Venezuelans showing their IDs line up to cross the Simon Bolivar international bridge into Cucuta, Colombia, Saturday, June 8, 2019. Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro ordered the partial re-opening of the border that has been closed since February when he stationed containers on the bridge to block an opposition plan to deliver humanitarian aid into the country. (AP Photo/Ferley Ospina)

Venezuela’s decline poses challenges for Liberal minority government

Months after the Canadian push for Nicolas Maduro’s departure in Venezuela, nothing has changed

The ripples from Venezuela’s collapse are shifting Canada’s Western Hemisphere neighbourhood, creating major long-term costs for the new Liberal minority government.

South America’s borders remain the same, but the outflow of more than 4.5 million Venezuelan refugees in other countries is predicted to grow to more than six million by the end of 2020, according to new estimates from the United Nations refugee agency. That’s nearly one in five Venezuelans.

That is putting more stress on Venezuela’s neighbours, which are absorbing most of the refugees at a time of rising political uncertainty on the continent.

That includes mass protests that have rocked Chile, causing it to cancel two major international summits, a contested election in Bolivia that has sent longtime president Evo Morales into exile in Mexico, the return of a left-leaning government in Argentina and the ascent of a Trump-style populist in Brazil.

Earlier this year, Canada played a leading role in the Lima Group of the hemisphere’s countries — minus the United States — that called on the Venezuelan military to back the ouster of the government of Nicolas Maduro. They and about four dozen other countries view Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president.

Canada has stepped more cautiously in dealing with the political crisis in Bolivia, with a recent statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland “noting” Morales’s resignation and welcoming a call for new elections. She stopped short of support for self-proclaimed interim president Jeanine Anez, a religious conservative who has sat in the Bolivian Senate.

Months after the Canadian push for Maduro’s departure in Venezuela, nothing has changed, and Venezuelans are voting with their feet by continuing to flee the country as the economy, health and education systems collapse, a situation widely blamed on Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption.

“It creates a big vacuum in Venezuela. If this situation is prolonged it will be even more difficult to think about the reset of Venezuela,” said Renata Dubini, the Americas director for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“It will for sure change the profile of Latin America, this movement of people. We are speaking about six million people. It will have an impact no doubt on the future of Venezuela proper and in the receiving countries.”

Venezuela was once an oil-rich state, before a rapid economic decline started in 2014, one year after Maduro succeeded long-time socialist Hugo Chavez. Hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine eventually fuelled the exodus of a skilled, educated population.

Despite the intervention by Canada, its Lima Group allies and other countries, that decline now looks irreversible.

“It’s the largest human migration in the history of this hemisphere since the arrival of Europeans,” said Ben Rowswell, Canada’s last ambassador to Venezuela until diplomatic relations were broken off leading to his expulsion in 2017.

During his first two years in Venezuela, starting in 2014, Rowswell said he noticed the influence and presence of another diaspora community — the Colombians, many of whom had decamped their country during a decades-long civil war that ended in 2016.

“For 50 years it was Colombia that was the unstable country with extraordinary levels of violence and organized-crime activity. And Colombians were voting with their feet as well and they established themselves in all kinds of Latin American countries,” said Rowswell.

“The Venezuelans of 2019 are starting to occupy the role that Colombians have played for so many years. I suspect that Venezuelan communities are going to become relatively permanent fixtures of so many other Latin American countries over the generations to come.”

Dubini said there is growing anecdotal evidence that those now fleeing Venezuela have little expectation of ever returning home.

ALSO READ: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meets Trudeau to discuss throne speech

A recent survey by Peru’s foreign ministry of new arrivals found that 90 per cent said they didn’t want to go back to Venezuela, she said. The 861,000 Venezuelans now in Peru are expected to increase to 978,000 by the end of next year, making the country the second-largest recipient of its refugees after Colombia, which is expected to see its 1.4 million refugees balloon to almost 2.4 million by the end of 2020.

Fleeing Venezuelans are “a very qualified population” from a range of educated professions such as doctors, nurses and engineers, Dubini said, but the host countries will need structural support to cope with the influx.

She said Canada has asked that the World Bank grant Colombia, Peru and Ecuador new and stable financial assistance. That usually means decades-long loans that would come with no-payment grace periods of several years.

This would provide long-term support beyond the Band-Aid of humanitarian assistance, which in Canada’s case has amounted to $2.2 million for Venezuela.

It would help Colombia and Peru cope with paying for education and health care for their new Venezuelan residents, she said.

“These countries seem to be willing to integrate Venezuelans, but they cannot do it alone,” said Dubini.

Meanwhile, the hollowing-out of Venezuela is posing a separate set of challenges.

“When you have four-and-a-half million people leaving a country, you get a brain drain, you get a deterioration in basic services because medical staff, teaching staff, businesspeople leave. It contributes to the degradation of that society,” said Dr. Hugo Slim, the Geneva-based head of policy and human diplomacy at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

His organization, in tandem with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, is trying to bolster Venezuela’s fading health-care system by training doctors and providing equipment.

“We’re trying to train doctors and military doctors and civilian doctors in health-care work because medical systems are degrading fast as people leave,” said Slim. “We are putting the whole weight of the movement into trying to maintain the health system.”

Rowswell said that it is not too big a stretch to begin thinking about Venezuela as a new version of Haiti, which has traditionally been the poorest, most aid-dependent country in the Americas.

“I’m painting a rather bleak notion of Venezuela being the new Haiti,” he said. “Over the years and years to come, decades to come, there’s going to be a requirement for a very significant economic and humanitarian support. That’s going to be the challenge for the Canadian government going forward.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Celebrate all-things Christmas in Trail, Saturday

Open house in the afternoon, Santa Parade in Trail downtown at 5 p.m.

Doukhobor place names form unique subset on Kootenay map

Place Names: Doukhobor place names of West Kootenay/Boundary

Last minute push for Christmas raffle tickets

Tickets are on sale in the Trail hospital lobby weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

British Comedy coming to Trail

Award-winning duo of James and Jamesy present their holiday comedy, “O Christmas Tea.”

2019 Pledge Day for Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital

The 12-hour annual telethon was held at Waneta Mall on Friday, Dec. 6

VIDEO: More air-passenger rights go into effect this weekend

The first set of passenger rights arrived in mid-July in Canada

Swoop airlines adds three destinations in 2020 – Victoria, Kamloops, San Diego

Low-fair subsidiary of WestJet Airlines brings new destinations in April 2020

Aid a priority for idled Vancouver Island loggers, John Horgan says

Steelworkers, Western Forest Products returning to mediation

Navigating ‘fever phobia’: B.C. doctor gives tips on when a sick kid should get to the ER

Any temperature above 38 C is considered a fever, but not all cases warrant a trip to the hospital

Transportation Safety Board finishes work at B.C. plane crash site, investigation continues

Transport Canada provides information bulletin, family of victim releases statement

Trudeau sets 2025 deadline to remove B.C. fish farms

Foes heartened by plan to transition aquaculture found in Fisheries minister mandate letter

Wagon wheels can now be any size! B.C. community scraps 52 obsolete bylaws

They include an old bylaw regulating public morals

Indigenous mother wins $20,000 racial discrimination case against Vancouver police

Vancouver Police Board ordered to pay $20,000 and create Indigenous-sensitivity training

Sentencing for B.C. father who murdered two young daughters starts Monday

The bodies of Aubrey, 4, and Chloe, 6, were found in Oak Bay father’s apartment Dec. 25, 2017

Most Read