A 7.3-magnitude earthquake shook the northern coast of Venezuela on Tuesday night, the earthquake knocked items off supermarket shelves and caused tremors as far away as Bogota, the sister nation, Colombian capital. Fortunately, there were no reported of any casualties in the aftermath.
The country is still feeling plenty of other shocks. A popular satirical website tweeted that the earthquake was the result of a tectonic plate trying to flee Venezuela – a dark joke gesturing to the thousands of Venezuelans seeking to escape the country every day. Some of them fleeing thru the border with Ecuador which as seen as many as 5,000 per day come to their shores.
According to U.N. figures, some 2.3 million Venezuelans. This is about 7 percent of the total population – have fled their homeland over the past two years. Other estimates place the number, even higher, at closer to 4 million.
The exodus is said to be the consequence of severe economic deprivation and mounting desperation among Venezuelans.
“The country’s economy has shrunk by half in just five years, and inflation is nearing a staggering 1 million percent. Shortages of food and medicine have led to a public health crisis, with once-vanquished diseases such as diphtheria and measles returning and the rate of infant mortality skyrocketing. U.N. officials claim that some 1.3 million Venezuelans who left the country were “suffering from malnourishment.””
The existing exodus and crisis has drawn bleak parallels to Siria’s exodus. “Comparisons with Syria’s refugee crisis – the worst man-made disaster since the second world war, with almost 6 million refugees out of a prewar population of 20 million – may be inexact,” noted an editorial in the Financial Times. “In terms scales and raw numbers, however, they no longer seem entirely far-fetched.”
The stream of refugees is straining Venezuela’s neighbors such as Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Brazil. “Over the weekend, violence broke out in the northern Brazilian town of Pacaraima between Venezuelan migrants and local mobs, who burned down a number of squalid migrant encampments. But neither the anger of locals, who resent the burden posed by refugees in an already-impoverished part of the country, nor a beefed-up military presence on the border has kept hundreds more Venezuelans from crossing into Brazil every day this week.”
While the bulk of the refugees have crossed into Colombia, many are moving on from there to other countries, including Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Peruvian officials say 20,000 Venezuelans arrived there last week alone. On Sunday, authorities in Ecuador closed border crossings with Colombia to Venezuelans who don’t have passports – documents many poor Venezuelans do not have and which have become increasingly difficult to obtain. Ecuador, later on relaxed the measure, and allowed all Venezuelans to cross into their country as long as they kept going to Peru, and other destinations. They were even being accompanied by the police along their long and hard journey on the highways.
Some reporters have expressed the pain Venezuelans feel in the following quote:
“Imagine people like us who have sold everything, down to our beds, to come here, and they close the door on us,” said Jonnayker Lien, 18, standing alongside his relatives. “We don’t know where to sleep, and we don’t have money to go back.”
On Wednesday, Ecuadorian officials called for an emergency regional summit so Venezuela and its neighbors can collectively reckon with the crisis. “The capacity of the region is overwhelmed,” said Yukiko Iriyama, a representative in Colombia for the U.N. refugee agency. “The magnitude of the situation really requires a regional cooperation and a comprehensive approach.
In Venezuela, blame has always shifted towards Nicolás Maduro, whose regime, through widespread graft and incompetence, has transformed what was once one of the region’s richest nations into a humanitarian calamity. Venezuela was one of the richest oil nations in the world.
Nevertheless, “In spite of heated protests and challenges to his rule, Maduro remains firmly in power. And while countries in the region are trying to mitigate the crisis, “none of them have taken the initiative to provide a sustainable solution to the problem,” wrote Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institute. “ “It is up to the United Nations, together with the Organization of American States, to step up and recognize this problem as a refugee crisis so that the world can turn the proper attention to it and provide solutions.”
“The Trump administration, meanwhile, has loudly condemned the Maduro regime and slapped sanctions on some of its leading officials. But at a time when White House officials are seeking to suspend refugee flows to the United States, they are hardly taking the lead on dealing with a hemispheric refugee crisis.”
“In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Venezuelan commentator (and vehement Maduro critic) Francisco Toro rejected this line of argument, pointing to the near-ubiquitous adoption of socialist policies across Latin America by various governments at various times in history. Nothing in these instances suggested the tragedy in Venezuela was a fait accompli.”
“All Venezuela demonstrates is that if you leave implementation to the very worst, most anti-intellectual, callous, authoritarian and criminal people in society, socialism can have genuinely horrendous consequences. But couldn’t the same be said of every ideology?”