Guyanese slowly re­build­ing lives af­ter flee­ing Venezuela’s hard­ships

Stabroek News Sunday - - NEWS - By Shabna Rah­man

Johnny Ram, 32, lived in Venezuela for 20 years, en­joy­ing a com­fort­able life due to his flour­ish­ing join­ery busi­ness. Ac­cord­ing to him, he never thought that he would be forced to leave un­der the cir­cum­stances in which he did—in the af­ter­math of two home in­va­sions, in­clud­ing one where an armed rob­ber threat­ened to kid­nap one of his three chil­dren.

Ram is among a num­ber of Guyanese who have taken the de­ci­sion to leave be­hind hard-earned as­sets and re­set­tle here af­ter fac­ing hard­ships in Venezuela due to the coun­try’s crum­bling econ­omy and es­ca­lat­ing crime rate.

Venezuela was very nice, a rem­i­grant told Sun­day Stabroek in an in­ter­view, while not­ing that there were few rob­beries and ev­ery­thing was sell­ing cheap.

How­ever, af­ter Nico­las Maduro as­sumed of­fice as pres­i­dent in 2013 fol­low­ing for­mer pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez’s death and world oil prices fell, the coun­try’s econ­omy took a se­ri­ous dive. Prices started sky­rock­et­ing and there was a scarcity of food, fuel and cash along with a col­lapse of the health care, ed­u­ca­tion and trans­port sys­tems.

The Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment pro­vides a bag of gro­ceries to each fam­ily every three to four months at a low cost.

For days, many line up for the sup­plies and if they are lucky there may still be some left by the time they reach the front.

The dire sit­u­a­tion has led to loot­ing, rob­beries and protests, some of which have turned deadly.

When the cri­sis just started, Ram’s busi­ness started to de­cline. With the prices for food and other items spi­ral­ing out of con­trol, he was even forced to drive for 12 hours to Brazil to pur­chase food.

He said de­cided to move back af­ter he was at­tacked and robbed by armed ban­dits on two oc­ca­sions.

The first at­tack oc­curred in March, 2016, when ban­dits scaled his 15-ft fence and gained en­try into his house through an open door. They held him at gun­point and de­manded that he hand over US cur­rency.

Al­though he told them he did not have any, they con­tin­ued to ter­rorise him and his fam­ily and ran­sacked his house. They had also threat­ened to shoot him if they found any US cur­rency. In the end, they es­caped with only lo­cal cur­rency and other ar­ti­cles.

One week later, three ban­dits again barged into his home and carted off elec­tron­ics. They also at­tempted to steal his ve­hi­cle but were foiled af­ter neigh­bours raised an alarm. The ban­dits had also threat­ened to kid­nap one of his three chil­dren.

A few months later, Ram packed up and left with his fam­ily. He now lives at Tuschen, East Bank Esse­quibo, where he is still try­ing to re-es­tab­lish his busi­ness and fully re­set­tle here.

Ac­cord­ing to Ram, many peo­ple are strug­gling and des­per­ately want to re­turn but they don’t have any­one to help them. “Some are old and they won’t be able to start life all over again,” he said, be­fore adding, “Guyanese don’t pun­ish; they try to make ends meet. Most peo­ple boil cas­sava and eat that ev­ery­day….”

The only good thing, Ram said, is that res­i­dents do not have to pay for elec­tric­ity, wa­ter and garbage col­lec­tion.

Ram’s cousin, Michael Sukhu, 21, who was born in Venezuela, still lives there with his Guyanese par­ents and his si­b­lings. He has been stay­ing with Ram for the past five months and is plan­ning to re­turn home in three weeks.

Sukhu is an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent at the gov­ern­ment uni­ver­sity but the teach­ers have been on strike for the past eight months.

The rea­son for the strike, he said, is the lack of trans­porta­tion, food and the fact that teach­ers are not be­ing paid. He is hope­ful that the uni­ver­sity will re­open but said it de­pends on the out­come of the coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, which will be held at the end of April.

If it does not re­open, he told this news­pa­per that he would have to look at con­tin­u­ing his stud­ies at a pri­vate uni­ver­sity.

Un­bear­able

Roberto Ram­nar­ine, 33, fled with his wife Theresa Per­saud, 24, and their three chil­dren, ages two, four and six, al­most two years ago, when the sit­u­a­tion be­came un­bear­able. Ban­dits had also at­tacked and robbed him seven times.

A joiner by pro­fes­sion, it took him three months be­fore he could fi­nally land a job at a fur­ni­ture fac­tory. Rel­a­tives helped him with his rent and pro­vided ba­sic food items un­til he started earn­ing.

