Curaçao weary as Venezuelan boat people begin to arrive


“The whole community can feel the effects of the problems in our neighbor country,” said the Governor of Curaçao, Mrs. Lucille George-Wout, as she opened the parliamentary year last year. “Our monitoring team has confirmed that almost all the arriving persons are exclusively small-time criminals, illegal job-seekers, and prostitutes.”

The statement wasn’t well-received by Venezuelans on the island. “We feel it necessary,” a resident group said, “to express our discontent, not only for the misguided and inappropriate assertion but also for the stage on which it took place… If the government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands wants to avoid the effects of Venezuela’s conflict, we respectfully suggest that it make a pronouncement about the causes of the conflict and not only about its victims.”

I moved to Curaçao in 2004. Already, back then, many Venezuelans couldn’t imagine the country could get any worse. Crime was rising and President Chávez was drastically toying with our constitution. Locals have always been aware of the co-dependent relationship between our two countries. “Si a Venezuela le da gripe,” one told me, “Curaçao se resfría”.

If Venezuela gets a cold, Curaçao comes down with the sniffles.

Today, Curaçao is a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. That means The Hague handles its foreign relations, but all internal matters —including immigration policy— are decided independently on the island.

For Curaçao, Venezuela has always been a close partner with close commercial ties. In Colonial times, when the Compañía Güipuzcoana tried to enforce a trade monopoly between Spain and the Captaincy General of Venezuela, the criollos merrily subverted it by smuggling their goods to Curaçao: Arturo Uslar Pietri wrote that elite Maracuchos were much more likely to meet elite Cumaneses in Willemstad than in Caracas. Today, many islanders describe going to Venezuela for a doctor’s appointment or to rumbear for the weekend. After all, the Venezuelan coast is just 65 km. away.

Mary Goiri is a co-founder of Venex Curaçao, a community group for Venezuelans who live on the island. In the 28 years since she moved to the island, she’s seen the relationship between the two countries radically transformed.

Curaçaoans simply can’t understand Venezuelan politics, she says. But then, who does, really? During the oil bonanza, islanders watched astonished as cash-flush raspacupos (currency-arbitrageur tourists) rampaged through island shops, buying anything not bolted down. Ten years later, the Venezuelans who come are astonished to find packages of Harina PAN on the shelves in every supermarket — at prices they can’t afford. (“Made in Colombia,” say the labels.)

Venezuelans, she tells me, lost their reputation for cheverismo. The people coming now aren’t so much emigrating as fleeing, desperately seeking a way out of the daily misery. Curaçaoans, not surprisingly, aren’t so happy with this new breed of newcomers. The island is suffused with anger, fear, and misunderstanding about the newcomers.  


So the island has begun to tighten its immigration policies toward Venezuelans. The last time I flew in, this past June, I witnessed how an immigration agent returned seven Venezuelans right back home, putting them back on the same plane they’d just landed in. On flights from Curaçao to Venezuela, airlines have to set aside ten seats for passengers denied entry.

Mrs. Ferrazzini, a Venezuelan immigration consultant in Curaçao told me Hato Airport is known for its strict admissions policies, because illegal immigration from across the region is a recurring issue. “With Venezuelans you never know: sometimes their credit cards don’t work, and often buying extra dollars in an emergency is impossible.”

Venezuelans arriving at the island, whether legally or illegally, have unrealistic expectations about how easy it’ll be to improve their standard of living, Ferrazzini explains.

The parallels with the Cubans who fled to Florida are obvious, and similarities do exist. In Falcón state, local fisherman charge anywhere from $200 to $400 per person for a trip to the island on a peñero — a small shipping vessel. Others fly in as tourists and stay looking for work without a permit.

Local authorities are most concerned with the increase in Venezuelan peñeros, because they bring not just people but also drugs. According to local media, those who arrive illegally work mostly in areas like cleaning and construction, or else as sex workers under often exploitative conditions. Many of these women arrive brought by human traffickers are told they’re  going to be hired as bartenders.

Mrs. Ferrazzini is careful to note that while the illegal immigration problem is very real, not all arriving Venezuelans are illegal. Many are professionals who wish to invest in Curaçao.

This past October, the Curaçao government joined a Task Force with Aruba and Bonaire to study the impact of Venezuelan refugees on the Dutch Antilles. So far, the investigation has not yielded a public statement. Curaçao government representatives didn’t  respond to my request for comment.

All indications are that Curaçao doesn’t  have the capacity to sustain a refugee crisis. However, as the situation in Europe has shown, lack of concrete information leads to misguided statements. So is Venezuelan migration really having such a negative impact on Curaçao, or are Venezuelans on the island the victims of prejudice?

A bit of both, I would think.

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  1. “…almost all the arriving persons are exclusively small-time criminals, illegal job-seekers, and prostitutes.” then the Venezuelans say that’s “misguided and inappropriate” but they don’t say it’s untrue.

    “…we respectfully suggest that it make a pronouncement about the causes of the conflict and not only about its victims.” Here’s a pronouncement about both the cause and the victim:
    Self destructive Venezuelans voted for Chavez, Maduro, and their policies every chance they got. Not one person in Vz today disagrees with the public policies of the last eighteen-plus years — only the results.

