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“Venezuela Was A Country That Sheltered Us With Great Solidarity”: 5 Outstanding Figures Of Science, Art And Literature Marked By Exile

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Peace of mind, that was the first thing Venezuela gave us, of how much it offered us. Do you know what it is to wake up because you just wake up and not because there are bombs or because at dawn the repressive forces knock on the door? Rodrigo Arocena a former rector of the University of the Republic of Uruguay, tells. who went into exile in Venezuela in 1975. Like him, many people fled the military regimes of the Southern Cone and found a new home in Venezuela.

My dearest memory of Venezuela is the generosity and immense affection of some friends who welcomed me, especially the Torres Hecker family. Ildemaro, Sonia, and their three children replaced my family that remained in Chile and that I lost in exile, says the Chilean writer Isabel Allende When they adopted us, I felt that I finally belonged fully in Venezuela, he says in an email. But Latin Americans were not the only ones who found the door open, some immigrants came from much more distant lands.

rescues five stories of figures who stood out in science, art, and literature and who experienced with their families the generosity of Venezuelans. I was born in my parents’ room on October 29, 1920. Those fragments were written by Baruj Benacerraf in his autobiography From Caracas to Stockholm A Life in Medical Science (“From Caracas to Stockholm A life in medical science. In 1980 the doctor won the Nobel Prize in Medicine along with George Snell and Jean Dausset) for discovering genetic factors that regulate immune responses.

My grandfather was always quick to say that he was born in Caracas,” Oliver Libby tells. He spoke Spanish with pride. He was very aware of his heritage and had a special place in his heart for Caracas. Being the Nobel Prize winner from Venezuela was something that gave him great happiness. Abraham, the young immigrant Benacerraf was of Spanish and Sephardic Jewish descent. His father, who was born in Tetouan (Morocco) when it was a Spanish colony, had eight siblings. When I was a teenager, my father took me to Tetouan to see the village of his ancestors and the house where he was born in the Jewish ghetto. It was a pitiful house, without electricity water, or sewage disposal system, he wrote.

I easily understood why at the age of fourteen, alone and penniless, he went to Caracas, where a distant cousin, Nissim, secured him a job in his textile warehouse.”Abraham sent money to his family in Morocco and helped four of his brothers go to Venezuela. Together with two of them, he founded the company: Hermanos Benacerraf, while in another part of the country, two other of his brothers were engaged in the cocoa and coffee trade.

One of them, Fortunato, was the father of a pioneer and icon of Venezuelan cinema, the director Margot Benacerraf, whose feature film Araya is considered by many to be one of the best documentaries in history. In his autobiography, Baruj tells that when he was five years old, his parents decided to move to France, where his brother, Paul, a prominent philosopher of mathematics, would be born. Abraham left his brothers in charge of the “successful business” of importing textile products, while he tried to open an office in Europe to improve operations.


The start of World War II made them return to Venezuela in 1939. Although his father wanted him to continue the family business, Baruj had another idea for his future. He studied in the United States and became one of the great innovators of modern immunology.

There are many memories I have of my grandfather, from the extraordinary pride I felt in seeing him speak at medical conferences around the world (I was often taken on those trips), to the little family moments at home, such as spending whole nights putting together model ships or helping him put on his stockings. He was astonishingly brilliant, revered by peers and students, wise. He pushed the frontiers of human knowledge and left his mark on the world forever his research saves millions of lives,” says Libby. And, like Harvard University, where Benacerraf taught, their findings help explain “explains basic processes s disease is as infection, autoimmune disorders and cancer, and have shaped research on organ transplantation, the treatment of HIV / AIDS and the development of therapeutic vaccines against cancer.

