Venezuela's Hemispheric Spillover Effect
The most pressing crisis out of Venezuela is the mass exodus of its citizens—approximately 3-4 million as of April 2019—a bona fide diaspora unprecedented in the Latin America region.
By Oscar Montealegre
The humanitarian
crisis in Venezuela does not seem to have an end in sight anytime soon. Making matters worse is the impressive resistance from Mr. Maduro and his regime in preserving his political power by any means necessary. An attempt to depose Mr. Maduro failed as recently as late April.

It is an amazing feat that Mr. Maduro and his cronies continue to survive the upheaval in Venezuela given the lack of food, water, electricity, medicine, safety, and security. However, we must realize that this is not solely a Venezuelan problem; it has now mushroomed into a hemispheric crisis affecting its closest neighbor—Colombia.

The most pressing crisis is the large exodus of Venezuelans leaving—approximately 3-4 million as of April 2019—a bona fide diaspora unprecedented in the Latin America region. What is unique about this Venezuelan crisis is that Latin Americans throughout their shared history have been accustomed to leaving their homelands in pursuit of economic opportunity northbound or across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, not absorbing immigrants from their own continent. In short, Latin Americans exit their countries, not absorb permanent entrants to their respective countries.

Colombia’s foreign minister recently projected that Colombia may host up to 4 million Venezuelans by 2021. If this projection would come to fruition then it would equate to Venezuelan refugees representing almost 10 percent of Colombia’s population. What is concerning for Colombians is that Colombia lacks the financial resources to cope with such hefty figures. A recent piece in Foreign Policy stated “without ample foreign aid, Colombia is nearly at the point where it will not be able to cope.” And a recent Brookings piece stated that the cost for housing 1 million refugees is costing Colombia between $2.8 billion and $5.2 billion, an astronomical figure that can over-burden any country.

The Venezuelan crisis has exacerbated by the continued aggression from the illegitimate Mr. Maduro—backed by Cuba, China, and Russia—and his daily rhetoric that promotes violence and culpability to the U.S. and Colombia.

Even though the political rhetoric has subsided from China and Russia, having these two far away countries yield such influence is troubling for the sovereignty and democratic principles of Venezuela. From the America’s perspective, the meddling is a threat to what the U.S. sees as their region/hemisphere.

Even though the political rhetoric has subsided from China and Russia, having these two far away countries yield such influence is troubling for the sovereignty and democratic principles of Venezuela.
Russia’s President Putin sent approximately 100 troops to Venezuela just last March. This was merely a cheap tactic to test the wherewithal of the U.S. however, one cannot undervalue Putin’s play in this chess game of geopolitics. Russia can justify troop presence by posturing that it is only trying to protect their $3 billion loan(s) it is currently owed by the Venezuelan government.

China is participating in this Venezuelan affair by vetoing the United Nations resolution that would have condemned the fraudulent 2018 election. Venezuela and other nations realize that finding a resolution forward without China’s participation would be virtually impossible; China is owed $20 billion by Venezuela. In lieu of monetary payment, China has accepted payment in oil; and since Venezuela’s finances are is such dire shape, China is open and eager to have more control of Venezuela’s oil infrastructure as a form of satisfying Venezuela’s financial obligations.

Lastly, there is the issue of Cuba already succeeding in infiltrating the political sphere in Venezuela. Some argue that foreign intervention already exists in Venezuela via Cuba and the Castro regime. There is no doubt that the communist regime has insurmountable influence with the military, espionage agencies, and the oil industry, and causes more harm by exporting and training torture groups with the aim of preserving and fortifying Mr. Maduro’s repression towards its own citizens.

It is no secret that Cuba relies on the subsidy of Venezuelan oil. Without it, Cuba would be forced to buy at market value, a precarious situation for the regime due to its potential of crippling the already fragile Cuban economy.

Factor in the U.S. stating that “all options are on the table,” inferring that sending boots on the ground is possible, it creates an environment of uncertainty and instability in the Andean region of South America. At times, it seems like the region is bubbling at a very gradual pace, but with such dangerous ramifications anchored by the possibility of military intervention by outsiders, is a situation that is not taken lightly among Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

But because of its proximity, Colombia is the most vulnerable. Colombia has an open border policy towards Venezuelans that have proper documentation, a policy that has added to the refugee crisis.

Colombia is experiencing the best period in its history—often coined as its very own Golden Age. In the last decade, the economy has been robust and continues to grow in 2019 at a rate of 3.5 percent.

Colombia is now considered the 3rd largest economy in Latin America when measured by GDP, and is the 2nd Latin American country to join the OECD, and without any shame it touts itself as America’s closest ally in Latin America. The Colombia of Pablo Escobar, the violence of the past, and the notorious guerrilla traffickers is no longer the everyday reality—although pockets of instability persist. Colombia today is a country of trade, entertainment, progress, economic blocs such as the Pacific Alliance, and preserver of the longest standing democracy in Latin America.

Although it faces the catastrophe of socialism everyday by just gazing at the humanitarian disaster next door, Colombia is doing its part in being vigilant by not becoming a victim of a newfound domino effect. Case in point, during the presidential elections in the summer of 2018, Colombians elected President Duque instead of the leftist candidate Mr. Petro.

Unfortunately, that may not be enough. The political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela can potentially wrap its tentacles around Colombia and halt its economic and societal progress.

In addition, the reality is that Putin has rolled its dice in the Latin American arena as it did in Syria. One hundred troops or mercenaries may not pose a danger today but they do have the muscle to escalate into something
more threatening.

Crowd in a Venezuelan city square
The flood of migrants or refugees— I prefer to use the word refugees since they are being oppressed by the current government—will ultimately overwhelm Colombia’s basic services such as housing, education, and healthcare.

Colombia is not a wealthy country like Germany, where the country was able to cope with more than a million refugees in 2015 without much financial assistance (but still sought assistance from Turkey and other EU nations). Colombia is still considered an emerging market. Colombia did not expect that its once prosperous neighbor would become the latest obstacle in finding the peace, stability, and pursuit of progress that Colombia has been striving for the last few decades.

Getting rid of Maduro has been no simple task; it’s actually rather complicated. But the longer Maduro holds onto power and continues to strip Venezuelans of basic rights and starve people to such extremes, the more collateral damage it would inflict on Colombia. And that itself exacerbates the crisis from a solo affair into a regional crisis, fanning the flames of the unthinkable, military intervention.

About the author
Oscar Montealegre is Latin America Correspondent for the Diplomatic Courier magazine in Washington, DC.