Venezuela crisis explained

22 August 2018

Venezuelans crossing the border into Colombia.

Venezuelans crossing the border into Colombia. 

Venezuela is a country on the northern coast of South America, with a population of around 31 million people. Over the past few years, increasing numbers of people are leaving – seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Here we explain why.

What are the origins of the crisis?

In Venezuela, oil makes up around 95% of exports.

During the early 2000s, when oil prices were high, socialist President Hugo Chávez used oil profits to reduce inequality and poverty, building over two million homes and capping the price of basic goods such as flour, cooking oil and toiletries.

When oil prices dropped in 2014, the government suddenly had to make lots of cutbacks. This led many people to begin buying goods on the black market, causing inflation to rise.

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Now in the fourth year of recession, Venezuela is struggling with shortages of basic goods and public services can no longer function. The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation will reach a 1 million per cent this year.

Other issues such as a lack of education opportunities, the recruitment of children into gangs and political unrest – earlier this month, there was an apparent assassination attempt on President Maduro – are all factors which are causing people to leave.

CAFOD has been supporting local organisations within Venezuela and in bordering countries to provide aid to the growing number of people who have been forced to flee their homes.

What are the needs of people who have fled?

Longstanding CAFOD partners, Caritas Colombia, have been supporting migrants crossing the border for several years.

Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao, director of Caritas Colombia, explains how the organisation has been supporting Venezuelan’s who have crossed the border into Colombia. He said:

“The Catholic Church has been on the frontline supporting Venezuelans who arrive by providing food, shelter and emergency aid while working alongside governments across Latin America to do more.

Praying for the people of Venezuela

“We try to give the migrants as many services as we can, but they need so many other things, like jobs, education and medicines.”

What are the effects on neighbouring countries?

The United Nations estimated around 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014. Many of these have arrived in neighbouring countries like Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.

CAFOD has been supporting local organisations to provide aid, including food, shelter, legal aid and psychosocial support, to the growing number of people who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

What is CAFOD doing?

In Colombia 

CAFOD’s local partner Caritas Colombia, initially, they opened a restaurant in Cúcuta, a city on the border with Venezuela.

As the crisis has grown – it is estimated around one million migrants have now crossed the border into Colombia - they now operate in more places. Their main aim is to supply food and emergency aid, as well as legal and psychosocial assistance.

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Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao, director of Cáritas Colombia, continued: “Although the crisis started some years ago, at first it was only a few people who crossed the border. Now, waves of people arrive daily.

“At this time of crisis, we hope the governments across Latin America will come together to find lasting solutions.”

In Brazil

In the North of Brazil, CAFOD’s local partner, Caritas Brasileira, has seen the arrival of thousands of Venezuelan refugees and are working to provide food, shelter, healthcare and sanitation to the new arrivals.

Esther Gillingham, CAFOD’s Brazil Programme Officer, said: “Since 2017, the impacts of the political and economic crisis in Venezuela have intensified resulting in increased violence, poverty and a persecution of social protest.

“Men, women and children and are being forced to walk the 200-kilometre road across the border into the city of Boa Vista in the Brazilian Amazon in search of food, medicines, and shelter for their families.”

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Earlier this month, the Brazilian government temporarily closed part of the border in Roraima, North Brazil. Increased tension has caused violence to erupt at some points of the border and led to the army being stationed in some areas.

What has been done to try and stop the crisis?

President Maduro, who has been president since 2013, is trying to stem spiralling inflation by issuing new banknotes called the ‘Sovereign Bolivar’. Additionally, the minimum wage will be fixed at 1,800 sovereign bolivars (around £22) - more than 34 times the previous level - from the end of August.

How can I help? 

CAFOD and the Caritas network are providing emergency relief to affected communities.

You can help by:

Joining our emergency response team

Organising a fundraising event

Praying for the people of Venezuela

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