'The love letter to my neighbourhood that helped me flee my country'

Jose holds a picture of his younger self with his cousins and a niece in Nino Jesus in the '90sSymbol copyright
Jose Gregorio Marquez

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Jose (left) along with his cousins and a niece in Nino Jesus within the ’90s

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As a journalist in Venezuela, José Gregorio Márquez reported from deficient spaces of Caracas, whilst being cautious to cover his personal humble beginnings. However years later, a love letter to the neighbourhood he’d felt so ashamed of can be his price tag to a brand new existence in another country.

When José Gregorio Márquez used to be a kid, he used to like writing performs for his classmates in class. He specifically recalls one a couple of staff of animals who picked on a rabbit and bullied him.

“My message there used to be that we’re all equals and we want to deal with folks decently. On the finish of the tale, the opposite animals were given to understand the rabbit they did not like in the beginning, and grew to like him,” he says.

He extensively utilized to consider tales for his toys, with each and every new story entertaining and preserving him corporate for as much as every week.

It used to be a type of escapism for the younger José.

“As a rule I used to be at house by myself. My mum used to paintings the entire day, and I did not have somebody my age to play with,” he recalls.

“These kind of video games had been a distraction. I used to be growing the arena that I sought after to reside in, which used to be very other from the arena I used to be dwelling in.”

That international used to be Niño Jesús, a deficient neighbourhood at the outskirts of Venezuela’s capital town, Caracas. Gangs managed the streets, so José’s mum, a cleaner citing 4 kids by myself, did not permit him to go away the home.

“Many mums within the neighbourhood idea that used to be learn how to remember to do not turn out to be a prison,” he says.

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Jose Gregorio Marquez

José used to be 9 when Hugo Chávez, a former paratrooper, got here to energy promising a socialist revolution. To low-income households, like the ones in Niño Jesús, he used to be a hero, a minimum of first of all.

José used to be used to seeing Chávez on TV. Each and every Sunday the president hosted a chat display known as Aló Presidente, the place he took calls from folks around the nation. However it used to be gazing a political disaster spread on tv that impressed José’s profession.

“I in fact have in mind the precise day I determined I sought after to be a journalist,” he says.

It used to be 11 April 2002, two days after the beginning of a basic strike. An enormous demonstration made its solution to the presidential palace, gunmen began taking pictures into the group and 19 folks died, together with a photojournalist.

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A policeman holds up his gun right through clashes in Caracas on 11 April 2002

José, who used to be 13, watched the occasions spread survive tv. Then the image modified: Chávez used to be giving a countrywide cope with.

“The channels divided the sign, appearing an pressing message from Chávez on one aspect of the display screen and at the different they persevered to turn the demonstrations.”

However inside of mins the federal government succeeded in chopping off reside protection from the road.

“So one aspect of the display screen used to be black and the opposite had Chávez,” recalls José.

“For me, it used to be very surprising no longer as a way to know what used to be occurring. However it used to be additionally very surprising to look all the ones reporters looking to get the tips, regardless of the entire dangers. So then, nearly an obsession with journalism began.”

Inside hours of his broadcast, Chavez used to be pressured to renounce through the army prime command, however 72 hours later – after massive demonstrations through his supporters – he used to be again in fee. From then on, he set about dismantling the non-public TV networks, which he felt had been in opposition to him.

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Hugo Chavez returns to workplace in a while after he used to be ousted

However José used to be set on his trail, and in 2008, whilst finding out for some extent in Social Conversation, he joined a day by day newspaper known as Últimas Noticias as an intern, and labored his method as much as writing for a bit known as Ciudad (Town).

“It consisted of accumulating data from the neighbourhoods of Caracas with folks’s calls for for the federal government. So it used to be kind of what I had lived in my very own existence. Now I may give a voice to all the ones folks and submit their tales.”

However José all the time stored it a secret that he lived in Niño Jesús.

“I used to cover it utterly. I did not inform somebody that I used to be from there,” he says. “I used to be ashamed of the world I got here from, regardless of being a reporter for different neighbourhoods the place humble folks lived, who had been challenging enhancements.”

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Jose reported from deficient neighbourhoods like the only the place he grew up

This used to be a difficult time to be a journalist in Venezuela. Chavez had grown increasingly more tyrannical and reporters had been now liable to imprisonment in the event that they criticised a central authority legitimate.

José felt like he used to be coming of age as a journalist simply as press freedom used to be disappearing.

The day by day newspaper that José have been operating for ended up being nationalised, like many different newspapers and tv networks. Shops that controlled to steer clear of it, stopped conserving the federal government to account, with the intention to steer clear of nationalisation or closure.

