Venezuela denounces xenophobia as Brazil militarises border

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez criticises the media campaign against Venezuela.

Caracas authorities denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis of Venezuelan migration in the region on August 29, blasting the reaction from neighbouring Latin American governments as “hypocritical” and “xenophobic”.

Acknowledging the heavy rise of Venezuelan immigrants, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the issue was being manipulated to further the political objectives of regional right-wing governments to topple Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He also alleged international press outlets were reporting “fake news” on the issue to smear the Caracas administration.

“[Venezuelan migration] has been used in a barbaric, criminal, and xenophobic manner by xenophobic and racist governments,” he told an international press conference, making specific reference to the conservative Washington-aligned governments of Colombia and Peru.

United Nations figures suggest that 2.3 million Venezuelans (7.5% of the population) currently live outside the country, of which 1.6 million (5.2%) have left since 2015. Many mainstream media outlets, however, have used figures exceeding 5 or even 6 million.

Rodriguez urged the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which has previously clarified that Venezuelan migrants are not refugees, to make a public statement on the issue.

Data compiled by Colombian immigration authorities suggests that nearly 80% of Venezuelan immigrants do not plan to stay more than three months in their destination, but rather intend to return to Venezuela with accumulated savings.

Increasing numbers of Venezuelan migrants have tightened local labour markets, especially in low-skilled, short-term, and informal sectors such as taxi drivers, cleaners, nannies and street merchants. They have also stretched the capacities of local infrastructure, particularly transport networks and housing programs.

A recent spate of violent xenophobic attacks against Venezuelans — including a Brazilian mob which burned a group of migrants’ possessions on the Venezuelan border — has led Brazilian authorities to militarise the shared border.

Speaking on August 29, de facto Brazilian President Michel Temer did not rule out implementing immigration restrictions in line with those implemented by Ecuador and Peru, or even closing the border.

Brazilian authorities allegedly estimate that between 600 and 700 Venezuelans enter the country daily. However, according to official figures, between 70 and 80% of migrants do not stay in the country. They presumably enter for commercial, tourism or trade reasons before returning to Venezuela.

Speaking in Caracas, Rodriguez compared the immigration policies of the region’s right-wing governments and that of Venezuela, which has received more than 5.6 million Colombians fleeing the country’s 50-year civil war, as well as 400,000 Ecuadorians and 500,000 Peruvians in recent years.

Defending his country’s immigration policy, which has been commended in the past by UNHCR, Rodriguez highlighted that Venezuela has never declared a “humanitarian crisis” nor requested international assistance in dealing with the volume of newcomers, which far exceeds the numbers currently entering other Latin American countries.

Colombia and other US-aligned regional governments have received large international funding to reportedly assist in dealing with Venezuelan migrants, including a US $9 million instalment from Washington and 6 million euros from Brussels shortly before the May presidential elections. Venezuelan officials have questioned whether this funding is genuinely being used to treat its citizens in Colombia or to fund political activity against Caracas.

Rodriguez also claimed that mainstream news outlets are trying to demonise the Venezuelan government by misreporting the issue. There have been 721 stories written about Venezuelan immigration since March this year, he indicated, with 187 written in August alone. By contrast, zero articles have been written covering the more than 6 million immigrants which Venezuelan authorities attend to on a daily basis.

“We treat the Colombians [who have immigrated to Venezuela] with respect, without xenophobia,” Rodriguez said. “They were received as brothers and sisters.”

During the press conference, the communications minister offered official data on the number of non-Venezuelan citizens accessing the country’s various social programs, while claiming that Venezuela, “invests more than US$3 billion per year in water, electricity, gas, transport, petrol, education, health, and food subsidiaries for foreigners”.

In housing, he reported that “20% (438,110) of the homes given out by the Great Housing Mission have [gone] to Colombian families”.

He also said that 1 million Colombian families residing in Venezuela receive the highly subsidised CLAP food boxes distributed by government authorities.

Likewise, in health, he emphasised that 7% of all births in Venezuela are from Colombian parents, while 17% of all medical consultations in the public network are for Colombians.

Finally, in the border region of Apure, Tachira, Zulia, Merida, Amazonas and Barinas states, he said Colombians in Venezuela have received 39,507 medical consultations, 306 operations, 2,652 sight tests, and 6,606 dental tests, all free of charge.

“A [medical] consultation in Colombia costs around $30,” he noted.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]