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)

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New street signs in Duncan in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional native names on signs

North Cowichan to add three more off-leash dog areas in the new year. (File photo)
North Cowichan adds three new off-leash areas

Trial program runs through 2021, but not the summer months

Principal Marie-Claude Carrier has overseen the opening of the Cowichan Valley’s first francophone school. (Citizen file)
Registration now open for Duncan Francophone school

École francophone de Duncan opened last fall with six students

Reggie went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park on Jan. 3 and owner Brittny Bukva is hoping for his safe return. (Submitted)
Have you seen Reggie? Dog went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park

Have you seen Reggie? Dog went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park

Workers prepare to take down 28 large trees on private property on Mill Bay Road this week after they were intentionally poisoned almost two years ago. (Submitted photo)
Still no charges over poisoning of trees in Mill Bay

It’s been almost two years since incident involving 28 large trees

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

The RCMP are reminding drivers to find alternative ways home if they have consumed anything that impairs their ability to drive. (Black Press file photo)
Impaired Island driver flees road check twice on the same night

The officer issued the driver numerous violation tickets, and a four-month driving suspension

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Inspection of bridge crossing on a B.C. forest service road. (B.C. Forest Practices Board)
B.C. falling behind in maintenance of forest service roads

Auditor finds nearly half of bridges overdue for repair

(Black Press Media files)
Woman steals bottles of wine after brandishing stun baton in New Westminster

Police say the female suspect was wearing a beige trench coat with fur lining

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

The objectives of the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. Photo supplied.
Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society offers support for families in the community

New non-profit seeking directors in cities across Vancouver Island

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Most Read