Venezuelan Migrant Crisis: A South American Problem

Grey Reames & Jake Cash

Nicolás Maduro took over as president of Venezuela in 2013 following the death of socialist leader Hugo Chávez. Since taking over, hyperinflation, food shortages, and thinning natural resources have plagued the country. By the end of the year, Venezuela’s economy will be half of the size it was in 2013. This year alone the economy will shrink 15%.

Many Venezuelans are fleeing as the situation in the country has worsened. 3 million Venezuelans have fled in the last two decades, representing 1/10th of the countries population. However, in the last two years, an estimated 1.2 million individuals have fled. The emigration is likely to continue as confidence in the country continues to lack. A recent survey conducted by Gallup showed that 40% of the remaining population hopes to flee the country. Furthermore, 53% of Venezuelans between the ages 15 – 29 want to move away permanently.

Source: Gallup 2018 Poll

The influx of migrants from the country has generated regulation and response from neighboring countries. Colombia, where a population of 550,000 Venezuelans lived at the end of 2017 (62% increase year-over-year), said it would stop issuing the 1.5 million border-crossing cards to Venezuelans as it seeks to regulate the masses of people moving across its borders. Both Colombia and Brazil have increased military personnel at their borders as well.

Despite being welcoming to their Venezuelan neighbors, Colombia has started seeing issues related to the mass influx of refugees. 20% of migrants say Colombia is their desired destination, likely due to the country’s proximity and welcoming policies. The Colombian government allows refugees access to healthcare and, if the individual has a passport, access to schools. However, officials say the increased demand has swamped government resources. Further, crime amongst the migrant Venezuelan population has dramatically increased. Unemployment has migrants taking jobs at lower wages and forced some to turn to prostitution.

With elections in Venezuela approaching, it remains a question whether Maduro will get another chance to revitalize the decimated country.

  • What obligations, if any, do these neighboring countries have to Venezuelans? Reminder that Venezuela – formerly the wealthiest nation in Latin America – once welcomed more than 1 million Colombians in the 20th century.
  • The scale of this emigration resembles the Syrians migration to Germany and the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar. Should there be a bigger focus on these types of crises and their impacts on economies?
  • If the US government is going to tighten borders and immigration controls, what alternatives should be considered to help Venezuela and its people?


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15 Responses to Venezuelan Migrant Crisis: A South American Problem

  1. the prof says:

    No substantive comments until you all do your job!

  2. mesisklism19 says:

    I’m not certain other nations have a responsibility to assist the Venezuelan government. A government’s job is to provide the best possible atmosphere for its own people to live in. If Colombia and Argentina sponsor workers’ programs for skilled Venezuelan laborers, that is one thing, but propping up a failed regime could lead to further disaster.

    Still, something should be done as this collapse has already killed hundreds from malnutrition. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, yet is crumbling. The unemployment and need for food could be an opportunity for foreign investors to employ locals in drilling operations, but the civil unrest could be driving risk-averse drillers away. Still, foreign corporate employment could be the best bet at rebuilding Venezuela.

  3. rietanob18 says:

    This crisis in Venezuela and its surrounding countries is an important thing to look into, particularly at this moment in history in which countries are more focused on helping their own citizens than citizens of the world. The United States in particular, as mentioned here, has, behind President Trump, expressed major concerns with allowing refugees entrance into America. It would be interesting to delve into what specific policies Maduro has implemented that have caused these major issues in Venezuela. Are his policies that much worse than Venezuela’s prior leader? Or, is it his public image that is causing people to doubt his leadership abilities? Has he done anything good for the country? Ultimately, the questions posed in this blog post are applicable to the larger questions about refugees: Do nations have a responsibility to help those coming from outside of their borders? The answer to this question is, of course, highly debatable.

  4. Ezequiel Piantoni says:

    The political and social crisis in Venezuela has concerned me and many others for the past decade. It is a very critical situation, and the people there need help now. While the media has covered the situation to some extent, I do not think it is giving it enough attention. I also do not think the world knows how severe the situation is. I have friends who fled away from Venezuela and they tell me how much their families that are still there are suffering. The solution to the crisis is not just international aid, because their ridiculous leader Maduro turns down any help the world offers to the people. Unfortunately, I believe the solution is interference, and the U.S. could be the ideal player to do so. Maduro is not going to leave the government, the coming elections are clearly going to be dishonest (with main opposition candidates not even allowed to participate). A large majority of the country does not want Maduro as their president (they literally hate him) but they are stuck with him, and they are stuck to starve, unless someone from the outside helps…

  5. herndono20 says:

    I do not believe that neighboring countries have any obligations to assist in the Venezuelan Crisis, however I do believe that it would be beneficial. The refugee crisis in Columbia is a great example of the indirect effects of neighboring struggling country. While the Columbian government is very inviting to Venezuelan refugees, the depletion of governmental resources poses an issue in the long-run. I think it would be smarter for Columbia, along with the other neighboring countries to assist Venzuela with FDI to help get them back on their feet. This would definitely be a larger investment in the forefront, but long-term it would benefit the entire region.

  6. chase wonderlic says:

    I wonder if the UN should make human displacement a bigger focus of its mission. Considering the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis and the current diaspora of Venezuelans en masse, the international community should come up with some sort of protocol. I fear that future economic and environmental issues will make events of human displacement more common/frequent. Therefore, assembling a new commission or committee might be well worth a debate at the UN floor. At the moment, it looks like refugees are going to the countries that volunteer themselves. I am confident that the world can do better than risking human lives on charity.

