What types of people live in Venezuela

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Luisa Feline suitor

Luisa Feline Freier is Assistant Professor at the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru. Her research interests include migration and refugee policies and laws in Latin America, international agreements on migration and flight, and south-south migration. She received her doctorate in political science from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and studied regional studies in Latin America at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, and at the University of Cologne.

Soledad Castillo Jara

Soledad Castillo Jara is a research fellow at the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru.

In the past few years, millions of Venezuelans have left their country of origin. How can this be explained and how are migrants received by other South American countries? An overview.

Empty shelves in a supermarket in Caracas / Venezuela in January 2019. Even if food is offered in supermarkets, hyperinflation has made it unaffordable for many. (& copy picture-alliance, ZUMA Press)

Since the beginning of 2015, over 4.75 million Venezuelans - more than 15 percent of the total population - have left their country due to the severe economic, political and humanitarian crisis in the Venezuelan state. [1] Around 80 percent of the emigrants have settled in Latin America and the Caribbean. Only a minority who could afford to fly and meet the visa requirements migrated to the US, Canada or southern European countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy. [2] As of January 2020, most Venezuelan migrants and refugees were admitted to the following countries: Colombia (1.63 million), Peru (864,000), Chile (371,000), Ecuador (385,000) and Brazil (224,000). With the exception of Chile, all of these countries have had more recent experience with the emigration of their nationals than with immigration from abroad. As a result, the governments of these states found it difficult to respond efficiently to the rapid increase in (forced) migration from Venezuela.

Three phases of emigration

In recent history there have been three phases of emigration from Venezuela. [4] The first phase began in 2000 when Hugo Chávez was re-elected for a second term. The main motives for the emigration that began at that time were mass expropriations, the nationalization of industries, growing insecurity as well as social and political tensions. During this phase, it was mainly members of the middle class, business people and students who emigrated. Due to the relative prosperity of these groups, the main destination countries or regions for migration were the USA and Europe. The beginning of the second phase of emigration can be dated to 2012, when the boom for Latin American export goods (especially raw material exports) ended and Hugo Chávez was re-elected for a third term in a row. At this point the Venezuelan economy was already weakening and the profile of the emigrants shifted towards less privileged sections of the population. Due to this shift, countries that are closer geographically and can be reached with less financial means, such as Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic, became the main target countries.

The third and current phase began around 2015 after Hugo Chávez died in 2013 and Nicolás Maduro was elected President. Two years after Maduro's election, the crisis in Venezuela was already threatening. Many Venezuelans now see emigration as the only way to ensure their own survival. In this third phase of emigration, the demographic profile of the emigrants becomes very heterogeneous. It now also includes members of the lower classes who cannot afford a plane ticket or a bus ticket and therefore have no choice but to set off on foot to neighboring countries such as Colombia, Ecuador or Peru despite the associated dangers. The growing vulnerability of migrants and the increasingly illegal nature of their migration pose enormous challenges for the host states.

Recent Political History

How did it come about that a country, which not so long ago was the richest in the region and an important destination for migrants, turned into a state whose structures have collapsed and whose population has to flee to survive? In the 1970s, when many Latin American countries were ruled by dictatorial military governments, Venezuela was a democratic and prosperous country. With its flourishing economy and high standard of living, Venezuela was an attractive migration destination from the point of view of citizens from other Latin American countries - such as Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. The migrants were looking for better job opportunities or felt better threatened in their home countries because of their political views and / or because of internal conflicts. However, the Venezuelan economy was then - and still is today - highly dependent on the price of oil. When this collapsed in the 1980s, a problematic national debt arose. In return for the support from the International Monetary Fund, the government had to make adjustments and gear its policies more towards the market economy. This led to unrest in the middle and lower classes of the population.

Over the years this policy has increasingly formed a fertile breeding ground for left-wing ideas. In 1998, Hugo Chavez won the Venezuelan presidential election with a promise to promote equality. The way to achieve this should be "socialism of the 21st century", an economic and political concept based on the ideas of the German sociologist Heinz Dieterich. [5] At the beginning of his reign, Chavez benefited from a rise in the international oil price and diverted the country's wealth into state benefits and social programs for the poor. Despite initial success, Chávez ‘politics developed increasingly interventionist features and proved to be unsustainable in the long term. After Chávez ‘death, his successor Nicolás Maduro was confronted with a renewed drop in the price of oil and the negative consequences of years of economic mismanagement, which worsened under his government. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the current crisis in Venezuela is not simply a side effect of the drop in oil prices, but is clearly due to the policies of the Venezuelan governments since 1999. [6]

