“I’ve been kidnapped twice inside the hospital. Not unusual around here.”
The 33-year-old doctor speaking to me is just another face in the long line.
“I’m not the first one here, she arrived at 4:30 a.m.” she tells me, pointing at a woman shielding herself the cold breeze. It was five in the morning, and still dark out. There were mothers, babies and old men.
This is the line for the Embassy of Portugal in Caracas.
“Aren’t you afraid to be out at this hour?” the doctor asks me. The sun won’t be out for a while and there’s not a lot of activity on the streets. Most people are here to apply for their European passport, looking to their immigrant ancestors as the key to get out of Venezuela. For the good doctor, most of her relatives are already gone.
“I plan to study in Spain, and having European papers makes everything easier,” she says. “I’ve always wanted out, it’s not just the Constituyente. This society is sick. Even with the opposition in power, the problems will remain.”
Though there are still no official statistics, it’s common knowledge that the number of Venezuelans leaving the country has grown since Maduro took power, and what was already a steady exodus has now become a mass flight, in which making a line at an embassy can be a matter of life or death.
“I don’t have a plan yet. I have friends in Panama, but I guess I’ll knock on some doors” a 38-year-old salesman tells me. With his wife, a 7 year-old and a newborn baby in tow, he had toyed around with “trying his luck” at emigrating. After thinking about it for quite a while, the Constituyente made up his mind for him. “I’ve studied communism, I have Cuban friends, everything they predicted happened. This is the last breath of democracy in Venezuela. It’ll only get worse.”
What was already a steady exodus has now become a mass flight, in which making a line at an embassy can be a matter of life or death.
But it’s not only the Portuguese descendants who use their bloodline as a ticket to get out. On any given weekday, the line in front of the Spanish Consulate takes up a whole block. “There are always a lot of people” a nearby worker tells me. “A few years ago, you could walk in, but now there’s this never-ending line. We’d sell beers at night and that was it. Now we sell coffee and breakfasts. You get here at 4 in the morning, and there are people already in line.”
Manila folders in hand, people wait in different queues: one for passports, another for questions. I meet a young musician desperate for a passport and luck. His grandparents are from Tenerife, but Europe is terra incógnita for him. Although most of his friends have left the country, it’s again the Constituyente that determined his choice: “This is a dictatorship and I better get out while I still can.”
“That’s just part of the problem” a lady in line interrupts. “Everyone knows someone who’s been kidnapped. We’ve been mugged. Just a few hours ago we were all scared because two motorcycles came by here all slow and shit, eyeing us.”
She catches her breath, takes a beat to think, and then gets to the heart of it all:
“I don’t want my kids to live in fear. It isn’t normal for them to hear about their buddies being robbed inside their houses. It’ll take years to fix that.”
She knows the trip won’t be easy. “Spain is the land of my grandparents, but I’m used to living here. Sometimes I forget my grannies are not Venezuelan, they always spoke of how this land opened its arm to everyone willing to work. But that Venezuela is not my Venezuela.”
“I have to go” she lowers her gaze, and it hits you right in the gut. “It’s now or never.”