In finding out extra

  • Pay attention to Jose talking to Outlook, at the BBC International Carrier (manufacturer, Tom Roseingrave)
  • Obtain the Outlook podcast

In 2013, José got to work for El Nacional, a newspaper with a 70-year historical past, which remained one of the vital closing important voices within the nation.

“The federal government took each step imaginable for the newspaper to not have exact paper to be revealed on,” José recalls.

“It used to be attention-grabbing to be a journalist on the time, as a result of once in a while you need to write a headline that did not make any important reference, however then down within the information tale, you need to since the censors did not learn the entire tale. So I did that so much – till I used to be came upon.”

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El Nacional ceased to be revealed in 2018, and went on-line simplest

Later, whilst operating as a cultural reporter for a newspaper, José used to be despatched to check a efficiency through the daughter of a outstanding flesh presser, Diosdado Cabello.

She sought after to be a singer, and José watched the target audience shouting and booing at her on account of who her father used to be.

When his file used to be printed, he used to be nearly fired and the union of reporters needed to step in to save lots of his task. It used to be the closing time he wrote one thing that may be perceived as important of the regime.

For years José used to be looking ahead to the day when he may go away Niño Jesús. He sought after a greater existence – a house the place he may really feel protected, and had get admission to to consuming water each day. In Niño Jesús, you need to continuously simplest get it as soon as every week, and there would even be sessions as much as 20 days lengthy the place there used to be no get admission to to water in any respect.

So, in November 2012, a couple of months prior to he graduated, José moved into an condominium within the Altamira neighbourhood of Caracas, sharing a room with a pal to make ends meet.

However nearly once he left, one thing extraordinary came about. The disgrace he had felt in regards to the barrio for see you later evaporated and used to be changed through a fierce sense of affection.

“Because the pronouncing is going, ‘You do not respect what you could have till you lose it.’ I hooked up extra with the place I got here from when I noticed it from afar,” says Jose.

He realised that the talents and stories he’d received rising up in Niño Jesús had formed him in a good method. “I assume I grew up,” he says.

And inside of months a possibility arose to inform the arena about it.

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Jose Gregorio Marquez

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A sundown over Nino Jesus

Even prior to Chávez got here to energy, Venezuela held a well-liked annual love letter writing pageant.

“It used to be simply in a different way to offer some color to folks’s lives in a rustic the place the whole lot is unsuitable and not anything works,” José says.

Masses of folks took phase within the contest, and it was such a success it used to be sooner or later opened as much as members from different international locations.

Many of the letters had been written to family members, kinfolk, and even pets. However in 2013, when José noticed the contest marketed, he felt impressed to do one thing other.

He determined to put in writing about Niño Jesús.

“I used to be stating my like to a neighbourhood, however it used to be additionally some way of telling the reality about how society appears clear of those neighbourhoods, as a substitute of taking a look at them and taking good care of them,” José says. “I made peace with the neighbourhood.”

José had observed the violence, the crime, the dying that Venezuelans related to Niño Jesús. However he additionally sought after to turn the color, the existence, at the back of all the ones tales.

“From a ways away, you did not see the individuals who reside in the ones little homes, individuals who love and smile in the ones neighbourhoods,” José says. “So my goal used to be to position that into phrases, telling how I got here to like and perceive where, and remember that it have been essential to the individual I used to be changing into.”

José used to be decided on as a finalist within the pageant and used to be requested to learn his love letter in a theatre in Caracas.

“Pricey Niño Jesús, I nonetheless have in mind your summary shapes and your misshapen shadows,” he started.

Even though after I lived for your streets and walked your stairs, I would quite simply glance up on the sky as it used to be the one factor I preferred round me. I used to be an fool…

You are to not blame for the rest, however I sought after to be a ways clear of you.

I used to hate waking up at 4 within the morning to battle for a seat at the bus that might take me to paintings.

I hated going up or down each and every of your rattling steps. I hated the zinc roofs that did not prevent the stones, the raindrops, or the bullets. I hated the sheets unfold over stiff our bodies that might now not really feel the chilly of the asphalt. I hated you.

Now, on the other hand, I omit you.

I omit the parrots undulating a few of the clouds like roving sperm. I omit the golf green of your timber, subsequent to the orange of your bricks, caressing the blue of your water tanks. I omit the impudence of the roosters at daybreak and the eloquence of the cats at nightfall. I omit you.

Even though I know how vital you had been to development my existence, I used to be all the time ashamed of you. I denied understanding you.

And I am sorry.

I by no means belonged to you up to I do now, when I’m with out you and you’re with out me. I had by no means realised prior to that I liked one thing I would already misplaced.

I by no means requested you for the rest prior to, however this time I am asking you to forgive me…

I got here from you and I will be able to all the time be yours.


After a shifting efficiency, a lot to his wonder José gained the contest. As he walked up directly to the degree he idea there will have to were a mistake, and that the judges had meant to call one of the vital different finalists – some way more well known, and with fantastically written letters.

