Venezuela’s cri­sis spills over its bor­ders

The United States and other na­tions should act to mit­i­gate its ef­fects on the rest of Latin Amer­ica.

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THE LONG-RUN­NING cri­sis in Venezuela, which has un­der­gone a cat­a­strophic eco­nomic col­lapse even as its au­thor­i­tar­ian regime has con­sol­i­dated power, has now spread across its bor­ders. The pres­i­dent of neigh­bor­ing Colom­bia, Juan Manuel San­tos, said this week that his coun­try’s most se­ri­ous prob­lem could be the mass in­flux of des­per­ate Venezue­lan refugees: More than 600,000 are now in the coun­try, and thou­sands more are ar­riv­ing ev­ery day. Tens of thou­sands of Venezue­lans have swamped the Brazil­ian Ama­zon city of Boa Vista, 140 miles from the bor­der. More than 60,000 have asy­lum ap­peals pend­ing in the United States.

This hu­man out­flow, which the United Na­tions says amounts to more than 1.1 mil­lion peo­ple, is the largest dis­place­ment of peo­ple in Latin Amer­i­can his­tory. But Venezuela’s refugees are at­tract­ing far less at­ten­tion or in­ter­na­tional aid than those flee­ing Burma or Syria. That needs to change.

The rea­son for the ex­o­dus is sim­ple: Once proud cit­i­zens of the rich­est na­tion in Latin Amer­ica, Venezue­lans now are starv­ing. A so­cial sur­vey re­leased this week showed that more than 90 per­cent say they do not have the means to buy suf­fi­cient food, and 61 per­cent say they go to bed hun­gry. Though it con­trols the world’s largest oil re­serves, the regime founded by Hugo Chávez has wrecked not just oil pro­duc­tion but the econ­omy as a whole, leav­ing stores empty of food and hos­pi­tals de­prived even of com­mon medicines. In­fla­tion is sky­rock­et­ing above the 2017 rate of 2,600 per­cent, and ram­pant homi­cide has made Cara­cas one of the most dan­ger­ous cities in the world.

Com­pound­ing the cri­sis is the re­fusal of the Chav­ista gov­ern­ment, now headed by Ni­colás Maduro, to ac­cept hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, which it de­scribes as a means for for­eign in­va­sion. Rather than take ba­sic steps to feed peo­ple or sta­bi­lize the econ­omy, Mr. Maduro, steered by Cuban ad­vis­ers, is pre­par­ing to stage a rigged elec­tion for ev­ery of­fice in the coun­try in April, which would al­low for the elim­i­na­tion of all for­mal po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion. The regime al­ready put down a pro-democ­racy up­ris­ing last year with mass re­pres­sion that led to more than 120 deaths.

Latin Amer­i­can na­tions that for years avoided ad­dress­ing the col­lapse of democ­racy in Venezuela now are reap­ing the con­se­quences in a very hu­man form. Fore­most is Colom­bia, which for years pan­dered to the Chav­ista regime and now finds its bor­der cities over­run with des­per­ate refugees, some of whom are re­duced to sleep­ing in parks and beg­ging on the streets. In an ef­fort to stem the tide, Mr. San­tos sus­pended bor­der passes for 1.5 mil­lion Venezue­lans and de­ployed 2,000 troops to block in­for­mal en­try routes into the coun­try. That may slow the refugee ar­rivals but at the cost of deny­ing re­lief to hun­gry peo­ple.

Mr. San­tos said his gov­ern­ment is ready to ac­cept in­ter­na­tional aid. But though the United Na­tions’ refugee agency is on the ground in Colom­bia and Brazil, the re­sponse has been noth­ing like that de­voted to ser­vic­ing refugees from Syria or Burma. Many Venezue­lans are find­ing shel­ter with fam­ily or friends in other na­tions, but as Mr. San­tos said, “the num­ber of peo­ple that need to be at­tended to is grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially, and no state has the ca­pac­ity to ab­sorb it.” With no so­lu­tion to the cri­sis in­side Venezuela in sight, it’s time for the United States and other na­tions to do more to mit­i­gate its ex­ter­nal im­pact.

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