Charlie Moore ’19
Whether you see him driving around in his kubota, riding a BMX bike with his son, or keeping our dorms clean, Pedro Gonzalez is certainly someone with whom you want to strike up a conversation. Pedro began working here at Woodberry last January after Jahmel Terrell, who works in the athletic department, informed him about an opening in the housekeeping department. Without any further knowledge of Pedro, his journey to Woodberry seems normal. However, Pedro’s road to Woodberry began in his home country of Venezuela, a nation currently in shambles.
Pedro describes Venezuela’s current situation as, “A snowball effect that gets bigger and bigger,” because the country has fallen into a tumultuous state of unrest, starvation, and economic destruction. Nicolas Maduro, the President of Venezuela, has taken extreme measures to remain in power since the day he took office. Recently, Maduro signed into law a referendum in which the popularly elected national assembly, similar to the United States congress, has been swapped for a facade consisting of blind supporters of the his regime.
While the situation in Venezuela is grave, it is hard for people at Woodberry to empathize with the people of the South American nation. Pedro, however, has experienced Venezuela’s unlawfulness first hand. While working for the United States Embassy in Caracas, Pedro was abducted in the early hours of the morning by two men that took his wallet, blindfolded him, and threatened to kill him. His captors drove him to an ATM and demanded that Pedro withdraw as much as he could. Mr. Gonzalez complied with the demands of his kidnappers, and after four hours of pleading for his release and that his life be spared, he was set free.
Once Pedro realized where he was, he walked to a police station and notified authorities of his terrifying encounter. He denied the chance to provide descriptions of his captors, “So that I could just move on and forget about the experience.” Police informed Pedro that in 97% of victims in kidnappings such as his are killed. It’s impossible to imagine the feelings that flooded his head after being so close to losing his life for such a long period of time. Because the men had taken his wallet and seen his embassy identification, Pedro quit his job at the US government and eventually moved with his wife to the Andes mountains.
After only a few months living in the mountains, another troubling incident struck Pedro and his family. Men called Mr. Gonzalez’s mother and told her that she needed to deliver money to a specific spot or Pedro would be gunned down in the grocery store that he happened to be running errands in that very moment, while the call turned out to be a scam, the Gonzalez family was still shook with fear.
A few weeks later, Pedro received a similar call, yet this time with a message much more disturbing. Men called the Gonzalez house phone asking questions about Pedro’s middle school age son, Andres. Because Andres had just placed second in a big BMX bike race, Pedro proudly identified himself as his father. It turned out to be dangerous men on the other line who proceeded to threaten Andres. Even though these men never had a gun on Pedro or his son, the Gonzalez family decided that Venezuela presented too many threats and was too volatile to raise a family, so they fled.
Pedro, his wife, and his son fled to Colombia, where Pedro lived with a relative and found work. As he was beginning to settle into his new home as a delivery driver, a gang related bomb was detonated only a few blocks from where Pedro was standing.
The string of horrific incidents rightfully convinced Pedro that he was cursed and that getting far away from South America was the only solution. Luckily, Pedro had two brother-in-laws that were US citizens. They offered Pedro and his family a place to stay to catch their breath, incidentally this was Orange, Virginia. After explaining all the incredible incidents that Pedro and his family endured, extended family believed that staying in the United States was best to ensure their safety. Pedro applied for political asylum in the United States in the early 2010s and was granted it, allowing him and his family to remain in the country.
Considering Pedro’s past, it’s crazy how he ended up at Woodberry, but he wants to use that as an chance to inform people about the injustices going on in his home country. Pedro blames Hugo Chavez, the predecessor to Nicolas Maduro, for rigging elections and running the economy into the ground since he took power in the late 1990s. Despite the rich oil fields Venezuelans have been blessed with, their socialist economy prevents them from participating in the world trade. Chavez expropriated 20,000 private companies, meaning a considerable sect of the national economy belonged to the government. Pedro believes that if Venezuelans were not so “hand tied” by socialism, their nation would be much more developed and not as crime ridden. This issue remains relevant to the United States because 80% of Venezuelan oil exports go to the US, which could be instead fueling North Korea or other American enemies.
Pedro exemplifies why it is important for Woodberry students to meet and build relationships with staff members, or other contributors to the community they might not interact with as often. I do not recall how Pedro and I struck up a conversation one day walking out of lunch, but I am very grateful we did. Most students at Woodberry might hear his story, and think that Pedro either made it up or stole it from a movie, yet his willingness to share with the community is a testament to how passionate he is about his former home. As a hard worker who is willing to get to know students and enhance their experiences, Pedro Gonzalez is an essential member of the Woodberry family and we are lucky to have him.