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

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Community mental health workers are in high demand, and a new program at Selkirk College will provide opportunities in this field. File Photo
Selkirk College to train community mental health workers

Twelve students will complete two courses enabling them to work in health and human services

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital surgical unit

Despite 6 South being a surgical unit, RIH said surgeries are continuing at the hospital

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Volunteer firefighters from Grand Forks Fire/Rescue head towards the scene of fatal car crash near Gibbs Creek Road, below Highway 3, Thursday evening, Jan. 21. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Motorist dies in Highway 3 crash west of Grand Forks

City first responders were called to the scene Thursday evening, Jan. 21

Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram could be playing for Colorado when the NHL resumes play. (Rik Fedyck/file)
Cranbrook product Bowen Byram makes NHL debut with Avalanche

Highly touted prospect marks first pro game following World Junior tournament in Alberta

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Most Read