There is a crisis along the border. It’s just not the U.S.-Mexico border

Juan Guaido
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido speaking to the media after a holy mass yesterday in Caracas, Venezuela.

Chaos along the Mexican border constitutes a crisis so severe, according to the Trump administration, that it was worth shutting down much of the government in a bid to get funding for a wall — and may require the president to exercise emergency powers to bypass Congress.

The thousands of Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and others fleeing violence and poverty in Central America do indeed represent a major challenge to a broken immigration system. But a crisis? It’s not even close to the one facing Colombia and other neighbors of Venezuela.

Tensions increased dramatically in Venezuela this past week. Incumbent President Nicolás Maduro and the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, both claimed the presidency. The United States and a number of Venezuela’s neighbors recognized Guaidó’s claim. On Saturday, Britain, Germany, France and Spain gave Maduro eight days to call new elections or said they would follow suit. Venezuela’s military — so far, at least — has lined up behind Maduro. So has Russia, which squared off against the Trump administration in a Security Council debate on Saturday, as well as Mexico and China.

The U.N. says 3 million people — about 10 percent of Venezuela’s population — already have fled due to hyperinflation, shortages, violence and instability. More than a million of them have flooded into Colombia. About 4,000 more arrive every day. Among other countries, the U.N. says Peru hosts another half a million Venezuelans, and Ecuador almost quarter of a million.

U.N. officials say neighboring countries “have largely maintained a commendable open-door policy” toward Venezuelans, and it issued an appeal for $738 million to help those countries care for them. But strains are apparent. The longer this goes on, the worse it gets.

Inflation in Venezuela is predicted to reach an incomprehensible 10 million percent this year. Oil extraction, pretty much the only productive economic activity going on in Venezuela, is plummeting.

According to one expert analysis, the number leaving Venezuela soon could reach more than 8 million, or one quarter of the population, creating a bigger migration crisis than Syria. To put that number in perspective, a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center estimated the entire undocumented population of the United States — including long-term residents with jobs — is about 10 million, a number that has been declining for years.

Colombia, Venezuela’s neighbor to the west, is on the front line of today’s crisis. Venezuelans who need shelter, medical care, schools and a way to earn money have endangered Colombia’s efforts to emerge from half a century of civil war, a conflict that killed an estimated 220,000 people. Mindful that many Colombians sought refuge in Venezuela during that war, Colombia has provided a special identification card that allows Venezuelans to move back and forth across the border, as well as a permit that allows them to work for two years.

Colombia’s war ended just two years ago, and its population of internally displaced people is still probably the biggest in the world. Many people work for low wages in the informal economy, and they fear being undercut by migrant labor. The country faces a huge challenge assimilating former leftist rebels back into society.

Bogota-based journalist Megan Janetsky reports protesters at a recently opened camp in the Colombian capital claimed the Venezuelans would bring crime and disease. There have been mob attacks and threats against Venezuelan migrants circulating the country, she says.

In Brazil, about 700 Venezuelans arrive every day, and many go to camps that are run by the army, the U.N. and non-governmental organizations. But there also have been clashes along the border. The country’s new populist, right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, is pulling Brazil from a U.N. migration agreement, but has not indicated that his policy toward the Venezuelans will change.

Venezuelans also head to Peru or Ecuador, reportedly because they think it will be easier to find work there. Angelina Jolie visited Peru in October to highlight the plight of those who had fled Venezuela. Some think that because the U.S. is an outspoken foe of the Maduro government, it will be relatively easy to get political asylum here. But an Associated Press report in August showed how difficult it actually is.

The U.S. appears to be working more closely now with other countries to increase pressure on Maduro. It’s hard to tell whether that’s a rare instance of Trump coordinating with allies — or an illustration of how the administration has outsourced Venezuela policy to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Meanwhile, another of those infamous convoys of Central Americans is getting ready to head north. The Trump administration intends to force asylum-seekers back across the border, and make them wait there. On Sunday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney suggested Trump would use emergency powers if Congress refuses to fund wall construction in the next three weeks. That sounds like Trump’s way out: Do something that invites a court challenge, blame everyone else for the delay — and move on.

