A 'caravan of misery' as desperate Venezeulans flee their country to survive

Venezuela was a socialist paradise until it became a nightmare. Now no one on the left wants to talk about it. All the more reason to talk about it and to study closely the complete collapse of a society that elected a socialist goon promising to wipe out inequality. He did that in a sense. Money is so worthless in today’s Venezuela that almost anyone can be a millionaire and almost everyone is equally starving and miserable. The only solution for many people is to flee the country. Venezuelan socialism has led to one of the largest mass migrations in South American history, with up to 1.5 million Venezuelans fleeing the country in the past two years.

Yesterday the Washington Post and Reuters both published lengthy stories focused on the exodus of starving and desperate people. Reuters reporters spent 9 days on a bus full of people hoping to find work in neighboring countries most had never even visited.

On board the bus, web developer Tony Alonzo had sold his childhood guitar to help pay for his ticket to Chile. For months he had been going to bed hungry so that his 5-year-old brother could have something for dinner. Natacha Rodriguez, a machine operator, had been robbed at gunpoint three times in the past year. She was headed for Chile, too, hoping to give her baseball-loving son a better life. Roger Chirinos was leaving his wife and two young children behind to search for work in Ecuador…

By the time dawn rises over Caracas, hungry people are already picking through garbage while kids beg in front of bakeries. Come dusk, many Venezuelans shut themselves inside their homes to avoid muggings and kidnappings. In a country with the world’s largest proven crude reserves, some families now cook with firewood because they cannot find propane. Hospitals lack supplies as basic as disinfectant. Food is so scarce and pricey that the average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds last year.

“I feel Venezuela has succumbed to an irreversible evil,” Chirinos said…

Venezuelans elected Chavez, the late leftist firebrand, in 1998 with a mandate to fight inequality. A charismatic former lieutenant colonel, Chavez transformed the country during his 14-year rule, pouring oil revenue into wildly popular welfare programs. But he also nationalized large swaths of the economy and implemented strict currency controls, state meddling that economists say is the root of the current crisis…

Now, financially ravaged Venezuelans with fewer skills are pouring across South America in a frantic search for work in restaurants, stores, call centers and construction sites. Some travel only as far as their savings will stretch: A one-way bus ticket to neighboring Colombia from Caracas costs the U.S. equivalent of around $15; the fare for a trip to Chile or Argentina can run as high as $350, a small fortune for many. The plunging currency and rocketing inflation make financing the voyage more expensive with each passing day.

Sociologist Tomas Paez, an immigration specialist at the Central University of Venezuela, estimates that almost 3 million people have fled Venezuela over the past two decades. He believes nearly half of them have left in the last two years alone, in one of the largest mass migrations the continent has ever seen.

The Washington Post has a companion piece focused on the reaction of neighboring countries to the sudden influx of desperate and poor Venezuelans. At first, most neighboring countries welcomed them, but as the numbers continue to climb, some countries are cracking down and trying to slow the flow of people across the border:

Nowhere is the crisis more acute than here in Colombia, where 3,000 troops are fanning out across the 1,400-mile border to contain an influx of Venezuelans fleeing a collapsing economy and an increasingly repressive socialist regime. Roughly 250,000 Venezuelan migrants have surged into Colombia since August, with 3,000 a day still arriving.

The sheer numbers have led to a backlash in Colombian cities and towns, prompting the national government last month to suspend the issuance of temporary visas for Venezuelans. Colombian authorities are now launching operations in which dozens of Venezuelans a day are captured and expelled…

Venezuelans have enjoyed access to special permits good for two years in Colombia’s border region, allowing them to stay up to seven days at a time. Facing severe food and medical shortages at home, most have stocked up on supplies, or visited hospitals, before returning across the border.

But Colombian officials say those visas became a lure for Venezuelans looking to start a new life — bringing a dramatic surge across the border that reached a peak of 90,000 people a day in December. In early February, President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the issuing of new temporary visas and declared a massive militarization of the border…

“We need to close the border,” said Nancy Pineda, a 30-year-old Cucuta fruit seller. “They come with fruit they buy for nothing in Venezuela and sell for prices here that I can’t compete with. They come here, killing and robbing Colombians. We need take our city back.”

The Maduro regime in Venezuela is officially downplaying the exodus but it’s also benefitting from it. People trying to stay alive have little time or energy to protest. And those who do go abroad usually send a portion of what they earn to family back home. Those remittances help to keep the country afloat.

Nothing seems likely to change or improve anytime soon. Maduro remains in power and has refused to consider free-market reforms. The rate of inflation, which has already hit quadruple digits, means one U.S. dollar is currently worth 216,838 bolivars on the black market. The paper money is worth more as scrap paper than it is as cash. All of that means that the worst is probably yet to come in Venezuela. What we’re seeing now is probably just the beginning of a mass exodus that could create chaos throughout South America. No wonder American socialists don’t want to talk about it.