The Brazilian Option

Human Rights Watch reports on the increasingly desperate Venezuelans fleeing to Brazil's Roraima State.

Think of a Venezuelan who’s migrated to escape the crisis, and you’ll probably think of the by-now stereotyped image of shoes on the Cruz Diez mosaic in Maiquetía — the classic escape route for Venezuela’s beleaguered professional class. But that’s an image that’s increasingly outdated. Venezuelans who had to resources to migrate on the back of a plan did so in 2009, or 20013 or 2015 even. But it’s 2017: people aren’t migrating anymore, they’re fleeing.

That’s the main takeaway from the report Human Rights Watch is publishing today about the desperate Venezuelans making their way to far northern Brazil. Driven by desperation and drawn by Brazil’s open door policy, they’ve been pouring through the border — first a trickle, now more and more a flood.

Venezuelans in Roraima state often live in legal limbo. It can take months, even a year for an asylum application to be processed. In the meantime, you’re in a legal netherworld: neither eligible for deportation, nor authorized to work. Venezuelans end up living on the streets of Boa Vista, working as street-hawkers or doing odd jobs while their paperwork gets straightened out.

I asked HRW’s Tamara Taraciuk, who conducted the research, where these people came from. “It’s not just Guayana,” she said, “it’s really all over the country: I talked to people from Caracas, from Carabobo State, even from Mérida. The Colombian border is complicated, as you know.”

Some of the 65 people Taraciuk interviewed walked the 200 Km. from the border to Boa Vista, Roraima’s State capital. Many were living on the streets. Even then, all said they were better off in Brazil than they had been in Venezuela.