Photo: AFP / ModoGráfico

With more than 3 million people displaced, Venezuela is above Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia and South Sudan in terms of the highest levels of displacement worldwide. Only Syria is above Venezuela. According to UNHCR data, there are 68.5 million displaced people registered worldwide. With 3.2 million according to the latest official data on Venezuelan displacement, Venezuelans represent 5.1% of the total of displaced people in the world. Although the most recent wave is getting everyone’s attention because it has affected the entire region, there were previous migratory waves of Venezuelans. Three, actually.

First Wave: 2000-2005

A man walks with his luggage at the Maiquetia international airport. A survey by pollster Datanalisis revealed that 25% of the population surveyed (end of May 2014) has at least one family member or friend who has emigrated from the country. Photo: Leo Ramírez, AFP. 

The first wave was in the early 2000s. Venezuela’s economic standing and political uncertainty with the then-recent election of President Chávez were indeed factors of expulsion. This wave was characterized by Venezuelans with favorable economic conditions and high education levels, and with the possibility of processing their residence in other countries as a result of personal patrimony or family ties. It included a small number of industrialists and politicians who felt threatened by Hugo Chávez’s 21st century socialism, and decided to make decisions based on what they’d seen until then.

At the moment, there weren’t imminent risks to their basic rights, but rather threats to their investments and family assets. Also, as a consequence of the paro petrolero in 2002, the Bolivarian government had massive layoffs from the oil production company PDVSA, run by the State. Venezuela’s oil industry decline was multifaceted, but the loss of talent due to migration has been hard to overcome. Venezuela lost more than 20 thousand PDVSA employees, but oil producing countries were smart enough to grab Venezuela’s top talent.

During this first migration wave, Venezuelans’ main destinations included Colombia, given its geographical and cultural proximity, as well as the United States. Countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal, were also receiving countries. Previous immigration from these countries to Venezuela created binational families, with the possibility of accessing European Union passports for these first generation Venezuelans who were ready to migrate.

Second Wave: 2015

Maiquetía_GoodbyeMost Venezuelans don’t know when they’ll see their loved ones again, due to economic difficulties. Photo: Fabiola Ferrero, El Estímulo. 

Chavez’s death in 2013 had much to do with this second migration wave, especially because of what came after the transition, how the elections were handled, and the public outrage as a result. This wave included middle class and professionals, with certain economic means to settle in a new country. Economic decline, corruption, monetary madness, repression and clear signs of ineffective public policymaking were the triggers of this second wave.

Another clear reason that made parents send their children out of the country were the 2014 Venezuelan protests, a series of anti-government protests in key Venezuelan cities to question policy decisions that had caused criminal violence, inflation, and chronic shortages of basic goods. By the way, although it’s counterintuitive to migration processes, the climax was Maduro’s decision to close the border with Colombia. Indeed, this first wave also included many Colombians who decided to return to their country as a result of the closing of the border by Maduro in August 2015.

This group of Venezuelan migrants, and Colombian returnees, had similar characteristics to those of the first wave, although it also included middle class professionals and students.

Third Wave: 2017-2018

Venezuelans now leave the country on foot, running away from a less tha inefficient public health system, hunger, violence and persecution. Photo: AP

The most recent exodus responds to a very particular and complex situation in Venezuela: the persistence of political, social, economic and humanitarian crises. This wave of displaced Venezuelans mainly comprises vulnerable populations, including women travelling alone or with minors, unaccompanied minors, seniors, indigenous populations, a struggling middle class, and the poor. The predominant trend now is for Venezuelans with the least favorable material and health conditions to be travelling to other countries of the region mainly by foot and by bus; the phenomenon of los Caminantes Venezolanos is now becoming all the more common.

