Venezuelan Migrants Return for Economic Improvement in Their Country, but the Exodus Does Not Stop
September 20, 2022
Silvina Acosta is a Venezuelan journalist, living in Argentina, who has worked for numerous media outlets, non-governmental organizations, and multilateral organizations in Venezuela, the United States, and Central America. This article is part of a bi-monthly blog she is writing for CMS – “Postings from the Venezuelan Diaspora”– that reports on the situation of Venezuelan migrants, refugees, and expatriates throughout the world. CMS features her work on its website and in its weekly Migration Update.
“Venezuela has been fixed.” This perception has been growing among many inside and outside the South American country for more than six months.
Miguel* (37), a businessman, returned to Venezuela on July 6 with his wife, daughters, and father after living in Argentina for a few years. “They (the regime representatives) now respect private property and let people work. Purchasing power has also improved,” Miguel explains. “Things have improved here,” repeated his acquaintances.
In Barquisimeto, a city in the center of the country, Miguel owns a deli, which he never closed and had left in the hands of an aunt. “I had to leave the country in April 2018, because I was receiving constant kidnapping threats against my family.” He traveled to Peru and Colombia before arriving in Argentina in October 2018. His father, a retired doctor residing in Buenos Aires, gifted him his airplane ticket. Miguel’s family joined him months later.
In Buenos Aires, Miguel worked as a driver for a Spanish ridesharing company, Cabify, and for several similar contracting companies for four years. “When I arrived, I bought three cars with my father to put them to work.However, Argentina is facing a fierce battle between the dollar and inflation. What I produced here, I spent here. The country’s economy never gave me the stability to save and buy a house,” Miguel recounted.
Despite these economic setbacks, Miguel felt at home in Argentina. “I obtained my permanent residency after two years, which is often much more difficult to obtain in other countries. I always go for what is legal. I learned a lot. I was never excluded from government benefit programs during the pandemic or vaccination programs.”
Now back in Venezuela, Miguel does not want to emigrate again. “I would only do it again if the situation forced me to do it. I’m not kidding anyone. Most Venezuelan migrants want their final destination to be their home country.”
An economic bubble for few
Cedina* (54) returned to Argentina last July after visiting her husband in Venezuela for three months and confirmed there has been some improvement in the country. “Although everything is charged in dollars (except public services and utilities), and prices are very high, at least everything is now available in supermarkets and pharmacies, at least in (the Venezuelan capital) Caracas.”
After the government decided to eliminate price and exchange controls and import taxes, the commerce sector, at least in Caracas and the other three biggest cities, recovered. However, Venezuela is a nation of 24 provinces. Some sectors of the economy, especially in the provinces, have not recovered as quickly from these policy changes. In less urban areas, the irregular or nonexistent supply of electricity, water, gas, fuel, and security continues to impact the local communities.
Cedina, an Argentinian resident since 2019, had gone more than three years without visiting her home country, and, upon return, noticed differences in the streets and store shelves in Caracas. “The improvement many are talking about is a transitory and unsustainable economic bubble that can burst at any moment,” Cedina predicts.
In her opinion, “The financial sanctions against high-ranking officials of the regime imposed by the international community have generated that bubble of improvement in Venezuela, especially in Caracas, and specific social sectors.”
The sanctioned regime leaders “are negotiating their dollars in their own country because they cannot take those dollars out of the country. They have created their market with the US currency. There are no more bolivars circulating. Everything is sold in dollars, and everyone must have some dollars to survive,” Cedina explains.
A regimen propaganda operation
According to the Venezuelan journalist Andrés Cañizales, “the country is still going through a multidimensional, complex crisis. Any service, any aspect of national life that is reviewed, is in crisis. The narrative, driven from the power that Venezuela was fixed, is merely a propaganda operation.”
Cañizalez explains that macroeconomic figures show a slight improvement because the gross domestic product (GDP) stopped declining after eight consecutive years of continuous fall. However, receiving income or remittances in dollars “does not protect you from the inflationary maelstrom that Venezuela suffers.”
Although there is no supply crisis as there was in 2017, there is the perpetual problem of rising prices. “Those of us locked in the country need income in dollars.”
Based on the evidence, the think tank Anova, reported last March that “since 2016, remittances have played a growing role as a source of income for a significant portion of Venezuelan households. Anova predicted that as of 2021, remittances to Venezuela by the more than 6 million Venezuelans abroad could have reached 3.5 billion USD, equivalent to approximately 5 percent of Venezuela’s GDP.
A “reactivation” for more inequality, exclusion, and forced migration
According to a survey of Venezuelan households conducted by Anova, 24.3 percent receive income from remittances. At year end 2021, these households reported receiving 65.8 USD per month, on average.
Omar Zambrano, a Venezuelan economist and founder and director of Anova, highlights that “even though the average per capita income of Venezuelans in dollars increased approximately 65 percent between 2020 and 2021, this growth did not favor all strata of the population equally. Venezuela is fixing itself, but not for everyone.”
The specialist states that the welfare gaps are already evident. The current duality of the Venezuelan economy is expressed in urban islands of consumption that coexist with other segments of the population living in precarious or highly vulnerable conditions.
The Anova data show empirical evidence of a sustained and systematic increase in the levels of inequality and exclusion. “As long as the economy does not make room for a large sector of the population, especially in most provinces, there will always be no other option but to leave the country. This exodus will continue as long as the productive economy is not reactivated,” Zambrano points out.
Cañizalez affirms, “The best demonstration that Venezuela has not been fixed is that Venezuelans are still silently and continuously fleeing the humanitarian crisis. As long as Chavismo exists and remains in power, the forced migration will not stop.”
On the other hand, Tomás Páez, a Venezuelan sociologist and coordinator of Observatorio de la Diáspora Venezolana (Venezuelan Diaspora Observatory), agrees that the exodus is unstoppable. The observatory monitors the Venezuelan diaspora in more than 90 countries and 400 cities every four months.
Páez says about 1,400-1,600 people still leave the country daily. However, the government makes this exodus invisible. “Why doesn’t the same regime handle figures of Venezuelans abroad? It is a xenophobic regime. Most of them (Venezuelan migrants) are not interested in returning, which does not mean they are not interested in their country.”
*Names have been changed to protect the safety of the interviewees and their families.
September 20, 2022