Saturday, September 29, 2018

Venezuelan Diaspora Grows

Venezuela was traditionally a receiving country for migrants. In the mid-20th century it received thousands of Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, Lebanese and Syrians. And after that came people from other countries in South America, and from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Now the flow has turned 180 degrees and it is Venezuelans who are the protagonists of a dramatic diaspora in Latin America, which according to many experts will increase in the short term and which has already become the biggest migration crisis in the history of the Americas.

The economic collapse in this oil-producing country, which for decades was the fourth largest economy in Latin America, has translated into shortages and soaring prices of food and medicine, combined with the high rates of violence and crime, triggered the exodus of Venezuelans to neighbouring nations. Exhausted by the race for survival, more and more people are leaving.

United Nations agencies estimate that 2.3 million people have left Venezuela in the last three years, 7.2 percent of the country’s population of 31.8 milliony, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General, said on Aug. 20. But in early September, international humanitarian organisations set the number of people in the exodus at between 3.5 and 4.0 million. Sociologist Tomás Páez, who directs a study on “the Venezuelan diaspora,” maintains that some three million have migrated in the last two decades.

“These are all estimates, because many people cross the border just to go shopping, and there are no accurate records in Venezuela, and because in some countries migrants settle illegally, but even so it is about 10 percent of our 31 million inhabitants,” expert Oscar Hernández, who is the head of the Migrant Training Centre, told IPSHe also considered that “it is a very, very serious brain drain. We are going to pay dearly for all the talent that is leaving, so many professionals, teachers and students, people at the peak of their productive age.”

According to the latest figures provided by the immigration authorities, 870,000 Venezuelans have settled in Colombia, 414,000 in Peru, 325,000 in Chile, 80,000 in Panama, 70,000 in Argentina, 57,000 in Brazil and 16,000 in Uruguay, while 340,000 entered Ecuador in 2018 alone, 116,000 of whom are still in the country while the rest have crossed over to other countries. Also, 26,000 Venezuelans have gone to the Dominican Republic, and more than 10,000 to other Caribbean islands, according to estimates by several official spokespersons, while in Mexico some 9,000 have applied for the “visitors’ card for humanitarian reasons.” Outside the region, the largest receiving countries are the United States (290,000) and Spain (208,000). The Venezuelan polling firm Delphos, estimated that in the remainder of the year at least 800,000 more Venezuelans plan to leave the country.
The Central University of Venezuela, the country’s largest university, enrollment dropped in 10 years from 47,000 to 32,000 students. Healthcare unions estimate that so far this decade some 20,000 professionals have left the country, including doctors, nurses, and therapists.

“If people decide to walk to Lima, it’s because they feel their needs have reached a limit and their conditions for survival in Venezuela are minimal. Reality tells them what to do,” social psychologist Colette Capriles, of Caracas’ Simón Bolívar University, told IPS.

According to Efraín Rincón, an expert with the polling firm Consultores 21, only one out of every five Venezuelans who say they want to emigrate cites political reasons. The rest point to the economic crisis. The inflation rate for August alone was 223.1 percent and the accumulated rate for the year climbed to 34,680 percent, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the inflation rate could reach one million percent by the end of 2018 and economists at consulting firms believe it could grow even more.

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