This migratory wave has been the most intense so far, affecting and challenging the entire region. Some estimate that 2 million have fled this year alone. Materially, this is a population that lost many of its tangible and financial assets in recent years, and lacks the necessary resources to facilitate its settlement in countries of reception. Many of those who leave Venezuela have faced malnourishment and hunger, and some may have infectious diseases previously eradicated in Venezuela (and in the region, for that matter) because of the current conditions of the health system in Venezuela. Others may have chronic diseases improperly attended, or treatable diseases that became chronic because of lack of proper medical attention.

Because of the difficulties in obtaining the right documents to leave the country, such as passports and other forms of identification (Venezuelan IDs or cédulas de identidad, and birth certificates), or to renew them; or because of the lack of more flexible legal frameworks to facilitate their arrival, a large proportion of Venezuelans faces the condition of irregularity in the country of transit or reception.  This precarious legal situation re-victimizes them. It contributes to their abuse and exploitation by organized crime or by employers during their transit and in their final places of destination once they settle in a community.

The flows have diversified to new countries, mainly to Colombia, and countries of South America. But this migration wave offers, however, an important opportunity for receiving countries. While Venezuelans have forcibly left the country because of alterations of the public order, and vulnerability in the exercise of their social and economic rights, many of those Venezuelans come with education and professional experience. The key is to take advantage of that talent. If Venezuela isn’t taking advantage of it now, someone has to! Three waves of migrants represent a loss to Venezuela, but a great gain for those who are smart and solidary enough to take them in.

** Points of view are personal. They do not represent the position of the OAS.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Harvard’s very recent study puts the number of VZ emigrants at 5.5 million.

    Not only would I never trust U.N. numbers, considering that we’ve been hearing that 3 million figure for way over a year, 5.5 million makes a lot more sense.

    Now, considering how Quico has been deleting my posts left and right for no reason at all, let’s see how long this one survives.

  2. There has been one constant wave of “migrants”: thousands of chavistoide crooks with their pockets full, buying apartments in Europe. And they fly first class, no worries.

  3. In 2007 we were organising protests several times in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, etc.
    Now there are several million Venezuelans more abroad and we are not doing it?
    We need to wake up and start creating hell for Chavismo in every free country on Earth

    • @Kepler: Because of most of Venezuelan are still leftists, and want Chavez times back, you know cupos, raspadera de tarjetas, almost free trips outside Venezuela, and so on. To protest what? Who is going to replace the 50% of Venezuelan socialism?

      By the way, about those protests in Europe, could you post the news links if ever those ”protests” were covered?

      • Not only in Europe but in Gringolandia and other countries.
        Please, try to use Google firstly.
        https://www.google.com/search?q=protestan+venezolanos+embajadas+2007&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-ab
        Change the keywords with a little bit of sense and you will find a lot of other protests in many other places.

        It is very tiring that 95% of people commenting in this blog now are just gringoes – including Venezuelans who got the US citizenship – belonging to the far right, people who think anyone disagreeing with them is a communist, people who probably would consider the British magazine The Economist a communist panflet.
        Sorry, I have no time for them.

        • @Kepler: WE became US citizens because your country, your beloved Venezuela government of Chavez and acolytes negated passports to our sons in 1990. So we duly renounced our citizenship and became what we are now in our adoption land of Texas. We had been out already for years, and never took advantage of any cupos or raspadera. You are not that innocent, I see. Remember the movie Pulp Fiction first scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2WK_eWihdU
          I don’t think so; this is not a movie for socialists or much less for Chavistas.

          “Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.” -Jules Winnfield

  4. There have been waves before that. Plenty of people left between 1989 and 1995.

    El Caracazo, 2 coup attempts and the banking crisis, alongside declining oil prices.

    • A lot of Americans – and other nationalities – left after 1976 nationalization. Oil people. Not that they were important … you know, just “esqualido” managers who played golf at clubs they built like the Caracas Country Club, organized activities like parties, hired catering services, and did maintenance scheduling for their mansions and oil refineries and stuff like that. Then their friends, people from peripheral support industries that bought TV time and deposited their money in banks left, then people from industries who saw their sales decline left, and of course that continues through to today, more “esqualidos” like the maid service people from Clorox, a few dental assistants from Colgate, people chewing up shelf space from Kellogg. Not important since they weren’t Venezuelan. Just a historical footnote, really.

