globe and eventually make my way back when it’s time.

      • J – We have a more worldly viewpoint, those of us who have lived overseas, not just toured for a few days or months. Which is good. It’s less parochial. Maybe you have to live in a foreign country long enough to miss your home country, to understand the difference. You can explain things about life in the USA in a way your friends and acquaintances will understand because you are criollo. I could never do the same.

        The biggest compliment I got (on nationalities) in Venezuela was from some guy I was talking away with for about a half hour, not conscious of anything, and I said something about the U.S. in the course of talk, and this guy says with almost shock, “You’re an American?! Pense q’eras Venezolano, mano!” But I don’t know how to behave exactly correctly in a Venezuelan home, and even after just a half hour, someone would notice and say “Tu no eres Venezolano, verdad?” and tell me how they knew. For you, that would never happen.

        BUT … by having lived and worked in other countries, you and I have something in common that we understand, and others do not. And the same is true for other “multinationals”. Yet each of us knows where home really is.

        It took me a long time In Venezuela to finally realize that Venezuelans are very nationalistic, I guess you would say. A foreigner, an American, is NOT criollo. Maybe we are the same here in the U.S. – I couldn’t tell that, because I’m American, you see? To me the way we are is the way we are. It is too much of a trick to totally get “out” of it. Many have said that it took a Frenchman, Alex de Tocqueville to write about America! So in a weird way, I hope some of what I can post here may be helpful to Venezuelans.

  2. I’m one of those sons of Spaniards that decided to make a life in Venezuela. And then we all left it, because if not, well, I dont want to think what I would be doing with an 89 year old dad that is in bed all the time and sometimes thinks he is still in Caracas, and an 81 year old mom that is a cancer survivor, in Venezuela right now.

    They spent more time living in Venezuela than in Spain. They speak, still, with a very thick Venezuelan accent except if they speak Galician.

    In the end, you end up being some kind of nowhere person. Never fit anywhere, but never a complete stranger anywhere. Arepas for breakfasts, caldo gallego for dinner. Explaining Venezuelan sayings to your Spanish coworkers, being mocked in Venezuela everytime you correctly pronounced a ‘z’ and the opposite in Spain. And of course, spending your days reading news of Venezuela even if people tell you that you are only making yourself miserable.

    Now I see more Venezuelans here, and not all precisely wealthy. Not only sons of the inmigrants of the 50s and 60s, but 100% criollitos, without any tie to Spain except language, and the promise of their effort meaning something. Just like our parents did. Coming because they have a friend that is already here, or a brother, or a cousin. I guess in a few decades they will have sons that will feel the same way as I do.

  3. Not exactly on-topic, but thought of it with the general theme of this article. Every time my chavista buddy in Margarita gets uncomfortable with the question I ask and the points I make, he reminds me of the location of the nearest airport.

    Of course, that means most of our conservations end that way. LOL

    • Sadly, many talented and high achieving Venezuelans are taking these Chavistas up on their invites to leave. Currently, my (expat) wife’s extended family has 17 aunts/uncles/nephews/nieces are in 3 different homes. It took a while for them to acclimatize to chilly Minnesota, but now everyone is working or in school. Very few remain in VZ. I know only three (aunts) that want to go back after Chavismo fails.

  4. A movie very appropriately filmed by “IfiStudios” in “Ifiscope”. Wonderful writing, insights, once again, Jose!

  5. “Home Is Where The Heart Is”–the place of our fondest memories. Many of us, especially on this Blog, are living far from there….

  6. Chavismo won’t apply the same tactics as Franquismo when it comes to attacking resistance. This is the Internet era. It rather goes the way of Belarus. A Chavista told me that many years ago: que se vayan! That is the way in Cuba too

  7. To a large degree I think Chavismo has not acknowledged that the people who have been leaving Venezuela were Venezuelan in the first place. In that regard, maybe the brand of authoritarianism is more Mugabe than Franco.

    And man, was a thoughtfully written and impressive sojourn into an obscure area of cinema.

  8. All Chavistas want is to continue stealing, get richer and stay in power. If about 2 Million people have left Venezuela, Chavistas are glad they left: less opposition, more control, more to steal.

    Most people that get the hell out of Venezuela are anti-chavistas, honest professionals, educated people. Chavismo wants uneducated, dumber people, sheep, corrupt officials, twisted accomplices. Not adversaries. The more thieves, the better for them.