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Sofia Imber was born on May 8, 1924, in Soroca, a city that belonged to the Soviet Union and is currently in Moldova.My family is Jewish, had to escape from those parts of the world when the siege on our race began. I arrived in Venezuela when I was still very young, in 1930. The bloody General Gomez was alive, but for us, who had been fleeing all horrors, this was a country of peace. These fragments belong to Diego Arroyo Gil’s book “Mrs. Ímber. Genius and figure”, a biography that was born from long conversations between the writer and the promi

Sofía, who received the Picasso Medal from Unesco, became an icon of art and culture in the region. In 1973, he founded what became the best museum of contemporary art in Latin America, with a collection that exceeded 4,000 works. Years before, when the authorities approached him with the proposal, he had replied. “Give me a garage and I will build a museum.”The intellectual was in charge of the center for 28 years until, in 2001, President Hugo Chávez removed her from office.”I had no other direction or other concern in my life than the museum. I will never part with it,” I mber said that year.


According to Arroyo, “Sofia never had the dilemma of whether she was Venezuelan or not. She never returned to Russia, not even when she was a very famous person and was invited by ambassadors, presidents.”She said she was absolutely Venezuelan and she got upset when someone came up with the idea that she was a foreigner. That word did not exist in her vocabulary.”Leaving Venezuela was something he did not want to contemplate. Even at the end, after the death of her youngest son, when her daughters lived abroad, she asked her. Are you going to go?’, She replied with a recurring phrase ‘There are no skies like those of Caracas.

And he added. This is my house. This is my country, ” says the writer. Even though in his later years he spent vacation seasons in Miami, where one of his daughters lives, he always returned to his residence in Caracas. And it was precisely in one of those returns that he died, in 2017, after suffering severe pneumonia. Isabel Allende, one of the most acclaimed authors of Spanish lyrics

The first part of my life ended on September 11, 1973. That day there was a brutal military coup in Chile, wrote the acclaimed Chilean writer Isabel Allende in a reflection that she titled. Life in exile, of which we extract some fragments. President Salvador Allende, the first democratically elected socialist president, died.

In a few hours, a century of democracy ended in my country and it was replaced by a regime based on terror. Thousands were arrested, tortured, or murdered. Many disappeared and their bodies were never found. I stayed until I couldn’t take it anymore; in 1975, I left with my husband and our children. We went to Venezuela, a green and generous country. It was the time of the oil boom when black gold flowed from the earth like an inexhaustible river of wealth. It took me many years to overcome the trauma of exile, but I was lucky because I found something that saved me from despair: literature.”


In another reflection that he titled. In a spiritual letter, Allende tells that his destiny changed on January 8, 1981. That day, we received a phone call in Caracas saying that my grandfather was dying. I couldn’t go back to Chile to say goodbye to him, so that night I started a kind of spiritual letter for that beloved old man. I assumed that I was not going to live to read it, but that didn’t stop me.

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He kept writing until dawn. And he did it again the next night. I wrote every night, ignoring the fact that my grandfather had died. The text grew into a gigantic organism with many tentacles, and by the end of the year, it had five hundred pages on the kitchen counter. The letter ended up becoming his first novel. The House of the Spirits. In time there would be more than 20 books and more than 70 million copies sold in more than 40 languages.

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I went to Venezuela because it was one of the few remaining democratic countries in Latin America, I was in Caracas for 13 years and I ended up loving that country and its people. She was a teacher in a secondary school and worked in the newspaper El Nacional.

In fact, that newspaper highlighted some words that the author said in 2017 about that time. We came in the thousands and had job opportunities, they treated us wonderfully. Venezuela gave me another vision of life, I came from a dark country, a country wounded by the coup. Venezuela was an exuberant country, where any pretext was good to dance and sing, the least Chilean there is. And in 2019, in an interview with Belén Sarriá, from the Spanish newspaper 20 minutes, the writer reflected:

Venezuela was a country that welcomed immigrants and refugees from all over the world. I am among them, and now that Venezuelans are fleeing, I hope the world welcomes them in the same way. Víctor Penchaszadeh, one of the pioneers of genetics at the service of human rights in Argentina had to leave my country from one day to the next”, Víctor Penchaszadeh, director of the postgraduate program in Genetics, Human Rights and Society at the National University of Tres de Febrero in Argentina and member of the Network tells BBC Mundo of Bioethics of Unesco. He had been “the object of an attempted kidnapping by Triple-A as the far-right paramilitary group Alianza Anticomunista Argentina (AAA) was known, accused of kidnapping and murder in the 1970s.

