Brazilians burn belongings of migrants from Venezuelan

The atmosphere is tense in Pacaraima, the small town of roughly 12,000 inhabitants which sits on Brazil’s border with Venezuela, in the northernmost state of Roraima. Tremors from an earthquake which hit the northern coast of Venezuela were felt on Tuesday afternoon, rattling buildings and causing people to take to the streets. It was a fitting end to what has been a turbulent week in the region, which has been the stage of one of the most serious xenophobic incidents in recent Brazilian history.

Since 2015, according to United Nations data, 2.3 million Venezuelans have left their home country, fleeing economic collapse. Approximately 1,500 have settled in Pacaraima, a tiny city which already suffers from elevated rates of poverty and inadequate public services. Disputes between the local population and Venezuelan refugees have been simmering in recent months, but things boiled over last week, as a group of Brazilians tried to chase Venezuelan families out of town, burning their belongings and destroying settlements.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Roughly 700 Venezuelans were victims of the violent protest, and distressing footage of the incident shows tents being torched, as well as a large refugee settlement being bulldozed. Many refugees had their personal documents destroyed, including identification cards and university diplomas. The highway which connects Pacaraima to the state capital Boa Vista was shut for five hours, thanks to a barricade made of flaming tires. One video shows protesters singing the Brazilian national anthem as refugees flee across the border to Venezuela.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The attack came after a local merchant was robbed and beaten by a group of four Venezuelan men on Friday evening. Raimundo Nonato de Oliveira, 55 years old, was taken to hospital with traumatic brain injury and was discharged on Sunday.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is a worrying development for a city which has always been inextricably linked with its neighbors to the north. Pacaraima receives its <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2017/11/29/venezuela-crisis-roraima-power-brazil/">electricity from Venezuela</a>, while the closest gas station lies across the border. Traditionally, locals would visit the town of Santa Elena, on the Venezuelan side of the border, to purchase cheap household goods. Now this trend has reversed and a large part of Pacaraima&#8217;s commerce is accounted for by Venezuelans buying food to take back to their home country.</span></p> <h2>Electioneering</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Also curious, given that this is the <a href="https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-45245475">most notable</a> xenophobic attack in Brazil’s recent history, is the relative quiet surrounding the incident from the government and presidential candidates. The confrontations took place on Saturday morning and were reported on by major Brazilian news outlets soon after. However, it took the federal government until Sunday evening to release any kind of statement.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Presidential candidates Jair Bolsonaro, Marina Silva, and Guilherme Boulos used social media on Sunday to speak up about the attacks. Meanwhile, Ciro Gomes, Geraldo Alckmin, and Alvaro Dias took until Monday to speak publicly about the incident. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The federal government’s response has been to send a total of 120 additional National Public Security Force officers to reinforce the border. Locals claim that security forces refused to intervene during Saturday’s attacks.</span></p> <h2>How the election affects the Venezuela refugee crisis</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These confrontations have come to a head in an election year, which many believe not to be coincidental. Governor of Roraima, Suely Campos, of the center-right Progressive Party, is <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/05/17/brazil-state-races-2018-election/">up for re-election in October</a> and has been at the forefront of much of the news surrounding the refugee crisis.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Ms. Campos, as it turns out, is an adversary of Senator Romero Jucá, who is an extremely influential politician in Roraima and a close ally of President Michel Temer. The analysis of the federal government is that Ms. Campos has incited the population to harass the Venezuelan refugees.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">At the beginning of August, Ms. Campos signed a decree to tighten requirements for the use of Roraima’s public services, restricting access to Brazilian citizens and only refugees with passports. The measure was suspended two days later, being deemed unconstitutional. The Governor has also defended the temporary closure of the Brazil-Venezuela border, which was in fact briefly put into practice on August 5, before also being suspended.</span></p> <div id="attachment_7818" style="width: 1034px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-7818" class="size-large wp-image-7818" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/resf-1024x683.jpg" alt="venezuela crisis migrants problems" width="1024" height="683" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/resf-1024x683.jpg 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/resf-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/resf-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/resf-610x407.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><p id="caption-attachment-7818" class="wp-caption-text">Venezuela born man holds sign asking for a job</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The issue of a potential border closure is a delicate one, as despite being illegal, it is a very popular idea among residents of Roraima, who feel the situation is getting out of control. “The Venezuelan refugees who are arriving are desperately poor, so we are seeing people on the streets, holding cardboard signs, begging for work,” says journalist Eliane Rocha, who is <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2018/02/19/venezuelan-women-ochenta-brazil/">based in Boa Vista</a>. &#8220;Roraima has never seen this kind of thing, it’s scaring the local population.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Ms. Rocha told </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that the people of Roraima see a border closure as the only solution to the crisis, a desperation which has been caused by an absence of the state. “There have been discussions about moving refugees to other parts of Brazil, but this process has been extremely slow,” she says.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Roraima is among Brazil&#8217;s poorest states, and its workforce is mainly made up of public servants. The state has very little industry to speak of and the level of public services in Roraima is low, making it extremely difficult to absorb the influx of migrants from the north. For its population of approximately 500,000 people, spread over 220,000 square kilometers, Roraima has only one major public hospital and one maternity ward, both located in the state capital of Boa Vista.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;This crisis is getting even more severe and the people of Roraima feel that the federal government isn’t paying attention,” says Ms. Rocha. “If this continues, in five years’ time Roraima will become a destitute state.&#8221;

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SocietyAug 22, 2018

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.