Venezuelans are fleeing their home country in large numbers due to the economic failure of socialism as well as the increasing authoritarianism of the Venezuelan government. The economic collapse there, inflation reached tens of thousands of percent this year, and the escalating brutality of the Maduro dictatorship are creating a crisis unlike any faced in South America in decades – if ever. This blog post will provide some information on the scale of the Venezuelan exodus and some suggestions for what other countries can do to mitigate problems caused by the flow of refugees and asylum seekers.
The roots of the current collapse of Venezuela run deep. Hugo Chavez became the president of Venezuela in 1999 and immediately set about concentrating economic power in the government and political power in himself personally. He instituted tight government controls on capital, exchange rates, and started a more irresponsible monetary policy that created chaotic financial market conditions that further justified his nationalizations of business and confiscations of private property. Revenues from the Venezuelan oil industry helped keep the government and economy afloat while the private economy suffered under increasingly harsh and punitive restrictions. Chavez died in 2013 and was succeeded by Nicolas Maduro who continued Chavez’s economic policies and accelerated the concentration of political power in himself. The collapse of oil prices beginning in 2014 exposed the economic damage wrought by Chavez and Maduro as inflation took off, GDP shrank, and Maduro’s regime responded with increasingly brutal police crackdowns that are continuing to today. Most watchers of Venezuela conclude that the current death spiral began in 2015, the year after the decline in oil prices.
The Scale of the Exodus
The number of people who have left Venezuela is staggering. Estimates usually range from 1.6 million to 4 million Venezuelans have left their home country. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that about 2 million Venezuelans are living outside of Venezuela as of June 2018, a number that has increased by more than a million since 2015 but is still likely an underestimate. For instance, the number of Venezuelans living in Columbia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, and Uruguay in June 2018 was over 1.85 million, up by a little less than one million since 2017.