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For Older Venezuelans, Fleeing Crisis Means ‘Starting From Zero,’ Even at 90

December 8, 2017

This was not what she had in mind when, as a younger woman, she looked toward retirement in Venezuela.


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“You work toward your golden years, you save,” she said, “and then everything goes toward survival.”

There was no alternative, she said, but to leave: “To stay is to die.”

In October, Carmen María González de Álvarez reversed her parents’ journey from Europe. They were born in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands of Spain, and in 1953 migrated to Venezuela, where Ms. González was born.

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On the return to her familial homeland, she was accompanied by her husband, Nelson Álvarez, 64, and their son, Nelson Luis, 30.

The family was compelled to leave everything it had built in Venezuela because caring for Nelson Luis, who has catastrophic epilepsy, had become too trying in Venezuela’s collapsed health care system. They had run through their savings to pay for their son’s costly array of medicines.

Furthermore, Mr. Álvarez’s work as a real estate agent had dried up: He went a year without selling a property. “We were bleeding out,” he said. “If we waited six months, we’d be down to nothing.”

Ms. González, 58, and her son arrived with Spanish citizenship, which offered key advantages, like access to social services. But even so, it has been a rough transition for the family.

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