At the top of the South American continent is a human disaster unfolding: Venezuela. And this disaster is not due to flooding or earthquakes or volcanoes, but due to the economic policies of the Venezuelan government. Despite having some of the largest oil reserves in the world, the people of Venezuela are starving. The economy is going down the tubes and the government has been cracking down on dissent for some time now. A few days ago, in an effort to stave off inflation that the IMF is warning could reach 1 million per cent this year (!), the Venezuelan government devalued its currency (the new “sovereign bolivar” will have five fewer zeros than its predecessor, the bolivar), started measures to raise the minimum wage by 3,000 per cent, raised taxes and increased petrol prices. While these measures take effect (if any – experts are doubtful they will help much) the people of Venezuela have to put up with chronic shortages of food and medicine and soaring crime rates. According to the Guardian:
“A recent survey found that about 90% of Venezuelans now live in poverty while more than 60% admitted to waking up hungry because they lacked the means to buy food.”
The upshot of all of this turmoil and deprivation is that the people of Venezuela are fleeing to neighbouring countries: Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. 500,000 are estimated to have fled the country this year, and anywhere between 1.6 and 2.3 million have fled since 2015. (The population is currently sitting at about 32 million.) The numbers in any event are very large and the UN’s International Organization for Migration is warning of a “crisis moment” that is coming to the region. A spokesman for the Organization, Joel Millman, likens the crisis to that seen elsewhere, particularly in the Mediterranean in recent years. And just like in Europe, the destination countries for these migrants are struggling to cope with the numbers. In Brazil, hundreds of migrants were driven back to Venezuela by rioters this month. Peru and Ecuador tightened entry rules by requiring migrants from Venezuela to carry passports rather than national ID cards. Such changes are contentious, the Ecuadorian rule was “rolled back” by a judge in that country. In Peru, the requirement that migrants must have a passport has been relaxed for the gravely ill, pregnant women and families seeking to reunite. But the top Peruvian immigration official, Eduardo Sevilla, has pushed back on calls by the UNHCR that Latin American countries should ease entry for Venezuelans.
“Is UNHCR going to take responsibility if that person commits a crime? Our priority is to contribute to security and internal order by clearly identifying people.”
We have seen this tension before in Europe between the safety and wellbeing of those in the host family and the desire to help fellow humans in need. In the meantime, the Venezuelan government is calling for its people to come home. The information minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said that the new economic package will work.
“The conclusion is that Venezuelans are going to return and furthermore we invite them to return because we need them for this recovery plan”.
I imagine that Venezuela’s neighbours would very much like it if Rodriguez’s words are heeded by his countrymen. But I very much doubt that they will anytime soon.