    • Cuban model, with oil. Plus, the Venezuelan military have, except for ’58-’98, dominated Venezuela, and now, with Chavismo, more incompetently than ever. The recent FT-contributed “Atlantic” article blames populism, rather than more-rightly socialism (now trying to become Communism)/ gross Venezuelan kleptocracy/ incompetence.

  9. The older wave of immigrants coming to the U.S. spit at their old countries and never looked back. This article epitomizes…correctly…why this new wave, from VZ and elsewhere–let alone mostly illegal–is so disturbing to the health of the U.S.

    Venezuelans seem to want it both ways, or should I say, ALL ways!

    Wah! I’m going to the U.S. illegally. Wah! I don’t want to remain in VZ and fight for my country. Wah! I miss VZ and want to be there instead, but only if everything is good for me!

    Illegal Venezuelans rooting for VZ against the U.S. soccer teams. It’s fucking disgusting.

  10. “The regime hasn’t lifted a finger to keep us from leaving. It’s almost insulting.”

    Oh, yeah, sure 100%, because there isn’t a currency monopoly that keeps people from getting the dollars needed to live in another country, the regime hasn’t closed the frontiers to stop people from leaving, nor they have did whatever is in their power to make the process to get a passport a disgusting torture.

    Yeah, sure, they haven’t lift a finget to keep people from leaving, ok, suuuure.

    *facepalm*

    • Parte II. Por eso que las familias de los dueños de la mina viven en el imperio. Como Venezuela que sólo sirve para extraer oro para que gastar en el ornamento de la mina. Por eso es que esta fea y sucia.

  11. “For all its propaganda, the Bolivarian regime hasn’t lifted a finger to keep our younger generations from leaving.”

    Perhaps that’s the Cuban model that is being emulated, lest we forget. The more maleable sheep that are left behind, the easier to corral. Many of the Cuban ex-pats I have encountered are quick to say, “had the Cuban middle class not left, Fidel would no longer be in power”. Mind you, this is before his recent death. Lets hope this ends up not being the case for Venezuela.

  12. When my grandfather decided to leave Portugal with his brother after WW2, with some forged documents — it was forbidden to leave the dictatorship without authorization from the goverment, so a friendly local doctor helped them out with that, moved by compassion –, he had three countries in mind to go, in all of them he had contacts and recommendation letters awaiting. These countries were: US, Brazil and… Venezuela!!! Back then, the person who would sign the recommendation letter would have to pay the return ticket if the immigrant couldn’t find a proper job to sustain himself or got involved in trouble with the law.

    He tells us that at the last time he chose Brazil because of the language barrier in Venezuela and the US. “I wanted to be able to talk with people! I can’t speak English and Spanish! Can’t do until today!”

    It worked. Now his biggest pleasure in life is to travel to Portugal with his family, no more as a person without a penny in his pocket, but as a successful businessman. And his country evolved too.
    Portugal was even poorer than Spain post-war. And when we drive across the country, from Lisbon to Porto in its first-world road called A1, he reminds us: “Now it’s done in two hours, in my time we would need the whole day or even more than that!” The then reviled Portuguese passports, because back then to be Portuguese was a immediate reason for scorn and contempt, he says, are now used with a lot of pride by his descendants!

    Andrés and our immigrant grandparents’ stories serve to show how nothing is static, that we shouldn’t take anything for granted, neither our personal fates nor our countries’.
    Good and prosperous countries can easily be destroyed, and these destroyed ones can return from ashes too. We should try to see that as more of a message of hope than of disgrace! Just as they could change their fates, their countries could too.

    Thus, let’s roll up our sleeves and do what we can to improve our countries’ situation and our fates, CC’s readers and writers. They could do it in far worse times, after the bloodiest war the world has ever seen, so we can too, as it’s in our nature. There’s a lot of work ahead of us.

  13. “Las chicas de la Cruz Roja” es un clásico. Posiblemente fuera la película que lanzó al estrellato a Conchita Velasco.

    La modernización de la economía española arrancó con el Plan de Estabilización de 1959. Coincidió la modernización del sector agrícola, que liberó mano de obra y creó capita para invertir, con la llegada de turistas y las remesas de los emigrantes. Así en el cambio de la década de los 70 a la de los 80, España pasó a ser considerado un país desarrollado.

  14. Irónicamente, aunque el artículo dice que “el chavismo nunca ha movido un dedo para impedir que la gente se vaya”, el chavismo en realidad ha hecho prácticamente de todo para evitar la fuga de gente, lo único que les falta es hacer como en Cuba donde ametrallan a la gente desde los muelles cuando se van en las balsas.

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