Brazil is sending armed forces to keep order at its border with Venezuela, a sign of increasing tensions as thousands of hungry Venezuelans flee their country on a daily basis.
Venezuelan immigrants were attacked earlier this month by residents at the border state of Roraima, where they were forced out of their camps. President Michel Temer said the troops were being sent there to keep the peace.
“The problem of Venezuela is no longer one of internal politics. It is a threat to the harmony of the whole continent,” said Temer in a televised address.
This is only the latest development in what is shaping up to be a regional crisis, as neighboring countries respond to Venezuela’s deepening economic and political upheaval.
Venezuelans have been dealing with severe water shortages and hunger so acute that the average person lost about 24 lbs there last year according to an annual survey done by three universities.
Peru, which borders Colombia and Ecuador, on Tuesday declared a 60-day health emergency at two northern border provinces, as it looks for ways to cope with the thousands of Venezuelans crossing into the country.
The concern is the spread of communicable diseases — mostly measles and malaria — as thousands of Venezuelans, who have had scant (if any) access to medication and clean water, are entering the country.
There are roughly 400,000 Venezuelans in Peru at the moment, with 300,000 of them having entered the country since January. As in Europe, where an increase in migration from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea has given rise to anti-immigrant populism, Venezuelans are also facing a rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Peru.
“They’re going to take jobs from us poor Peruvians,” Ricardo Belmont, a conservative candidate in Lima’s upcoming mayoral elections, said in a TV interview last week. “Let’s see them take a medical exam, like we ask of servants in our homes. Ask for a certificate of good conduct.”
Earlier this month, Peru and Ecuador began enforcing strict rules at their borders, requiring passports for entry. Prior to this, both accepted national identification cards at the border. Peru also announced a deadline for Venezuelans seeking temporary residency there.
There are now over 1 million Venezuelans in Colombia, and over 500,000 made it to Ecuador this year, which is more of a transit route to Peru and Chile. With around 4,000 Venezuelans showing up at its border on a daily basis, Ecuador has clamped down, leaving many Venezuelans trapped in Colombia.
One migrant stuck on the Colombian side of the border told Reuters, “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we can’t go back. I’m not sending my fiancee to go back and go hungry. You’ve no idea what it’s like, whole families eat from the trash.”
Ministers from Ecuador and Colombia may be joined by those from Peru and Brazil next week to discuss Venezualan migration.
Venezuelan President Nichoals Maduro has employed strong-arm tactics over the past two years to silence dissent — from allowing troops to violently crack down on protesters to arresting his political opponents.
His mismanagement of the economy, coupled by economic sanctions resulting from his crackdowns on civilians and civil society organizations, have resulted in a spiraling economic collapse.
Pronounced food and medical shortages have hit the population hard, and any attempt to steady the economy — including the introduction of the petro, a new cryptocurrency backed by raw materials — has, so far, failed to yield results.
As of 2016, in the early days of the current crisis, the population of Venezuela was roughly 31.5 million.
Today, at least 2.3 million have fled the country, representing what is now the largest mass emigration in modern Latin American history, and what the U.N. is calling a “crisis moment” equal to the large number of refugees fleeing to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.