      • @Gringo: Are you a US Citizen? sorry for the question. You’re 100% right. So you well know that Clorox had to run away. Kelloggs closed. RR Donnelley also run away and so many others have to write down their entire properties in the billions of dollars and these properties were subtlety stolen from these Companies by some here there.

        And many here ask what happened? LOL

        SAD I meant.

        • Pepe – Born not necessarily raised here (in the U.S.). The people that post here are an interesting international community. There’s something to people who have lived in “foreign lands” – actually lived there freelance, as it were, not attachees, not tourists, but being able to swear a blue streak in at least two languages, who have kissed at least two nationalities of women, understand two cultures, watch dubbed movies and laugh at the translations, have immunities to minor diseases on two continents, know two different smells of sweat – sort of like being at home on a boat or on land, being at home in either place, and still being sniffed out as “different” in both – a kind of “countrylessness” or “supra-countryness” that Houston, TX natives and Maracucho natives who’ve never left their countries just don’t know.

          I gather you’re native Venezuelan, U.S. citizen, living in Spain? I don’t pay much attention to those things, just that if true, you’re one step internationalized ahead of me, lol. Too bad we don’t have anyone here from Singapore or Hong Kong – I’m sure they’d have some interesting things to say! Way back a couple of years ago (2015 elections) on CC, someone posted from Africa.

          • Hi Gringo, I loved the piece about kissing different nationality women. Too right; you made my day.

            I do speak five languages, but I can negotiate in four only. I’m in my brain about 25% each of the following: French, Brazilian, and USA – the remaining is 25% multigeneration blood from Venezuela.

    • I left in 1995 and a lot of people I know left around the same time. Most of us were fresh out of high school and our families knew that Venezuela was doomed, it was just a matter of time. Like you mentioned: two failed coups, a banking crisis, rising crime, and a clueless political class, what kind of future would we have in a country like this? Venezuela was already a bad deal for my generation back then, and luckily we had the means to leave and never come back.

      • @Capa: I know, most of my ex-friends children, relatives, arch enemies in 1998, etc. But the dollars you lived with were not decent. The money had been changed at Bs 10/USD using cupos raspadara, etc. etc. and many more ways of extracting precious resources from Venezuela. You are not of the decent kind. Sorry.
        “Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.” -Jules Winnfield

        • What are you talking about? Raspadera and cupos arrived much later. Not everybody in Venezuela is an enchufado or malandro Pepe.

          What about you, what’s your story Pepe? You sound like a typical corrupto de la cuarta that had to leave because of Lusinchi.

          • @Capa: now that I know where you are at, you were almost right. But not under Lusicnchi, he was Herrera Campins. A good decent person from Acarigua that my father used to befriend.

            No, I didn’t leave actually; one of the greatest multinationals of the USA; they extracted me and my girl-friend (so it’s kind of because corruption but not because I was corrupt). Never Ever I took a Venezuelan USD except for $500 in 1980 to cover incidental expenses while I relocated to Paris France.

            The connards like you are burning Paris because of the hardcore socialism.

            I forgot to say, that I had another strong personal reason that I won’t disclose here.

            I have been telling all. The orgasms of corruption happened in 1998 and after. But Control de Cambio made many people rich, precisely during Lusicnhi. And after that. Capa, you are on the wrong side of life.

  5. “But this migration wave offers, however, an important opportunity for receiving countries.”

    You are being a bit disingenuous here. As backup you reference a study of migrants that have settled in Chile (emphasis on “settled”), and no doubt represent the more talented first and second waves.

