This is the first of two winning papers from the Policy Hackathon event hosted by our European Affairs and Defence & Diplomacy Policy Centres on 17 October 2019. It was co-written over the course of fifty minutes by a team of students (see below), and edited by our Head Editors for publication on the blog.
After years of economic mismanagement, stringent price controls, and institutional corruption that developed under the Bolivarian Revolution (started by former president Hugo Chavez and now headed by Nicolas Maduro), the economic and political crisis in Venezuela has led to a power vacuum and a severe deterioration of living standards within the country. As a result, the South American country has been experiencing rampant inflation and a shortage of basic supplies. This ultimately means that the poorest and most vulnerable strata of Venezuelan society lacks access to essential goods and services, and are forced to flee their country in search of better living conditions. They often try to settle in Colombia, as this is the most accessible country.
The Maduro government is ignoring the problem and argues that the migration crisis is nonexistent, framing it as a conspiracy by Western nations to justify intervention in the region. As a result, viable solutions to tackle the problem have been discarded, and roughly a million Venezuelans are now stranded in neighboring Colombia. The Organización de los Estados Americanos (OAS) favors a policy of regime change, ramping up pressure on the Maduro government to cede power to the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, but it has not yet been successful in achieving this.
Our main goal is to seek a solution for the unfortunate situation in Venezuela by addressing the problem in the OAS, of which most countries in the Americas are a part. We advocate for a three-pronged solution as follows. Firstly, we believe that the Venezuelan government must recognize the crisis, which will in turn enable considerations of solutions that account for all stakeholders. Secondly, external actors must send humanitarian aid to Venezuela in order to provide basic goods and relief for its population. Finally, the main countries in the region must establish an agreement to properly distribute the flow of refugees and relieve the pressure on Colombia.
Acknowledgment of the Crisis
The fact that Maduro has not completely shut down the National Assembly indicates that opposition members can still use this platform to acknowledge that an economic and political crisis is occurring in Venezuela. Maduro’s continued denial of the crisis constitutes the primary reason for his government’s rejection of any form of humanitarian aid, which in turn leads to a scarcity of basic supplies such as food and medicine. The National Assembly still has the power to legislate and, even if the Maduro regime ignores the legislation, this would signal the urgency of the situation to external organisations like the UN and UNHCR.
Provision of Humanitarian Aid to Venezuelan Population
Throughout 2019, when the number of refugees fleeing Venezuela increased dramatically, foreign governments and international organisations made attempts to stabilize the economic situation in Venezuela by providing shipments of basic goods. However, the Maduro government blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid at its border with Colombia, claiming that the shipments of goods constituted an attempt by Western governments to infiltrate the country and destabilize the regime. The reasons for the Maduro administration’s refusal were unfounded, but nonetheless understandable under current geopolitical conditions. To ensure that the Venezuelan population does not suffer due to political circumstances that are out of their control, we suggest that the Maduro government accepts the shipment of basic goods essential to the survival of Venezuela’s population and inspects the shipments on the Colombian side of the border to dispel any worries of potential foreign interference.
Distribution of Migrants among Countries of the Region
Venezuela is currently experiencing the highest level of emigration in the region, with the border between Venezuela and Colombia witnessing the fourth largest number of crossings in the world last year. Although millions of Venezuelans have emigrated to other parts of the world since the humanitarian crisis began, Colombia has been the primary destination and has received the majority of working and lower middle-class families, who have been the hardest hit by food and medicine shortages. This is partly due to to Ecuador, Peru, and Chile tightening their immigration policies in response to the crisis. However, because of Colombia’s history as an exporter of migrants, it has few of the necessary institutions to manage a migrant influx. For this reason, other states in the region should accept a portion of the migrant population to alleviate the pressure on Colombia; financial aid or reduced trade tariffs with Western powers could help incentivize this. Colombia has also asked its neighboring countries to collaborate economically to deal with this crisis. International advisors could provide another vector of support, aiding with administrative issues in Colombia and thus further relieving the pressure of the migrant crisis on the Colombian economy and improving the living conditions of the Venzuelan refugees.
We propose an agreement between the countries of the region to cover the following provisions. Firstly, they should agree to provide financial aid to facilitate the migrants’ travel through air or land channels. Secondly, these countries should grant residency with preference to Venezuelan migrants, as the Mercosur countries have recently. Finally, they should include migrants in their domestic social programs. All of the countries in the Americas – except Brazil and the United States – signed the Marrakesh Pact in December last year, which is proof of their international commitment to human rights.
Jack Barrett, Benoit Dupras, Samuel Remi-Akinwale, Gabriel Cejas, and Alberto Adelantado