Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13 on Hugo Chavez's Victory

To Leave or Not to Leave
Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, '13
Foreign Policy
October 17, 2012

On the evening of Sunday, October 7, a small group of Venezuelan expats gathered together on Chicago's South Side to hear the official results of the presidential election as they came in. We had an idea of what was coming, but, even so, the announcement of the official results came as a blow. Maria, a first-year medical resident, was first to break the silence. "I can never go home now," she said. "I had hoped that I might someday go home."

The Venezuelan diaspora is roughly estimated to consist of about one million people worldwide, with particularly large concentrations in the United States, Spain, and Colombia. In the presidential election, its members overwhelmingly supported the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles -- who, they had hoped, might set about reversing some of President Hugo Chávez's more hardline revolutionary policies, someday allowing for a return to normalcy for a country ravaged by 14 years of class divisions, economic mismanagement, and capricious foreign policy. But his defeat, which means six more years of Chávez, has dashed those hopes. In the photo above, Venezuelan expats protest at a 2009 demonstration in Miami. But what of the 29 million Venezuelans who remain behind? Will they be likely to join their compatriots abroad? If Maria feels she cannot return to Venezuela, might more of Venezuela be coming to her?

It might certainly seem so at first blush. Just hours after the first official results were announced, my wife Marianella, a doctor, had received nine separate Facebook messages within the space of two hours from former medical school colleagues who wanted to ask about her experience emigrating two years ago. Countless Venezuelan Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and away messages this week featured sentiments along the lines of: "This is the last straw," or "That's it. I'm off to Miami."