Ram­nar­ine said that while life is much bet­ter now, he is still find­ing it hard to pay the $28,000 per month in rent for his cur­rent home.

And as if his mis­ery was not enough, he in­jured his shoul­ders in a bi­cy­cle ac­ci­dent a few weeks ago and is presently un­able to work.

He hopes to ob­tain a plot of land so he can build a home and cur­tail some of his ex­penses.

In Venezuela, he op­er­ated a flour­ish­ing busi­ness sup­ply­ing kitchen cab­i­nets and other fur­ni­ture to trailer homes be­long­ing to an oil com­pany.

He also owned a home with modern ap­pli­ances and a car, which he left be­hind in his search for a bet­ter life for his fam­ily.

Ram­nar­ine re­called that when his busi­ness started to col­lapse, he had to lay off his two em­ploy­ees and work alone. Even­tu­ally there was no work for him ei­ther.

Per­saud added that it reached a stage where they could not af­ford ba­sic food items or even milk and di­a­pers for their youngest child.

They spoke of lin­ing up from the af­ter­noon be­fore to get food sup­plies from the gov­ern­ment. There were many fights for space in the line dur­ing that time.

Ram­nar­ine re­called one in­stance when the army shot and killed a woman be­cause she vented her frus­tra­tion at oth­ers cut­ting in line ahead of her.

His par­ents and other rel­a­tives are still in Venezuela fac­ing dire con­di­tions and can­not af­ford the pas­sage back home.

His fa­ther earns a small pen­sion and al­though it is not enough for food, he tries to make ends meet.

The Venezue­lan cur­rency has in­flated so much that the fam­ily paid 26 mil­lion Bo­li­vars (Bs 26 mil­lion) to travel to Guyana.

It was noted that a per­son could take Bs 1 mil­lion to the mar­ket and would not still not be able to af­ford ev­ery­thing they needed.

The price for rice is Bs 200,000, while 12 eggs are sold for Bs 232,000; one litre of whole milk cost Bs 125,000 and 16 ounces of cheese cost Bs 250,000.

The gov­ern­ment pro­vides Bs 500,000 to res­i­dents to as­sist with gro­ceries. So des­per­ate for the help, Ram­nar­ine’s mother spent three days in the line with­out food wait­ing for the money.

Ram­nar­ine’s brother, Ri­cardo, 32, a car­pen­ter, came to Guyana three months ago and only re­cently got a job.

Ri­cardo thought he could have sur­vived the hard­ship and only de­cided to move when ban­dits at­tacked and robbed him of his car at gun­point.

An­other young man, Sheik Ally, 22, rem­i­grated with his par­ents over a year ago. He had pre­ferred to stay in Venezuela and said he would love to re­turn if he gets the op­por­tu­nity.

He was en­gaged in gold min­ing in that coun­try but he is cur­rently work­ing at sea as a fish­er­man.

Tough life

Par­bat­tie, a house­wife, moved back from Venezuela about two years ago with her hus­band and their 14-year-old son when they could no longer face the tough life.

When they first got there, her hus­band worked as a “weeder” and within a month they started build­ing a wooden house, which they later upgraded to a con­crete struc­ture.

The woman re­lated that her hus­band gave up af­ter all the pro­duce from his cas­sava and plan­tain farm was stolen. “We don’t know if it’s Guyanese or Span­ish peo­ple who thief them be­cause ev­ery­body hun­gry,” she said.

Her daugh­ter, son-in-law and their four daugh­ters, ages three, eight, 12 and 14, re­mained there try­ing to sur­vive in spite of the hard­ships.

But three months later her daugh­ter called and told her that they hardly had food. They were eat­ing man­goes for break­fast and for lunch they ate boiled rice and a “cheap fish.”

Par­bat­tie de­cided to go with the hope of bring­ing them back to Guyana im­me­di­ately. But she too was caught in strug­gle as she tried to raise the money to get the fam­ily over. She re­called eat­ing sour­sop for lunch a few times.

She tried in vain to sell her house there to get enough money. Af­ter she re­turned, a woman who was left in charge of the house sold it and gave her G$30,000.

While there, she sold her fridge and freezer but she had to use that money to buy food items. Her grand­chil­dren were un­able to at­tend school be­cause there were re­ports of girls be­ing raped.

Ac­cord­ing to her, many peo­ple are suf­fer­ing from malaria but there is no treat­ment in the coun­try.

Par­bat­tie is sad that life turned out the way it did and prays that one day the coun­try would “get good again….”

Roberto Ram­nar­ine and his fam­ily

Par­bat­tie and her four grand­daugh­ters

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