Self-made Venezue­lans in Spain aid­ing coun­try­men

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

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

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