Weigh-in on the Venezuelan Crisis

Colombian National Police lead Venezuelans from San Antonio del Táchira, Venezuela toward Villa del Rosario, Norte de Santander, Colombia. (Policia Nacional de Colombia/Wikimedia Commons)

Erin Pineda – The Venezuelan Migration Crisis

The Venezuelan crisis is now the largest exodus in Latin America in recent history. As of this March 2019, the number of Venezuelan emigrants worldwide is over 3.7 million, making it one of the largest migration crises in the world today. It is second only to the Syrian Civil War, which created 6.3 million refugees. This number is only expected to grow as rampant hyperinflation continues after hitting the 10,000,000 percent mark this year, shortages of food and medical supplies worsen, and the presidential power struggle between Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó intensifies.

The Red Cross recently brokered a deal between the representatives of the two presidents to deliver aid to 650,000 people. However, this will do little to ease the suffering of millions of Venezuelans currently living in extreme poverty. It will also not stem the tide of an estimated 5,000 people leaving the country every day. As the situation in Venezuela worsens, Latin American countries must begin drafting and implementing policies to prepare for even larger flows of Venezuelans than they have experienced in the last two years.

Border towns in Colombia and Brazil are already feeling the strain, struggling to provide food and shelter for so many migrants at once, even as most migrants continue on traveling to other countries. Many migrants make the journey on foot by walking along the highways from Ciudad Guayana and Caracas to Boa Vista, Brazil or Bogota, Colombia. This long and dangerous journey takes days to complete, and many migrants arrive with no money and in very poor health from the journey. One migrant I spoke with recently reported sleeping with hundreds of other migrants in an old abandoned warehouse without any electricity in Boa Vista, Brazil and having to cook her food over empty paint cans. Although there is a UNHCR shelter in Boa Vista, it was at capacity, and she was forced to look elsewhere. This experience will become the status quo if resources are not allocated to properly care for these migrants. Furthermore, a more coordinated, multilateral effort is necessary to settle these migrants long term.

As a whole, Latin American countries have been welcoming to Venezuelan migrants, maintaining open border policies that allow for these caminantes to enter without penalty. Colombia alone has received 1.1 million Venezuelans so far, followed by 506,000 in Peru, and 288,000 in Chile. This welcoming attitude is mostly because of Venezuela’s reception of Colombians fleeing the Colombian Civil Conflict during the 1960s. With shelters at capacity and no assistance from multilateral institutions like the UN, OAS, and Mercosur coming in the foreseeable future, many wonder when this welcome will be worn out. Right now, this crisis is contained to Latin America. Nonetheless, developed countries must contribute funds to this cause before it becomes a worldwide phenomenon, as happened with the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Briana Trujillo – When Progressivism and Socialism Don’t Go Hand in Hand: What’s Missing from the American Perspective on Venezuela

At a protest in Caracas, Venezuela against President Nicolas Maduro, a woman says to the camera for a Washington Post video, “People don’t need to be told [to protest]. Hunger spoke to them. And hunger doesn’t need explanations.” Meanwhile, in North America, tweets with the hashtag #HandsOffVenezuela have taken off, demanding Venezuela be left to its own devices. These polarized discussions have lead to back and forth on Twitter between public figures and actual Venezuelans.

The dissonance between the pleas of the Venezuelan people and liberal American ears probably has many roots, but for this writer, one of them is identity politics — or the association of socialism with progressivism regardless of its form. Let’s break down those terms: Progressivism technically means a belief in social improvement through the government, but more loosely, it’s used in reference to progress toward economic and social equality.

So when Americans assume that socialism always (including when it’s imposed) leads a people toward progress, they ironically do the very thing socialism demands them not to do: silence the voice of the common man. Politicians on the left in the U.S., like Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, don’t see it this way. These champions for the liberal movement say they recognize Maduro’s tyranny but still stand against the idea that the U.S. should have any involvement, militarily or otherwise.

In response to that, I acknowledge my own biases — I’m not well-versed in foreign policy, and I speak from an emotional place because I grew up in a suburb of Miami where Venezuelan asylum seekers fleeing from the past president Hugo Chavez were the majority. But to this community, President Trump’s recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s new president was the first thing he has done right in all his Administration.

His motives, however, are still deeply questionable. Is Trump simply a selfless champion of human rights around the globe and a stand-up president? No, I certainly think the concerns that America is acting in its own self-interest with Venezuela are valid. But as much as Americans want to stick to their guns in their distaste for the current President, and as much as they are suspicious of America overstepping its boundaries in Latin America, they cannot hide behind a veil of faux progressivism. Maduro’s socialism is anything but progressive. To say the Venezuelan people want to be left alone, to deal with Maduro on their own, is a gross misinterpretation of the situation.

Ishani Desai – Venezuela: A History of Socialism Gone Wrong

Venezuela currently is suffering one of the – if not the – most severe economic collapse in modern history. Inflation has increased to 10 million percent from 112 percent in 2015. The migration crisis has worsened as the number of Venezuelans who have fled to neighboring countries and elsewhere has increased to 3 million within the last three years. Venezuela’s current President has said continuously he will help to rectify the crisis but so far, his efforts have failed as the countries plummets into a seemingly irreversible economic and political turmoil.

