When I was little, dad took me to a Spanish Civil War exposition on the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas. It was gruesome for someone of that age, but the lack of color made it look distant, dreamlike.

I knew about Hitler and had a rough idea of World War II, but I remember asking my father about the war in Spain; it was new to me. I couldn’t imagine how it had defined my great-grandfather’s life. Like many Venezuelans, my idea of ancestry ends with the oldest living relative; I grew closer to my mother’s family, with a blurry image of father’s side, including my great-grandfather.

Well, he was born in Tenerife at the turn of the century. An entrepreneur of sorts, he was also a lifelong socialist.

He was one of over 50,000 Spaniards who came to Venezuela between 1920 and 1970.

“I wanted to be a filmmaker,” my grandfather told me once. “My father said filmmakers were not needed in Venezuela. The country needed teachers, not movies.”

That’s what grandpa became, teaching at UCV. Throughout the years, though, I gathered a more complete image of his father. His name was Joaquín González Estarriol and he arrived at La Guaira in 1929. He was one of over 50,000 Spaniards who came to Venezuela between 1920 and 1970. In La Guaira, he met my great-grandmother, Margot Jiménez, and joined the local teachers’ union.

In 1936, he was arrested for organizing a worker’s strike in the dockyards and expelled from the country, despite having Rómulo Betancourt speaking on his behalf. Simultaneously, war broke out in Spain.

“He arrived to Le Havre, crossed Paris and ended in Marseille” said my great-aunt Keta. “He had the ship set to Spain, but a dispute between Anarchists and Communists cancelled the trip. After talking to the Venezuelan consul in Marseille, he headed for Trinidad, with his wife and children joining him afterwards.”

I stayed several times at his now-gone house in Chacao, and must admit they lived pretty well.

My grandpa, born in 1934, was a toddler when this happened. From their time in Trinidad, two things left an impression on him: His mother singing El Manisero on local radio, and the time he peed from a window on a policeman’s helmet.

They returned to Venezuela in 1940, and Joaquín became citizen in 1948. I stayed several times at his now-gone house in Chacao, and must admit they lived pretty well. But despite finding love, fortune and freedom, his heart was still bound to his homeland. As business thrived, he took important positions in Casa España, Amigos de la República Española and Centro Canario, helping those fleeing from Franco’s Spain.

With the arrival of Pérez Jiménez, the timeline gets blurry. Grandpa and with his brother were sent to England and then a boarding school in France. Later on, the rest settled in Paris. I remember stories of big meals with other Venezuelan exiles, toasting with scotch on January 23rd, 1958. Grandpa swears it was the first time he drank Ballentine’s.

Despite finding love, fortune and freedom, his heart was still bound to his homeland.

It was around this time that he started businesses across the Iron Curtain to finance the Spanish Communist Party. From what I found online, he bought goods from Soviet satellite countries, selling them in the Americas. But Communism wasn’t all wine and roses.

“When we visited Moscow in the 50’s, there were people sleeping in shacks on the Red Square.” Grandpa reminisces. It was disappointing for a family that mourned the death of Stalin, and after travelling through Eastern Europe, he got disenchanted, breaking with the Soviets after the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

For years, González Estarriol saved a bottle of cava catalana to celebrate the downfall of the regime in Spain. When Franco finally died in 1975, he was too old and ill to drink.

When we visited Moscow in the 50’s, there were people sleeping in shacks on the Red Square.

Not long after, he had a stroke and passed away.

I’ve wondered about how the children of the Bolivarian diaspora, so many fleeing Venezuela with every day that passes, will react to exhibits in the future of what’s happening today. Will they judge us? Cry for our tragedy? I, for one, don’t feel connections to Spain. It starts and ends with paella, and I’ve never been anything but a Venezuelan through and through.

I don’t know all the stories, and which ones are exaggerations, but I have the safety to look back and find inspiration in the hard work and dedication of Joaquín González Estarriol.

He may not have seen the Spanish Republic he desired, but he outlived Francoism – something many people under many regimes, including our own, always yearn but sadly not always manage to do.

12 COMMENTS

  1. My great uncle fought against the Francos for a year until he was literally stabbed in the back by communists. He saw unbelievable horror committed on both sides during the Spanish civil war.

    When he came back to the USA, he swore to never fight for another country than his own. He later joined the Navy after Japan attacked and later was sent home after a training accident prior to the battle for Midway.

    He would tell my father that war is hell and don’t ever glorify it.