The current crisis in the Venezuelan state

The Venezuelan state currently does not fulfill the basic functions of a functioning democratic state: securing the physical life of its citizens and guaranteeing their security and freedom. At the beginning of 2019, eight out of ten Venezuelans had reduced their calorie intake because they could not get enough food, and more than half of the population had lost at least 11 kilograms. [7] Even when groceries are sold in supermarkets, hyperinflation has made them unaffordable. In April 2019, for example, the minimum wage adjusted for purchasing power was only enough for 4.7 percent of a family's grocery basket. [8]


The grocery cart for families

In many Latin American countries there is a defined grocery shopping cart for families ("canasta familiar de alimentos") as a compilation of various staple foods intended to cover the energy needs of all family members. The price of this basket of goods is often used by government ministries as a benchmark when determining minimum wages for different socio-economic groups. *

* M. Flores / V. W. Bent (1980): Canasta familiar de alimentos, definicion y metodologia. https://repositorio.cepal.org/handle/11362/26329 (accessed: November 6, 2019).

At the beginning of 2019, around 87 percent of the almost 29 million Venezuelans were living in poverty; the extreme poverty rate was over 60 percent. [9] Even the so-called CLAP boxes (from Local Comité de Abastecimiento y Producción) of the local government-sponsored committees for food distribution to the poor no longer met the requirements for adequate nutrition. [10]

Likewise, the public health system is down. According to a 2019 report by the OAS, the undersupply with morphine was 78 percent, with drugs to lower blood pressure 68 percent and with insulin 52 percent. [11] The hospitals were missing 88 percent of the drugs and 79 percent of the medical and surgical materials needed. [12] Due to the lack of reagents, not a single public health laboratory was fully functional. [13] At the same time, only 53 percent of the operating theaters were usable and 70.7 percent of the hospital emergency rooms functioned either only to a limited extent or with interruptions, both primarily due to a lack of electricity and water. [14] In addition to this undersupply, there is suspicion of politicization of health care in Venezuela. According to the New York Times and the BBC, Cuban doctors who work with thousands of other medical staff from Cuba for a period in Venezuela report that the provision of these essential public medical services is being used strategically to attract voters to vote for the ruling party to bring. [15]

According to the OAS, among other things, the so-called "home ID" (Carnet de la Patria) social control exercised. This proof of identity is required to gain access to social benefits such as food aid, medicine, housing or work. The data stored on the home ID card is said to have been used to make the voting behavior of Venezuelan citizens in 2017 and 2018 transparent; personal data such asIncome, ownership, medical history, membership in political parties, or participation in elections may have been recorded. [16] The aim is to make social (service) performance dependent on loyalty to the regime.

As far as security is concerned, the state is failing to pursue its duty to prosecute, in order to protect its citizens. In 2018 there were 81 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants. Venezuela had the highest murder rate on the entire continent. [17] In 2019, Venezuela was ranked 144th out of 163 countries in the Global Peace Index. This makes Venezuela not only the least safe country in South America, but also one of the most unsafe in the world. [18] There are also cases of physical or psychological violence perpetrated by members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) and the Bolivarian National Secret Service (SEBIN) - two state security and police bodies - and registered by the OAS. It is estimated that almost 15,000 people were arbitrarily arrested between 2014 and May 2019. [19] There is also extensive evidence and testimony of extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual violence, political imprisonment and other crimes committed by the state, particularly in connection with demonstrations organized by the opposition. [20]

Political reactions to the evictions from Venezuela

As a result of the national crisis described above, at least 4.75 million Venezuelans had left the country between the beginning of 2015 and the end of 2019 [21] - according to estimates by the UNHCR, this number could rise to seven million by the end of 2020. [22] The vast majority of these emigrants are in neighboring countries. [23] The rapid increase in emigration and flight from Venezuela poses serious challenges for the main receiving countries in Latin America. The majority of these countries have had no experience of extensive immigration in their recent history, let alone of the immigration of vulnerable migrants for humanitarian reasons. It is therefore hardly surprising that a coordinated and sustainable approach has so far failed to materialize and that the governments of the Latin American countries have reacted with more ad hoc measures. In many cases, the actions taken by the Latin American host countries were initially characterized by relative openness and generosity. However, in the wake of an increasing number of new migrants and the rise in xenophobic sentiments [24], they became more restrictive.

