South American nations are tightening their border controls, and immigration restrictions as the exodus of refugees from Venezuela grows larger. Along with the economic crisis, and the ongoing political unrest around the country, the regime of President Nicolas Maduro now has to contend with regional tensions brought on by a migrant crisis. With chronic shortages of food and medicine now a seemingly permanent facet of daily life for Venezuelan citizens, tens of thousands are fleeing the country in the hopes of finding a better life elsewhere. These departures are not a new development. Since 2014 over two million citizens have left Venezuela.
Neighboring countries are having an increasingly difficult time accommodating them. In Brazil’s northern state of Rorima, violence has erupted when Brazilians attacked the ramshackle camps constructed by Venezuelan refugees, forcing them to flee back across the border. An attempt by Rorima to close the border was thrown out by a judge, leaving the situation unsettled and extremely volatile. Ecuador, and Peru have taken steps designed to create breathing room, and buy time for a more permanent solution to be found. Both nations have revised their passport rules and border controls. Peru will no longer admit Venezuelans with only an identity card. Ecuador, on the other hand, has opened a ‘humanitarian corridor’ from its northern border with Colombia to Peru. Venezuelans entering Ecuador will no longer need a passport, and the Ecuadorian government has provided buses for some of the thousands of Venezuelans heading south to find opportunities in Peru, Chile, and beyond.
The Venezuelan government took measures last week to stabilize the economy and eventually lure some citizens back. There is a new currency, the “sovereign bolivar”, which removed five zeroes from banknotes. It is backed by a cryptocurrency, the Petro, which is tied to oil prices. It’s unlikely that the “sovereign bolivar” and Petro will rescue Venezuela from further economic ruin. Oil production is declining, and the government is unable to pay its debts, or obtain more financing.
Until the economy begins to rebound significantly and the country is stabilized, Caracas should not expect the waves of Venezuelans who have left to change direction and return home. At the rate things are going, it will be a very long time before that happens.