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Jose Gregorio Marquez studying out his award-winning letter in 2013

José used to be awarded an eye fixed value $five,000. He knew it used to be an insurance plans, some way of having cash if he truly wanted it, and hid it in moderation in his undies drawer.

A couple of month later, his condominium used to be burgled and lots of of his valuables, together with his pc, had been stolen.

However his watch remained safely hidden below his socks and pants.

President Chávez died in the similar 12 months as Jose gained his prize, and Vice-President Nicolás Maduro took over. Concurrently, with falling oil costs and inflation emerging, the rustic’s economic system went into freefall.

“You simply could not get meals,” José says. “They assigned all electorate an afternoon of the week to go on a spree in line with your ID card quantity. My day used to be Friday, however most often meals were given delivered on Monday. So through Friday, you shouldn’t have any meals within the grocery store any longer. If I attempted to shop for on Monday, I wasn’t allowed. It used to be simply natural, utter melancholy. It used to be very humiliating and really unhappy.”

By means of 2015, not able to reside off of his revenue as a journalist, José began enthusiastic about leaving Venezuela. However first he moved again to his early life house.

“My mum used to be nonetheless dwelling there, and for the reason that I could not have any solution to take my circle of relatives with me on the time, it used to be great to be with them. It used to be an effective way to mention good-bye and it used to be in fact beautiful to get again to where I had grown up, to look the ones colors once more.”

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Jose Gregorio Marquez

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Jose (left) with one among his older brothers and a niece within the 90s

José discovered the speculation of leaving extraordinarily tough as a result of he feared he would not be capable of go back so long as Maduro remained in energy.

However the nation he knew now not existed. Issues have been converting so abruptly and deteriorating so briefly. And he realised that despite the fact that he needed to go away the rustic, he’d by no means once more go away at the back of that a part of himself that used to be cast in Niño Jesús.

José knew that with the intention to go away he would want US bucks, however the worth of the Venezuelan forex, the bolívar, had sunk so low they had been nearly unobtainable.

So he requested a pal who used to be travelling to the US if he would take his watch and promote it. He agreed, however used to be simplest ready to get $1,500 for it – $three,500 lower than its exact worth.

That used to be sufficient, regardless that. He determined to to migrate to Buenos Aires with a pal who lent him the cash for a one-way price tag. He would use the cash from the watch to assist him continue to exist as soon as he were given there.

José had in the past visited Argentina in 2011, and already had buddies dwelling within the nation. He preferred the openness of the tradition, and, vitally, he believed he’d be capable of get a place of dwelling allow.

After pronouncing an emotional good-bye to his circle of relatives, José arrived in Buenos Aires, with pictures and bolívar cash and tickets as reminiscences of his existence again house.

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Jose Gregorio Marquez

He anticipated to land on his toes. In the end, he’d been a a hit journalist at revered publications in Venezuela, and idea this might make it simple for him to discover a task in journalism.

However it wasn’t to be. He spent his first month feeling ill, unused to the chilly Argentinian winters, and had no leads for task interviews. He determined to begin operating in a restaurant, which he says helped him develop as an individual, and learn how to paintings as a part of a workforce.

“It made me see that not anything can also be taken as a right in existence, and that you’ll all the time get started from scratch. To begin from the start, with out ego.”

Six months later, he used to be ready to discover a task in an promoting company.

Within the 4 years since he left Venezuela, José has no longer returned. And he does not see that converting whilst the federal government continues with chavismo – the political gadget and beliefs established through Chávez.

There are issues that he misses – maximum significantly, the seaside, the elements, and the El Ávila mountains.

However those don’t seem to be causes sufficient to go away Argentina.

“Now not simplest on account of the present financial disaster, but additionally as a result of I’m homosexual and Venezuela is a homophobic nation the place LGBTI folks haven’t any rights and are repeatedly mistreated,” José says.

In February, after saving for a few years, José moved his 70-year-old mom to Argentina. He sought after her to reside conveniently in her later years and this do not need been imaginable in Venezuela.

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Jose Gregorio Marquez

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Jose and his mom, Alida, now reside in Buenos Aires

José says his love letter to Niño Jesús modified his existence.

“It made me really feel validated, no longer simplest as a human being, no longer just for my tale of humble origins, but additionally for what I had to supply as an aspiring author who, till then, all the time felt that I didn’t have sufficient ability, although I have been writing for newspapers for years,” José says.

“That award is so vital in my existence, it allowed me to to migrate from the rustic, flee from the disaster, and it continues to carry me nearer to implausible folks from all over the place the arena.”

Pay attention to Jose talking to Outlook, at the BBC International Carrier (manufacturer, Tom Roseingrave)

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