Venezuela brain drain accelerates

Austin American-Stateman:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his dream of "21st century socialism" have spurred thousands to leave the South American nation, slowly creating a middle- and upper-class diaspora in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Unlike most migration patterns in the Americas, departing Venezuelans are not motivated primarily by current economic frustration. Instead, they are fleeing government policies that they fear could threaten private property ownership, restrict economic opportunities, lead to job losses and provoke regional conflicts, according to analysts, polls and interviews with people leaving.

Manuel Corao, who runs a newspaper serving the Venezuelan community in Miami, estimates that about three Venezuelans a day arrive in the Miami area intending to stay.

"They fear the Chávez government; they fear communism and the dictatorship. It's terrible," said Corao, who came from Venezuela 11 years ago.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the number of green cards — or permanent legal resident visas — given to Venezuelans in the U.S. has more than doubled during this decade. In 2006, 11,341 were issued to Venezuelan citizens, up from 4,693 in 2000, the year after Chávez came to power.

Thousands more Venezuelans are in the U.S. on business, tourist and student visas, and others are in the country illegally, experts say. The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, estimates that 157,977 Venezuelan-born people lived in the U.S. in 2006, including naturalized American citizens.

Others are moving to Canada, Spain, Australia, Panama, Portugal and other countries.

"It's not purely a matter of getting better incomes for your work in foreign countries, but an expectation problem," said Ricardo Villasmil, a professor of economic development at the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. "They're hoping for happiness as a whole, peace, liberties and safety."


The domestic economy is plagued by high inflation and a shortage of goods, including basic foods.

In 2007, inflation was about 22 percent. Over the past year, prices have increased by more than a third on such staples as sugar, rice, black beans, pasta, bread and milk.

In Caracas, Alejandra Gonzalez said she was leaving Venezuela because she feared for her 2-year-old daughter.

"We have a house, jobs, cars here, but we don't have what we need, that is peace and opportunities," she said. "I don't know if my apartment will be taken away from me in the future or not. There is legal insecurity here."

The smart ones are getting out while they can. They are getting out before Chavez becomes even more paranoid and before prices become more inflated. They are getting out before he starts a war he can't win.


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