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Venezuela: a time bomb which blew up in our hands

Forty years have passed since one million Colombian nationals migrated to rich Venezuela during what was called the Fourth Republic (1958 to1998). This contrasts with the close to 700,000 Venezuelans which have poured into Colombia in the last three years, as reported by the Colombian Office of Immigration. Sub-registry is evident and the total amount of Venezuelans in Colombian is much greater. Even the Director of the Colombian Office of Immigration, Cristian Krüger, estimates that by July of 2018 the amount of regular Venezuelans will surpass one million [1].

It is also estimated that the one million Colombians that originally migrated to Venezuela represent family ties to four million Colombian-Venezuelan people which now have a right to Colombian citizenship. Their eventual return is a challenge for the Colombian authorities.

From order to disorder

Up to now, the migratory process of Venezuelans has preserved certain order due to four main factors:

  • A collective sense of reciprocity for those who provided a helping hand in times of need.
  • Macroeconomic conditions which despite being impacted by low oil international prices inserted Venezuelan nationals precariously into the slow-growing Colombian economy.
  • The relationship of the first waves of family networks or friends in Colombia.
  • A regularization policy for Venezuelans by issuing a Special Permanence Authorization (SPA) in Colombia which guarantees occupational and migratory regularity as well as a Border Mobility Card (BMC) for people in permanent transit between both countries.

At the beginning of February of this year, the Office of Immigration reported a flow of Venezuelans of approximately 37,000 a day. This growing volume of people and most in very precarious situations are provoking conflict with Colombian border populations, which now lack the economic income which previously provided an attractive economic dynamic for many businesses along the Colombian-Venezuelan border. Little by little the initial solidarity with the neighboring country is being lost as they now have to compete for the scarce resources and a depressed marketplace, which now they have to share with the Venezuelans.

Regularity or irregularity

Just this past February, the President Juan Manuel Santos announced new measures for the border city of Cucuta with the creation of a “Special Migratory Group” and the implementation of a series of restrictive measures such as terminate the issuance of the BMC and restrict entry of Venezuelans to only those who had previously acquired the BMC or holders of a passport to request the SPA [2].

Current passport issuance in Venezuela is collapsed and even if the situation is corrected soon, the price for getting an actual passport is unattainable for the majority of Venezuelans due to the internal economic crisis, with a hyperinflation which does not warrant survival for more than six days with minimum wage.

The decision to restrict entry of Venezuelans is a mistaken policy change, as requiring a passport for entry disorganizes an already unsecured border, full of jungles and mountain passes which is not a barrier in any form or manner, much like the former Berlin wall.

This unrregularized migration hampers any type of census of said population and hinders humanitarian assistance, sponsoring human trafficking as well as occupational exploitation amid transnational organized crime networks, increasing the vulnerability of migrants and obstructing the work of the authorities.

Refugees and humanitarian crisis

The rise of Hugo Chávez into power in 1998, and the Coup d’état of 2002 provoked the first wave of migration to Colombia which fell into the classic parameters of the 1951 Refugee Convention due to the persecution of the Chavez administration to determined social groups for expressing political views contrary to the regime.

Currently, despite of the arrival of opposers, as defined by the 1951 Convention as political refugees, the humanitarian crises is characterized by a massive migration of Venezuelans by reason of the generalized violence [3] and a generalized massive violation of human rights  [4] according to criteria of the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees of 1984.

Although the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not want to acknowledge the situation and a humanitarian crisis as a systematic violation of human rights, according to the parameters of the Cartagena Declaration, it is clear that this position marginalizes a massive refugee problem and hinders the international community from taking the necessary steps towards helping with the costs of a humanitarian crisis of global implications, as it comprises Colombia.

When the UN Refugee Agency High Commissioner was projecting, less than a year ago, almost a complete diminishing of displaced people and refugees, and planning for an eventual shut-down of the peace office in Colombia, the reemergence of Colombian violence and the Venezuelan crisis, are now making the plans change to strengthening the UN office and supporting other sources of international cooperation funding.

Also, the presence of armed organized crime groups on both sides of the border in an open relationship with narcotrafficking and illegal mining in the Catatumbo and Arauca regions can lead to the unpredictable character of these events over the Colombian peace process and the binational social conflict. Now adding this to Chavista armed collectives and paramilitary and guerrilla groups among a culture of illegality, and it all configures the perfect time bomb.

The road to a solution

Recently Francisco Palmieri, the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that the United States is willing to provide Colombia and Brazil technical and humanitarian support to tend to the needs of Venezuelan immigrants, evidencing the overwhelming crisis and the need for a joint solution.

In face of the hopelessness of the current or future Venezuelan government to comply with its responsibilities with respect to elemental rights such as access to food and medicines, there are three solutions for the international community act upon:

  • On the short-term to create a humanitarian channel, in less than three months to guarantee emergency humanitarian help to Venezuelans to help mitigate the hunger and drug issues under the leadership of the OAS or the United Nations system (UNDP, FAO, and OIS).  They should also take into consideration the logistical capability of the Venezuelan armed forces or others in the hemisphere in cooperation with local operators such as the Red Cross, Caritas, Fe y Alegría, and international operators such as Caritas Internationalis and the International Red Cross, among others.
  • On the mid-term, a humanitarian bridge will be necessary, at least for two years, to rebuild food security and return to a self-sustainable market economy warrantying support and aid to vulnerable groups without clear options for survival in the transitional process. This operation needs to be controlled and supervised as to avoid further damage, recognized during the fourth and fifth Venezuelan Republic of the past.
  • On the long-term, this will require harmonizing all Venezuelan political and social sectors (including the Chavismo) to converge into a structural rebuilding of the country, eliminating the current risk of Venezuela turning into a failed state.

The bomb has already exploded in our hands. The Venezuelan crisis is now a regional and continental crisis and the more time we take to face the problem, more unpredictable the consequences will be.

[1] As claimed by the Director of Immigration in a radio interview on Blu Radio on February 6 of 2018.

[2] See

[3] 26616 violent deaths as reported by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory in 2017,

[4] See “Informe de país Venezuela 2017“ and “Situación de los derechos humanos en Venezuela” of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at


Consejo Editorial