Professors seek better lives in other countries as Venezuela dives deeper into crisis
Over 39,000 Venezuelans sought asylum around the world in the first half of this year, UN report says
Mariella Azzato sees her staff thinning almost daily in Venezuela.
Over 430 professors, assistants and faculty have left the University of Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, since 2015, according to Azzato, the university’s vice rector of administration. The public university is widely considered one of Venezuela’s best, yet more than a third of the faculty have left in three years.
The vast majority of professors are leaving in search of better lives in other countries as Venezuela dives deeper into an economic and humanitarian crisis punctuated by a government many, including President Trump, deem a dictatorship.
“A moment is going to arrive when there’s isn’t anyone,” Azzato laments. “There’s an exodus of the most talented professors to other countries.”
Students are leaving, too. Azzato says the university started the year with roughly 12,000 students, but she estimates that has sunk to 10,700.
Rampant crime, food and medical shortages and extreme inflation have forced hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to seek refuge elsewhere. Azzato sees the flight of educators worsening.
“If I don’t see any change in the country, I could foresee this trend will continue,” says Azzato, who herself has not yet considered leaving.
As President Nicolas Maduro attempts to tighten his grip on the nation – seizing legislative power from his opponents in July – the exodus of the nation’s educated class raises questions about who will be left to resolve the nation’s endless problems, let alone teach future generations.
Over 39,000 Venezuelans sought asylum around the world in the first half of this year, double the pace from last year, when 34,000 Venezuelans applied for asylum in all of 2016, according to a United Nations Human Rights Commission report published in October. Venezuelans are mostly seeking asylum in the United States, Colombia, Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Venezuela’s population is about 30 million.
That only scratches the surface, though. In the first half of this year, 263,000 Venezuelans crossed into Colombia, according to Colombian immigration officials.
The two nations share a border that stretches over a hundred miles. Some Venezuelans cross the border to buy food, toiletries and other essentials and then return the same day to Venezuela. Thousands of Venezuelans hold dual citizenship in Colombia, so it’s hard to know exactly how many have left Venezuela to reside across the border.
Many aren’t going back to Venezuela.
“A large percentage of the Venezuelan citizens that entered Colombia were doing it to utilize our country as a bridge to a third destination,” Christian Krüger Sarmiento, director of Migracion Colombia, a government agency, wrote in a report. (Several airlines have stopped flying to Venezuela, so Colombia is the nearest place to fly from).
Alejandro Nava stopped teaching in Venezuela in April. A former adjunct law professor in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Nava got a green card to live in Arlington, Virginia, with his aunt.
Though it never happened to him, Nava says college classes are routinely interrupted in Venezuela by robbers who hold up everyone at gunpoint. University campuses are ghost towns in Venezuela by 5 p.m., he adds. (In Venezuela, universities have long allowed top college graduates to teach undergraduate courses).
“All the professors are leaving,” says Nava, 25. “Staying in Venezuela would’ve been like staying by myself … if you’re stuck in Venezuela right now, the future is black, there’s nothing.”
Crime aside, his teaching career became unsustainable: Because of Venezuela’s rapidly plunging currency, the bolivar, Nava’s monthly salary was worth $5 by the time he left. He worked at a law firm to cobble together another $45 in a month’s pay while he lived with his parents. He used to run between the entrance to grocery stores and his car door for fear of being robbed in the parking lot.
Although his family didn’t suffer food and medical shortages, they often had to visit several pharmacies to find basic medicine. When Venezuela suffered electric shortages in 2016 due to a drought at the country’s main hydroelectric plant, Nava’s family dealt with rolling blackouts, losing power for four hours a day.
Now living in one of the world’s safest major metropolitan areas in Washington, Nava enjoys little pleasures. He doesn’t look side to side before taking out his cellphone. He’s saving up to move into an apartment with roommates in January – something he could never envision in Venezuela with its crumbling currency.
“It is like a dream,” says Nava. “I can actually consider a future for myself.”