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What is Madrid's “Little Caracas” and why is it the focus of anti-government protests

When evening falls, the residents of Little Caracas come out to protest against the handling of the coronavirus crisis by the Pedro Sánchez government (photos: José Farjardo)
When evening falls, the residents of Little Caracas come out to protest against the handling of the coronavirus crisis by the Pedro Sánchez government (photos: José Farjardo)

This is the story of how one of the richest areas of Spain became Little Caracas. To the Salamanca district in Madrid Venezuelans started arriving about five years ago, coinciding with the crisis in your country. Today They are a diverse community: there are new rich people who made fortunes with Chavismo, wealthy families from the opposition and leading professionals in their sectors. The nickname of Little Caracas it has become fashionable again because every day at 9 at night the noise of the saucepans makes its way through these streets to protest against the government of the socialist Pedro Sánchez for his management of the pandemic. Although they do not participate in the marches, many with whom we spoke for this report see similarities between the social and political climate that Spain is going through and the one that led their country to the current situation.

There are even those who remember the caceroladas in Caracas to overthrow the regime when they see what happens in the last days in this neighborhood of Madrid, although at the moment in Spain they are not massive. "You are always going to look for parallelism when you have fled from a crisis as serious as that of Venezuela, especially if alarms go off about things that you have already experienced."Confesses a Venezuelan journalist who prefers to remain anonymous.

“In my case I will never participate because Spain has hosted me and I am very grateful, but I understand the people who go out. It is exactly the same that happened in our homeland. Venezuelans said that the dictatorship would never come there because we were not like Cuba. Now the Spanish say the same thing, that they are not like Venezuela", he says Infobae Chelena Álvarez, who after working in the banking sector in New York arrived in the Salamanca neighborhood four years ago.

There is more than 100,000 Venezuelans in the Spanish capital of the nearly five million that have been distributed between Latin America, the United States and Europe during the great exodus since 2015, according to the United Nations. The crisis in Venezuela has been a throwing weapon in Spanish politics since the left-wing party Podemos, in power today as a partner of the PSOE, burst onto the scene in 2014. From the right they link the government formed earlier this year with the Chavista regime.

The local of Goiko Grill, the hamburger chain of the Venezuelan businessman Andoni Goicoechea, which is a success in the Spanish capital.
The local of Goiko Grill, the hamburger chain of the Venezuelan businessman Andoni Goicoechea, which is a success in the Spanish capital.

"At this rate we are going to become the new Venezuela", say from the leading opposition party, the conservatives of the PP. In the anti-government marches of the last two weeks, slogans related to the Venezuelan crisis and the supposed connection of Podemos are shouted. The hashtag has become popular on social networks #LittleCaracas to talk about the demonstrations in the Salamanca neighborhood that the press has named "The rebellion of the golden mile".

"The protests are legitimate, in a democracy everyone has the right to demonstrate peacefully in compliance with the rules," he says for Infobae Adolfo Martini, spokesman for ASEVED, an association that works from Madrid "to recover democracy in Venezuela." In 2016 he organized several talks in the Spanish capital on "the danger of populism in Spain" coinciding with the rise of Podemos.

There are more than 100,000 Venezuelans in the Spanish capital, among the five million exiles of the Maduro regime distributed throughout the world

Like many of the Venezuelans in Madrid, Adolfo Martini has Spanish nationality (it is estimated that more than half of them, according to official data from the National Statistics Institute). They have Spanish relatives who emigrated to Venezuela during the postwar period and the Franco dictatorship, and now their children and grandchildren have returned to their country of origin, pursuing the same freedom that their elders longed for.

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Inside Little Caracas

To what is known as Little Caracas is a network of stately streets with imposing buildings and leafy trees dotted with luxury shops and exclusive restaurants in the heart of the Spanish capital, near the Retiro park. It is an aging neighborhood, with more than 35,000 inhabitants older than 69 years of the nearly 150,000 that the district has, according to figures from the Madrid City Council.

More than 7,000 Venezuelans have properties in this district of little more than 5 square kilometers, where the land has one of the highest prices in the entire country, and in the last two years it has paid up to 18,000 euros per square meter (according to data from the real estate agencies). Bids start from half a million euros, which is what an apartment of about 100 square meters in the area can cost, and go up to 5 or 6 million.

When we stroll through its streets this Wednesday we find at the beginning of Núñez de Balboa with one of the headquarters of Goiko Grill, the hamburger chain of the Venezuelan businessman Andoni Goicoechea that succeeds in Madrid. The business is closed, like the rest of the restaurants, bars and cafes due to the pandemic.

The atmosphere is calm, there is still half an hour for 9 pm, the time at which this artery has been filled for a few days with people from this upper-class neighborhood (where historically it sweeps the right) who go out to protest against the government. As we move forward, the sidewalks fill up with protesters who pound their saucepans, shout "freedom" and "resignation government" and carry Spanish flags. They are not more than a hundred people who the police observe without intervening.

