South American countries stiffen borders to Venezuelan exodus
Thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the economic and humanitarian crisis roiling their homeland are facing increasing hostility from their South American neighbors.
Stricter border rules and mob violence have greeted some migrants as they look for refuge from the chaotic situation in Venezuela.
The mass exodus is ratcheting up tensions in countries such as Peru, Ecuador and Brazil even as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announces the introduction of “a magic formula” to get his country back on track.
Brazil announced Sunday it would deploy 120 men from the country’s national force to the border state of Roraima, where hostility towards Venezuelan migrants recently boiled over.
On Saturday, a mob of Brazilians attacked a group of Venezuelans in a border city and destroyed a migrant camp after a local business owner was robbed by Venezuelans, according to Brazil’s state run news outlet, Agencia Brasil. Around 1,200 Venezuelan migrants fled back over the border after the attack.
A judge had earlier ruled to prohibit the entry of all Venezuelans to the state but the decision was overturned by Brazil’s supreme court.
The Brazilian government has said it is committed to helping Venezuelans and will continue to try to spread migrants throughout various states in the country.
The Venezuelan government issued a statement asking the Brazilian government to “take measures to safeguard and secure” Venezuelan citizens, “their families and belongings.”
Ecuador and Peru announce restrictive measures
Meanwhile, a new rule came into effect in Ecuador Saturday requiring Venezuelan citizens entering the country to present a valid passport. Previously, Ecuador accepted other forms of identification.
CNN was present at the border and spoke to some of the migrants. Many were caught by surprise, having started their journeys before the measure went into effect.
“My family is fragmented, destroyed. We’re no longer together,” one Venezuelan migrant told CNN Sunday. “My son is in Peru, my daughter in Chile, I have yet another daughter who’s on her way to Poland. Give me a break! When will I get them all together again? My wife is in Venezuela. The situation is dire.”
On Sunday as Ecuador’s Interior Ministry relaxed the identification rule slightly, saying on Twitter that the law allows for children and adolescents to not present their passport “as long as both parents have it and show their relationship of filiation and kinship.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador via Colombia since the start of the year and that the number is accelerating with some 30,000 entering in the first week of August alone.
The government has declared a state of emergency in human mobility in three provinces, meaning it can assign additional resources to Venezuelans.
Ecuador is both a destination and transit point for Venezuelans escaping the humanitarian crisis in their own country. Some of the migrants are also heading towards Peru and countries further south.
The Peruvian government has followed Ecuador’s lead, announcing Saturday that beginning August 25, Venezuelan citizens who want to enter Peru can do so only with a valid passport.
Once land of opportunity
It is a reversal of fortunes for Venezuela, which was once the richest country in Latin America and a destination of choice for those fleeing turmoil in the region during the 1970s and 80s.
Colombians fleeing civil war, Peruvians fleeing the political and economic instability under Alberto Fujimori and Chileans fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship sought refuge in the oil-rich country, which was seen as a land of opportunity.
An economic crisis is driving the current mass migration out of Venezuela, where residents now live with food shortages, overcrowded hospitals, inflation and political turmoil.
For now, the exodus shows no sign of slowing.
Venezuelans filed 117,000 asylum claims in the first six months of this year, surpassing the total number of claims made in 2017, according to the UNHCR.
“The exodus of Venezuelans from the country is one of Latin America’s largest mass-population movements in history,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said in a statement. “Many of the Venezuelans are moving on foot, in an odyssey of days and even weeks in precarious conditions.”
What is Venezuela’s government doing?
On Friday, President Nicolas Maduro announced new economic measures to go into effect starting Monday — — including a 60-fold increase in the minimum wage that will being to take effect on September 1.
Maduro said the government will provide assistance on the minimum wage increase for 90 days but employers are nervous they won’t have enough money to pay their staff.
The President also announced that the government was removing five zeroes from the Venezuelan currency — dropping the Bolivar’s value more than 90%. The currency will be pegged to a cryptocurrency called the petro.
Venezuela plans to roll out a new currency Monday, the “Bolivar Soberano,” which will be worth 100,000 “old” Bolivares and was created to simplify transactions in the hyperinflationary Venezuelan economy.
Maduro made a Facebook Live address on Sunday, saying, “We are going through a re-balancing process.
“This does not happen overnight,” he said. “This re-balancing process will be developed. This is a magic formula that is truly impressive. That we discovered through our own thoughts and analysis.”
A bank holiday was declared Monday out of the blue, with banks remaining closed even as the new currency was to take effect.
Explaining the measures on national television Sunday night, Maduro said: “This is a really impressive, magic formula that we discovered while studying with our own, Venezuelan, Latin American-rooted thinking.”
The latest announcements caused merchants to close their doors over the weekend, not knowing how to reflect the new currency in their pricing. Shoppers, on the other hand, rushed to supermarkets and gas stations that remained open.
The International Monetary Fund says Venezuela’s inflation may hit 1 million percent by the end of the year.
Amidst the chaos, there have been attempts on Maduro’s life. Two high-ranking military officers were detained earlier this month in connection with an alleged drone attack against Maduro. The government said drones armed with explosives flew toward the president as he spoke at a military parade.
Maduro has accused opposition groups of orchestrating the August 4 failed attack and claimed the “financiers and planners” of the operation live in Florida.