MADRID — Antonio Ledezma, former mayor of Caracas, jokes that he sometimes forgets that Madrid is not the capital of Venezuela, from which he escaped five years ago.
“Every time I walk around or take a bus, I probably run into two or three other Venezuelans,” he said of the Spanish capital. “It’s a bit strange, but this feels like Sabana Grande to me sometimes,” he added, referring to one of Caracas’ main boulevards.
While people from Latin America have long sought work in Spain – often in low-paid jobs such as cleaners, waiters or on construction sites – the unrest in the region in recent years has led to an influx of prominent and wealthy exiles. Now the Spanish capital rivals Miami as a haven for Latin Americans — and often for their money, according to the newcomers and others targeting them.
The response in Spain seems to have been to roll out the red carpet. When Mr Ledezma arrived in Madrid in November 2017, he was welcomed by the then Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, who immediately offered him Spanish citizenship. Mr Ledezma turned down the offer, but many other Latin Americans, especially the wealthy, are asking or have been given Spanish citizenship. Some received a so-called golden visa granted by Spain in exchange for spending at least €500,000, or about $550,000, on a property.
Spain allows Latin Americans to apply for citizenship after two years of legal residence, which is shorter than the normal residence requirement of 10 years for other nationalities, or the five years for refugees.
“Spain has been really generous with the Venezuelans, opening its doors wide and offering them plenty of ways to get legal residency here,” said Jorge Neri, a Venezuelan with a media company in Madrid.
For wealthy Latin Americans, he noted, Madrid has also recently offered better investment opportunities than Miami. “I think Madrid is consolidating itself above Miami, also because prices in Miami have just skyrocketed,” he said.
Gilberto Carrasquero, a Venezuelan business consultant, is one of several Hispanic Americans who have sold a property in Miami and bought one in Madrid — in his case, an apartment in the Salamanca neighborhood, where Venezuelan and Mexican property developers are developing the entire buildings.
“When Venezuela plunged into crisis and we started to leave, it seemed like Miami was the natural place to move to, and that’s exactly what I did, but in reality Madrid feels much more like home to me now,” he said. said mr. carrasquero. , who is applying for Spanish citizenship.
There are now about 200,000 Venezuelans officially registered in Spain, but experts say the actual number is significantly higher because Spain’s national statistics do not take into account those who are not officially resident or who entered the country illegally. According to a study published in 2020, about a quarter of Latin American migration to Spain is illegal.
Venezuelans have become the top new settlers in Spain, according to the Spanish government, and their numbers have risen again by more than 50 percent in 2020, despite a severe pandemic travel lockdown.
But Mr Neri said he was now seeing more people from other Latin American countries, many concerned about the “left-wing politics” sweeping the region. Colombia could well be the last to go that way, with presidential elections in May leading the way by Gustavo Petro, a left-wing former mayor of the capital Bogotá. mr. Petro has a clear message for the rich: pay more taxes.
Bruna Denegri Iglesias, a Peruvian real estate agent who has lived in Madrid for 18 years, said her Peruvian clientele had grown more than fivefold since July, when leftist Pedro Castillo was elected president.
“There are people who see Madrid as an emergency landing, so they want to immediately buy a €1 million apartment, get a residence permit and then possibly move to something better and bigger when they end up spending most of their time here,” she said. . † Peruvians now account for at least 80 percent of her customers, she said, while in the past “there were months when I didn’t get a single phone call from Peru.”
The pandemic has severely curtailed mobility, but the recent lifting of travel restrictions has allowed many privileged Latin Americans to return to a multi-home lifestyle, with Madrid as stops in between.
Dani Levinas, an Argentine who chairs the board of directors of the Phillips Collection, an art museum in Washington, splits his time between the American capital of Miami and Madrid, where he bought an apartment six years ago.
Mr. Levinas said he first considered living in Madrid after visiting Arco, an art fair that brings together many Latin American artists and collectors. “Personally, Madrid’s lifestyle and culture make me feel much more comfortable now than in Miami,” he said. “In Madrid, I live near eight theaters, so I can see a different performance every week without taking a single taxi – and opportunities like this just don’t exist in Miami.”
Latin Americans have also rapidly expanded their business footprint in Madrid. They have bought commercial properties and hotels, including the five-star Rosewood Villa Magna hotel, which reopened last October after a renovation funded by its Mexican owners. Some entrepreneurs also bring their own Latin American staff to Madrid.
While Spain struggles with high unemployment, the government has also recognized that hundreds of thousands of new migrants are needed each year to accommodate the country’s aging population and avoid labor shortages in some key sectors.
In January, César Figari opened his third Peruvian restaurant in the Spanish capital. It employs 45 people, all from Latin America. More than half are fellow Peruvians, including nine for whom Mr Figari rents an apartment, after sponsoring their Spanish work visas. According to him, his clientele increasingly comes from Latin America.
“I wanted more people in Madrid to discover Peruvian cuisine, but instead I now also serve a lot of people who don’t need an introduction to our gastronomy,” he said.
In March 2021, Milagros Visintin, 27, and her partner left Buenos Aires for Madrid, where she found a job at the Spanish subsidiary of Metro, a German retailer, having previously worked for Walmart in Argentina.
In the past year, eight friends from her graduation year also moved to Madrid. Argentina’s financial problems, including the declining value of its currency, have meant that “the numbers are no longer accurate if you want a business career,” Ms Visintin said. She also welcomes the relatively low crime rates in Madrid. “Now as a woman, I would never take public transport in Buenos Aires at night again,” she said.
Mr Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas, said he was still determined to help impeach Mr Maduro, the Venezuelan president, but that he was now also eager to help disadvantaged Venezuelans settle in Madrid.
“Of course I felt very welcome in Madrid, but the question is whether the Venezuelans who cycle to deliver food here are also doing well,” he said. “As long as I’m here, I also want to show solidarity with those for whom this migration has really been a huge struggle.”