Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Venezuelans are Coming, and Coming

Two young men from Venezuela sell arepas on Plaza San Victorino recently.
The two employees in a stir fry place here in La Candelaria came recently from Venezuela, where one was an attorney and the other had some small businesses. A street musician whom I knew more than a dozen years ago in Caracas just showed up in La Candelaria. The other night, I was accosted by two young Venezuelan women selling arepas venezolanas. Apparently desperate, one of them placed her hand fondly on my shoulder just a few minutes after we'd met.

A Venezuelan man and boy ask for money - supposedly for
other Venezuelans - near Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar.
Colombia, which for decades sent millions of its people overseas, is now being inundated by immigrants from oil-rich Venezuela - which until not long ago was the economic envy of the rest of the continent.

The reasons are obvious: Venezuela's incompetent, increasingly authoritarian government, has caused the economy to contract nearly 20% and inflation of almost 800%, numbers usually seen only in wartime.

The Caracas Chronicles website calculates that more than 70,000 Venezuelans have come to Colombia - but nobody knows for sure, since many undoubtedly cross the border illegaly.

Venezuelans are a godsend for this year's bumper coffee crop, which is short of pickers. And I suspect that they're also helping collect Colombia's record crop of coca leaves.

According to this graph from the Caracas Chronicles blog,
the number of Venezuelans fleeing their nation far exceeds the
number of refugees crossing the Meditarrean to Europe.
The wave of foreigners has inevitably generated tensions. The two young arepa sellers talked about minor confrontations on the bus, and said that street merchants insulted and harrassed them. Undoubtedly, low income Colombians feel threatened by the wave of cheap labor. Even Colombian prostitutes have complained that Venezuelans are invading their industry, offering services at cut-rated prices.

What will happen? Venezuelan Pres. Nicolas Maduro seems determined to continue his disastrous economic policies, and shows no sign of sharing power with the oppisition. So, Venezuela will likely continue its economic tailspin, and possibly end up in some sort of civil war.

Expect the Venezuelans to keep coming.

Many thousands of Venezuelans pack Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar
during a recent vote arranged by that country's
opposition parties.
Update: A young Venezuelan woman waiting tables in a restaurant around the corner described to me a series of crimes in her country, including one when assailants threatened to shoot her dog unless she handed over valuables. She has two college degrees and back in Caracas worked in media production. Economically, she was getting by, but the crime epidemic terrified her. Via Whatsapp, she just learned that some 20 people in her community had been kidnapped in recent weeks. Those are 'express kidnappings,' in which the victim is taken to some poor neighborhood and held there until relatives deliver the ransom in euros, dollars or gold.

"The kidnappers won't accept bolivars," the fast-devaluing local currency, she added.

"The social decomposition has been terrible and really fast," she says, adding that "everybody's just out for money."
According to one poll published by the Caracas Chronicles
website, the great majority of Venezuelans
want to leave their country.

Yet, she actually seems to sympathise with the criminals. "When your salary is only enough to buy some bread and milk, how can you blame them," for being so desperate? she asks.

She's also sure that the government committed fraud to win majorities in most states in recent regional voting. After all, "who would vote for a government that's keeping you hungry?"

In fact, the Caracas Chronicles blog has published documents they say demonstrate pro-government fraud in the vote.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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