    I could do a study of VZ migrants in the Boston area and point out that they are some of the most talented people on Earth (heck, the president of MIT, Rafael Reif, is a VZ migrant!). I doubt those Venezuelans pouring into Colombia are of that calibre.

    Doesn’t mean that the host countries and the international community shouldn’t help. But let’s not forget the host countries have homegrown socioeconomic problems to deal with, and don’t need to be lectured as to how lucky they are for waves of refugees arriving from Venezuela.

  6. Let’s get real. Most of the 1 million Venezuelans that left recently, hungry and poor, mostly illiterate are just competition for the local perrocalienteros. They certainly will not boost the nation’s productivity anytime soon. Granted, most humble Venezuelans are good people, willing to work. But they sure are not educated or professionally skilled. Heck, their president is a bus driver from Colombia.

  7. You have to be tough and resolute disciplined and independent minded to emigrate from your country or at least capable of learning these virtues , always believed that people who emigrate represent a different human breed from those who stay behind , one which gives rise to people who on the whole are capable of better things if only to meet the daunting pressures of survival ……….its the equivalent of young men going to boot camp and learning a set of new personal skills and customs which can help them advance in life ……also they are better positioned to learn good things from their new experiences , to learn skills and practices that did not exist in their country of origin.

  8. @BillBass: I can say, proudly, like many other born of several generations in Venezuela, that we have contributed to the US economy ten times fold of the average person. I personally reached Exec level. My boys are very prosperous. No one dollar was ever taken from Venezuela. Migrating is hard, but when the Government negates you passports is even worse.

  9. I had to say I worked my ass through becoming a compliance expert; so far, I have had very bad luck. All Venezuelans I’ve met in Texas are borderline corrupt. Some older generations in France, Spain, UK, Germany, etc. before the Berlin wall came down, freeing all the communists, I can say they were all honest people. Many were living in Europe on a maigre scholarship – almost SDF. Art people, intellectuals, idealists, but always socialists despite Degaulle. Socialism is indeed like a virus infection; once it has caught on you, you’re damned for life.

  10. I was part of the 2005 wave AS WELL as the 2014 wave. In 2012 I knew the galactic bastard would kick the bucket (my wife’s Doc knew the Docs that treated Chavez early on) and roll down to hell soon, so I went back thinking my countrymen would be wise enough to not elect a Socialist again. Sadly, they put a Socialist (Capriles) to try to unseat another Socialist (Maduro). Tibisay hadn’t finished her “resultados irreversibles” speech when I was already planning and packing.

    It was time to leave again, for good.

  11. “But this migration wave offers, however, an important opportunity for receiving countries.”
    It is easy to believe that the first two waves of Venezuelan emigration benefited the receiving countries, and almost impossible to believe that the author’s third wave will bring anything other than net economic and social cost.

    Cost/benefit analysis of immigration typically considers net effects on:-
    Total GDP
    Productivity (which includes GDP/capita)
    Fiscal impact
    Drawdown on services
    Social cohesion

    People in favour of generous open-border policies typically focus on just the first of these elements plus humanitarian considerations. The real problems with any country accepting large numbers of impoverished, unskilled refugees all sit within the last four elements, where the net effects are almost invariably negative to very negative. While some employers might receive the benefit of the availability of a large pool of cheap labour holding down wages, the “front line” for these problems always manifests itself first in the lower socio-economic groups in the receiving countries, who find themselves in direct competition for jobs, services, benefits and accommodation.

    With haphazard overconcentration of desperate immigrants in certain border towns and regions, this problem can degenerate into anger, crime and violent clashes – as we have already seen in some places.

    Wishing and closing one’s eyes will not make these problems go away. The solution requires a multilateral plan and funds. And quite frankly, if I were one of the politicians in the receiving countries – who so far have shown much humanitarianism in their reaction to date – I would be more than a little miffed to be told that my country had received compensatory benefit for the costs so far because of the receipt of this “important opportunity”.

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