  7. hespem20 says:

    I think columbia should think of the possible opportunity it has to expand industry and welcome hard working people coming from likely far worse living standards. I’m sure the venezuelan refugees would love to work and begin earning their own money as soon as possible, rather than live off handout and systems similar to those that failed them so miserably.

  8. John Gaugin-Rosenthal says:

    Just as in other human relations, it is Colombia’s decision as to whether immigrants are welcomed. While it may deplete government resources and demand a re-configuration of budget allocation, it could improve a much-needed relation with its neighboring country. Furthermore, at this point, it is in Colombia’s best interest to come to the aid of the Venezuelan economy. This will solve the immigration crisis and provide stability in the region as Venezuela is currently extremely vulnerable and primed to be overrun by cartels. The immigration crisis isn’t providing an influx of skilled workers and repairing the economy while Venezuelan immigrants still feel attached to their homeland will ensure that they return, thus lifting the burden that Colombia is, at the present, carrying. Until the crisis becomes overwhelmingly obstructive of economic/social activities, Colombia should accommodate Venezuelan immigrants. Keeping them over the long-term, however, will produce a concentration of poverty (slums) and further impair the economy.

  9. ahny19 says:

    Hyperinflation, political instability, and food shortages characterize the burdens of nearly all Latin American nations. However, the severity of Venezuela’s economic contraction that can be manifested in its migrant crisis is particularly striking. I’m stunned at the rapid rates of emigration and am distressed by the amount of young Venezuelans who desire to no longer call the nation their home; as the influx of migrants seek refuge in surrounding nations, this political controversy certainly resembles the phenomenon of Syrian migration and even Mexican immigration in the U.S. It’s certainly worth considering the potential adverse effects an influx of migrants may have on a nation’s domestic economy–although in the U.S. the rhetoric for anti-immigration policy has historically embraced themes of unyielding nativism and nationalism, but in the context of refugees seeking a humane quality of life I’m tempted to criticize increased borders. I’m also curious what efforts international organizations like the UN and the World Bank have led to aid these refugees as they presumably have an obligation to global citizens as opposed to a particular country.

  10. pezzij19 says:

    In regards to John’s comment and further, it does seems like this is a somewhat similar circumstance but on steroids. It’s hard to think of precedent for such a collapse in recent memory at least, though I’m sure there is. Part of me is curious if really anything can be done? But for the sake of the country, something must be done. The mass migration seems to be the largest issue because if you can’t get your citizens to live there, sustaining a job, or doing well in that job is unlikely. But of course, my understanding many do not have a job and that is part of why they want to leave. The statistic about the GDP is staggering but my assumption that is due to the Venezuelan reliance on oil. Changing that reliance is a long process, one that Venezuela could not fix immediately. The best option in my opinion would be to stabilize the political situation at all costs, attempt to attract foreign investment, and start to diversify the economy. Further, receiving loans and aid from international organizations or private corporations seems unlikely if there are constant riots on the street.

  11. nshimyumukizas18 says:

    Even though neighboring countries have no obligation for Venezuelans, the refugees need basic healthcare and education they are not getting in Venezuela. Even though that is not the best solution to the crisis, it is the immediate one. I also think that the UN helps countries like Colombia or Brazil to take care of the refugees.The best solution though, would be fixing the root cause: Maduro. If Maduro is elected again and people do not want want him, that would not be good for Venezuela. Thus, the international community can help to create a more democratized election.

  12. gakelere20 says:

    Situations like this make it extremely difficult to create public policy when looking through a developmental lens. This is due to economic development being of such importance to any country’s government. In theory, a government’s primary focus should be its own development and resources available to its own citizens. For this reason, it would seem illogical to allow for another country’s mistakes to negatively affect the well being of your own development. On the other hand, citizens are often required to deal with the consequences of their governments’ mistakes at no fault of their own. The Venezuelans attempting to emigrate out of their country did nothing wrong to be in the situation in which they found themselves and as a result should be able to take action to improve their own well being. These two opposing views is what makes public policy so impossibly complex.

  13. Chris DuPont says:

    It seems as though Venezuela is in serious trouble, and if the citizens even care about their country a little, they should not re-elect Maduro and take their chances with a new leader. Neighboring countries including Columbia indeed have no obligations to help Venezuela, however some aid from these countries would have many positive effects in helping reverse this economic shrinkage. Venezuela has to change policy in order to keep their citizens otherwise they are going to be in even more trouble a few years down the road.

  14. aidanchandless says:

    I think that this is an issue that the United States should get more involved in. We spend so much of our resources fighting wars across the ocean, but I believe our priorities should lie in the Americas. If the United States and Canada do not look out for Central and South American brethren then who will. I am no expert in nation building, but there must be something that the US can do to assist the Venezuelan government and general population. Maybe we could even reduce some of our outrageous military spending and use that to provide aid to the struggling Central and South American governments.

  15. Banks Pflager says:

    The poor economy and loss of so much human capital in Venezuela wilI prove to hurt the country. I think that Colombia has no obligation to give the migrants the benefits in their country but they could potentially see opportunity in the addition of people. Colombia can expand their economy with the addition of Venezuelans seeking opportunity to work and produce an income. This could prove worthy for Colombia to accept the migrants, but they are not required to be accept and give benefits immediately to non-citizens.

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