With some variations, the problem along the U.S.-Mexico border probably will remain much as it is. For the Hemisphere’s real migration crisis, look farther south.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/28/2019 - 11:29 am.

    The chaos Socialists have wreaked upon Venezuela could easily be repeated by Mexico’s new Socialist President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

    Obrador was a fawning sycophant of the late Hugo Chavez. He mirrored Chavez’s various anti-Capitalist rhetoric.

    Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru all support Juan Guaidó; Mexico standing alone among top tier South American countries not doing so.

    So, sure. The US/Mexico isn’t as bad as the crisis in Venezuela…should we wait until it is before we do something pro-active?

  2. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 01/28/2019 - 01:34 pm.

    Mark, thanks for a good read. So much for the socialist utopian paradise of Venezuela. The once most prosperous nation in South America is now reduced to rubble. Poverty, malnourishment, homelessness, unemployment and lack of healthcare. Wasn’t socialism supposed to address and provide solutions to these social issues?

    Is this what Ocasio-Cortes, Sanders and Warren and their acolytes want for the US?

    President Trump in his first address to the United Nations stated that the situation in Venezuela is not the result of failed socialism but of faithfully implemented socialism.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/28/2019 - 06:44 pm.

    Pardon me if I don’t jump on the Senker–Yochim bandwagon. Mr. Trump’s understanding of economics – and socialism – approximates that of my 7-year-old grandson. He just proved it with a government closure that cost the American economy billions of dollars, and federal contract workers, who are not actually federal employees, so will NOT get back pay, millions of dollars more. It was a presidential temper tantrum, or an attempt at presidential extortion. Take your pick.

    His comment that federal employees who’ve been locked out by their employer can somehow get a line of credit from their grocery store (or the Commerce Secretary’s equally oblivious “Why don’t they just get a loan?” shows the sophistication of Trump’s thinking, and Mr. Ross’ thinking as well, on this and several other issues with national implications.

  4. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 01/28/2019 - 07:31 pm.

    Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, which is the reason that the USA has been meddling in its internal affairs for many years. To state that the USA is concerned about democracy is totally untrue, examples being the overthrows of democratically elected Mossagdeh in Iran in the 1950’s and Allende in Chile in the 1970’s.
    Maduro in Venezuela has a higher popularity rating than Guaido, and demonstrations for Maduro have been as large or larger than those for Guaido. Guaido, educated in the USA, has not even gone into the poor areas to interact with normal citizens, and is seen as a puppet of the USA.
    Reading other sources where journalists have been in Venezuela for months or years gives a better picture of events occurring there. Many articles from the Washington Post, New York Times, and other mainstream media

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/29/2019 - 10:14 am.

      Absolute nonsense. Put aside the nonsense about Trump and socialism. Put the politics and the spin aside, from both the left and the right. Maduro has destroyed that country. He has crushed any semblence if democracy. Millions have fled. The economy has collapsed. People are starving and going without basic medical care. Venezuela is an absolute disaster and needs new leadership.

  5. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 01/28/2019 - 07:34 pm.

    previous comment cut off. I continue with
    Many articles from the Washington Post, New York Times, and other mainstream media simply spout the government’s position.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/29/2019 - 10:18 am.

      No, its you who are spouting the (Venezuelan) government’s position. These outlets are just reporting the facts.

      Look, if it makes you feel any better, the collapse of Venezuela was not the fault of socialism. Chavez was a corrupt authoritarian who stole billions to enrich his family. And his successor was both corrupt and brutally incompetent.

      There is nothing to defend about the Venezuelan regime. Doing so just hurts the left’s credibility.

  6. Submitted by Jim Marshal on 01/28/2019 - 09:01 pm.

    I understand the need to act in Venezuela. The country has seen weeks and weeks of violent protests, the embattled President has less than a 17% approval rating and government forces have been gassing and maiming civilians on the streets. Oh sorry, that’s not Venezuela, that’s France.

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