Venezuelans in Czechia look with concern and hope to their homeland

Juan Guaido, photo: ČTK/AP/Ariana Cubillos

Among those following developments in Venezuela with avid interest are Venezuelan emigres who have made a new life in the Czech Republic. For many of them Juan Guaido represents new hope that they will one day be able to return home. Czech Radio spoke to three Venezuelans about their take on the current developments, their fears for the present and hopes for the future.

Héctor Castillo, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
According to United Nations figures, more than three million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, fleeing from political oppression and the ever-worsening living conditions. Most headed for neighbouring Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile or Brazil. Some ended up in the Czech Republic from where they are watching developments at home and trying to help their families as best as they can. Héctor Castillo came to the Czech Republic in 2006 and decided to stay.

“The situation is dramatic. The governments that ruled the country in the last 20 years damaged the economy, the industry, the whole society and that is why many people have been leaving the country. The living conditions are terrible. Crime is a very big problem, the health system is not functioning. So if you cannot get medical care, if you cannot find a job and someone on the street can kill you because they want to take your shoes or your mobile –what are people to do? That is why they are leaving the country. The people need help and we all are helping our families as much as we can.”

Héctor says people’s anger is directed at the late president Hugo Chávez, and his successor Nicolas Maduro who was elected for his first term in office in April of 2013, after the death of his socialist mentor and predecessor in office. Maduro was re-elected for a second term in highly controversial elections in May 2018 which most opposition parties boycotted.

Juan Guaido, photo: ČTK/AP/Ariana Cubillos
“These people had the biggest opportunity in our history to create a very good society. They had the popularity, the money and the conditions to create a normal society, to develop the country and they did the exact opposite. They created even bigger problems than we had twenty years ago. So this period is finished. There are no more chances for these people. The society is tired.”

While many countries, including the Czech Republic have officially recognized the head of the National Assembly Juan Guaido as acting president, Venezuelan expats say there’s still a long way to go for the country to achieve stability. The security forces are seen as a key player in this crisis. Many are loyal to Maduro, who has rewarded them with frequent pay rises and put high-ranking military men in control of key ministerial posts and industries.

Ramon Salgueiro, Jackson Fernandez, photo: Filip Harzer / Czech Radio
Journalist Ramon Salgueiro came to the Czech Republic ten years ago. He has a Czech wife and a nine-year-old son. He fears there may still be problems ahead.

“The big question is whether the National Guard will stop supporting Maduro. They have had many rewards for supporting him. What I appreciate is that Guaido said openly that those soldiers who support him will not be punished. The opposition does not like to admit this, but there are still those supporting the Chavez philosophy, no longer 70 percent of supporters, but 30 percent definitely. The good thing that Guaido did for the people is that they are getting humanitarian help, food medicines and so on, thanks to the United States. But to think that the army will not support Maduro is short-sighted.“

Jackson Fernandez left his homeland in 2015 after being jailed and tortured. He too has a Czech wife and child and is settled in the Czech Republic. Although he is eager to visit his homeland he has no plans to resettle.

Nicolas Maduro, photo: ČTK/AP/Rodrigo Abd
“I have made a family with my girlfriend here and I like living in this country. From here I help people at home. With communication, food, money and whatever they need at the present time. In a few weeks’ time we can think about going to visit – not to live there because we are now used to a different culture, a different way of life. Maybe one day I will be able to live there again. But not in these conditions. Nobody can live in these conditions.

Héctor Castillo agrees that Venezuela has a long way to go, but he says there is no question he would like to return home one day.

“Of course I would. Of course. This is my country, this is the place where I was born. I hope that Venezuela will be a normal democracy again and we will have the chance to make a Renaissance in Venezuela.“