Continental migration policies have taken a rightward turn of late. The most recent example is Chile’s deportation of 72 Venezuelans and 28 Colombians as part of Plan Colchane.
Sarahi Guaiteros, who emigrated in 2018 from Carabobo state in search of a new horizon for her and her family, was one of those deported.
I'm not going to say that they [the Chilean military] acted with physical violence, but for me the mental violence applied was worse because we were deported by deceit. They had us in a shelter. We were tested for Covid-19 which came out negative. They were supposed to discharge us and give us an “offender’s card,” an infringer's license if you like, which indicates that you entered the country illegally but that you have gone through quarantine procedures.
We were kept in the dark about everything: they took our documents which we didn’t get back until we were in Venezuela. They practically forced us to sign an expulsion certificate at 1:15 a.m., explaining that we had 24 hours to appeal the decision. The legal system, however, is so slow that they knew it was impossible for us to appeal. It was a hoax at this point.
The expulsion order was cancelled for those who had Covid-19 and others who had had contact with them. In other words, those people will have had to stay at the shelter. For the rest of us, they fast-tracked because they needed to set up their media show. 100 people in total (72 Venezuelans and 28 Colombians) left the Iquique military base that day.
Migration restrictions are astonishingly increasing against Venezuelans, as well as Haitians, Bolivians, Dominicans, Colombians and Peruvians, who join the long migrant march towards Chile.
In January, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera signed presidential decree 265 which legalised the anti-migrant measures and empowered his Armed Forces to carry out the deportations. The plan is named after the Chilean town of Colchane on the border with Bolivia, which has been at the epicentre of a huge migration influx.
Chilean authorities claim that this northern settlement of 1700 people has been brought to the brink of collapse by the arrival of thousands of migrants. According to them, the situation justifies the drastic measures.
They allege that the mass arrival of migrants has caused shortages of basic goods, as well as clashes between foreigners and local officials. They also claim that the health system has collapsed due to an increase in Covid-19 cases.
The government’s measures include the use of drones, night sensor surveillance and unmanned flights to “ensure” a safer, orderly, and regulated border and to avoid a "regional emergency,” authorities argue.
What the government and the ruling class argue is that migrants are at the root of various social problems that the nation is facing: increased smuggling, drug trafficking and organised crime; the collapse of the healthcare system; food shortages; human trafficking; sexual exploitation and prostitution; unemployment; and a deficit in urban housing, among others. This is part of an anti-migration discourse with strong anti-poor elements. Recent statements come in stark contrast to comments made by President Piñera in 2018. Then, in an exclusive Deutsche Welle interview, Piñera claimed to want to continue to receive Venezuelans as part of Chile’s "humanitarian" policies.
However, the universal migration process, which goes beyond regional borders, occurs precisely because of the inability of global capital to meet the basic needs and fundamental human rights of thousands of people. These people, stripped of everything they possess, offer their labour force away from home and in a search for better conditions. Paradoxically, this phenomena has become a lucrative industry for global capitalism, in cahoots with legal, criminal, media, technological, managerial, entrepreneurial and financial backers who benefit from the exploitation of a desperate workforce.
Reviewing the case of South and Central America, we can see that border regulation policies and migratory control have been increased since 2016.
This is largely due to five major causes: (1) the obvious increase in migration flow (from 2002 to the present) due to the regional economic and political crisis; (2) drastic political changes in the region with the rise of the Right and the upsurge of intra-nation violence; (3) the weakening of integration mechanisms such as MERCOSUR [Common Southern Market], UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], ALBA-TCP [Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America – People’s Trade Agreement], and even CAN [Andean Community] or CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States]; (4) negotiation in the United Nations Global Compact for Migration; and (5) the Covid-19 pandemic.
Increased migration flow
The increase in intra-regional migration is noticeable since 2002, the year in which MERCOSUR’s Residence Agreement was signed. It was subscribed by four countries: Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, while Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela all joined later. This agreement sets a precedent for inclusive, humanitarian and respectful policies in the Americas, basically granting temporary residence visas for up to two years for nationals of the signatory countries, as well as the right to enter, exit, circulate and remain freely in the territory of the receiving country. Finally, it guarantees equal civil, social, cultural and economic rights and freedoms to those of nationals of the receiving country, in particular the right to work.
