Venezuela Denounces Regional Anti-Migrant ‘Xenophobia’ as Brazil Militarises Border

The Maduro administration contrasted the recent attacks against Venezuelan migrants to its own open door policy which has seen foreigners benefit from free health, housing, education, and food programs.

By Paul Dobson
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Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez denounces the media campaign against Venezuela
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez denounces the media campaign against Venezuela. (AFP)

Merida, August 30, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Caracas authorities denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis of Venezuelan migration in the region Wednesday, blasting the reaction from neighboring Latin American governments as “hypocritical” and “xenophobic.”

Whilst not disputing the heavy rise of Venezuelan immigrants, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez claimed that the issue was being manipulated to further the political objectives of regional right-wing governments to topple Maduro. He also alleged that international press outlets have reported “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.

Quoted UN figures suggest that 2.3 million Venezuelans (7.5 percent of the population) currently live outside the country, of which 1.6 million (5.2 percent) have left since 2015.

Many mainstream media outlets, however, have used figures exceeding five or even six million,

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

Data compiled by Colombian immigration authorities suggests that nearly 80 percent 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.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly urged those who have left the country to reconsider and return to Venezuela and contribute to what he promises will be an “economic recovery.”

“Stop cleaning toilets abroad and come back to live in your homeland,” he urged this week.

Increasing numbers of Venezuelan migrants have tightened local labor 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 last week ─ have led Brazilian authorities to militarise the shared border this week.

Speaking on Wednesday, de facto Brazilian President Michel Temer authorized the military presence, which is due to last until September 12, to reportedly “offer security to the Brazilian citizens and the Venezuelan immigrants.”

He did also 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 percent of migrants do not stay in the country and presumably enter to for commercial, tourism, or trade reasons before returning to Venezuela.

Foreigners in Venezuela receive free social coverage

Speaking in Caracas, Rodriguez drew a comparison between 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 fifty-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 ACNUR, 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 attempting to demonise the Venezuelan government by allegedly misreporting the issue. 721 stories have been 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 six million immigrants which Venezuelan authorities attend to on a daily basis, he added.

“We treat the Colombians [who have immigrated to Venezuela] with respect, without xenophobia,” Rodriguez asserted. “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, whilst 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 percent (438,110) of the homes given out by the Great Housing Mission have [gone] to Colombian families.”

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

Likewise, in health, he emphasised that seven percent of all births in Venezuela are from Colombian parents, totaling 582,000 children born of Colombian parents in the country since 1999, whilst 17 percent 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 stated that 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 US $30,” he observed.