What's Driving More Venezuelans To Migrate To The U.S.
With dimmed hopes of a transition from the economic crisis and repressive regime of Nicolas Maduro, many Venezuelans increasingly see the United States, rather than Latin America, as the place to rebuild a life.
Migration has too many elements to count. Beyond the matter of leaving your homeland, the process creates a gaping emptiness inside the migrant — and outside, in their lives. If forced upon someone, it can cause psychological and anthropological harm, as it involves the destruction of roots. That's in fact the case of millions of Venezuelans who have left their country without plans for the future or pleasurable intentions.
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Their experience is comparable to paddling desperately in shark-infested waters. As many Mexicans will concur, it is one thing to take a plane, and another to pay a coyote to smuggle you to some place "safe."
Venezuela's mass emigration of recent years has evolved in time. Initially, it was the middle and upper classes and especially their youth, migrating to escape the socialist regime's socio-political and economic policies. Evidently, they sought countries with better work, study and business opportunities like the United States, Panama or Spain. The process intensified after 2017 when the regime's erosion of democratic structures and unrelenting economic vandalism were harming all Venezuelans.
That is when we began seeing the poor rushing Venezuela's frontiers and migrant numbers ballooning to 7 million. Ours became the world's second biggest exodus. In that phase migrants headed mainly for regional states like Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador. These were closer, but far enough from President Nicolás Maduro.
The meaning of "getting sorted"
After 2021, motivated by changes in Latin America and a pandemic-induced recession, they began considering the United States as the only option that could yield a dignified life. Thousands of Venezuelans have risked their lives since, wading through the Darien Gap as a first, harrowing leg of a long journey to the United States. The challenges of this route often are simply unsurmountable, and meant for the truly desperate. Yet Panama's migration office believes more than 250,000 Venezuelans have crossed the Gap in the past two years and in 2022, made up six of every 10 people heading north this way.
The country is supposedly on the cusp of a rebirth.
This intensification of U.S.-bound migration means Venezuela is a long way from recovering or "getting sorted," as Maduro and his cronies like to say. Its crises are on the contrary becoming more intractable and deep-seated, at least for all those without perks or not living off the public purse. Maduro has turned to propaganda, showy projects and displays of luxury to give the impression that economic problems are over and Venezuelans needn't leave anymore. The country is supposedly on the cusp of a rebirth.
But no amount of publicity can hide Venezuela's shortages, even of basic items like food and medicines. A recent National Hospitals Survey taken by an independent medical body, found the principal hospitals to have a shortage rate of 70% in such essential supplies as anaesthesia drugs or pain killers. Imagine needing surgery in Venezuela...
Hundreds of Venezuelan migrants camping in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.
A desire to leave
Another recent poll taken by Caracas-based consultants Consultores 21found three out of 10 Venezuelans wanting to leave (with a third of those planning to leave in 2023). The firm's annual surveys since 2015 have shown a steady, upward curve in favor of emigration except for a period in the middle of the pandemic. The recent poll shows Colombia to be the first destination at present (for 30% of respondents, followed by 21% planning on Chile) in spite of its increasing restrictions. This means the region is still bearing the brunt of this outflow.
States cannot overlook people's problems nor whitewash — or "redwash" — them with ideological verbiage.
To solve the massive problem of Venezuelan migration, one must tackle its roots. Visas, regulations and militarization of frontiers are palliative measures here, though their effect is to increase the suffering of Venezuelans. What regional countries must do is agree on a working framework to pressure the Maduro regime to allow proper elections in 2024. It is essential for these states to find a common position on Venezuela, and move on from the principle of non-intervention to the principle of non-indifference.
States cannot overlook people's problems nor whitewash — or "redwash" — them with ideological verbiage. There must be a sincere and collective effort to help Venezuelans freely return home.
*Julio Borges, an exiled Venezuelan opponent, was speaker of Parliament in 2017-18.