Latin America Nations in Crisis Summit Amid Venezuela Exodus

(Bloomberg) -- Government officials from across Latin America and the Caribbean are meeting in Quito to coordinate a response to the regional humanitarian crisis caused by Venezuela’s economic collapse.

Representatives from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panama, Dominican Republic and Ecuador are gathering on Monday and Tuesday to discuss how to respond to mass migration from the Caribbean nation, and how to protect vulnerable Venezuelans from xenophobia and exploitation by black-market employers and criminal gangs.

Latin America Nations in Crisis Summit Amid Venezuela Exodus

“It’s clear that this is going to keep increasing,” said Christian Kruger, the head of Colombia’s migration authority, in an interview at the event. “Migration that is driven by hunger won’t be stopped by a visa or any other document.”

More than two million Venezuelans are now living outside their homeland as part of a migration crisis that’s become particularly acute across Latin America this year. Colombia and Ecuador have been most affected, though Brazil recently authorized the use of its armed forces to help contend with a jump in Venezuelans crossing into its territory, while Peru declared a border emergency on health and sanitation concerns due to increased migration. Nations as far as Uruguay are also experiencing a rise in flows.

Colombia, which has found it impossible to control the flow across its 1,400-mile border with Venezuela, is using the meetings to reiterate its call to “regionalize” the problem, to help shoulder the burden. Colombia is calling on its neighbors to be more flexible in demanding documents, since Venezuela is barely issuing passports any more.

Colombia has realized that insisting on documentation from people who can’t obtain it doesn’t curb migration, but rather drives it underground, which is worse for both the migrants and the host nation, Kruger said.

Latin America Nations in Crisis Summit Amid Venezuela Exodus

Until recently, Ecuador had been one of Venezuela’s main allies in the region. But the government of President Lenin Moreno, which took office in 2017, has distanced itself as Venezuela has become gripped by mass hunger and political repression.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s failed policies and unchecked government spending have turned what once was one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries into a disaster. Shortages of food and medicine are ongoing, public transportation is erratic and lack of electricity and water has become much more commonplace.

Earlier waves of Venezuelan migration tended to have more resources and education, Kruger said. Now, they are crossing the border on foot without any money at all, and walking and hitchhiking across Colombia, he said.

On Monday, top-ranking Venezuelan officials including Vice President Delcy Rodriguez denounced reports of a growing exodus as “fake news,” and a propaganda campaign designed to pave way for foreign intervention.

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