(The original interview in Spanish.)
I met Antonio after moving into my current apartment. There was no doorman in my previous place, much less such a pleasant and helpful one. Little by little I got to know him, and his life started to interest me more and more. Finally, I decided that I had to interview him, and I’m glad I did.
R: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
A: My name is Antonio Bande. I was born in Venezuela. My parents are from Galicia, Spain. They were born in the province of Ourense. I was born in Maracay. Maracay belongs to the state of Aragua. Aragua is one of the central states, because it is near the capital, Caracas. Maracay is the capital of Aragua, where I was born. Maracay is located exactly 105 km from Caracas. It is a coastal region, with lots of beaches, and you can also find many open plains in the countryside.
R: What did your parents do for a living?
A: My parents set up a business in Venezuela. My father left Spain first, and then my mother. My father left in the year 1958. This was the postwar era in Spain, and Spain was very depressed, so he went to look for a future. Of my four siblings, the oldest was born here (in Spain), and the rest of us in Venezuela.
R: So you have three siblings?
A: More, really, because my dad got married again. So we are really eight siblings in all. My parents got into sales, and they set up a business. In the beginning, clothes, but later it grew, and it ended up being what you would call here a chain of stores. For a long time, as an adult— once I had finished my studies— I was working in this chain, until my father decided to sell it. He was thinking of retiring. From then on, I began to specialize in administration. And I became an insurance broker. Before leaving Venezuela, in the last 27 years, that was my job, an insurance broker, in my own office. And I trained, in fact, with an American company. It was the owner of the company Seguro Venezuela, the American Insurance Group (AIG). I trained with them.
R: What year did you move here for good?
A: Three years ago, in 2018
R: I know there’s a crisis in Venezuela, and it’s not going well. But what, in particular, made you decide to move to Spain?
A: When your life is worth the price of a pair of shoes, or the price of a watch, or the price of a phone, then you have to make some decisions. Because the price of life is something intangible, it can’t be determined or quantified. With the rising crime rate, and a complicite government, well, you have to make decisions. So, in the first place, the factor of crime is fundamental. The factor of impunity (that crimes are not prosecuted). I’m talking about insecurity, I’m talking about impunity, and I’m saying that this impunity is rooted precisely in judicial insecurity. Because, what happens? In the state, as a corrupt state, they have made it so that all the powers—that is, the executive, the legislative, the judicial—all the powers are in the hands of the state, including electoral power. So, if you’re in Venezuela it’s not reasonable to think that they’re going to respect your vote. No, no they won’t respect it. But this is not something recent, this has been happening for the last twenty years at least. And it keeps getting worse.
R: I read something about inflation.
A: Hyperinflation. I’m going to tell you something very simple. Up until this month of May, which is about to end, Venezuela has accumulated 1500% of inflation. We’re talking about this cycle, this year. There is no honorable work, there is no honest work, that you can do to support yourself. There’s none. And I’m telling you that back in Venezuela I was a part of the upper-middle class. I had three apartments. I only sold two cars to come here. I had the good fortune to be able to come, and come with my family, with my wife, my youngest children and our dog. But many people arrive alone.
R: So, if you’re earning 1,000 euros a month…
A: Do you know what the minimum wage is for a person in Venezuela? Three euros a month. And those fortunate enough to earn ten times that, earn thirty euros a month. But you can live on that in Venezuela. Because nowadays, Venezuela is an economy that is completely “dollarized.” The bolívar (the national currency) no longer circulates because the necessary amount doesn’t exist to sustain the exchange, dollar-bolívar. If you have 100 dollares, that would be many millions of bolívares. So all transactions are done with dollars. Where do people get dollars? More than 70% of the population receive support from those who have left the country.
R: Is your family here with you?
A: Here I have one daughter by blood, and two stepchildren. In Venezuela I have two more children, and another daughter who lives in Delaware.
R: Do you miss Venezuela?
A: What happens is that… yes, I miss it. But I miss it, knowing that what I’m missing doesn’t exist anymore. The country has changed completely. And it is the quality of being Venezuelan. The gentility, the humanity, of the Venezuelans. And of course I really, really miss the homeland. Because Venezuela is a country where you can go to the beach twelve months a year. It has an enviable climate. It has places with beach weather twelve months a year, places with snow twelve months a year, and even places that are deserts twelve months a year. Truly, it has a range of climates that is something to miss. And, man, the country is beautiful. What’s bad are its politics. It has dreadful politics, and that has totally ruined the country.
R: What surprised you the most about Spain?
A: What surprised me the most was not something very favorable. It’s the difficulty of working, of finding work. In general, in Spain it’s very hard to find work. And this is surprising when you’re a person used to working every day. For someone like me, who wants to manage his own life, you feel a little useless. I never thought of being a superintendent of a building. And I’m not denigrating, or saying that I’m doing something embarrassing, no. I have a job like any other, a job I like doing, not only for necessity but also because I feel comfortable. In Spain, they want young people with lots of training and lots of experience. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand how you can have a lot of experience, being so young.
R: Is there something you like about your life here?
A: There are lots of things in Spain I like. The first is that I have a part of my family here. Not only those who came with me from Venezuela, but also those who were already living here. In Madrid, in Galicia, in Valladolid, for example, or in Bilbao. I like the food and drinks. I have it in my blood because, when I was young, I ate from my grandmother’s hand, who was Spanish. First from my maternal grandmother, who died, and then from my paternal grandmother. Man, Mediterranean food…
R: Do you like Spanish food more than Venezuelan food?
A: Every cuisine has its pleasure. The good thing about being here, is that here you can eat Spanish food and Venezuelan food, because in Venezuela you have trouble eating even Venezuelan food, since everything is scarce. You eat whatever there is. Do you know the terrible ordeal a Venezuelan has to go through to get a loaf of bread? At six in the morning, you have to be in the doorway of the bakery. Standing in line. There are 150 or 200 people, because those are the 150 or 200 loaves of bread they’re going to make that day. You can buy one loaf of bread, maybe two. And they give you the receipt, and you leave. Then you come back after 2:30 in the evening to pick up the bread.