BY CHRISTIAN COLON
“Fue la gota que derramó el vaso,” Spanish for the drop that overflowed the cup. That is how Mauricio Jaramillo described the morning he was kidnapped a year and a half ago on the freeway, heading to his job in Caracas, Venezuela.
He parked and made a quick pit stop on the side of road.
Company pickup truck still running, Jaramillo opened the driver seat door and headed for the woods. Barely two steps out of his car, two armed men ambushed him, threatened and forced him back inside and took control of his truck. “Inside, that is where it all began,” he said.
Jaramillo, clueless to where they were going, arrived to his destination after they drove for what felt like hours.
While captured, he was interrogated and extorted. His marriage ring, wallet and the few Bolivares he had left, were all taken. After being coerced to share information about his seven and three year old daughters as well as his four year old son, Jaramillo was later tormented with it- now they knew what hurt him the most. “In that moment, all I could think about was how my life was about to end,” he said.
An hour later, the offer was placed. “They forced me to call my wife and obligated her to bring all the money we had in the bank,” said Jaramillo. In return, they promised him life.
Back home, Dayluz Salazar was getting ready to drop off their children at school. “I was shook,” she said. Once her husband gave her the orders, the men harassed and warned her to keep everything in secret. Her duty was to withdraw the 100,000 Bolivares in their account, which converted to $4.00 USD due to the inflation rates rising to about 800 percent at the time in 2016, according to Trading Economics. “It was a decent amount of money,” said Jaramillo.
Although money was something they lacked, in despair, she obeyed and quickly dropped her children off at a cousins house . Without giving an explanation she told her cousin that if she didn’t come back, it was because she had been kidnapped.
Minutes later she was headed for the exchange, keeping in mind what the men told her over the phone, “If the money was complete, then you shouldn’t worry.”
The Last Drop
The abduction was the final push Jaramillo needed to leave his native country and seek asylum in the United States. For over 13 years, he worked at Empresas Polar, one of Venezuela’s most successful food and beer distributors. Two weeks after the incident, he resigned.
Over the past few years, Venezuela has been in a socioeconomic disaster. Dany Bahar, researcher of international economics and economic development at the Harvard’s Center for International Development, said “Without enough money to import food or basic medicine, most Venezuelans are going through severe hunger and are dying from preventable diseases
On top of the crisis, Salazar said all she felt was insecurity. Not only did they lack resources but they felt unsafe. Once the kidnapping occurred, they knew it was time.
For months they planned a vacation to the United States, but after the incident, that trip became an escape to find security. With their tourist visas, Jaramillo, Salazar and their three children travelled to Orlando, FL and stayed in a friends home-but because they now knew there was no returning back to Venezuela any time soon, they headed to New Haven, Conn.. “I feel safe here. I find food here. My kids found the ability to be educated here,” he said. “I am finding everything I was missing back home,” said Jaramillo.
This family joins the 10,221 Venezuelans seeking asylum in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest figures released in 2016. Pew found that Venezuela is now among the top nations of origin for asylum applicants to the United States.
Back in Venezuela, Jaramillo has what he calls his “enemigos,” or enemies. Although he says he does not know who these individuals are, he knows why they attack him.
For over 10 years, he has been a political activist for the Acción Democrática (AD) or the Democratic Action. He attended marches, opposing the current government, demanding equality or seeking out voter turnouts.
The AD is a centrist socio-democratic political party in Venezuela that after overthrowing a dictatorship in 1958, became the country’s dominant party for almost 30 years. However, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, by the 1980’s the party began to lose popularity due to a worsening economy. Years later, the country was led by the revolutionary Hugo Chávez. In 2013, Nicolas Maduro won the elections, becoming a president with similar ideologies as his predecessor.
According to the United States Department of State, Maduro won his presidency, but with allegations of pre- and post-election fraud, including government interference, the use of state resources by the ruling party, and voter manipulation.
“This crisis is the product of enormous mismanagement by those in government, and nothing else. The unpopular, yet highly autocratic Venezuelan regime has made all the wrong policy choices for the sake of its own people,” said Bahar. “ At the same time, those in charge use their power to enrich themselves, destroying what was left of the country’s institutions so long as they can remain in power forever.”
One of the institutions that faced attacks by the government was Jaramillo’s former employer, Empresas Polar. Due to company president, Lorenzo Mendoza being an outspoken opposer of Maduro, the government would control the legal sales of hard currency to pay for imports since the country lacks in production, other than oil. Jaramillo said this eventually caused the company to shut down on several occasions, but because of the high demand for their services, the company would take out loans and open. Till this day, they remain open and dependent on the Venezuelan people.
In a press conference, Mendoza said, “We the workers of Empresas Polar tell the country: We reject the harassment of which we continue to be victims of. Not only have 24 of our colleagues been taken prisoner in recent months, we have been inspected 1,014 times during the year; and now we have the presence of officials of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) posted for four days, both outside the Polar Business Center and outside the home my home.”
Salazar says everyone knows everything. People find out who supports the government and who doesn’t. She says the kidnappers had to know her husband worked for Empresas Polares or maybe because the truck also had the company logo on it.
Home Sweet Home
Jaramillo hopes to return to Venezuela. If granted asylum status, it could be a possibility. According to the United States Immigration Services, “An person’s asylum status may be terminated even if the individual has already become a lawful permanent resident. In some limited circumstances, you may be able to return to the country you fear if your stay is of a short duration and you can demonstrate that your return to that particular country was due to compelling reasons.”
For now, he remains a baker. Every weekday for eight hours, he makes bread dough- weighing and paying attention to the scale. “If not, it can ruin the product,” he said.
Over the next few months, the family hopes to begin part two of their immigration process- an interview in their journey to seek asylum.
“My priority is this moment happening now, to keep working,” he said. “ And hope for a Venezuela where the current government fails.”