Leaving Venezuela with just four suitcases

Family tearfully leaves Venezuela
Family tearfully leaves Venezuela 01:54

Stories like hers are becoming increasingly common, with more Venezuelans looking at their heritage and seeking out a citizenship and a passport from another country. Through her Peruvian mother, Wong was able to get the necessary documents to emigrate legally with her husband Jorge Salas and their 7-month-old baby, Akira. None of them have even visited Peru before.

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“We are leaving in search of financial independence and to seek a better future for our baby,” says Salas, 26, an artist and actor. “But we are certain we will be returning to Venezuela one day; that is the conviction we are leaving with.”

The young couple recently celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary. The commemoration doubled as a goodbye party, during which dozens of friends, aunts, uncles and cousins crammed into the narrow house the couple shares with Salas’ mother, Mirtha Mandarino.

Mirtha Mandarino at a farewell party for her son and his wife and daughter.

Located in the capital’s middle-class neighborhood of Santa Monica, the house had always been their safe haven — until the violence and protests increased and they found themselves running into a back room after a tear gas grenade landed by their front gate.

“I had to grab the baby and rush her into the back room and put a rag on her face so she wouldn’t breath the gas,” Mandarino says, fighting back tears. “I’m heartbroken that they are leaving but happy to know they will be safe.”

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Mandarino’s oldest son, Elio, is also gone. He left for Italy a year ago to study and decided to stay in Europe as long as he can. Baby Akira is her first granddaughter, and tears begin to well up as she squeezes her chubby body.

“This is the one thing I can’t forgive (President Nicolas) Maduro for, he’s torn my family apart,” Mandarino says.

Wong’s sister, 12-year-old Alexandra Ballesteros, hopes she will be able to catch up with the couple soon and move to Lima as well. As she folds her baby niece’s clothing, she talks about her hopes and aspirations.

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