If it’s Visa-free for China, then why not for Venezuela?
It was unfortunate last week, that citizens were denied the opportunity to listen to constructive debate in parliament over visa restrictions for Venezuelan nationals versus the lifting of visas for Chinese nationals. Alas, many such debates are centred on party lines as well as which administration favours which nations and for what favours. However, there is a compelling argument on which the reasoning for the visa restriction, vis-à-vis the visa lift, can be based.
The undeniable fact is that Venezuela is in crisis. Everyone accepts this as truth except the leaders of that country. On the other hand, China has been churning wealth over the last few years and its investors, as well as travellers, are looking for the next hot spot.
Consider this: in May 2014 the employees of a Chinese direct marketing company were treated to a vacation on the west coast of the United States. They visited Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas, sightseeing and shopping, as Chinese tour groups do. There were 7,000 of them. They took 86 flights, stayed in 26 hotels, and generated around US$85 million of revenue and economic value for the state of California.
In 2017 it was estimated that 1.5 million Chinese tourists would visit California and the US Department of Commerce estimates that by 2021, that figure will increase to 2.3 million, who will spend approximately US$6.1 billion in the state.
For Chinese people looking to leave China, the US and Canada are the most popular destinations, followed by the UK and Australia.
Compare that to this scenario: according to the UN Refugee Agency report for 2017, wars, other violence and persecution drove worldwide forced displacement to a new high in 2017 for the fifth year in a row, led by the crisis in Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan's war, and the flight into Bangladesh from Myanmar of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. Overwhelmingly it is developing countries that are most affected.
The UN report states that the majority of the world's refugees find safety in neighbouring countries. In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for example, growing political, social and economic tensions throughout the year led to the displacement of Venezuelans with over 60,000 lodging asylum claims in the Americas and beyond, including at least 27,000 who applied in 2016 mainly in Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Spain and the United States.
The Caribbean, which is Venezuela's closest neighbour after South America, has seen an influx in the arrival of Venezuelans since 2016, particularly Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. The majority of these travel in search of a better life in terms of jobs and other opportunities. Given the small size of some of the island states, the arrival of Venezuelans, even in relatively small numbers, is said to be having a disproportionate impact on the islands' limited resources.
Trinidad is reportedly confronted with a situation of over 40,000 Venezuelans currently present in the country, according to a Newsday report, and as the social upheaval continues in Caracas and other major cities, this figure is expected to grow and is now of major concern to the government.
In April of this year the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley, remarked, following the deportation of 82 Venezuelans, that his country was not a refugee camp. Intelligence in Trinidad & Tobago, as well as Guyana, suggests that there are growing rings of Venezuelans involved in human trafficking, prostitution, drug smuggling and contraband between those countries.
Here in Saint Lucia, there have been reports of an increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals being involved in narcotics and illegal firearms. Faced with the above scenarios, any government would have to consider two things: how to capitalize on China's growing wealth in terms of investment as well as tourism; and secondly, how to remain friends with our neighbours, like Venezuela, while protecting our very porous borders from those miscreants who may use the excuse of the crisis in their country to ply their illegal trades.
The imposition of visa restrictions is not a death sentence. Saint Lucia had it for years to travel to Martinique and this never stopped the countries from seeking bi-lateral agreements and co-operation. Conversely, the lifting of the necessity of visas by Chinese nationals, does not mean that the red sea has now been parted and there will be a rush to Fair Helen. As I said in a previous article, presently Chinese citizens can visit seven Caribbean countries, visa-free: Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica and Saint Lucia. In fact, the Chinese passport has visa-free access to 51 countries in the world. None of the Caribbean nations mentioned has seen any influx of Chinese nationals that has become overbearing. And, as I mentioned earlier, of the 51 countries where Chinese are welcomed with open arms, they have favoured the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia.
The task the government now faces is not just the visa restrictions on Venezuela, but to better equip our marine police, police in general, Customs and immigration to deal with immigration issues as well as the recognised situation that islands like Saint Lucia are used as a transshipment point between South America and North America for human trafficking, drugs and other illegal activity. On the other hand, the government of the day must be seen as facilitating and encouraging an environment whereby every opportunity is given to Saint Lucians to thrive in an open economic space. Whether it is owning a coffee shop, small restaurant, boutique, hotel or manufacturing plant.
It must be seen as a right of every citizen to envisage themselves as owners of a piece of Saint Lucia. It must be their choice, as well, to become builders of the economy by investing in their own business. The other option of working with one of the many investments the government is seeking to attract, or waiting on handouts from China, Venezuela, Cuba or America, must never be the only choice!
Six people were arrested following what the government described as an organised attempt at assassinating Venezuela’s President Maduro.