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A family in Venezuela prepares to leave for the U.S.


The political opposition in Venezuela will hold a primary tomorrow to choose a candidate for next year's presidential election. The winner will take on Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's autocratic leader who's overseen an economic collapse that has sparked massive migration. Nearly 8 million Venezuelans have fled their country. That amounts to the largest displacement crisis ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Reporter John Otis brings us the story of one Venezuelan family joining that exodus and heading to the U.S.

ANGEL MARIN: (Speaking Spanish).

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Angel Marin is showing me his prized set of bongo drums that he must now get rid of. He's also selling his family's air conditioner and TV at steep discounts.

So $300 for the air conditioner. (Speaking Spanish).

MARIN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: And $80 for the television.

They need the money because they're abandoning their home in the western city of Maracaibo and, like millions before them, saying goodbye to Venezuela.

MATIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: (Speaking Spanish).

Angel, his wife, Carolina, and their 4-year-old son Matias don't want to leave.

CAROLINA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: But, Carolina says, the normal aspirations of a young family, such as buying a car or a home, are impossible in today's Venezuela. Instead, they live in this cramped house with Carolina's parents and brother. Angel's job at a mobile phone company barely covers the cost of food. They'll sometimes eat just two meals per day, sleeping late to avoid the urge for breakfast.

MATIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Meanwhile, young Matias has developed asthma. His medicine costs $32 a month, which the family can't afford.

MARIN: (Speaking Spanish)

OTIS: "If I buy asthma medicine," Angel explains, "then we won't be able to eat." That was the final indignity, the last straw prompting them to pack their bags. Their destination is St. Louis, where Carolina's sister has a job cleaning offices. Angel jokes that he'll need to work on his English.

MARIN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: By contrast, Carolina's mother is in a somber mood now that her second daughter is about to leave Venezuela.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "It makes me want to cry," she says, "because you always imagine having your family close by and watching your grandchildren grow up." Because they lack visas, Angel, Carolina and Mathias must travel overland through Central America and Mexico to get to the U.S. The trip will involve a tough 60-mile hike across the Darien Gap. That's a roadless patch of jungle between Colombia and Panama, where many migrants have been robbed, raped and killed.

MARIN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "We really don't want to go through the jungle," Angel admits. "It scares us." Besides unloading their TV and AC, they're selling Matias's baby clothes. Carolina wanted to save them for a second child, but a larger family now seems out of the question, and Carolina tears up as she folds the tiny bodysuits and pajamas.

CAROLINA: (Speaking Spanish, crying).

OTIS: "This is really hard," she says. "We have to sell the few things we own, but it's for the best."

At a downtown shopping mall, Angel and Carolina hand over the baby clothes to a man who pays them $40, which they promptly spend on flimsy backpacks for their journey. Before dropping them off back home, we drive past a huge mural of a smiling Nicolas Maduro. He's Venezuela's authoritarian president who has led the country into its worst economic crisis in history. I asked Carolina what she thinks of the mural.

CAROLINA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "It makes us furious," she says. "These people have destroyed Venezuela, and they're forcing us to leave our country."

For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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