Caracas, Venezuela – When Graciela lived in Venezuela, the money she made wasn’t enough to support her two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. She wanted to leave the country, but paying for a plane ticket was out of the question. So she did what a friend of hers had done in February: she paid fishermen in Puerto Escondido, a beach in Falcon state, to take her by boat to Curacao.
In just about five hours she would know if she had made a good decision.
The trip cost about $100, almost four months-worth her salary as a salesperson in a clothing store. She took little luggage, and wrapped tight in of her pockets, $200 she had saved for her first days in Curacao, an island country approximately 40 miles north of the Venezuelan coast.
“I wrapped the money in a bag because the fishermen warned us that if they saw any movement [police activity] they wouldn’t be able to get too close [to the shore] and we would have to swim,” the woman told Fox News Latino by phone.
“There were 12 of us in the boat,” said Graciela, who is 27 years old. “Luckily, everything was quiet and they dropped us off on some rocks.”
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Once in Curacao, her friend introduced Graciela to her boss at the bar where she worked. To her surprise the room was $400 a month, so on her first day abroad she was already in debt. She wanted to work as a waitress but was offered a job as a prostitute.
“I refused and they let me live there for a couple of months while I got another job. Now I work as a cachifa [domestic help]. I earn little, but at least I can send something to my mother for my children to eat,” she said.
She hasn’t seen his children since she left Venezuela in July. She is hoping to pay them a short visit for Christmas, but money is tight.
The story of Graciela is similar to that of approximately 2,000 Venezuelans who have ventured the waters this year, according to research conducted in 2015 by sociologist Tomas Paez.
Curacao officials acknowledge the growing presence of Venezuelans immigrants entering the island illegally, but they are not yet alarmed.
“It's not worrying, yet. But we’re keeping on guard in case it gets worse,” said Roderick Governeur, who works for the Curacao Coast Guard, in a television interview.
According to Paez, between 1.2 and 1.5 million Venezuelans have left the country to seek better luck elsewhere — 150,000 in the last year alone.
Approximately 270,000 now reside in the United States, 170,000 in Spain and 150,000 in Italy.
According to Jose Ramon Sanchez, an international affairs expert, it’s very difficult to get official data from the government related to emigration, but there are at least two very distinct migratory waves.
“First, during the first years of Chavismo, they were the professionals and wealthy investors,” he said. “Now it is those who have no money or studies. This is the wave of despair. They are the people who leave without any plan, with no one to receive them.”
Venezuela is experiencing a tough economic crisis caused by the fall of oil prices in 2014, and characterized by a severe shortage of food and medicines, and the world’s highest inflation, which according to the International Monetary Fund will close 2016 at 475 percent.
Like Graciela, Yoersis, 33, left Venezuela loaded with little more than hope. She traveled by boat from Falcon to Aruba, where she earns $50 a night cleaning hotel rooms.
“From what I earn, I can barely send between $50 and $100 to my son, but it is more than what I could give him in Caracas,” said Yoersis, who shares a small room with other three women.
Both Yoersis and Graciela requested to keep their last names anonymous.
Sociologist Trino Marquez lists in an opinion article the reasons for the diaspora: Inflation, shortages, lack of opportunities, crime and a deterioration of the quality of life are often cited as reason to leave Venezuela, but to Graciela and Yoersis “the quality of life” part is still far from ideal.
“The only things that make me smile are the pictures of my children. I, on the other hand, don’t send them pictures of me,” Graciela added. “I don’t want them to see how I live. Not yet.”
Alex Vasquez is a freelance reporter living in Caracas, Venezuela.