With an intensifying Argentine recession, the Venezuelan diaspora are caught up in another crisis.
In the last few years around 4.3 million Venezuelans have reportedly left behind a Latin American nation in economic ruin.
In Venezuela, a shortage of food, healthcare, medicines, violence, corruption, alleged political persecution and hyperinflation have sparked a humanitarian crisis whose effects are being felt across neighbouring South American countries.
“The growth of the Venezuelan diaspora has been intense. It's the biggest displacement which Latin America has experienced - of the same proportions as the Syrian migration,” says Tomas Paez, an Academic and Coordinator of the Venezuelan Diaspora Observatory.
“Our diaspora is distributed over 90 countries and 300 cities worldwide,” says Paez.
Argentina has become the fourth most popular destination for Venezuelan migrants - where they are now the highest migrant community. Figures vary on the number of Venezuelans in the southern cone of South America. According to the UN there are around 130,000 Venezuelans in Argentina, although Reuters reports there are close to 650,000 registered in the country.
Over the last five years, local reports say there has been an increase of 1,600 percent in the number of Venezuelans arriving in Argentina.
“Life became something very complicated, things such as acquiring food such as rice, pasta, oil, sugar, bread flour and the lack of electricity, water and gas supply further complicated daily life,” says Michael Eyzell, a 27-year-old Venezuelan Systems Analyst of his former life back in Merida. In Argentina he has made a new life with his sister and cousin in the capital, Buenos Aires.
“I couldn’t graduate from university, become independent or even think about eating food on the street without feeling remorseful,” says 22-year-old Marines Maza, when she thinks back to the strife she left behind a couple of years ago in Venezuela.
The 'safe option'
She shares a similar journey to many Venezuelans flocking to Argentina, living with a safety net of family and friends - softening the blow of leaving other loved ones behind. She works as a delivery person on her bike, ferrying people’s orders to their home.
Argentina was once considered a safe option for Venezuelans with an open-doors policy for its citizens fleeing the crisis, compared to neighbouring countries like Ecuador, Peru and Chile, which have placed more restrictions. But as the recession has taken hold in Argentina, Venezuelans have awoken to a new reality - a harsh economic recession.
In August, primary election results brought about a market crash, leading to a significant devaluation of the local currency. The Argentine peso lost around a quarter of its value against the dollar. Argentine President Mauricio Macri has drafted plans to delay debt repayments and imposed capital controls to protect the local currency - the peso.
Venezuelans say they are beginning to sense similar economic troubles that they thought they had left behind. Inflation sits around 54 percent, there's significant currency devaluation and a drop in real wages - as well as perceived political instability ahead of the presidential elections. A local study found close to half of Venezuelans survive on 15,000 pesos (US$260) or less per month.
“I notice that the current situation in Argentina seems to be very similar to the Venezuelan situation several years ago. Both countries have very different economic contexts, however in terms of inflation they are very similar,” says Michael.
“Since I arrived, I’ve seen Argentina as a trampoline - a country which has opportunities to grow which are great, but I’ve not felt the calm and the tranquility which I once did in Venezuela,'' says Miguel Rodriguez, a 30-year-old Venezuelan from Caracas, a graduate in publicity and marketing. But his life took a different path in Argentina. After arriving, like seven out of 10 Venezuelans, according to local reports, he worked cash in hand, doing odd jobs before retraining as a chef.
According to Paz, 65 to 80 percent of Venezuelans arriving in Argentina have an advanced academic background. He describes them as a "demographic bonus", saying: "These are young people who are determined to work."
As Argentina goes to the polls at the end of October, now Venezuelans are keeping close tabs on who will take charge of the Casa Rosada, the presidential office.
Politically, Macri’s government has been critical of their counterparts in Venezuela.
Marines shares some of this sentiment and has concerns about the political direction of Argentina.
“The economic story of Argentina has always been of highs and lows,” she says. “I want to think that Argentines are going to think with a cold head and not fall into the same trap. It’s a country which has experienced many crises but has managed to emerge. I don’t want to compare it with Venezuela because I don’t want it to come to that and I don’t want to get involved in politics because it’s a country which has received us with open arms and respectfully I prefer not to pass judgment on their decisions. But I hope they don’t forget why they got rid of [ex-president] Cristina [Fernandez de Kirchner] and reflect on her discourse and compare it with what we have experienced - so they don’t fall into a similar situation."
According to Paez: " What most worries Venezuelans, beyond the financial crisis, is a political issue. The last declarations of the presidential candidate in Cristina’s party - he said there were problems in Venezuela, but they’re not so serious - that there had never been a dictatorship in Venezuela."
Like Uruguay and Mexico, presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez has advocated dialogue with Venezuelan President Maduro if he assumes the presidency - a significant political change to the current administration of Macri.
"This worries the Venezuelans as they arrived scarred from a terrible experience,'' says Paez of the Venezuelan migrants in Argentina.
Other Venezuelans believe there are more commonalties than differences.
“Venezuela and Argentina have business which transcends politics, although politics influences things a lot,” says Miguel. He sees a potential leftist alliance if Fernandez assumes the presidency.
Before the presidential election, Venezuelans are reflecting on their choice of whether to stay or go.
“If the situation worsens in Argentina, I would be evaluating the possibility of emigrating to another country, but to do so, I would look to be better prepared,” says Michael, who is unconvinced by either candidate to improve the situation in the country.
Miguel is grateful to Argentina. He was able to bring his parents here, by sending much needed remittances home. But as the Argentine recession hits hard, he isn't resting on his laurels. He is looking to emigrate again. As a chef, he's empowered by a new skillset which he can export abroad ."I’m thinking about seeing Europe, the old world - gastronomically it has a lot of culture which I want to experience.”
Miguel is fortunate to have Portuguese heritage. Like many who once emigrated from the post-war Europe conflict to Venezuela, he has double nationality. He has secured his Portuguese passport. But not all Venezuelas are so lucky as to be welcomed abroad in Europe. Some countries in Latin America such as Chile, Ecuador and Peru are beginning to impose more restrictions on Venezuelans fleeing.
According to Paez, authorities believe Venezuelans arriving at these ports of entry are already there to stay. “Everyone knows that the Venezuelan situation is a humanitarian tragedy and that there’s a high probability that Venezuelans arriving in a new country have done it to remain there,” says Paez.
There are further complications.
UN's migration agency says the exodus of people from Venezuela is building towards a "crisis moment" comparable to events involving refugees in the Mediterranean pic.twitter.com/aZwPyhiBbH— TRT World (@trtworld) August 25, 2018
There are issues of corruption and mismanagement relating to the “inexistence” of passports for Venezuelans according to Páez. “You have to pay the price in gold to move forward, so many people leave without passports, many without apostilled documents - which generates problems when they arrive in the country hosting them.”
These restrictions taking place in other countries could result in negative consequences says Paez.
“If countries create obstacles like what’s happened with the border to Mexico and the USA, they’ll invent pathways around it - the situation will become more troublesome, more dangerous."
He adds: “If they try to stop it [migration], then the mechanisms of corruption and the diasporic industries will grow- these are sex and drug trafficking industries - things which are already happening in Colombia, Venezuela’s border."
With restrictions in several Latin American countries and the inexistence of passports, it remains to be seen how many Venezuelans will stay in crisis-struck Argentina or feel forced to make another arduous journey abroad to start a new life.