Venezuela faces a full-scale collapse

In the last three years, Venezuela has withered. Under its stubborn and increasingly undemocratic President Nicolás Maduro, the nation has collected political, economic and social problems which have dragged thousands of Venezuelans into hunger and unemployment. The current minimum wage stands at around 1,800 bolivars (USD 30). With inflation rates of up to 1,000,000 percent in 2018 and an 18 percent drop in GDP, according to forecasts of the International Monetary Fund, much of the population has been driven to seek opportunities in neighboring countries.

Since 2015, almost 2 million people have left Venezuela, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It is the biggest migratory wave recorded in recent Latin American history and an average of 5,000 people cross the border each day. Of Latin American countries, Colombia has taken in the most Venezuelans (935,000), followed by Peru (413,000), Chile (178,000), Panama (146,000), Ecuador (116,000), Argentina (82,000), Mexico (65,000), and Brazil (56,000).

Partly because of the language barrier, Brazil is not among the countries which have taken in large numbers of Venezuelan immigrants. However, the government’s immigration policies during the crisis have been praised by international institutions. “The fact that Brazil has kept its border open, allowing for the registration [of immigrants] via refuge or residence, is the first step toward humanitarian support,” said Luiz Fernando Godinho, UNHCR spokesperson in Brazil.

Matias Spektor, international relations professor at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo, agrees. “The response Brazil has employed has been very sophisticated: the government has given an emergency reply, mobilizing the Armed Forces, who are doing an important job in the region, above all in the provision of vaccines. The Brazilian government has made great efforts to preserve the lives and integrity of the refugees,” he said.

“Brazil’s response has even been praised by left-wing NGOs. It is one of the few matters on which the Michel Temer government has managed to create a consensus,” he added.

Crisis and hyperinflation in Venezuela cause a shortage of food

Crisis and hyperinflation in Venezuela cause a shortage of food

How refugees are treated

The UNHCR is active in 13 shelters in Roraima, the Brazilian state where most Venezuelan migrants arrive. Two of these shelters are in Pacaraima – one for immigrants awaiting documentation at the border, and another solely for indigenous refugees – the remaining 11 are in the state capital of Boa Vista. The structures are managed by the federal government and the armed forces, with the assistance of NGOs such as Fraternidade Sem Fronteiras (Fraternity Without Borders), which runs the Hélio Campos and Rondon II shelters

The total capacity of the 13 structures is 4,305 people, but today they house 4,850 Venezuelans. Of the 13 shelters, nine are working over capacity. While the official organs are in charge of initiatives of social, sanitary and educational support, the UNHCR works in support of the Brazilian government to manage shelters and interiorization, as well as assisting immigrants with documentation.

“We give them explanations, we teach them visa rules, how to fill in the paperwork and send them to the authorities. This is so that, when the immigrants are seen by the Federal Police, the process can flow quicker. They decide whether they intend to request residence or refuge. We just show them how to fill in the paperwork and what each one means,” Mr. Godinho explained.

Once registration and documentation are complete, the process of interiorization begins, i.e., the distribution of Venezuelans to other states, besides Roraima. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this is Brazil’s main bottleneck and requires adjustments on behalf of the Brazilian government. “Brazil’s practices have been worthy of praise, but the processes of integration and registration need to be speeded up,” said Maria Laura Canineu, HRW director in Brazil. “Policies of accepting refugees goes beyond opening borders, it comprises educational integration, Portuguese classes, anti-xenophobia campaigns, and so on,” she highlighted.

“Interiorization” processes

According to data from October 3, 2018, submitted by the office of the President’s Chief of Staff, 2,452 Venezuelans went through the process of interiorization. The first stage took place in April and transferred 265 immigrants – 199 to São Paulo and 66 to Cuiabá.


How could Brazil do more to help solve the crisis in Venezuela?


To try and independently speed up interiorization, Fraternidade Sem Fronteiras created a “sponsoring” app which connected Brazilians with Venezuelan immigrants. By way of the platform, users can donate funds to the Venezuelans, offer them employment or even give them places to live in other states of Brazil. Humanitarian support, however, is not the definitive solution to the crisis in Venezuela. “The humanitarian response deals with the consequences of the crime. Like other crises around the world, the humanitarian response is a stopgap response. The solution comes by way of political decisions,” said Mr. Godinho, of UNHCR.

Regarding this issue, Brazil opted to denounce the end of democracy in Venezuela at multilateral forums, such as the Organization of American States and Mercosur, where Brazil worked hard to suspend Venezuela.

“But Brazil has a more moderate position in relation to other countries about directly denouncing Maduro,” said Spektor. “Brazil did not join countries which requested a stronger stance to denounce Maduro for crimes against humanity. There was an initiative to this end which was taken to the Hague Court by the president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. Five countries signed the petition, Brazil did not.”

Brazil’s cautious stance

According to the expert, Brazil’s cautious stance has two explanations: there is no support block within the Temer government to demand tougher measures, and there is a fear that Maduro may react more violently to the Venezuelan population. “If there is an Interpol request for Maduro’s arrest, Brazil believes this will toughen the action. And, for the Brazilian government, the only way out of the crisis is to preserve lives,” said the FGV professor.

“Only a strong Brazilian government will be able to give a strong response with regard to Venezuela. I believe that there will only be the determination to do this in the next government. Until then, the country’s cautious stance appears to be the best option,” he stressed.

However, Brazil’s position may change depending on who is elected president this month. “If Jair Bolsonaro is elected, there will be more criticism toward the Maduro regime. If Fernando Haddad wins, it will be a very different stance, geared towards trying to establish dialogue and reconciliation,” concluded the specialist.

The Venezuela crisis had some knock-on effects in this year’s Brazilian general elections, especially in the aforementioned state of Roraima. Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised tougher measures in the region and a fierce opposition to Venezuela, polled at over 60 percent of votes in the state.

On a more local scale, a member of Mr. Bolsonaro’s far-right Social Liberal Party qualified for the runoff for Roraima state governor. Incumbent Suely Campos finished with little more than 10 percent of votes. Senator Romero Jucá, who had held a seat in the state for 24 years, was also kicked out by the electorate, in a clear call for change.

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PowerOct 10, 2018

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BY Beatriz Farrugia

Beatriz Farrugia has ten years of experience working for international news agencies. She is currently an editor at ANSA and holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations from Fundação Getulio Vargas