Different types of reactions in the host countries can be identified. [25] A first group of countries chose the most pragmatic and legally viable option. You have extended the residence law agreements of the regional mergers MERCOSUR and UNASUR to Venezuelan citizens. Venezuela's MERCOSUR membership was suspended in 2017, but Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay decided to continue to apply the MERCOSUR residency agreement to Venezuelans. This was to avoid hitting the population with a measure that was specifically aimed at sanctioning the Venezuelan government, but not harming the Venezuelan people. This political regulation gave Venezuelans the opportunity to stay in the host country for two years and then apply for a permanent residence permit. Originally Venezuelans had to present a valid passport and a police clearance certificate. Both requirements have now been relaxed for those who did not have the relevant documents. With its "Human Mobility Act" (Ley Orgánica de Movilidad Humana) of 2017, Ecuador created the category of "South American Citizens". It enables people from every UNASUR country, including Venezuela, to enter and stay in Ecuador However, the corresponding visa costs US $ 250, which most Venezuelans cannot afford, or can only afford it with great difficulty. In addition, the UNASUR alliance, which was founded in 2008, is about to end because most countries have suspended or canceled their membership.

A second group of states has created special entry and residence permits for Venezuelan citizens. For example, Colombia and Peru have created various types of special ad hoc residence permits for Venezuelan citizens. The Colombian "Frontier Mobility Card" TMF (Tarjeta de Movilidad Fronteriza) was first issued in 2017 and enabled Venezuelans to cross the border between the two countries unhindered. Between January 2017 and October 2018, Peru issued the PTP temporary residence permit (Permiso Temporal de Permanencia) and Colombia issued the special residence permit PEP (Permiso Especial de Permanencia) out. However, these special visa programs were limited in time and were often limited to retrospectively legalizing the status of migrants already living in the country. In Colombia, the special supplementary residence permit PECP has been in place since July 2019 (Permiso Especial Complementario de Permanencia)that all Venezuelans can receive who applied for recognition of their refugee status between August 19, 2015 and December 31, 2018. [26]

Recently, however, there has been a trend towards increasingly restrictive regulations on immigration from Venezuela in the region. Chile, Peru and Ecuador have tightened the entry requirements for Venezuelan migrants with so-called humanitarian visas. In April 2018, Chile began issuing a special one-year residence permit - the "Visa of Democratic Responsibility" - which is issued on presentation of a valid passport for around 90 US dollars. Since July and August 2019, Peru and Ecuador have also required so-called humanitarian visas, which require a passport and an unregistered criminal record and must be applied for at the respective consulates in Venezuela. Most Venezuelans cannot afford both documents due to processing backlogs, lack of material and the prevailing corruption (getting a passport within a reasonable period of time can cost several thousand US dollars). In practice, these visa forms therefore act as socio-economic filters and drive the majority of new migrants into illegality because they ultimately effectively deny most Venezuelan migrants legal access to Ecuador and Peru.

Legal Obligations

In view of their existing legal obligations and against the background of the economic, political and humanitarian crisis described above, the states of Latin America would have to apply the refugee definition of the Cartagena Agreement to displaced persons from Venezuela. This definition goes back to the Cartagena Declaration of 1984 and has since been successively transposed into national laws by fifteen states in the region. It extends the right to international protection as a refugee to include victims of general violence, external aggression, internal conflicts, massive human rights violations, or other circumstances that have resulted in serious public disruption. This means that the definition of refugee in Latin America is, at least nominally, much broader than that of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention and is applicable to the situation in Venezuela. [27] Granting refugee status to Venezuelan migrants would help them to legally reside and work in the country of residence. They would also have access to basic government services such as health care and education.

Currently, however, Mexico and Brazil are the only countries that use the Cartagena Declaration of refugee definition in favor of Venezuelan nationals. [28] This can mainly be explained by the fact that Mexico has taken in far fewer Venezuelan migrants than countries in South America and Brazil positions itself strongly against Maduro's regime in terms of foreign policy. Other government officials in South America, on the other hand, fear that the application of the Cartagena Agreement, whereby practically all Venezuelan migrants would be recognized as refugees, would trigger a further influx that would put an additional strain on the already overburdened public systems and increase xenophobic resentment. It can thus be stated that in response to the Venezuelan migration crisis, the primary focus is no longer on protecting vulnerable Venezuelans by complying with legal obligations. Instead, the issue of migration is increasingly associated with security issues and politically instrumentalized - a parallel to developments that can be observed in the Global North. Last but not least, local media play a decisive role in this context, as they fuel fears of an alleged increase in crime, for which the Venezuelan migrants are held responsible. [29]

Translation into German: Textworks Translations