Fleeing Venezuela: The Largest Immigration Crisis in the Western Hemisphere
Since July, 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, making this the largest immigration crisis in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
Venezuelan citizens are fleeing economic disaster due primarily to hyperinflation.The annual inflation rate was a whopping 83,000 percent in July, and the IMF estimates the inflation rate to reach one million percent by the end of the year. The Venezuelan currency is practically worthless; one U.S. dollar exchanges for 248,000 bolivars.
The Venezuelan economic crisis started in 2014 when oil prices plummeted. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and produces very little other than oil. In fact, oil accounts for 95 percent of their export earnings. When oil prices plummeted, imports became more scarce, businesses increased prices, and inflation began.
The situation intensified when the government took to printing money. The printing of money was justified in two ways: 1) to make up for the government's inability to pay back the loans it defaulted on, and 2) to appeal to the poor by increasing the money supply and the minimum wage.
The economic crisis has thrown 82 percent of Venezuela's population into poverty. Households cannot afford food and other basic products, child malnutrition is at a record high, and the healthcare system is in a dire state, to say the least. Power cuts and lack of running water has made medical access virtually nonexistent.
The influx of refugees has been difficult on the neighboring countries who are pleading with the rest of the world to provide aid for the new immigrants. Many in Colombia worry that the influx of immigrants will destabilize their own hard won stability.
Within Venezuela, many blame President Nicolas Maduro and former President Hugo Chavez for economic mismanagement. Maduro however, absolves himself of blame by accusing the United States and Europe of economic warfare. He also claims that the situation is being misrepresented and exaggerated by the U.S., as their excuse to “meddle” in Venezuelan affairs.
On Oct. 1, Maduro claimed victory at the United Nations by again blaming the US and Europe and refusing to meet with President Trump. Trump told the White House however that a meeting was all but certain noting that “Venezuela is a disaster. We have to clean up and take care of what happens there.”
It is evident, however, that millions of Venezuelans have lost faith in the power of politics and have decided to take matters into their own hands as they watch their situation worsen on the daily.