The Migrant Crisis in Venezuela and How It Relates to Democratic Erosion by Karla Aparicio @ University of California Los Angeles
It is no secret that Venezuela’s economic and political worlds have been at a breaking point for some time. Economic downfalls and crises lead to uncertainty within its citizens in the 1980’s. According to a party system collapse research by Jason Seawright in Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding, this ultimately lead to a loss in party identification amongst the people and a party system collapse that followed shortly after. These instances are what let leaders such as Hugo Chavez rise to power in Venezuela.
The dictatorship of Chavez and successor Nicolas Maduro followed suit. Now Venezuela, a country that was one of the richest in South America is littered with corruption and economic distress. According to Pippa Norris in the article “Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risks” written for the Journal of Democracy Web Exchange, behaviorally and culturally, the country has seen a definite reduction in democracy as military groups have been involved in their politics and moved the country towards an autocracy. Not only that, but imprisonments and banishments of political opponents and activities happen daily and a constant refusal to hold fair and free elections plague its electoral process.
These happenings come together to show more evidence that democracy is slowly losing its grounds inch by inch in Venezuela.
The economic outlook and political situation of Venezuela has lead to one of the largest migrations in Latin American history in the past couple of years. Families have been subject to leaving everything and selling what they can to be able to make it across the borders into Colombia or Peru. According to the Forbes article “The Biggest Migrant Crisis In The Americas Is Taking Place In Venezuela”, more than 500,000 people have fled Venezuela in this year alone. Many who have been left behind in the country live in fear of the intelligence agents who work for the government and live amongst civilians. The worst fear being of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service or SEBIN, due to their torture tactics and punishments to suspected government opposers. Overall this has created an extreme untrustworthy environment where people no longer know who to trust in regards to what the government is doing.
The government of Venezuela also tries to cover up the very obvious economic crisis that it is going through. Many production numbers of oil have been found to be fake due to workers anonymous confessions that the numbers do not reflect the reality of what is in their fields. Medicine as well was found to be in false quantities after several doctors and medical professionals sought help anonymously.
The desperation for food and resources has opened the door for the Venezuelan government to make alliances with neighboring guerilla groups in Colombia in return for recruited troops. The ELN, or the National Liberation Army of Colombia has been seen sending crates of food across the border filled with their own propaganda and Venezuelan socialist propaganda in order to recruit new people. This not only adds to the population of guerilla groups against the governments in Latin America and especially Venezuela, but it also increases the tension in neighboring countries such as Colombia between the peace seeking government and their own leftover military coups.
This migrant crisis would seem like it should have had a reasonable reaction from the neighboring government as it has reacted to other migrant crisis in the Middle East, however it has not produced such a reaction. As the Forbes article explains, usually these migrant stories are used in order to gain political traction in supporting their agendas in regard to human rights or humanitarian efforts. They can also serve to highlight opposing parties’ ideals and their lack of success.
However, in Venezuela the politics behind the migrant issue isn’t as eye catching or interesting as the crisis in Syria. It is just as black and white as saying that the government does not care for its citizens and are more interested in attaining personal wealth for their senior officials. Thus, talking about the migrant crisis in Venezuela would not strengthen the political lives of the governments in neighboring countries. This leads to no one talking about it as they should be doing.
However, that being said, the majority of Latin American countries have put it on themselves to try to protect the democracy of the continent. In the Organisation of American States meeting, the countries which included most American countries except Cuba, tried to fight for fair and free elections in Venezuela and have agreed to not accept any illegitimate results. According to the former secretary general of the OAS as mentioned in The Economist article “How Venezuela tests Latin America’s commitment to democracy”, this has been said to be the number one priority that Latin American countries need to fight for in order to keep the democracy alive in the Americas and especially in Venezuela.
Ostracism was also mentioned to be another tactic to increase pressure onto Venezuela. While the non-interventionist attitude of the OAS and American countries may seem discouraging to those seeking help, there is still hope that, as the Economist article says, a “coalition of the willing to take whatever political action is necessary to return Venezuela to democracy and stave off a humanitarian disaster.”
The ongoing migrant crisis in Latin America may add pressure to neighboring countries to take a stand for democracy. As more and more migrants come into the countries, the resources there will start to thin out and increase the pressure to get things straightened out in Venezuela. While it is way overdue that Venezuela receives these repercussions, perhaps the crisis will lead to a better coalition to be made in the hopes to stop human suffering and the loss of liberty in Venezuela.
“How Venezuela Tests Latin America’s Commitment to Democracy.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 1 Mar. 2018, www.economist.com/news/americas/21737555-regional-solidarity-should-not-trump-defence-pluralism-how-venezuela-tests-latin-americas.
Norris, Pippa. “Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risks.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2017, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2933655.
Rapoza, Kenneth. “The Biggest Migrant Crisis In The Americas Is Taking Place In Venezuela.”Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 23 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2018/02/16/the-biggest-migrant-crisis-in-the-americas-is-taking-place-in-venezuela/.
Seawright, J. (2012). Party-System Collapse: The Roots Of Crisis In Peru And Venezuela. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
*Photo by Efecto Echo, “Protester facing the Venezuelan National Guard during a protest in May 2017”, Creative Commons Zero license.