Photo: El Político retrieved

–      Hello, sir! How are you doing today?

–      Well, I’d rather be driving my truck, but those damn venecos stole my job.

–     Sir, I’m Venezuelan.

–     Oh, well…

This exchange with an Uber driver happened a week after I landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador; days after the May 20, election and a month before the exodus and its effect on the region became an international story in the news. My Uber driver had  lost his job because Venezuelans were getting paid well under the minimum wage ($386/month) to do the same work he did for a long, long time. “Our economy is not doing so good, we have no room for your people here,” he said trying to excuse his earlier statement.

My Uber driver had  lost his job because Venezuelans were getting paid well under the minimum wage ($386/month) to do the same work he did for a long, long time.

Venezuelans are now everywhere in South America; walking through mountains, rivers and valleys to escape the no-food, no-medicine, no-freedom regime of Nicolás Maduro. According to the United Nations, over 3 million have fled the country between 2015 and 2018. Middle-class professionals were the core of the first two migration waves, but the last wave is primarily made up of Venezuelans with limited resources who, in most cases, leave their families behind.

The most recent study of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) has found that 37% of Venezuelans in Ecuador have suffered some form of discrimination. From this group, 98% claimed it happened because of their nationality. For the locals, like the Uber driver who lost his job, the problem with Venezuelans is that they are willing to work more hours for less money. According to the IOM, 87% have earnings below the minimum wage line. For (some) businessmen, this represents a cheap, qualified labor force that can mend the balance sheet in an stagnant economy. It’s no surprise that forced labor and human trafficking are lurking in Rumichaca (Northern border with Colombia) and Huaquillas (Southern border with Perú).  At least 5% of Venezuelans were forced into labor, while 11% experienced some form of violence in the workplace.

And then, there’s social media. Under hashtags like #PrimeroEcuador, xenophobic comments and news about Venezuelans in the country spread like wildfire, especially on Facebook. Back in August, reading through the almost 300 comments on Javier Vite’s piece on Venezuelans in Guayaquil, I almost cried. I certainly did in November, after scrolling down the first ten comments on this news report. The “V” word (venecos) feels like a stigma, often preceded by an expletive to put as much blame as possible on Venezuelans, for no particular reason: lost jobs, people asking for money on the street, crime, prostitution, and so on.

A tipping point was the murder of a taxi driver in Ambato, in Central Ecuador, at the hands of a Venezuelan national back in early May. Public outcry against migrants rose to an all-time high,  and even became one of the top ten concerns for Ecuadorians according to Cedatos, a local pollster.

But even though the man behind the wheel at my Uber was suspicious of me when I told him my nationality, the conversation was easing him up.

    – What do you do?

    –    I’m a journalist.

    –    I see. And do you have a job?

–      Yes, sir.

–     As a journalist?

–    Yes.

–     Good for you.

It’s not like Ecuadorians haven’t been on that side of the coin before. In 1999, after “el feriado bancario” (The Bank Holiday), dozens of thousands were forced to flee the country, after losing all their savings in the midst of an economic crisis that crushed the Sucre. Before, in the 1970s, some 16,000 Ecuadorian moved to Venezuela to escape the regime of Guillermo Rodríguez Lara. They were called “cotorros” because of the shape of their noses, but most blended quickly into the country’s dynamics. Venezuela was a prosperous country back in the day and actually needed the workforce to push forward.

Under hashtags like #PrimeroEcuador, xenophobic comments and news about Venezuelans in the country spread like wildfire. 

That’s not the case in Ecuador today. After a decade of 21st century socialism under Rafael Correa, when public investment increased from 4% of GDP in 2006 to 10% in 2016, spending became unsustainable after the collapse of oil prices. Now, under Lenin Moreno, the International Monetary Fund estimates a 1,1% GDP growth for 2018 and 0,7% for 2019. Adding a quarter of a million people carries a heavy weight on the economy. That’s one of the reasons Ecuador is leading the multilateral cooperation between the countries most affected by the Venezuelan migration and institutions like the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and CAF- Development Bank of Latin America. Quito estimates that 550 million dollars are the funds needed to finance the insertion of Venezuelans into society.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has already warned that late December and early January can bring a new wave of Venezuelans through the borders of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, as the beginning of Maduro’s second term won’t be recognized by more than a dozen countries. These migrants will be poorer, with deeper need for basics like food of education for the countries that give them shelter.

By the time my ride was over, we had talked about family, lost love and the regrets of leaving family behind. “Not all Venezuelans are bad people, after all,” he yelled as I left.

–     Nope, we are not, I replied

–      Welcome to Ecuador, son!

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12 COMMENTS

  1. “My Uber driver had lost his job because Venezuelans were getting paid well under the minimum wage ($386/month) to do the same work he did for a long, long time.”

