Last Monday on October 25th, 2021, Reuters published an article warning of a potential new crisis at the Colombian border. Nicolás Maduro, the leader of the left-wing authoritative dictatorship in Venezuela, announced that this month it was reopening its side of the 1,379-mile border it shares with Colombia. Due to the right-wing Colombian government reopening its border in June, Colombian refugee camps are preparing for a massive migrant influx. According to Reuters, many of these refugees are children seeking food, medical aid, and the chance to play again. So how exactly did we get to this point? And what are the implications for world peace going forward?
While it might seem hard to believe now, but there once was a time when Venezuela was one of the richest nations in South America. Venezuela historically was able to make this claim due to the large oil deposits that the nation possessed. While it is well known that oil is a powerful and sought-after commodity, the initial economic blessing that Venezuela possessed soon turned into a curse due to a lack of diversity within their economy. In other words, Venezuela’s economy was tightly tethered to the price of oil, and thus it was extremely vulnerable to outside shocks.
In the early 1990s, one of these potential shocks came in the form of Saudi Arabia releasing pent-up production of oil to punish other OPEC members for failing to stick to their oil quotas. This decision by the Saudi government caused the price of oil to plunge and the Venezuelan economy went into free fall. After the newly elected administration of Carlos Andres Perez took IMF austerity measures, and removed subsidies to gasoline, riots broke out across the country and the Venezuelan government had to impose martial law.
This political instability was the perfect setup for a charismatic former Venezuelan paratrooper named Hugo Chavez to take the stage. While initially, Chavez was able to maintain popular support by running on a basis of leftist politics, and getting OPEC nations to reduce the supply of oil and thus stabilizing the Venezuelan economy, Chavez soon began to ruin his short term economic success with a series of ill-fated and corrupt economic policies. These policies included disastrous price controls and the replacement of state company heads with Chavez loyalists.
Chavez’s corruption soon caused the Venezuelan economy to buckle once again. This new economic downturn caused Chavez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, to take increasingly dictatorial measures to hold onto power. These measures including media censorship, political blacklisting, and the jailing of political opponents, only served to exacerbate the social issues within Venezuela, both political and economic. This ultimately would lead to the present situation where over one-third of present refugees are children and a shockingly low GDP per capita of around 4,000 dollars a citizen. With statistics like these as well as constant food shortages, civil unrest, and dictatorial rule it becomes no surprise that Colombia is preparing for a migrant upsurge.
So what does this mean for the future? Well, unfortunately, if history is to tell anything, refugee crises often hit neighboring countries the hardest. Colombia has currently been working to provide 320,000 special visas to some 1.3 million applicants and with the reopening border, this disparity is only likely to get worse. With a lack of documentation, refugees are even more vulnerable to human rights violations as it becomes increasingly harder and harder to not only enforce these rights through the rule of law, but it also becomes much more difficult to keep track of these people and provide accurate updates on their wellbeing.
With that being said, one organization known as the International Rescue Committee is working to do exactly just that. With the IRC’s “Play to Dream” centers, migrants and their children not only have access to areas to have recreational fun but parents and children can also receive medical and psychological care. While this can only really be described as a band-aid measure, it is important to recognize that as global citizens we have a moral responsibility to do more and watch this crisis develop so we can provide the most adequate aid and solutions.