Something monumental, and not in a good way, is going on in Venezuela. You might need to get out a map of South America for this one. Suffice it to say that we have never had a refugee crisis of this magnitude in the Americas before.
Just imagine for a minute that you are living in Venezuela right now, a country where the International Monetary Fund Is estimating a 1,000,000% inflation rate by December. Is that even possible to imagine? A loaf of bread that today might cost 50 cents, if you’re lucky enough to find bread, will by the end of this year cost $5,000.
Cash has disappeared, doctors have fled, medicines are scant, children are dying, poverty and malnutrition are skyrocketing, crime is spiraling, electricity is intermittent (just last week residents of some neighborhoods in Caracas went 36 to 40 hours without power) and the ability of citizens to obtain a Venezuelan passport – the most essential document increasingly required to enter a neighboring country – has evaporated. By the end of the year, how on earth will you come up with $5,000 to buy a loaf of bread?
You can’t. And you won’t.
And now just for another minute, imagine that you also have aging parents who need medicines that are more and more difficult to find. You decide to cross the border with the meager pay that you have scraped together working two or three makeshift jobs, driving a taxi, working a lunch shift at a restaurant where basic ingredients are hard to come by, or standing in endless lines just to be able to buy something as basic as rice as proxy for someone who is somehow better off than you, someone who can pay you something minimal, and we are talking about cents not dollars – money most likely wired home from family abroad.
You cross the border to Cúcuta in Colombia only to find that your money has no value. Zero.
30 pills of the generic version of a common hypertension drug, Losartan, are available in Colombia for $15,500 Colombian Pesos, approximately $5 US, or for about a $1 if you have the most basic Colombian health care coverage. Arriving in Colombia last month and attempting to buy this drug for your Venezuelan parents and paying with the Colombian exchange rate for your hard-earned Venezuelan Bolivars, you would have found that 30 Losartan pills would cost you the equivalent of 15,500,000 Bolivars, or 1,085 times the average monthly salary in Venezuela, an untenable amount of money that you just don’t have.
The situation is unconscionable.
Unable to buy 30 pills of Losartan, only one among various other medications that you were hoping to purchase in Colombia, you give up. You head home to Venezuela to the expectant hopes and needs of your mother and father with not one pill to offer.
You are beginning to think that President Maduro, the former bus driver leader-in-chief now in charge of your country, might just be in charge of the genocide of his own people. And after a pause to let that sink in, you might just begin to believe that you are right.
Wikipedia defines genocide as the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group.
Venezuelans as a national group fall within this definition, and Venezuelans are being systematically decimated by the policies of Maduro and his cohorts. There is a deliberate and systematic destruction of the Venezuelan people afoot at the behest of Maduro. And remember that Venezuela is a country just over 1,600 miles south of Key West, well within the historic umbrella of US interest and responsibility.
Venezuela is our neighbor just as Canada is.
In this unfathomable fall from grace for Venezuela, a fall from what was once the richest country in Latin America and a country still sitting on the largest petroleum reserves on the planet to 1,000,000% inflation by December, what makes sense? Damn little.
Despite US sanctions on Maduro’s honchos, and despite reports that Trump was gung-ho to invade Venezuela last August, the United States continues to import oil from Venezuela and thus still provides the money that keeps Maduro’s regime afloat.
Even now when the UN is estimating that more than 2.5 million Venezuelans will decide to, have to or need to leave their country by the end of this year. Colombia is already home to well more than 1 million fleeing Venezuelans. Right now, on pretty much every Bogotá articulated bus of its extensive Transmilenio system of transport, you are going to hear Venezuelans singing, begging, soliciting and asking for humanitarian help. Every day. On every bus.
Up to now, just this year, Ecuador has admitted more than 500,000 Venezuelans. And the situation just got more complex, with both Peru and Ecuador now admitting only those Venezuelans entering their countries holding the Holy Grail, a Venezuelan passport. A passport is a luxury item in Venezuela. Because of corruption and a so-called paper shortage within SAIME, the Venezuelan entity in charge of issuing passports, your passport may cost you, through pay-offs of up to $2,000 – money that you absolutely don’t have – and may take up to 2 or 3 years to process, and ultimately may never arrive. This is money and years to survive that you as a Venezuelan don’t have at your disposal.
And just as a matter of interest, how many Venezuelan refugees has the US admitted this year? Zero.
No passport. No money. No medicine. No food. No pretty much nada. Imagining yourself as a Venezuela citizen right now, how are you feeling about yourself, your prospects and your future? Pretty much screwed, I think.
As a Venezuelan, you are perfectly within your rights to think of doing whatever you can to leave this corrupt, disgraced, inhumane dictatorship that you live under. But what about your incapacitated parents? What’s to happen to them? Can you leave them and just go? Of course not.
What to do? Keep that map out. Many Venezuelans are now walking the length of Colombia and Ecuador to reach Peru, where they feel their prospects might be better. The journey can take months on foot. Venezuelans are camped out in parks and football fields in towns and cities along the way causing increasing xenophobic tensions in all of the countries affected by the Venezuelan exodus. Just last week, in Pacaraima, a Brazilian border town, makeshift Venezuelan encampments were attacked and destroyed. Venezuelans were chased back across the border. Days later, the numbers of Venezuelans arriving had increased three-fold.
Hunger will make you do terrible things. Hunger will make you take your chances – even where you are not wanted. But with aging dependents in Venezuela, you can’t even attempt the arduous journey to Peru, and then possibly on to Chile, where you might be able to sell Chiclets on street corners to send money home to your family. Chiclet money is real money in Venezuela.