Brazil Won't Build A Wall to Stem Tide of Venezuelan Refugees

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil won’t close its doors on Venezuela even as it expects a surge in the number of immigrants fleeing from a deepening crisis in the neighboring country, Brazil’s foreign minister said.

Aloysio Nunes’s comments come as refugees continue to pour into Roraima, the Brazilian state bordering Venezuela, where tens of thousands have arrived over the past year. With the flow expected to rise, the government has declared a social emergency in the area.

"The situation is deteriorating," Nunes said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Brasilia office. "The causes, the hunger and the poverty, persist and have got worse."

On Thursday Brazil’s President Michel Temer signed a presidential decree authorizing funding to bolster security in Roraima and boost the humanitarian assistance available to refugees. With many begging on the streets, tension in the area is on the rise. Police in Boa Vista, the state capital, are looking for an arsonist who attacked a shelter for Venezuelan refugees earlier this month. Last week Colombia, which received 96,000 immigrants in November alone, tightened its border controls with Venezuela and sent over 2,000 troops to the area. But Brazil has no plans to close its border, no matter what.

"We’re not going to build a wall," Nunes said. "It’s a worrying situation, but it’s not yet chaos, it’s not yet a catastrophe."

Venezuelan Elections

As Venezuela’s political and economic crisis has deepened, the country has found itself increasingly isolated in the region. Its recent announcement of plans to hold presidential elections on April 22 elicited a rebuke from the so-called Lima Group and prompted Peru to withdraw its invitation to President Nicolas Maduro to attend this year’s Summit of the Americas. Maduro said on Thursday that he’d attend the summit anyway.

Nunes ruled out the idea of refusing to recognize the results of the election. "Not recognizing has no legal or practical significance," he said. "We are going to need some kind of humanitarian channel."

The Brazilian foreign minister acknowledged that Maduro still appeared to have significant levels of support among the Venezuelan military and refused to be drawn on how the crisis might play out.

"Is there going to be a collapse? Is there going to be a transition? If there is a transition who will negotiate? There’s no way of predicting," he said. Brazil’s potential role as a mediator between the government and the opposition had been ruled out by the Maduro administration, he added.

Nunes also lamented the lack of ideas from the U.S State Department on how to tackle the crisis, saying it could do more to put pressure on Maduro’s supporters at the Organization of American States.

"The U.S. doesn’t know what to do in Latin America," he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.