    But don’t think that socialists don’t have their own interests at heart when they have a knife or gun in their hands.

  2. Wannabe is a good description to explain Jose, as he describes himself as a wannabe.

    Stop writing these poetic proses to illustrate how smart and what a good writer you are. You ARE. But it’s all circumvent, doesn’t take a stand, it’s “safe,” but doesn’t change a fucking thing. And family histories aren’t worth much, are they? We all have them, and yours are no more important than others.

    Just what VZ needs:

    More intellectuals, who in the end, totally lack common sense. Put your energies into efforts that can bring about change. And stop waxing nostalgic about a past that’s irrelevant.

  3. I’ve often thought about what my kids will make of chavismo and Venezuela. Thanks for this piece, some of us like family stories.

  4. I’m making sure my daughter hate with all her self whatever has to do with chavismo, communism or socialism. They are the very reason we no longer have a family, friends or even a country to go back. It’s our duty as exiles to make sure that this never gets forgotten and that chavistas and their families pay for what they’ve done to us. Afortunadamente somos mayoría los que pensamos asi, asi que la permanencia de este sentimiento está asegurada.

    Abstenganse moralistas de tercera, no me interesa saber lo que piensan

  5. Isabel Allende is another example of exiles in Venezuela. She is also a good example of how Chile was divided. Salvador Allende, whom she saw frequently as a child. was her father’s first cousin -first cousin first removed to Isabel. By contrast, Isabel Allende’s maternal grandfather supported the coup. She initially stayed in Chile after the coup. but after receiving threats as a consequence of her helping friends get out of Chile, she realized she had to flee, also.

    After making a life for herself and her family first in Venezuela, and then in the United States, Isabel Allende decided to remain in the United States, even after Chile’s return to democracy.

    Ariel Dorfman is another exile who didn’t permanently return to Chile, though his ties to Chile were more tenuous than those of Isabel Allende.

  6. “I, for one, don’t feel connections to Spain. It starts and ends with paella, and I’ve never been anything but a Venezuelan through and through.”

    I think every generation removed of expats, from every country ends up feeling the same way. My wife grew up in Venezuela, but attended college and medical school in the United States. (Her grandparents fled Spain) My wife hasn’t spent more than a full summer in Venezuela since she was 19 years old. She proudly considers herself an American, though she loves the country of her birth. But she doesn’t miss it.

    My children were born in the United States. They only know Venezuela from pictures, videos and from Skype. They went with us years ago when they were pre-teens, and were “not impressed”. (as kids are never “impressed” when the comforts of home elude them!) They do keep in contact with some cousins via social media, but largely, the VZ relatives they were closest to are now in the States. But my kids no identify with Venezuela than they do with my ancestral homelands.

    • La vaina esa roja y sucia que está donde estaba Venezuela no es el mismo país en el cual nací. En se sentido no siento la más mínima conexión con la Rep Bolivariana y mucho menos con su sociedad (Imagínate que mal tienen que estar una sociedad para parir un engendro como el chavismo)

  7. Learning about past is important so the same mistakes are not repeated in the future. The Spanish Republicans fighting against fascism were double crossed by the communists and sadly, not helped by the bystanders. By the way, where is the 510 tons of Spanish gold sent to Soviet Russia? Stolen in great part.

    While the republicans easily kicked the Italians’ ass, they could not effectively oppose the organized Nazis and Francos’ troops. Hitler was flexing Germany’s muscle, preparing for the rest of Europe. The Spanish war was doomed for the Republicans from the start.

    The tragedy, for some of the republicans, was that not only the Nazi- Fascists won, and they had to cross the border, but they were also sent to concentration camps by the French and absorbed in their army when Hitler invaded, only to be left in the sands of Dunkirk by the BEF made prisoners and sent to concentration camps (Mauthousen had a large Spanish Republicans group), some eventually surviving after 5 years, when it was liberated by the US Third Army.

    By them, the new enemy was the Soviet Union and they had no country to come back…until Franco’s death. Nowadays, Spain is a democracy with the best economic growth rate in Europe, a situation that is not without risks, since the left parties (Podemos and IU -thanks to important funding from Chaves. and the fact that they have a cohesive group of “indignados” – anti-system groups) have gained political relevance.

    Good thing is that most people in Spain are aware that the Venezuelan Bolivarian Socialist “revolution” is a disaster. However, you have to be always vigilant.

    Apologies for going off-topic. It is true that Venezuela opened its door to many exiles, as well as Mexico.

Leave a Reply