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Venezuela's diaspora sees hope of return in Guaido

  • Published at 03:39 pm January 31st, 2019
Juan Guaido
Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido takes part in a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government outside the hospital in Caracas, Venezuela January 30, 2019 Reuters

For Venezuelans who are among the more than two million people who have emigrated since 2015, opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido offers hope that the day they will be able to pack their bags is drawing near

Whether working in a restaurant, playing street music, washing windscreens or selling sweets at traffic lights, Venezuelans who fled their homeland's economic meltdown are united in their dreams of one day returning home.

For Venezuelans who are among the more than two million people who have emigrated since 2015, opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido offers hope that the day they will be able to pack their bags is drawing near.

Guaido's challenge to the authority of President Nicolas Maduro has been gathering pace on the back of notable support from the United States and other countries, but will likely require the military's backing to succeed.

Leonel Nunez, 31, went to Mexico a year ago after his job as a political campaign adviser became increasingly difficult under what he calls Maduro's totalitarian government.

When arriving in his new city, Nunez took to cleaning toilets and working as a waiter. The urgency of his situation provoked a rapid change of priorities.

"I was motivated by preventing my family from dying of hunger," said Nunez, now the manager of a Venezuelan restaurant.

His current employment allows him to send home $700-$800 a month to his parents and three siblings.

However, he says money isn't enough to look after his family's well-being. 

"I have a diabetic brother who is insulin-dependent. You can't find insulin and if you can it costs an arm and a leg."

Nunez rejects the idea that Venezuela has two presidents.

"For me there's only one and it's Guaido," who he said is showing Venezuelans "that it's worth continuing to dream."

Orchestra in exile

Five Venezuelan classical musicians have taken to playing reggaeton in the streets of Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Venezuela's western neighbor has taken in more migrants than any other country.

Starting 10 months ago, one by one the musicians left their symphonic orchestra in Caripito in northern Venezuela, packed up their instruments and moved away.

The last to cross the border was 24-year-old cellist Esther Garcia.

"I came here for greater stability, to help my family, and I'll return to Venezuela when the Maduro government falls, because I have a country that's worth fighting for," she said.

The mini orchestra made up of a drum, cello, bassoon, cuatro and viola recreate popular tunes like "Despacito" by Puerto Rican pair Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, the most viewed Youtube video of all time, in the same Bogota square that was filled with pro-Guaido protesters last week.

"Juan Guaido is the change, although I think more than changing a president, it's about changing the mentality of many Venezuelans," said Anthony Fuentes, 25, clutching his cuatro.

Six months since leaving his country, Jorvi Olivero sells sweets and offers to wash windscreens at traffic lights in the Ecuadoran capital Quito.

The 23-year-old electromechanical technician has a newborn baby girl back home.

"We'll support any president because what we want is for [Maduro] to go, we don't want Maduro any more in Venezuela," he said, accusing the socialist leader of being a "fraud."

"What I hope for is that this president [Guaido] gets the country in order as soon as possible," added Olivero.

'A bit of hope'

But Alexander Taylor, 25, one of the more than 650,000 Venezuelans in Peru, is unconvinced that Guaido can lead his country out of crisis.

"The expectations around Guaido seem to be a bit like those that Leopoldo Lopez created," he said, referring to another opposition leader who is now under house arrest.

"I have a bit of hope in Guaido, but until the current president falls, I won't believe."

Taylor abandoned a career in engineering due to Venezuela's economic woes and now works in a restaurant so he can send money home to his family.

Miguel Jeronimo, 22, who also works in a restaurant, sees "light at the end of the tunnel" and hopes to return home "as soon as possible."

"This time, at last, the government is going," he said.

Asked about the situation in Venezuela, 23-year-old Monica Villarroel said: "My skin crawls."

She's worked in a bar since arriving in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, in 2016 with her family.

"I'm hopeful. For once there's an international movement, which wasn't the case before. We can feel there's real change."

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