The Venezuelan Paradox. How do we Help them ?

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By Jorge Galindo, El Paí

As of August 30, 2018, there were 935,593 Venezuelans in Colombian territory.

“When I read the figure in the Migration Colombia report I took the liberty of doing a little experiment: I asked a handful of good Colombian friends, all well informed, all far from radical anti-immigration positions, how many Venezuelans thought there was in the country.

The figures they gave me varied from 1.5 to 5 million. It is not impossible that the official value is underestimating the real, but while it also contemplates irregular arrivals, it seems unlikely that this is the case.

As a general rule, nationals of most countries tend to overestimate the number of foreigners on their borders. Even more so when it is a hot topic, which occupies media coverage and conversations in homes alike.

But here, in addition, concur two factors that make the overestimation even more likely. Both have to do with their relatively limited experience with large migratory inflows.

Colombia has been for years, decades, with a negative migratory balance. This is a country of emigrants, rather than immigrants. All the logistics, political and institutional infrastructure of the country is logically designed in accordance with this fact.

The Venezuelan exodus is something unprecedented: unlike other States of similar or superior size in the region (Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela itself before the current crisis), for Colombia, being a destination is something new.

As it was for Spain in the last decade, in fact, when it happened to receive more people than it sent abroad for the first time in a long time. In this case, in addition, the immediacy of the movement and the urgency of those who undertake it, with whole-day walks across the Andean border, stress the existing structures much more.

The borders must be adapted, Migration Colombia must be adapted, and the safety nets provided by the State must also do the same. It is not even a question of investing more, but of prioritizing the current effort to offer a safe footbridge to those who are fleeing from a country in an unsustainable situation.

No doubt there is already work in this sense, but much remains to be done. As long as there are no adequate reception mechanisms, it will always seem that there are more Venezuelans in Colombian territory than those that actually arrive.

This same initial tension is transferred to the social dimension. We have a large number of studies in sociology and social psychology that show that, in a homogeneous environment, any change of this kind of small magnitude is amplified by the contrast with the past.

Despite the fact that, according to studies by economists and criminologists, migration normally has positive effects for the aggregate of a country’s economy, it rarely negatively affects the native’s wages (although when it does, it usually penalizes those who have incomes lower), and there is no solid evidence that it increases the crime levels of the receiving country.

But none of that is enough to completely erase the threat image in the minds of the hosts. Even less, when it comes to a novel phenomenon, compared to a past more from the beginning than from the beginning, and mixed with a (real) perception of scarcity in large segments of the native population.

The challenge is, therefore, of the first magnitude. For the Colombian population as much as for its institutions. But, fortunately, they are not alone when it comes to facing it. Because the same conversations, the same tensions and figures if not equal, if significant, are observed in Peru, Brazil, Chile and other countries in the region.

The paradox of Latin America is that, despite sharing a history, a language and perhaps a tighter culture among nations than what Europeans share, the level of integration achieved in decision-making in the face of common challenges is much lower.

It’s not for lack of attempts, no doubt. Nor for lack of external incentives: for this region, as for any other, the problems are increasingly global and require coordinated solutions. Institutional dysfunctions have played their part, no doubt, but perhaps the greatest dividing line between Latin American countries is the ideological one.

While its European counterparts have since the end of World War II (and since the fall of the Berlin Wall since) converged in an ideological space that identifies with pluralist democracy and that has only been questioned in recent years, Latin American governments have maintained deep differences that are probably linked to structural conditions (particularly with inequality in income, wealth, territory and access to services) still unresolved (I). “

It is a very difficult situation nobody thought would affect the South American community. Chavez and his cohorts Maduro and other narco-rulers have actually turned Venezuela into a complete disaster. Would we help our friends and brothers? One day it may be our turn to ask for help if Correa ever returns to these shores. God Helps us.



Jorge Galindo.