Last summer I was helping my father in his business, it was a weekday afternoon when a young woman of about 25 years old entered the reception and handed her CV. It was made with Europass, she was an electrical engineer and had worked in the Ministry of Energy in Venezuela a couple of months before. Now, she was looking for a position as a maid at a family hotel in a small town in the south of Brazil.
I invite you to imagine what it might feel like to not feel safe in your own house, in the street where you grew up in, on the bus you take every day to your job. To not know if you will be able to afford bread for your child, to not know if you will even find food on the shelves of the market you always go to. To feel like you do not belong to the place where you were born in anymore. To have to leave behind your house and the things that took you a lifetime to achieve. Now, all the mornings you woke up early without enough rest and got back late, exhausted, to be able to provide for yourself and your family. All your efforts are just distant memories. Your money has no value, your degree is worth nothing, your life is not their concern. You now rely on their benevolence, coming from the tip of a 10.000 USD Montblanc, to allow yourself to sleep on a tent and give your daughter a ham sandwich, if you were lucky enough they let you enter. Otherwise, you are on your own.
Since 2014, Latin America has been the stage of a migration flow never seen before: 2.4 million Venezuelans are fleeing the country in search of better standards of living. Nicolas Maduro, initially elected as a continuation of Chavez’s government led the country to an unstable, violent and unpredictable environment.
Venezuela is considered the largest source of known oil reserves in the world and was once one of the richest countries in South America. In 2016, inflation rates were in 19% and on the following year it reached a peak of 946%. After Maduro’s election in 2012, the GDP was 2,091 bolívares, while last year it went to 1,355. Chavez led Venezuela to structure its economy based on the dependency of oil, meanwhile applying socio-economic policies to tackle poverty. Maduro was supposed to follow the same pattern but was faced with the oil crisis of 2014, which increased the price of the barrel and thus led to hyperinflation.
Medication and food, previously subsidized, became unaffordable. The currency was worthless and dollars had to be bought through illegal sources, which made government officials rich, as they bought it with their own currency and sold it on the black market with increased prices. The biggest issue though, occurred when Maduro set a decree for a new National Constituent Assembly, leading to a turmoil of protests and 80% of the population demanding the president’s removal from office. Suddenly, Venezuelans saw themselves on the verge of a civil war.
The political, economic and humanitarian crisis converge on a set of factors that causes the population to flee and makes them unable or unwilling to return. Even though not all of the immigrants are considered refugees. The main destinations Venezuelans choose to go are Colombia, Peru, and Brazil as their borders are closer.
As part of the regional bloc, Mercosur, Venezuelans are allowed to apply for a special visa in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, even though the country was expelled from it in December 2016. Thus, allowing thousands to work, study and have access to healthcare in those countries.
According to UNHCR, in October 2018, there were 415.000 Venezuelans with issued residencies in Colombia; 110.000 in Peru and 18.900 in Brazil, with other 350.000 applications for residencies still ongoing. Therefore, in Latin America overall, there were 1 million issued residencies to Venezuelans, less than half of the 2.2 million that fled the country since 2015.
Since the flow of people out of Venezuela grew unexpectedly in the past couple of years, governments are strengthening their policies to prevent more Venezuelans of entering the countries, creating an environment of illegal immigration, which leads to the susceptibility of abuse and work exploitation, as well as avoidance to seek competent authorities under the fear of deportation.
In Brazil alone, restrictive measures were adopted as the closure of 2.000 km of borders with Venezuela; installation of sanitary barriers and passport checks to allow the use of public services. The governor of the Brazilian state of Roraima, one of the main frontiers with the country, filed requests to the Supreme Court to close the borders in April and in August – which were denied both times because it would oppose the Constitution, laws, and treaties ratified by Brazil. These measures are not only inefficient to prevent migration but also encourage the illegal business of “coyotes” – people who charge to cross the border illegally.
According to the Human Rights Watch, regional governments should adopt a set of measures to ensure the crisis is dealt with properly:
- A region-wide temporary protection regime that would grant all Venezuelans legal status, including work authorization and suspension of deportation, for a fixed but renewable period, at least pending adjudication of their individual claims for protection;
- A regional mechanism to equitably share responsibilities and costs associated with the migration flows, including safe, orderly, and voluntary transfers of refugees and asylum seekers among host countries according to their capacity to receive, process, and integrate them; and
- Strong multilateral strategies to address the root causes that lead so many Venezuelans to flee their country, including adopting and enforcing targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and canceling visas against key Venezuelan officials implicated in serious human rights abuses, and pushing for justice for human rights violations.
The incapability to deal with the massive and unforeseen flows cannot be blamed solely on the neighbor countries, as they never dealt with anything similar before, but the responsibility should be shared with international organizations, NGOs and regional blocs, to find balanced measures to assure that human dignity is being respected wherever the immigrants decide to settle.
The United States donated US$31 million and the European Union 35,1 million euros to humanitarian assistance efforts, while the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration are creating task forces to tackle the issue. Although, there is another obstacle on the rise: the growing conservative wave in the continent.
The truth is that regional governments, which in the past elections on the region are inclined to the right wing, are influenced by North American policies and were elected with the purpose of facing their own national issues and closing the doors to immigrants, ignoring the Cartagena declaration of 1984 and facing human rights as unimportant problems. During the Brazilian recent elections, the elected candidate used Venezuela as an example of “communist dictatorship” that should be overturned, meanwhile encouraging anti-immigration measures. Therefore, it becomes especially difficult to deal with human rights when those people are considered useless by the leaders of the executive of the main destinations where the victims seek asylum. Feels like shouting to a void.
One of the main flaws of Latin American society is the inability to see each other as sharers of a similar history, damaged by the exploitation of resources and people. The consequences of colonialism are still felt today, we might not be colonies anymore, but we are still forced to bend to northern demands. The only difference is that we got so used to do it, that now we think it is our own choice. That by following their measures, their policies, their economic model, we will succeed as they did, we will be rich like they are, we will enjoy the freedom that they have. Yet, just by seeking these same achievements we are bound to never accomplish them.
So we turn our backs to our neighbors, we deny them the right to enjoy the freedom, the money, the success we swear is greater than theirs. We deny them basic human rights. We look down at them, from the top of our also unstable currencies, our structural inequalities, our illiteracy rates, and we brag: “at least I can afford my rice and beans”. After all, we can’t profit from human dignity, can we?
The Venezuelan Exodus: The Need for a Regional Response to an Unprecedented Migration Crisis. 2018. Retrieved from:
Venezuela inflation rate. 2018. Retrieved from: https://tradingeconomics.com/venezuela/inflation-cpi
Venezuela: Human Rights Watch Delegation Expelled. 2008. Retrieved from:
Venezuelan situation – UNHCR database. 2018. Retrieved from:
Crise migratoria venezuelana requer resposta internacional. [Venezuelan migration crisis requires international answers]. 2018. Retrieved from:
Latin America and the Caribbean – Issued Residencies to Venezuelan Citizens. 2018. Retrieved from:
Roraima protocola novo pedido de fechamento da fronteira com a Venezuela [Roraima filles new request to close the border with Venezuela]. 2018. Retrieved from: