BUENOS AIRES – A young Venezuelan man who took part late last month in a protest against embattled incumbent Nicolas Maduro outside his country’s embassy in Argentina’s capital had his cellphone stolen during a confrontation with supporters of the leftist head of state.
Eduardo Contreras’ apparent misfortune, however, turned out to be a tremendous blessing in disguise.
Footage of the incident was aired on television and seen by Argentine Fernando Poyo, a Good Samaritan who saw how distraught Contreras was about having a key work tool taken from him and decided to help.
He initially offered the young man a used mobile phone, but after meeting him, decided to go further and take on the role of a mentor.
“Fernando has changed my life. I feel great affection and gratitude. Without him, I’d be struggling in the street,” Contreras said in an interview with EFE alongside his benefactor.
Poyo, a 58-year-old Buenos Aires native who runs a handicrafts business in the Patagonian city of El Calafate, defines himself as a “man of action.”
“If I have everything the kid needs, why wouldn’t I give it to him?” he said.
When he gives, he truly gives, “without receiving anything in return,” said the Argentine, who has helped others in similar fashion in the past.
“My first grandson was just born, and all of this came rushing back to me. I want a better society for him,” Poyo said of his charitable motivations.
Sunday will mark one year since the 19-year-old Contreras emigrated from his native Guarenas, a city near Caracas, and arrived in Buenos Aires, where he works as a food-delivery rider and is currently taking prerequisite courses for an Industrial Engineering program at the University of Buenos Aires.
He starts his day at 6 am, studies until noon and then begins making deliveries on his bicycle throughout Buenos Aires until midnight. Contreras’ situation is similar to that of many of his countrymen, who work under questionable working conditions for multinationals like Glovo and Rappi.
Like several of his compatriots, Contreras used a small block of free time to demonstrate on April 30 outside the Venezuelan Embassy in Buenos Aires in support of an attempt by Juan Guaido, the president of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly and interim head of state of the oil-rich nation, to spark a military uprising against Maduro.
But later a group of leftist counter-demonstrators, most of them Argentines, arrived at the embassy to show support for Maduro, Contreras said, adding that several of them unexpectedly attacked the Venezuelans.
The incident was quelled by police, although several social movements said the police used excessive force against the Argentine group.
“We turned around and they were all over us. They started kicking us and knocking us down for no reason,” Contreras recalled, saying that the Venezuelans used their helmets to defend themselves and their delivery bags as weapons.
Several of the Chavista people also shouted xenophobic insults at the Venezuelans, Contreras said, referring to the political movement launched more than two decades ago by Maduro’s late predecessor and political mentor, Hugo Chavez.
When he is not studying or working and logs into his Instagram account, Contreras said he now finds posts from unknown individuals who accuse him of being a “criminal” or a “job thief.”
“They haven’t experienced what’s happening in Venezuela. There’s electricity here, there’s water ...,” he said, referring to a severe economic crisis in his homeland marked by recession, hyperinflation, shortages of basic goods and frequent blackouts.
Despite the country’s difficulties and support from the United States and many other countries for Guaido, Maduro – backed by Russia, China, India and dozens of other nations – has retained the loyalty of the military and remained in power.
Contreras is one of millions of Venezuelans who have fled the economic crisis in his homeland in recent years and sought greater opportunity abroad.
He says the move to Argentina had brought many good things into his life and allowed him to become independent for the first time. He dreams of being an engineer and also is dating a Venezuelan woman who also works as a food-delivery rider.
“My mother always wanted to be a civil engineer. The degree is the most important thing for her,” Contreras said, noting that she still lives in Venezuela.
The theft of the cellphone he had saved up to buy a month earlier also has become – after the initial anguish – yet another positive experience for him in the South American country.
Social media provided the link between the young Venezuelan and the Argentine man who would become his mentor.
Poyo said he met Contreras just hours after the altercation and was impressed by the teenager’s values.
“I saw a mirror image of myself. I was a street vendor at the age of nine. I sold churros (a fried-dough pastry) and ice cream. The street was my school, although I was able to study later. I’ve experienced all different things,” he recalled.
Though initially just offering Contreras an old cellphone, he ended up buying him a new one and fixed his bicycle, which had been damaged in the confrontation.
Poyo is aware that such a high level of altruism is very uncommon, and Contreras said that at first he was taken aback by so much generosity, adding that his mother told him to “be careful with Fernando.”
But this middle-aged man has quickly has become a father figure for Contreras and even is helping one of the Venezuelan’s cousins, who is to relocate to Argentina soon and live in one of the apartments that Poyo rents.
An immediate goal is to find another job for Contreras, and indeed Poyo said that “there’s already a formal offer for him to learn programming.”