Approximately 70 percent of migration in South America is intra-regional. The growth of migration between 2010 and 2015 was 11 percent, going from 3,566,510 to 3,986,756 according to data offered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in report number 1 on migration trends in South America.
According to the IOM, some examples of the opening up of South America’s migration policies included Ecuador’s Human Mobility Act, which recognised the right to migrate, to asylum and to refuge. The act also safeguarded “universal citizenship, free mobility of all the inhabitants of the planet and the progressive end of foreign status as a transformative element of unequal relations between countries, especially North-South; as well as the implementation of the UNASUR residence that allowed the issuance of 2,941,677 temporary and permanent visas in the 2009-2018 period.”
Political changes in the region
Political changes in the region began to break down the regional integration efforts to construct a South American citizenship. The growing wave of Venezuelan migration since 2014-2015 activated a new emerging agenda of geopolitical action in these countries.
Emilio Useche, a Venezuelan researcher and specialist in migration issues, explains that:
If we track the decisions that regional governments made since the upsurge in Venezuelan migration, we realize that the decisions do not respond to a state policy per se. What they show instead is that the regional migration system has fallen short of addressing this crisis. That is why states, or rather presidents, make decisions on immigration policy through decrees. There are several examples, including Chile. On the one hand, [Chile’s] president announced that, in principle, Venezuelans would be met with open doors, but on the other, we see a significant number of Venezuelans who crossed the border without a visa being expelled. This is largely due to new visa requirements even to enter as a tourist. Something similar also happened with Ecuador, an example that draws our attention.
Useche goes on to say that:
In Ecuador, there was a shift from migration policies with a human and human rights base to restrictive policies, which are now evident in visa application processes. These restrictions also include the suspension of the UNASUR visa for Venezuelans, which was done by [outgoing Ecuadorian President] Lenin Moreno's government.
Nonetheless, Ecuador was the first state in the region to begin promoting the vision of migration based on “universal citizenship,” later considered by UNASUR as a unified migration policy proposal. Well, it's unfortunate, and not only because [this rollback] is applied against Venezuelans, but because in a world where there is a trend towards globalisation with the exchange of information, work and merchandise, people’s movements are being criminalised. That, in my view, responds to geopolitical positioning and political and media interests with regard to Venezuelan migration. We see the positioning of the Lima Group [grouping of regional rightist governments] on the one hand, the positioning of the Colombian State and the OAS [Organization of American States] on the other, and the denial of the migration phenomena by the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments, for example.
Elements that worsen migrants’ conditions
The weakening of integration mechanisms occurred progressively as new political actors emerged, and counter-hegemonic proposals in favour of equal cooperation between sister nations began to lose force.
The United Nations Global Migration Pact is a recent negotiation signed in Morocco in 2018. One of the 23 agreements specifies that member states have space and flexibility to implement policies based on their own migration skills and realities. Although the states that subscribe to it recognise migration as a right, the reality shows that the terms of the pact are used for profiteering, using economic resources based on a supposed "humanitarian crisis,” "healthcare system collapse" or "the exponential growth of the pandemic.”
The arrival of Covid-19 sparked global controversies of all kinds. This is particularly obvious in Chile, where a thousand foreigners are stationed on the northern border and have not been able to enter the country because of restrictions, including compliance with vaccination protocols. In addition, as part of its criminalising policy, Chilean medical authorities announced that they would not vaccinate "irregular aliens.” The announcement generated deep controversy and discrepancies with official positions, as well as strong opposition from civil society, forcing the measure to be revoked shortly after it was announced.
In conclusion, all the structures that capitalism boasts and which are operating throughout our continent, make it impossible to freely transit through the territories on an equal footing for all. This is especially so if people with foreign, irregular, or illegal statuses continue to be criminalised and do not enjoy the civil, social, cultural and economic rights and freedoms that local citizens have.
Solving this migration crisis must necessarily include reclaiming victories achieved in the past with the reactivation of cooperation agreements in Latin America and activating comprehensive attention centers for migrants involving all the organisations with competence in this area.
Rosiris Berroteran is a member of Tatuy TV community media outlet.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.