In 2008 there were so few Venezuelans in Madrid that two small country-style cheese makers, José Luis Marín and his son-in-law Fernando Rodríguez, had to search for their compatriots around the city, riding their Opel Astra. They went with the trunk loaded to the Las Tablas neighborhood, to the headquarters of Técnicas Reunidas, the oil company that employed dozens of Venezuelan engineers. Today these two cheesemakers sell their native products at Carrefour or El Corte Inglés. His company, Antojos Araguaney, employs 120 people and has ambitious expansion plans. They want to move in March to a new 3,000-square-meter warehouse in Rivas-Vaciamadrid, a municipality that borders the capital to the southeast, because the current 700-square-meter warehouse has outgrown them.
The success of Antojos Araguaney is due to hard work and an extraordinary increase in its potential consumers. Venezuelans are the immigrants who arrived in the Community of Madrid in the first half of 2019: 11,899, according to the latest data from the Migration Statistics, acquaintances this wednesday. It is a massive landing unmatched in recent years. No other national group of immigrants has grown by more than 20,000 members a year since 2008, when the National Institute of Statistics began publishing this series. Venezuelans in Madrid have been exceeding that mark for two years in a row. In total, probably more than 100,000 people born in the South American country live in the Madrid region. The exact figure will be known in April, when the INE publishes the update of the register adding, among others, these new data on immigrants.
Marín and Rodríguez left their country in the early years of Chavismo, before things got ugly. Since then they have seen in Madrid the dramatic arrival of compatriots fleeing the political and economic chaos. Now, Antojos Araguaney is a source of pride for Venezuelans in Madrid and an example for entrepreneurs seeking to prosper in Spain. “I always give them the same advice: work, work and work,” says Marín, who at 69 has no plans to take a break.
Madrid receives only a small part of the great exodus of Venezuelans through the United States, Latin America and Europe, which amounts to 4.6 million people since 2015, according to the United Nations. The figure could rise to 6.5 million this year, according to the organization. This drama comparable in dimension to that of Syrian refugees is transforming host cities. The cultural footprint in Madrid is felt in corners such as Mercado Maravillas, in the new areperas around the city that serve the most popular product, or in the boom experienced by the league of softball, a variant of baseball, the king of sports in the South American country. They are an addition to an increasingly diverse region where Romanians (136,661) and Colombians (100,732) are still the largest minorities.
Pressure is also being felt in soup kitchens and shelters. The profile of Venezuelans who arrive in Madrid has changed rapidly and they have fewer and fewer resources, according to the Venezuelan Cristina Isacura, an immigration lawyer who has seen how the clientele that entered through the door of her office in La Puerta has diversified. del Sol. Eight years ago they were mainly young professionals with savings, or rich people who bought luxury apartments in the Salamanca district. But for two years many have arrived in desperate situation. “I have seen children alone sent by their parents, some malnourished, that is happening a lot,” says Isacura. “Sometimes I have spoken with people who do not imagine that there are Venezuelans without money to buy a train ticket.”
Many elderly people, parents or grandparents of young people already settled here are also coming to Madrid. It is life insurance because in Venezuela there is an acute lack of medicines. In most cases the young people have university training but work in manual jobs as delivery men or waiters, says Tomás Páez, coordinator of the Observatory of the Venezuelan Diaspora. The families sell off their properties in Venezuela to have a relief fund. “Apartments of 200 square meters in areas that were previously listed in Caracas are being sold for less than 60,000 euros,” says Páez.
The wealthiest buy real estate and their legal residence thanks to the golden visa program. The rest usually go through a lengthy asylum application process. If they have a weak mattress, they end up suffering penalties. Erwuin Contreras, a 33-year-old physical therapist, sold his prized Volkswagen Beetle collectible to pay for his airfare to Madrid. Things went wrong and for a while he slept in an ATM. Now he sings on the meter with a cuatro, a stringed instrument. Earn between 35 and 40 euros a day. “My dream now is to record my song On the rails of Madrid, to tell my story, our story, ”he says.
Daniel Pérez is a 29-year-old biomedical engineer who has only been in Madrid for a month and a half and has slept on the street, in a church and now in a shelter. Despite the hardships, he is optimistic. “I have met good people here and good contacts who will serve me when I have my work permit,” says Pérez, who lives with his partner, who is an accountant.
His stories contrast sharply with those of his more resourceful compatriots. The Cohén family owns the Sambil de Leganés, the commercial center outlet largest in Spain. Many others have bought apartments for more than two million euros in the Salamanca district. In one of its elegant streets, Kika Payares and three other members have opened InCasa, a decoration store oriented to the avant-garde taste of the wealthy Venezuelans of the neighborhood. A sculpture of about red lips almost half a meter wide costs 1,170 euros. But now they are introducing more classic objects because they want to grow and have noticed how the flow of Venezuelans is receding. They seek to attract the more conservative Spanish customer. “He [venezolano rico] he wanted to leave, he already did, “says Payares.
Real estate consultancy Engel & Volkers says that the peak of purchases by Venezuelans in Salamanca and other expensive areas of Madrid is over. Venezuelans accounted for 50% of the acquisitions of real estate of more than one million euros in the last quarter of 2017 and the first of 2018. Now they are around 20%.
Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, a lawyer at the firm of Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo, believes that part of this fall is due to the fact that Spain has recently tightened the nuts against money launderers related to Chavismo. “The increasing pressure is making the Bolibourgeois [la élite chavista] they have to take their money to Russia, Turkey and other countries where putting the money is much more risky, “says Gutiérrez. Despite this, it hurts many Venezuelans in Madrid to live with some well-known Chavez businessmen, such as Alejandro Betancourt, a capitalist partner of the Hawkers sunglasses chain. Betancourt bought in 2012 a mansion in Santa Cruz de Retamar, in Toledo.
According to Rolando Seijas, Venezuelan founder of SNB Capital, a real estate investment company in Madrid, the elite of their country has entered a new phase, that of entrepreneurship. Upon arrival they bought properties and once settled they have got down to work. Now, says Seijas, there is a boom of restaurant openings. He himself has opened two in the capital, The Lobstar, specializing in American seafood cuisine.
He explains that when an immigrant arrives in a new place, he or she necessarily goes through a period of adaptation. You have to accept the new reality. “The first three years of the immigration process are mourning,” he says. “You cannot start a business when you have your physical presence in one country and your heart in another.”
Correction: A first version of this article said that this month (January) we will know the update of the register with the Migration Statistics Actually, these data will include they will meet in April.
The data of Venezuelan immigrants in Madrid underestimates the real size of the community, according to experts. The figures from the registry or immigration statistics report those born in Venezuela who reside in Madrid, but do not include many returnees, that is, those born in Spain, Italy or Portugal who emigrated to Venezuela in the second half of the last century and now they have left the country bound for the capital of Spain in many cases, says Tomás Páez, coordinator of the Observatory of the Venezuelan Diaspora. In addition, there are already many second-generation Venezuelans in Madrid. They are the children of the newcomers who were born here.
Madrid is the Community that receives the most Venezuelans, far ahead of Catalonia and the Canary Islands. ANDl January 1, 2019, there was in Spain 323.575 registered persons who were born in Venezuela. In the next six months, 35.652 immigrants from Venezuela, according to the INE Migration Statistics that we have known this week.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.