Regularization in the Dominican Republic Opens Doors for Family Business

For this creative family, the normalization plan means they will finally be able to register Chocochamos, a thriving business of artisan chocolate desserts.
Chocochamos dessert company owners pose with their products
09 June 2021

Vanessa, 41, and her husband Carlos, 48, have just finished their online application to extend their stay in the Dominican Republic - the first step in the normalization plan for Venezuelan refugees and migrants announced by the government in January this year. For them and their eight-year-old son, this means renewed hope that they will be able to rebuild their lives in this Caribbean nation.

“We believe that the Dominican Republic has allowed us to realize some of our dreams, and we will keep reaching for that beautiful horizon that every family wants to have,” said Carlos. “We will one day be able to give back to this beautiful land."

The family had a long and rocky journey to safety. Forced out of Venezuela due to hyperinflation, power cuts, and shortages of food and medicine, they set off for the Dominican Republic in the hopes of rebuilding their life with Maximus, their young son who was five at the time. Soon after reaching the Dominican Republic, Carlos suffered an accident that left him bedridden for a year. “We needed to do something. We had bills to pay. So, I went back to some old family recipes from back home,” said Vanessa. At first, she only sold cupcakes and cookies in the street. In time, they grew their business to artisan desserts, sold in shops and supermarkets under the brand Chocochamos.

They now operate a busy kitchen in the city of San Cristobal, a quaint colonial municipality along the coast, 26 kilometers from Santo Domingo. “This was where all the magic happened. I was able to perfect our recipes for the taste of the Dominicans,” said Vanessa, describing the super-moist chocolate cake with a rich, bitter, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cream that became a hit among locals. The smell of spices, sugar and chocolate create a very warm and inviting aroma for miles. Their sweet baked goods became a cornerstone of artisan desserts in the city.

“It wasn’t always like this,” they recalled. They had come to the Dominican Republic with little savings in hand, but the willingness to work hard and rebuild their lives. "Chocochamos helps us cover household expenses, but we want to grow, we imagine one day owning a cafe where people can eat our desserts and enjoy time in a pleasant place," dreams Carlos.

Though COVID-19 put a halt in their business for four months, they remained hopeful and kept looking forward, and were able to sustain themselves with seed capital and other contributions from R4V partners during lockdowns. Like this family, over 5 million Venezuelans have left their country in search of safety and a better life; 114,050 of them are estimated to be in the Dominican Republic, yet a lack of regular status hinders their chances at rebuilding their lives for many.

On 19 January 2021, the Dominican Government approved a resolution that allows access to the migratory category of non-residents for Venezuelans who regularly entered the country between January 2014 and March 2020. For Vanessa and Carlos, this means they can have the opportunity to open a bank account and formalize their company. “Honestly, I think that this is the only thing that Venezuelans lack here, to truly consider this country our second home.”

Information hubs on migration, managed by Venezuelan community-based organizations, are available in seven main locations to ensure that applicants have access to reliable information and legal guidance. Authorities hope to reach some 100,000 Venezuelans through the normalization process.