Once the richest country in Latin America, economic and social collapse drive Venezuelans from their homes into neighboring countries in a mass exodus unprecedented in the history of the region. In the midst of the worst economic crisis in Venezuela’s history, inflation soars to a rate of over 400 percent, and political unrest spills over into violence on the streets. Starving families are driven from their homes seeking basic medical care and food, resources that have grown increasingly scarce in recent months. The conditions for the average Venezuelan are untenable and expected to worsen throughout 2018. In a recent poll taken by Caracas Chronicles, 61.2% of Venezuelans were living in extreme poverty, and a shocking 90% of those surveyed stated they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their families. The situation is absolutely dire. The government imposed price controls on items such as flour, sugar, milk and meat, resulting in severe shortages of basic necessities. People stand in line at grocery stores all day long, and are often turned away empty handed. Armed guards stand watch alongside the lines for grocery stores, which now stretch for miles. Parents alternate eating dinner in order to feed their children. The government, however, denies this far reaching humanitarian crisis, and punishment for speaking out against the increasingly oppressive regime is severe.
In addition to soaring inflation, the government, led by President Nicolas Maduro, has grown progressively authoritarian and become wildly unpopular. These factors have created a climate of deep political and social unrest and the streets have become rife with crime. Venezuela has recently become the murder capital of the world. For the people of this economically crippled and chaotic nation, the prospect for any upward mobility is dim. More than 15,000 Venezuelans have sought refuge in the United States, 20,000 in Aruba, 30,000 in Brazil, 40,000 in Trinidad and Tobago, and over 600,000 have fled to Colombia. This mass exodus of an estimated 1.2 million people in the past 2 years has sparked a humanitarian crisis comparable with that of the Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh and Syrians seeking asylum in Germany.
This mass migration poses a risk to neighboring countries, especially those recovering from their own tenuous pasts, threatening to destabilize the entire South American region. Brazil’s health care system is already feeling the strain of the tens of thousands of migrants in dire need of medication Venezuelan hospitals could not provide. Small towns on the Brazilian border are struggling to keep up with the humanitarian crisis landing on their doorstep. The sheer amount of migrants flooding over the border has also created tension and division between Venezuelans and the citizens of neighboring nations. The rate of violence in Venezuela has skyrocketed and protests are a regular occurance. As bordering countries take in those fleeing, some fear the refugees will bring with them the upheaval and discourse of Venezuela. Colombia’s porous border has allowed hundreds of thousands in, but in recent days has heightened security and border patrol in an effort to slow the migrant influx of an estimated 35,000 a day. In decades past, when Venezuela enjoyed vast wealth while Colombia was embroiled in internal battles, Venezuela opened its borders to Colombians fleeing violence and instability. But, Colombia has only recently reached stability and economic growth, and the fragile education, health care and social systems are being overwhelmed by refugees. The crisis in Venezuela has permeated bordering regions, and authorities scramble to find a balance between granting asylum, allowing migrants a fighting chance, and protecting the interests of their own people and country. In this tumultuous time, despite government attempts at silencing dissent, Venezuelans face the difficult decision to fight or flee from the unlivable conditions at home. As many try to rebuild their lives in Colombia and Brazil, those who remain feel increasingly hopeless in this directionless nation.