Madrid: Fleeing the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in their country, Venezuelans have arrived in Spain in their thousands, some of them penniless, others so rich they are buying sumptuous flats.
Fran Leal, 36, came to Spain from Maracay in northern Venezuela two months ago with his wife and two children.
“Do you have a small suitcase? I’m going to Toledo, I’ve found a job,” he asks as he enters the Casa Venezuela, an association that helps struggling Venezuelans in Madrid.
An electrician, he is going to the city south of Madrid to work illegally for six months.
“I don’t have a choice as I don’t yet have ID papers and I have no more savings,” he says, as the crisis in Venezuela deepens with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s self-proclamation as interim president.
Unlike Leal, Juan Leonardo Lopez has not found a job since he arrived three months ago.
“Before the crisis, I wasn’t a millionaire but I lived fine, I had a great car and everything I needed,” he says at a Venezuelan opposition protest in Madrid.
He says he saw children die of dehydration in the hospital in Maracay where he worked.
Spain’s statistics agency says some 255,000 Venezuelans have settled in the country.
But that figure is likely to be closer to 300,000 if illegal immigrants are taken into account, according to Tomas Paez, head of the Venezuelan Diaspora Observatory.
Venezuelan asylum requests have nearly doubled in Spain over the year, with close to 20,000 in 2018, according to the interior ministry.
But only 29 were successful last year, the ministry says, as it is hard for those who migrate for economic reasons to get asylum.
As a result, Madrid has started giving some Venezuelans humanitarian visas.
At the other end of the scale, many rich Venezuelans have also emigrated to Spain over the past year to escape the crisis and insecurity.
Cesar, a 42-year-old businessman who declined to give his surname, arrived in Madrid in 2014 with his wife and daughter after an armed group tried to kidnap his brother.
“We lived permanently with bodyguards, we would move around in armoured cars. We couldn’t go out in the evenings,” he says.
“Here, we’re enjoying what we no longer had in Venezuela: going out, eating out,” says the head of a consultancy in Madrid, which still has an office in Caracas.
Unlike those who are struggling, he was able to get an express residency permit after getting a “golden visa” for which one must invest at least €1 million (Dh4.15 million or $880,000) in Spanish companies or 500,000 euros in real estate.
Cesar bought three flats in the district of Salamanca in Madrid for €800,000.
Such has been the affluence of Venezuelans in this upmarket area that it has been named “Little Caracas” by Spanish media.
Controversial due to the difficulty in verifying the origin of the funds used, the “golden visa” is very popular among rich Venezuelans.
Last year, 249 such visas were given to Venezuelans in Spain, nearly 20 per cent more than in 2017, according to the foreign ministry.
Angel Garcia Loriente, a real estate agent who specialises in luxury purchases, says he sealed five deals with Venezuelans in 2018 for a total of €9.7 million.
They are clients who want flats “in elegant buildings,” he says.
According to Juan Carlos Gutierrez, the Madrid-based lawyer of Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez who also has wealthy Venezuelan clients, they have fled “insecurity.”
They also “want to enjoy their money as it is impossible to run a successful business in Venezuela in the current conditions.”