LA PAZ/SANTIAGO – Millions of Venezuelans fleeing from a deep economic crisis have failed to find a better alternative in Bolivia and Chile.
Between 4.7-6 million people have left the country, according to Venezuelan pollster Consultares.
“Our country is destroyed,” Ingrid Guillen, who arrived in La Paz on Oct. 4, told EFE.
“We have no hope of returning, but we do not know where we are worse, whether here or in Venezuela,” the migrant lamented.
Guillen arrived with her three children after her partner decided to stay in Caracas.
She now sells candy in Bolivia’s capital, her only source of income to support her family.
“A normal weekly salary in Venezuela is $2. Who can survive on that?” she wondered.
She never imagined that her hopes for a better future would stumble in a country like Bolivia, which for several years now has enjoyed steady economic growth.
Shortly after Guillen arrived in La Paz, the country was plunged into a deep crisis after the recent elections (Oct. 20) were marred by reports of fraud.
The corruption scandal led to incumbent Evo Morales stepping down on Nov. 10 amid a bloody conflict that left 33 dead.
Before the political crisis struck, securing a worker’s visa was expensive (around $400) and complicated for foreigners.
But since an interim government took over from Morales, red tape has increased and the prospect of getting a visa seems even further away for many.
“They gave me refuge, but my permit expired two days ago and I have to leave the country,” Emily Martinez, a Venezuelan who arrived in La Paz two months ago with her husband and a 2-year-old boy, told EFE.
“We want to go to Peru.
“Six years ago, Venezuela started like this and this is dangerous.
“We try to keep away from the marches, because some compatriots have been beaten, and accused of political activism,” she added.
When Venezuelans abandon their country, they often face dangerous journeys in search of something better.
“They are robbed along the way and arrive in a terrible state,” Elizabeth Zabala, Human Mobility Coordinator of Caritas, told EFE.
This is a reality that Venezuelan migrants in search of the “Chilean Miracle” have also encountered.
But when massive protests broke out on Oct. 14, the country once deemed one of the most stable and booming economies in South America now faces a volatile social outlook.
Ailyn Diaz, 41, arrived with her husband in Santiago in 2017, fleeing the extreme violence and famine of Venezuela.
A distant cousin encouraged them to migrate.
“Chile is a stable country with opportunities,” he told them.
Diaz’s husband started working at a computer company and she is a clerk in a shop that has barely been able to open in recent weeks because it is located very close to the epicenter of the protests.
Her bosses have promised her that they will do everything they can to ensure staff don’t suffer the consequences of the unrest, but she he is wary.
“I witnessed this situation in my country and I do not want to repeat it.
“The Chileans say that this is not going to stop, that it is going for a while.
“This was a super quiet country,” Diaz told EFE.
She is so concerned about the unfolding events she has convinced a relative who had begun procedures to move to Chile to find another destination.
Anibal Perez, a 38-year-old Uber driver, is a bit more optimistic.
Before landing in Santiago, he spent a few months in Ecuador, where “there is almost no work and there is a certain rejection of Venezuelans.”
But the revolts are showing no signs of abating despite the announcement of social measures and lawmakers ruling a change of the Constitution.
At least 23 people have died and thousands have been injured.
Chile’s stable economy has also been plunged into the upheaval.
The peso is at its lowest level, tourism has suffered, the main roads and ports of the country are often blocked and looting in shopping centers has become a regular occurrence.
Li Xang, legal advisor of the Scalabrini Foundation, told EFE that dozens of migrants have requested shelter after losing their jobs in shops that were looted or burned.
“On the one hand there is the fear that the situation will affect the weakest the most,” said Father Beto, who has over 15 years experience working with migrants in Chile.
Many of Chile’s migrants, 30 percent of whom are Venezuelan, fear the crisis will cost them their jobs and that it will sabotage their hopes to build a better life, the activist added.
“Migrants want the same as Chileans, education and free health and quality and, if possible, with a multicultural approach,” he told EFE.