In Spain, the new life of Venezuelan exiles

Mercado Maravillas, a traditional market in Madrid where many of the stores are owned by Venezuelans, and where it´s possible to find many products from the country.


Posted today at 11:35 am

In the small living room of his modest apartment in the popular district of Mostoles, which he shares with his wife, two daughters and his son-in-law, Erick Zuleta, president of the union of the National Transport Federation (FNT) of Venezuela, took out ” a drawer the document from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior dated July 8, 2019 which “Recognizes the condition of refugee and the right of asylum”. “The fact that the Venezuelan Communist Party [PCV, soutien du régime] asking for my extradition made it easier for me to demonstrate the regime’s persecution against me ”, specifies the 65-year-old trade unionist, who ensures that “When Maduro falls, we will go back to Venezuela to help rebuild the country: our life is there”.

A few days before the legislative elections of December 6, described as “Fraud” by the opposition who refused to participate in order not to endorse them, the dissident has little hope. “I started the process to obtain Spanish nationality, because in my country, the light at the end of the tunnel still seems very far away”, he adds.

Eric Mendez Zuleta, an exiled Venezuelan trade unionist, in Madrid, with his daughter, on November 27.
Exiled trade unionist Eric Mendez Zuleta shows a photo of Venezuelan police entering his home.

According to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), more than 4 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, driven by food and raw material shortages, rising hunger and insecurity, and , as is the case with Mr. Zuleta, the crackdown on political dissidents. If the majority of these exiles take refuge in border countries, more than 100,000 have come to Europe. And the vast majority of them settled in Spain, where they became the main asylum seekers, dropping from 4,000 in 2016 to 40,000 in 2019. Despite the mobility restrictions linked to the pandemic, another 24,000 sought international protection during the first nine months of the year. The last major political opponent to arrive in Madrid on October 25 is Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Voluntad Popular party. Sentenced to thirteen years in prison in 2015 for the 2014 protests, he fled the country after a year and a half in the Spanish embassy in Caracas.

Obstacle course

Erick Zuleta, he arrived more than three years ago now. “On July 26, 2017, when we voted for the transport strike to protest against the shortages and the creation of the Constituent Assembly, a parallel institution to bypass the majority opposition in Parliament, I was warned that the Sebin, the political police, were going to come and take me ”, he says. Then follows a three-day flight that ends on the Simon-Bolivar bridge that separates Colombia from Venezuela. “When I arrived on the Colombian side, I was finally able to call my family”, he recalls.

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