Previously a thriving country, Venezuela had struck gold when oil was discovered, leading to Venezuela’s dominant role in the oil market and its rise in its oil exports. However, this rapid economic growth from the 1920s to the 70s was stopped by the decline in global oil prices leading to a market contraction and a hit to the Venezuelan economy in the 1980s and 90s. This economic period worsened, hurting the mindsets of hopeful Venezuelans until the introduction of a new leader, Hugo Chavez. Chavez was just one of the multiple leaders across Latin America who promised reforms to promote the fundamental tenets of socialism against what was perceived to be the evil of capitalism, Europe, and the United States. All three were believed to have caused the initial downfall of Latin American countries after their colonial freedom. During this time, Chavez raised workers’ wages, expanded the budget to allocate more money to social services and attempted to control rising domestic prices with price ceilings meant to stabilize the economy and government control. Nonetheless, these reforms proved to not be effective given the ongoing decline of oil exports and oil reserves of the nation, as well as the rampant corruption within the government that seemingly promised to champion the rights of the disadvantaged.

Chavez died in 2013 amidst the current economic crisis known today. Maduro, Chavez’s successor, took his position after narrowingly winning the subsequent presidential election. Although the opposing Democratic Unity Party took control of the National Assembly, Maduro’s Socialist Party had continued to prevail given his control of the military and creation of a new legislative body meant to pass laws directly under his favor. In other words, Maduro had effectively transitioned Venezuela from a democracy into an authoritarian government to enact what he perceived were the best laws meant to uplift Venezuela from economic turmoil. Maduro gave himself more power than what was legally acceptable and had further entrenched himself into a hole from which he cannot escape. If he chooses to escape now, the only alternative he has is prison or worse, if the public is not accepting.

Currently, Maduro’s policies to counter hyperinflation – from raising worker wages to cutting public spending to devaluing the currency to attempting to associate himself as the “new Bolivar” to using a cryptocurrency that cannot be traded in the market – has only worsened the country’s situation. His socialist policies have closed off Venezuela from most of the world as he continues relying on the failing oil industry. He does not acknowledge the failure of the diversification in the Venezuelan economy. Furthermore, Maduro’s government ignores the IMF, an organization meant to oversee the global economy and aid suffering economies, and instead calls them them a pawn of Washington and says the country’s struggles are the result of an “economic war” led by the United States.

Perhaps Maduro has long ago removed himself from socialism, shown by his current actions to transform the government and operate on a militarily powered front. However, what cannot be ignored is that the socialist ideas used to fund efforts to improve an already failing economy since the 90s proved ineffective and has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the 21st century. Meanwhile, Venezuelans struggle to satisfy their most basic needs and no longer have any voice in their beloved country.

For an in-depth look at Venezuela by Desai, click here.

Stuart Carson – The Trump Administration’s Dishonesty

  Since the fraudulent re-election of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in May of 2018, the Trump administration has been particularly hawkish on the rogue nation-state. In January, the Administration recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the rightful head of state. In February, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions amounting to a near embargo on Venezuelan oil and tacked on a new round of visa restrictions on five associates of the Maduro regime. In April, Venezuela’s central bank became the most recent target of Trump’s campaign of slow suffocation. Though these policies have yet to oust Maduro, they have most certainly been tumultuous for the Venezuelan economy and the legitimacy of Maduro’s governance.

In matters of rhetoric, the Administration has been just as combative. After Guido declared himself the leader of Venezuela in January, President Trump pledged to “use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.” At a campaign rally in February, the president told a raucous crowd that “all options are on the table” for Venezuela. Other members of the Administration have been just as forceful in their remarks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to Maduro as a “sick tyrant” in February, while National Security Adviser John Bolton called Maduro a “dictator” clinging to an “illegitimate claim to power.” Unfortunately, it appears that the Trump Administration is more concerned with empty and aggressive posturing rather than the people of Venezuela, as shown by its asylum policies.

In 2017, 27,629 Venezuelans applied for asylum in the United States. From January to September of 2018, more than 20,100 Venezuelan refugees petitioned the United States for asylum, marking the third year in a row that Venezuelans made up the largest group of asylum applicants in the country. Those who flee Venezuela face widespread food shortages and an epidemic of violence that has given Venezuela one of the world’s highest murder rates. However, instead of advancing American humanitarian efforts to assist these refugees, Trump has curtailed refugee admissions, pushed for the construction of a border wall and cancelled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

If the word of the United States is to be taken seriously, the Administration must grant special immigration status to the roughly 70,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers currently in the United States. This would mean offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforcement Departure Programs to Venezuelan asylum seekers. Such programs would provide special legal immigration status to Venezuelan refugees and protect them from being wrongfully deported by ICE officials. Yet, despite the clear and achievable policy path towards alleviating the humanitarian crisis, key officials in the White House oppose such actions because they would be inconsistent with the President’s war on immigration, asylum seekers, and refugees. If Trump does win his war on immigration, Trump’s policies and rhetoric towards Maduro will ring empty and dishonest towards those the President ought to be most concerned with – the Venezuelan people.