The economic and security crisis in Venezuela has forced Latin America to react as Venezuelans look for new opportunities elsewhere. The response has been varied: from highly coordinated to nearly nonexistent.
Since 2014, Venezuela has been in a chaotic normal. In a conflict born out of unnerving tolerance no longer sustained by young people, Venezuela has fallen deeply into economic hardship, with the young people experiencing record unemployment and an economy that barely exists due to a “Law of Fair Prices” which sets a maximum profit rate of 30 percent for all goods and services and imposes a penalty of immediate expropriation for all companies failing to comply. That law, in effect since at least 2014, still has solid enforcement: just one day ago, Venezuelan authorities arrested employees of FTSE 100 firm over corruption allegations (The Independent). The company, an Irish packaging producer, was accused of destabilizing the economy. But the economy had been long unstable before that. There are, interesting, attempts to sort the economic problems including the introduction of a new currency, the “sovereign bolivar”, which removed five zeroes from banknotes. It is backed by a cryptocurrency, the petro, that is pegged to the price of oil. Beyond this, minimum wage is being raised 3,000% and gas is being taxed more aggressively.
Arguably the biggest problem facing Venezuelans in their day-to-day lives is hyperinflation.
It is not unlike the crisis in Zimbabwe some years ago, in which excessive imports and hyperinflation (that is, the value of the money decreases at an accelerating rate) rocked the country. It was also due to unabated printing of new money (which, for the record, is part of the Venezuelan playbook for fixing the economy). The Venezuelan annual inflation rate reached 83,000% in July, according to a recent study by the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Prices have been doubling every 26 days on average. This has resulted in many Venezuelans struggling to afford basic items such as food and toiletries.
The Zimbabwean economy went from being too expensive to too cheap as the US dollar became the de-facto currency. Of course, the Venezuelan leadership would never use the US dollar, as President Maduro believes the US is attempting to destroy his country. But the Venezuelan situation is far more dangerous because of high murder rate and general lack of employment opportunity in addition to excessive price controls.
Now the effects have become compounded. Intense crime, working strikes and chronic electricity and food rations have destroyed the integrity of the country and people are leaving. So where is there to go? 90% are moving within South America. The regional tolerance and economic potential that Venezuelans provide is enticing but the scale of the migrant flows mirrors that of the crisis that hit Europe some years ago.
Since 2014, at least 7% of Venezuela’s population has hit the road. The UN has conducted research showing that nearly 4,000 Venezuelans are entering Ecuador via Colombia per day. Reaching Ecuador involves crossing either the whole of Colombia or a portion of Peru. According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), 20% of Venezuelans are staying in Ecuador, but the rest will continue to Peru or Chile.
From the perspective of documentation, it is unclear what sorts of proof Venezuelans must provide at these various borders. The most liberal policies are that of Ecuador, which not only requires minimal documentation (Ecuador has suspended the requirement for having a passport at the border), but also has declared a state of emergency to free up support and funds for Venezuelans.
Most of the Venezuelans entering Brazil interviewed reported having access to basic services, except education. Among those who expressed difficulties accessing education, the main reason reported was the lack of documentation, which reveals the limits of mobility once in a country- something Ecuador must consider. It is also unclear how Colombia is handling flows of Venezuelans across its territory as a transit state, and why Venezuelans are not settling in Colombia. Venezuelans seeking to go to Peru will find it more challenging: Peruvian border control is no longer allowing Venezuelans to enter with an identity card alone, with the exception of pregnant women and elderly. Peru also made changes to the temporary stay permits for Venezuelans in Peru, sending some confusion and worry for migrants en-route.
Regarding transit countries like the aforementioned Colombia, Venezuelans are also traveling through Brazil to Argentina and Chile, according to a UNHCR and IOM joint report. They are mostly working-age men looking for work, but women and children are also reporting deteriorating health conditions in Venezuela. Some migrants are staying in Brazil, taking advantage of Brazil’s enticing but limited efforts to integrate migrants, which involve relocation and housing within Brazil.
The scale of migration has outpaced Brazil’s program, and now Venezuelans are having trouble finding accommodations in Brazil. Brazil’s northern state of Roraima had its attempt to close the border with Venezuela thrown out by a judge and violence erupting in the border town of Pacaraima last week when local residents attacked makeshift camps housing Venezuelan migrants. The camps were burned down and the occupants temporarily fled back across the border.
An IOM report estimates approximately 35,000 Venezuelans were in Brazil in 2017. The Government of Chile reported that, as of 16 May 2018, 2,131 Visas of “Democratic Responsibility” had been issued by the Chilean consulates in Caracas (1,510) and Puerto Ordaz (621) and 20,683 applications were being processed. As of 17 May, 22,153 Venezuelan nationals have been registered as part of the 2018 Extraordinary Regularization Process in Chile.