They blindfolded him, gagged him, and tied his hands, but could not finish the operation. I was lucky they didn’t achieve their goal. While he was preparing to leave the country, along with his wife and two children, ages 6 and 3, he took refuge in friends’ houses in Argentina, fearing to return to their residence. I left in December 1975. Three months later, the coup would occur that opened the way to seven years of military rule and years of repression in the so-called dirty war, which left between 9,000 and 30,000 dead.

I got support embarked for Venezuela, where his brother (with his wife and daughters) had gone into exile. I was very lucky because, thanks to my professional contacts, when I arrived I got support. They welcomed me as a researcher at the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (IVIC). Sergio Arias was in charge of the IVIC, he was providential for me. We had met in the United States when we did graduate school.

I am grateful to colleagues who did everything possible and impossible so that people like me could settle down. That allowed him to get a visa and bring his wife and children. Venezuela was a country that sheltered us with great solidarity. It was the country of petrodollars, very rich, that needed a workforce of high scientific level in different areas. We were also very well received by the spheres of the State. We were given positions that honored the scientific value we had.


He remembers that Venezuela offered him peace while he saw in his country “a bloody and unbridled military dictatorship, in which many friends disappeared.”He left in 1981 for the United States, where a mission awaited him. There, in 1982, he linked the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo with the American scientist Mary-Claire King and her team. And it helped create the grandparent index, which was key in the identification of children, grandchildren, appropriated by the military regime. Penchaszadeh was also instrumental in the founding, in 1987, of the National Genetic Data Bank (BNDG), which is the public archive of genetic material and biological samples from relatives of people kidnapped and disappeared during the military regime.

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Rodrigo Arocena and the Uruguayan mathematicians after a coup, a military regime ruled Uruguay between 1973 and 1985. Rodrigo Arocena was a young mathematician who, together with a group of colleagues, had to leave his country. Our first attempt was to stay as close to family as possible, he tells. The University of Buenos Aires welcomed them, but, after being intervened, the situation became very unstable and they were forced to leave.

A good part of the old Institute of Mathematics and Statistics of the University of the Republic of Uruguay went to live in Venezuela and that’s when the word tranquility appears. At the age of 27, Arocena arrived in Maracaibo in January 1975. We were living in Uruguay, as Argentina would live shortly after like Chile, Brazil, Paraguay was already living, fiercely repressive dictatorships that did not respect human rights. Venezuela was a peaceful home. For this reason, one of the things we remember about arriving in Venezuela as if it had been today, is sleeping peacefully.


I felt it at that moment and I always felt it a Caribbean cordiality that in Venezuela is very noticeable says the also author of books on education and development. We Uruguayans, I am not going to say that we are not cordial people, but if you allow me, we are people marked by tango, nostalgia, introspection a kind of pessimism. Arriving in Venezuela was like opening a door and seeing all the light of cordiality and hope enter.How wonderful that optimism, coming from countries marked by the darkness of dictatorships, the brightness of kindness in a democratic climate was a first impression that remained.And in this context, the retired professor highlights how a Latin American scientific and academic community was formed.


I began to feel at home again in Venezuelan universities when we were able to enjoy not only freedom but also the profession itself. Being a teacher is a blessing and together with his partner, he completed postgraduate studies at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and acquired nationality.

And, he says, the Venezuelans made him feel like one of them. I will never forget that in Venezuela we were allowed to go back to study, work on our own, complete postgraduate studies, and, perhaps most importantly, they were born and we began to raise our children. He says that being part of the UCV is something that is always carried in the heart. The UCV has an anthem which surprised me because in Uruguay the university does not have an anthem and it says that it is the house that overcomes the shadows. I never forgot that, it encouraged me because I knew that I was collaborating with the country in that he was and with the future of the country in which he was born and to which he would return. And so he did, he returned, but without forgetting Venezuela.

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