Record numbers have left Venezuela, as its economic and political crisis deepens. Last month, 26,000 crossed the border with Colombia in just one day. Many Venezuelans are also heading to Brazil.
CGTN’s Stephen Gibbs reports on what may be the beginning of a migration crisis.
Just on the Brazilian side was the small town of Pacaraima. It was overflowing with Venezuelans, escaping the crisis back home. Some were selling black market gasoline, bought for almost nothing in Venezuela; sold for hard cash here.
We came across several Venezuelans who were once professionals in their home country and were now doing whatever they could to make a living. Venezuelan salesman, Pastor Ruben, was making more money buying socks in Caracas, and then traveling 1400 kilometers over land to sell them in Brazil, than he possibly could in his former job in a Venezuelan metal factory.
“The economy here in Brazil is stronger. And money-wise it is better – it means I can live better,” Ruben said.
Shops here take bolivars, Venezuela’s currency. But it is now so worthless they need two machines to count it, and boxes to store it.
Salvador Mera, another Venezuelan has moved here. “Thank God, we managed to set up here. We managed to bring all our children, and we are all here. My kids are in school. My wife is working. I also work. We have a much better standard of living than we had in Venezuela,” Mera said. He helps clients that want to buy in bulk whatever is in short supply in Venezuela. His Venezuelan employees all earn – in two hours – what they would earn in 15 days in Venezuela.
While all the Venezuelans we spoke to said they were being made welcome by Brazil, this level of migration is causing some friction. Social services in this town of 5,000 are being stretched to the limit, by a temporary immigrant population of an additional 75,000. And crime is up.
“This was a town that had a low crime rate – we used to have only one murder every five or six years. In the last eight months we have had six or seven homicides. So our real concern is security,” Pacaraima Mayor Juliano Torquato said.
Statistics like that are being seized upon by the Brazilian right-wing.
Brazilian congressman and presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, said his country needs to review its immigration policies. “You cannot have a country with open borders. We cannot agree with that because I went to Roraima and saw the immigration of Venezuelans. It is a state that is suffering a lot from mass disorganized migrations,” he said.
In Boa Vista, Brazil, 150 kilometers from the border – there is a center for migrants. The majority there are native Venezuelans. They were once among the most enthusiastic supporters of Venezuela’s socialist government. No more.
We came across Dion Ibarra at the migrant center, another Venezuelan in Brazil. He holds a master’s degree in education, but was earning more washing car windows and sending what he earns back home. “We are here representing our country Venezuela. We are not here to rob, not here to do anything bad. We are here to make a little money to help our families,” Ibarra said.
Venezuela’s crisis is no longer confined within its borders. Its neighbors are beginning to notice it. And this could be just the beginning.