Venezuela is at risk of losing an entire generation

Venezuelans angry with their government, a deteriorating economy, and a seemingly intractable political impasse marked 100 days of protest on Sunday — demonstrations that have often turned violent and in which more than 90 people have been killed.

The protest movement that emerged at the end of April is not the first to appear. Venezuelans took to the streets for several weeks in spring 2014 in protests that left more than 40 people dead.

Protracted discontent in Venezuelan has also spurred another kind of movement: the migration of Venezuelan to neighbouring and nearby countries in search food, medicine, work, and security.

Outmigration has moved in waves over the past 20 years. Many elites left in the early 2000s, dismayed at Hugo Chavez’s socialist policies. Educated people and skilled workers departed during the latter half of the 2000s. Since 2010, the country’s youth and middle classes have headed for the exits.

A 2015 survey found 10% of Venezuelans were working on paperwork to leave. A September 2016 poll showed that 57% of registered voters — some 12 million Venezuelans — wanted to leave. That sentiment has only intensified.

Polling done over the last half of 2016 and the first half of 2017 found that 35.3% of respondents wanted to leave Venezuela to live and work elsewhere in the next three years — nearly triple the 12% who said the same in 2014.

However, among Venezuelans 18 to 29 years old, the desire to leave was even stronger — 53% said they wanted to leave the country to live or work in the next three years. Among 30- to 39-year-olds, nearly 40% said they wanted to leave, while just under 31% of Venezuelans between 40 and 49 years old said the same.

“The country has broken down because of what we have lost,” Emilio Osorio Alvarez, a professor and president of the Venezuelan Population Studies Association, said in an interview earlier this year. Many Venezuelans in their prime working years have left or want to leave, “leaving a population of older adults,” he said. “That has an impact on the social reality.”

And the growing number looking to leave means that the outflux now draws from a broader segment of Venezuelan society.

“It’s cross-class,” Alejandro Velasco, a professor at New York University, said of the migration. “What we’re seeing now … is that the nature, the composition of the migration wave right now is different from what it was four years ago, five years ago.”

“Right now what you’re seeing is far more people from the barrios going to Colombia, going to Brazil, going to Peru,” Velasco, author of “Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela,” told Business Insider.

Venezuela’s neighbours have received more and more people who are in increasingly desperate situations.

Colombia has taken in more Venezuelans than any other country, thought to be more than a million over the last 20 years.

So many wealthy Venezuelans arrived in Colombia during the initial years of Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution that they drove up property values and packed elite private schools. Now Venezuelans often arrive with little more than their clothes — many using unpaved roads to cross the two countries’ largely porous border.

Colombia has sent a delegation to Syrian refugee camps in Turkey to study how to respond to sudden waves of migration, which they fear could happen in a repeat of Maduro’s expulsion of 20,000 Colombians in 2015.

“Since about a year and a half ago, it has been a constant flow,” Daniel Pages, president of the Venezuelans in Colombia Association, told the Associated Press in June. “They need to leave in order to live.”

More than 12,000 Venezuelans have gone to Brazil and stayed there since 2014, and many more have gone to Venezuela’s southern neighbour to shop for basic goods, find medicine, or look for temporary work before returning.

Brazil’s defence minister, Raul Jungmann, said in May that more than 6,000 Venezuelans cross the border every day. The influx has burdened northern Brazilian states of Amazonas and Roraima, straining both states’ hospitals and health and social services.

Jungmann said the Brazilian government was developing plans to deal with a possible wave of Venezuelan migrants. “Our biggest concern is the humanitarian situation,” he said. “We need to have a contingency plan in place to handle this if things get worse.”

Peru has become a magnet for Venezuelans since offering temporary visas allowing them to work and study there earlier this year.

“I was just in Peru a few weeks ago, and the number of Venezuelans there is just staggering, and they’re arriving by route, by road, by bus,” Velasco said.

“These aren’t people who live in the wealthier parts of town,” he told Business Insider. “These are people who’ve come from barrios, and so that was really dramatic to see, that the composition of the migration is now cutting across class in ways that it hadn’t before.”

Venezuelans are also making the arduous overland trip to Chile — a journey that can often last nine days, using ferries, boats, and buses to cross mountains, rivers, and jungles.

“In the last five years, the number of Chilean visas issued to Venezuelans rose from 758 to 8,381,” Univision reported in September. “Almost 90 per cent of visas issued to Venezuelans last year were work visas, most of them for immigrants ages 20 to 35.”

The US — South Florida in particular — has long been a destination of choice for Venezuelans. The city of Doral, near Miami, has become known as Doralzuela.

But uncertainty about the political climate and immigration policy under President Donald Trump has led many wealthier Venezuelans to Spain, where Venezuelan arrivals jumped 26% in 2016, and they were the largest nationality requesting asylum there.

Spain has also proven to be an attractive destination for Venezuelans looking to protect their assets from Venezuela’s eroding economy. Spanish property sold to Venezuelans rose 17% in 2016.

“The worse things get in Venezuela, the more they buy in Madrid,” Alvaro Gonzalez de la Hoz, director general of a firm that sells and rents high-end properties in Madrid’s upscale Salamanca neighbourhood, told Bloomberg. “They feel safe here, they like the quality of life, they speak the language — and they’re taking money out of Venezuela”

The outflux of young and working-age Venezuelans will almost certainly add to the drag on the country’s economy, exacerbating the exodus of educated people, medical professionals, and even skilled oil and gas workers.

Beyond that, however, the outflow will likely have political consequences for the country they leave behind.

About half of Venezuela’s population is under 30, and young people there have taken up the mantle of protest, manning the front lines during clashes with security forces and government supporters. They have also assumed a larger role in formal politics, taking up positions in the ranks of Venezuela’s opposition parties.

“I think that the older generations fight with a yearning for the country that they knew. But for us, this fight is much more existential,” Miguel Pizarro, a 29-year-old legislator for the center-right Primero Justicia party, told Americas Quarterly.

“Young Venezuelans today understand that there’s no way we’ll own a home, or that our academic titles will mean anything other than wall decorations, unless this changes,” he said.

Venezuelan youths’ outsize role in the protest movement coupled with the growing proportion of young Venezuelans who say they want to leave may signal trouble for both the opposition and the government in their efforts to secure power and advance their political projects.

“If this is the constituency that’s saying we’re out of here in the next three years, then what basically says is that there’s a growing lack of commitment to creating a different Venezuela, and that’s ultimately going to sap the strength of the opposition,” Velasco said.

But the increasing number of poorer Venezuelans exiting the country “also undermines any kind of support that the government might have,” he added. “And what it’s doing is leaving more and more these two warring factions that have zero incentive to negotiate, to really be at each other’s throats.”

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