Self-made Venezuelans in Spain aiding countrymen
A decade ago, Edgar Rodriguez travelled from his home country of Venezuela to Madrid to carve a new life. Now the head of the Arepa Ole chain of restaurants serving stuffed corn tortillas typical of his country, he is one of several Venezuelan entrepreneurs giving work to fellow countrymen and women who are increasingly coming to Spain to flee the crisis back home. “It’s about giving them a hand, support, for them to arrive and somehow or other have a job, which probably isn’t what they did over there, but they get stability,” says Rodriguez, whose 25 employees are all Venezuelan.
No 1 asylum seekers
Rodriguez himself had to work under the table when he first arrived in 2006 before getting the necessary ID. “We’re supporting the Venezuelan community that is arriving. We suffered when we started out,” he says. In 2016, the number of Venezuelans emigrating to Spain increased 26.2 percent according to official data, and they are the biggest community to ask for asylum, ahead of Syrians, says the Spanish Commission for Help to Refugees.
Ricardo Rojas, 33, left Venezuela last year with his wife. An engineer by training and the head of a small coffee company in his home country, he grew tired of the acute shortages. Venezuela has the world’s biggest oil reserves, but a collapse in energy prices has drained its revenues, prompting shortages of food, medicine and basic goods along with soaring violent crime and a stratospherically high inflation rate.
The economic crisis has been a major factor in three months of protests in which 89 people have died. Once they arrived in Madrid, Rojas and his wife survived on their savings for several months, until the money got tight. He met Fernando Rodriguez, president of Antojos Araguaney, a company of Venezuelan products in Madrid with around 50 employees, 95 percent of whom are from the south American country. Rodriguez gave him a chance and Rojas is now the firm’s director of operations. “He was once in this situation as an emigrant, he arrived with little, and he understands and the first thing he does is help whoever he can,” says Rojas.
40 CVs a day
Rodriguez founded his company in 2008 after arriving in Madrid, first as a small factory of homemade cheese. Now he has a meat restaurant, two bakeries and stands of Venezuelan products in markets. He receives 40 CVs a day, “99 percent from Venezuelans,” he says as he cooks cachapas, typical corn pancakes from Venezuela, in an enormous pan in the company’s factory outside Madrid.
Those who work in these companies are often over-qualified for the job-varying from engineers, lawyers, to journalists and students-but they aim to get stability first before going for a post in their specialist area. Fashion designer Mayela Figuera, for instance, a 38-year-old from Caracas, escaped “the terrible situation in Venezuela” in December 2015.
When she got a residency permit in Spain, she got a job in the kitchen of Arepa Ole, even if she had never worked in a restaurant before. “It’s been a great help,” she says in between orders at one of the restaurants in central Madrid, where she works alongside an engineer and a tourism degree-holder. She recognizes that in Spain, her life “is different.” In Caracas she had her own business and lived with her husband in a middle-class district. Now, on top of nostalgia for her country and her separation from her husband, her salary only allows her to live and pay rent in Usera, a poorer district of Madrid where many immigrants live. But “the difference is that now I can go out at night and know that I will come back alive,” she says. —AFP
MADRID: Venezuelan businessman Edgar Rodriguez poses outside his restaurant called “Arepa Ole”. —AFP