    • The only people that knew these kind of policies were crap before implemented was a small percentage, poor education has always been a problem, most od those people left, the rest are about to or struggling to stay, most did vote for those policies, they just never tought of the long term consequences because that’s never been a very Venezuelan thing to do, especially in political or economical matters, so to you even tough my family was against this and was antagonized by the regime to our current state of day to day basis on food we should be punished the same way or suffer because the others did? A few hardcore chavistas I’ve talked to use this argument “now you’re eating shit like we used to”, fact of the matter is they never ate shit, most didn’t work or try to do anything by themselves, now do those people kids have to suffer aswell? Because they were born in to a family that doesn’t know better or is just deeply ingrained with hatred to the other class? Like you do now?
      Look i hate a Chavista just as much as the other guy, but most of them don’t know shit or are too scared to know shit, and deflecting would be pretty much suicide in those circles, you’d lose your job, your way of life, whatever handouts the Gov gives, and in that situation when it’s your family most would stay, it takes resolve to take that step within the hardcore chavista crowd, imagine a sinner that if he were to repent or confess would go to hell still, but like a worse hell where the people whose side you supposedly turned to act like you do.

    • So all those people who voted against Chavez all those years, who marched against him, etc. What about them? Do you have any pity for them? Are they also to blame? Is MCM to blame also, as “not one person in Vz today disagrees with the public policies”?

  2. I think that even if the venezuelans seeking refuge in Curacao were legit in all respects , they would be turned back because Curacao doesnt want the hassle of dealing with refugees whatever their personal qualifications …, we think that countries with people who’ve enjoyed a welcome in Venezuela , business benefits of all kinds would return the favour …no such thing …its every man for himself out there…with very few exceptions!! Colombia is doing the same …other countries will follow…!!

    • Sadly, poor people emigrating en masse to a better of country with strong cultural differences causes conflict with the residents, who’d have known?

      • We didnt, for some 60 years when we welcomed hordes of refugees from war torn Europe, the caribbean, other latin american nations and gave them a home and a place where they could build their lives …….when Shell abandoned its Curacao refinery (which gave jobs to some 3000 people and was one of the mainstays of the island economy) we went in and rescued it from having to be shut down , it was offered to Pdvsa for free and the decision was taken to pay the Island authorities a hefty sum for its lease ……, we have been fools , now we know it !! Lets not forget this lesson ……!!

  3. Curaçao has a complicated relationship with Venezuela. I know that for a fact. Given the geographical closeness and the arbitrage opportunities, smuggling of goods will inevitably carry on.

    The funny thing is that, as the author points, Polar goods are always imported legally, beer made in USA and harina PAN from Colombia. The worst offender is Cerveza Zulia: you can find it in every Toko (Chinese bodega), and the vacios pile on and loiter around the island, since there is no place to return them. Here you can find Pirulines, Torontos, Cocosettes and a lot of stuff you don’t see in Venezuela in stock anymore.

  4. Curaçao has 155,000 people; Venezuela has 31M – 200 times as many. If 1% of the starving and desperate people of Venezuela fled to Curaçao, there would be twice as many refugees as locals. No society in history has ever refugees in such numbers.

    If Venezuelans fled en masse to Curaçao, it would be the equivalent of fifty or sixty shipwrecked people all trying to get into a lifeboat for eight.

    • They could go to Aruba and build palafitos in the ocean, right in front of the Hyatt. The waves there are pretty mild, and they could make a living fishing over by the sunken German ship. Such an offshore community would be a hell of a tourist attraction, they could even call it “Nueva Venecia”

    • Rich Rostrom has stated the crux of the matter. The numbers are overwhelming. Such a refugee crisis would economically sink Curaçao in the short term and culturally profoundly change Curaçao in the long term. I find it no surprise at all that they are looking at the potential hoards of Venezuelan refugees with trepidation.

      • And that would be a reasonable way of justifiying a policy or restricted inmigration , what may be distasteful is to justify it on the grounds that Venezuelan emigres are all criminals…!

  5. Most of these “weary Venezuelan boat-people” are probably criminals, prostitutes, or at least malandros, uneducated, unprofessional folks, who would do much more harm than good for Curacao. Curacao is a small island and has enough poor people to do the hands-on jobs, it’s not like the USA accepting Mexican mano-de-obra..

    Curacao needs to block them and send them back: it would be doing everyone a favor. It would ridicule and condemn the Chavistoide regime internationally, even more.

    Remember the Marielitos, waves of criminals that Castro unleashed in Miami? Maybe Iris Varela, Tarek, Cabello and Padrino like the idea..

  6. The unfortunate truth is that in the yeas since Chavez came to power, criminality in Curaçao has increased, and most of the more violent crimes and armed robberies are committed by Venezuelans.

      • All the information have their respective links, mostly comes from the Curacao Chronicles. Part of the problem is the government of curacao has not made public any statistics. Once they become available you bet I’ll be sharing them. Thank you for your question.

  7. So, the Latin American Syrian exodus that the “dialogue” so hard tried to avoid is happening anyways.

    Good. Every politician that looked the other way to get petro-dollars has his share of the blame of this mess. They deserve it.

  8. no creo que la informacion sea seria… he conocido a gente que ha ido a Curazao y no son ningunos ladrones ni prostitutas… esta es la matriz de opinion que siempre han tratado para frenar la migracion…
    dont like your information and even if it’s true i deny to accept that most of us are dangeorous… peligroso es un curazoleño rico lleno de plata con una .38… ademas si tranfican tambien estan los que le compran y esos son peores…


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