There is no trace of Venezuelans. We turned down Jorge Juan Street, the nucleus where people began to talk about Little Caracas. There, as in the rest of the neighborhood, we don't see a single Venezuelan flag. "I do not find the need to hang a flag of your country when you live in another, I am going here for two years and the truth is that I never saw one," he tells Infobae the Venezuelan Andrés Neher.

This Saturday, the parties of the Spanish right called for a new demonstration against the government of the PSOE-Podemos coalition
This Saturday, the parties of the Spanish right called for a new demonstration against the government of the PSOE-Podemos coalition

This artist left Venezuela because "when basic needs are not guaranteed, it is impossible to create." She came to the neighborhood through friends who helped her find an apartment. “70% of my Venezuelan friends live in the Salamanca district. In Madrid it is quite difficult to get a flat, so it is easier to get information here because there are many acquaintances ”. He likes the nickname of Little Caracas, because "it is not far from reality". The same thinks Chelena Álvarez, who considers that it is "quite successful". Both coincide in the attractions of the neighborhood: the good atmosphere and the quality of life. There are several restaurants in the area that serve Venezuelan food such as The spoon, The shelf, Cabana Food Bar and Aripo.

Contrasts between Venezuelans

We turn around on our foray Little Caracas and, at the height of Calle Alcalá with Núñez de Balboa we come across a bicycle delivery man from one of the food delivery companies operating in Madrid. Many of them are Venezuelans who work 10 to 12 hours a day for about 4 euros an order and try to save to send money to family members who stayed in their country.

“It is the great contradiction of Venezuelan migration that sometimes in Spain is not understood. If you come from a country that is destroyed, how come you live like a king here? And meanwhile there are other compatriots who survive with hard work", he says Infobae Venezuelan journalist Juan Carlos Ballesta, who has lived for more than two years in Las Rozas, a residential area on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.

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"It is true, the contrasts of the Venezuelan population living in Madrid are tremendous," adds Adolfo Martini, from ASEVED. He explains that nobody in his association lives in the Salamanca neighborhood, because they are "middle class and working class." Dislikes nickname Little Caracas, believes that he is not faithful to reality and is also unfair. "It gives a false feeling, it only represents a minority, Venezuelans are scattered throughout all the neighborhoods of the capital of Spain"

He talks about "boliburgueses" who were part of Chavismo and who, while distancing themselves from the regime, were visiting the Salamanca neighborhood to invest in the real estate market. "Just as they have started to launder their image, they also need to launder the money", complaint. He believes that they are few, just 20 or 30 of the 100,000 Venezuelans in Madrid. "At least 95% are opponents, so they take great care to be invisible: they know that as soon as they are located they will have escraches at home."

Many stories run around the neighborhood about these Venezuelans who arrived with great fortunes. "The image of Venezuelans entering the bank with suitcases full of cash became common, they compared entire buildings and renovated them to their liking", assures this medium a Spanish neighbor.

In 2013, a new law came into force in Spain that rewarded foreign investors who bought houses above 500,000 euros with a visa and residence permit. Venezuelans and Mexicans are the ones that currently dominate the luxury housing market: 50% of the acquisitions above four million euros in Madrid are theirs, according to the economic newspaper Five days.

Venezuelans and Mexicans are the main foreign buyers of the Madrid luxury property market
Venezuelans and Mexicans are the main foreign buyers of the Madrid luxury property market

"Within the neighborhood there are large economic groups that have bought entire buildings, the majority of the opposition to the Venezuelan dictatorship, but also some Chavistas who used this strategy to launder money. I don't know if they are a minority, but they are definitely not all the Venezuelans in the Salamanca neighborhood, ”explains Chelena Álvarez.

Another source we spoke with, a Venezuelan lawyer who has been living in the Salamanca neighborhood for several years, who asks for anonymity, is upset when he hears that among his neighbors there are only fortunes from Chavismo and families with money from the opposition. “It's a lie, I can introduce you to at least 20 acquaintances who live for rent or have bought houses thanks to their work, here are honest professionals who have earned their money with effort and simply like living here. In the end we pay righteous for sinners. "

A shared fear is that the exceptional measures that the Spanish socialist government has taken during the pandemic (special laws to control the population, restrict movements and close shops) will lengthen when the risk of the virus passes.

"They are trying to restrict freedoms, just like in Venezuela. With all that is going on, he may return to New York, depending on the political situation. I see very badly the future in Spain"Says Chelena Álvarez. A litmus test for President Pedro Sánchez will be this Saturday, when several right-wing forces have called marches (on foot and even by car) throughout the country. In Madrid they intend to fill the Paseo de la Castellana, one of the main arteries. It will be then when it is verified how far the revolt that began in Little Caracas can go.

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Sam Conley is new to online journalism but she is keen to learn. She is an MBA from a reputed university. She brings together relevant news pieces from various industries. She loves to share quick news updates. She is always in search of interesting news so that she can share them as well to Sunriseread's readers who could enjoy them with their morning coffee.

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