CARACAS (Reuters) - Like many young Venezuelans in recent years, dentist Carlos Alzaibar felt forced to leave the country when he could scrape together only a few dollars equivalent each month doing two jobs.
So on a recent day, just before flying to Madrid, he was sadly packing a red suitcase - while stacking diplomas from a half a dozen trades he picked up in the last year from bakery and bartending to photography and burger-flipping.
Those, he hoped, would help him find work in Spain and fund the medicines his mother needs for a kidney transplant.
“If not, she’s going to die,” Alzaibar, 28, said, folding socks and shirts in his family’s middle-class Caracas apartment.
Droves of Venezuelans, including professionals like Alzaibar and even retired soldiers and prosecutors, have been taking short courses to prepare for life abroad.
Suffering a severe economic crisis that has left many people short of food and basics, nearly a million Venezuelans have departed since 2015, according to the United Nations. (goo.gl/wmbCRM)
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, calls it one of the biggest population flows in its nearly 70-year history.
The OPEC nation sits on the world’s largest oil supplies, but has seen annual production slump to a three-decade low, along with a four-year economic recession.
Valentina Maggi, 22, studied graphic design and dreams of illustrating children’s stories, but has followed in friends’ footsteps to learn how to mix cocktails at the National Bartender Academy.
“I have many friends who have left the country and have told me to do this type of course because when you get there, you have more work options,” she said in a room with a long table where she had just completed her final test: a Gin Fizz made from gin, lemon, sugar and soda water.
At the academy, 6,000 students are expected to graduate this year - up from 4,500 a couple of years ago.
With Maggi were a 60-year-old retired military officer and a 52-year-old former Supreme Court prosecutor, both hoping to land work at bars in the United States and Argentina respectively.
Asking not to disclose his name for fear of reprisal, the former soldier said his monthly pension of some $5 at the black market exchange rate, left nothing for food after paying for his two sons’ schools.
Venezuela’s economic meltdown is one of the worst slumps in modern Latin American history.
Gross domestic product is shrinking on a scale akin to that of the United States during the Great Depression and inflation is the highest in the world, nearly 9,000 percent annually, according to National Assembly data.
A monthly minimum wage is worth less than a carton of eggs.
While critics lambaste President Nicolas Maduro for failed socialist economic policies and corruption, he says a U.S.-led “economic war” including financial sanctions are to blame.
“From six or eight months ago, everyone’s getting ready to go,” said Pietro Carbone, surrounded by the aroma of freshly crushed coffee beans at his barista training center where places are fully booked for the next three months.
Reporting by Andreina Aponte and Liamar Ramos; Additional reporting by Efrain Otero; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Peter Cooney; Twitter: @ReutersVzla, @jammastergirish