    In the United States, we call them “day laborers”. People who, because of the “legality” of their residence is suspect, work for less than minimum wage in order to earn an income. Lots of newer, or shoddy construction concerns hire these guys daily and pay them cash. Nothing is on the books.

    It is a worldwide phenomenon.

  2. ” The “V” word (venecos) feels like a stigma, often preceded by an expletive to put as much blame as possible on Venezuelans, for no particular reason: lost jobs, people asking for money on the street, crime, prostitution, and so on.”

    —————-

    Those aren’t particular reasons?

  3. Sad. Venezuelans earning less than $386/mo. Ecuadorean min. wage, usually paying some kind of rent and their food, and still emigrating in droves from even poorer living conditions in their home country.

    • Not spending any real time in VZ since Hugo shat himself on the scene, just reading stories about current VZ prices, salaries, not to mention other horrors of living…

      $386 a month in Ecuador has to seem like a fortune, with all VZers more than willing to accept a hell of a lot less.

      Underscoring your point.

  4. Good article, sad to see so many Venezuelans fleeing and having to accept less than minimum wage or abuse. Not right.

    One note to the author. This phrase in English is “tens of thousands” rather than “dozens of thousands” but otherwise extremely well written.

  5. Ecuador is a country where, as I recall, the richest family (the Noboas) made their money by growing bananas. The country had some success with diversify the economy (eg the mountains have many greenhouses which grow and export flower, a la Colombia), but they never seemed to have much money around. I still think Ecuador should just be annexed to Colombia, which would lead to everybody except the ridiculous Ecuadorian politicians being better off.

    • Sure, because Colombia is doing so well, what with 50 years of civil war and a murder rate 6 times Ecuador’s and a lower HDI. Colombia is Colombia and Ecuador is Ecuador, they separated for a reason, and they’re fine as they are. Ecuador may not have a lot of money going around but at least we’ve never lacked toilet paper or food.

  6. PanAmPost: How Long Will the World Turn a Blind Eye to the Cuban Domination of Venezuela?

    And that began – lest we never forget – thanks to the absolute permission granted by Hugo Chávez, who in 2000 signed a framework agreement with Cuba through which oil was exchanged for Cuban specialists in different fields. The framework agreement allowed Cuba to place it’s operatives throughout the Venezuelan State. It even allowed for Cuban security personnel to carry guns and make arrests within Venezuela.

    The Cuban domination is now, after twenty years, beginning to be strongly denounced by the international community. In early December of this year, the OAS secretary general accused “the longest dictatorship in the continent of crimes against humanity and of exporting violence to Venezuela and Nicaragua.” Luis Almagro denounced the presence of some 46,000 Cubans in Maduro’s Venezuela, “an occupation force that teaches to torture and repression and serves the interests of Cuban intelligence.”

    More at the link.

    Babalu blog:Reports from Cuba: Mas Medicos: The withdrawal fiasco.

    47 days before taking office, Jair Bolsonaro, president-elect of Brazil, outlined three conditions for the permanence of Cubans in the Más Médicos program: they would have to 1- be able to go with their families, 2- be paid a full salary, directly and 3 – be recertified.

    The Cuban government’s response was to withdraw them….
    For these services –fundamentally medical– the Cuban regime received almost 11.38 billion dollars in 2017, which made it a more lucrative activity than exports of sugar, nickel or other products.

    More at the link.

    • Boludo, many thanks for your always-illuminating/referenced posts (Texas, the Land Of The Free, and excellent (mostly) intelligence-gathering). Adding to your first-part comment: a friend/neighbor well-educated (USB) electrical engineer, who must travel Caracas far-and-wide scrounging electrical materials to fulfill his contracts, mentioned recently: asking directions from 2 street uniformed Ven. National Police, they answered, “Sorry, we don’t know, we’re not from here–in a Cuban accent! And, in Cua, near Caracas, he was stopped in traffic by a uniformed Ven. GNB, who was also Cuban. BTW, Russia just denied Ven. Govt. reports they were going to establish an air base on Ven. La Orchila Island (That WOULD be the straw that breaks the U.S. patience back), which, by the way, is already occupied by he Cubans as their electronic/other command center).

      • Thanks for the stories. I am reminded of the experiences of Polish national Robert Czarkowski in Nicaraguan prisons, which he chronicled in De Polonia a Nicaragua. Czarkowski entered Nicaragua in early 1982 with a valid tourist visa. He was arrested upon entry on suspicion of belonging to Solidarity. In his 5 months in Nicaraguan prisons, he heard a number of Cuban accents among prison personnel.

        While Cuban infiltration is old news in Venezuela-recall stories about Cuban agents in telecom from a decade ago- it would appear that their insertion into on-the-street GNB and police is fairly recent. Which would indicate that the regime is afraid of their loyalty.

        • This sort of infiltration-insidious/lower-level- is difficult to root out; Bolsonaro is correct on the Days-Months-Years After necessity of a U.N. Cascos Azules Peace-Keeping force.

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