“The hardest moments happened on the last days,” Carolina said. Carolina is not her real name. She has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation against her family in Venezuela.
Sitting in a metro Atlanta shopping area, she talks of an entire life left behind. The boutique she owned with her husband. The social events she organized. She remembers her family — her uncle who’s currently recovering from a stroke and her grandmother, in her 80’s, who has no one to care for her.
People have demanded president Maduro step down and hold elections. Protests have stretched into a third month, resulting in nearly 70 deaths.
Carolina sold her business and her car in Venezuela and used the money to buy plane tickets for her family. The leftover money was rationed out to buy a small car and for a deposit on an apartment.
“We know we are starting from zero” she said, “it is a very difficult time and I have a lot of sadness in my heart for the things I left behind in Venezuela, but for my children, it is all worth it.”
In the meantime, she said she stays up at night talking to her husband about money, and how little of it they have left.
However, Carolina knows her family is lucky to have had the tourist visas that allowed them to come into the US.
His work made him a target
Metro Atlanta area is home to many Venezuelans in the same situation as Carolina.
Arturo and Maria Gonzalez, also not their real names, fled Venezuela after being threatened. Arturo said his work as a television news photographer made him a walking target. They have asked us to conceal their identities to protect themselves and their families.
The Gonzalez’ came to America eight months ago with one suitcase each, $1,200, and a dream of living a safe and secure life.
“It was a big sacrifice to leave everything.” Arturo said, “the sacrifice weighs heavily every day.” He adds in the end the security and comfort of living in the US makes the sacrifice worth it.
Arturo speaks of the strong contrast between life in the two countries.
“Here you have at your disposal anything you want to buy. When in reality in Venezuela we would spend hours in line for one product.”
Security threats and food shortages weren’t the only things that brought the Gonzalez to the United States.
“If I don’t have my daily medicine, in one week I would die.”
Medical shortages forced them to flee
Maria Gonzalez is not alone.
Walking out of a dialysis center on a sunny Thursday afternoon, you would never guess that Richard Vargas, 47, was on the verge of dying when he arrived in Atlanta just a month ago. Vargas has end stage renal disease and needs dialysis three times a week.
“In Venezuela there was a lot of difficulty for my dialysis treatment. There were no supplies, there was no medicine.”
Richard, proudly wearing a Venezuela hat, knows that he wouldn’t have survived much longer had he stayed.
“One week, fifteen days,” he estimates, “it was very unlikely that I would have survived without my treatment.”
He was so sick that he was immediately admitted to an Atlanta area hospital for 8 days, before he was well enough to be discharged.
His wife, Jovaera Valero, 46, said the life-saving drugs her husband needed were also hard to come by. The couple did not want to leave, but knew it was impossible to stay.
“It is sad to see your spouse getting worse, slipping through your fingers, and you can’t do anything” Valero said.
The couple sold their trucking business to get the money necessary to come to the US and to pay for his costly medical treatment.
Richard said his thoughts remain with his native Venezuela.
“In reality my heart is in Venezuela” he said. “I carry it in my heart.”
Future in America
Once families have arrived in the US, all they can do now is wait. They wait for the government to hear their asylum cases and make a decision if they can stay — or if they need to leave.
Many have sold everything they had back home and came to America in search of a safe heaven.
For now, they are here, rebuilding their lives from ground up. They hope to one day be able to go back to their families and friends– and to the lives they have left behind.