Venezuelans of all political stripes want to abandon the country in record numbers, as the socialist nation continues its downward economic and political spiral, according to a poll released Friday.
A survey by Caracas-based Datincorp found that 57 percent of all Venezuelans said they want to leave the country, up from 49 percent in May 2015. Broken down by political affiliation, the poll found that 24 percent of all government supporters and 71 percent of those who consider themselves the opposition want to emigrate.
“People don’t want to leave for political reasons. It’s not that they hate the left or socialism,” said Datincorp President Jesús Seguías. “It’s because quality of life has tanked.”
The trend is particularly worrisome in a nation that has a long history of seeing net inflows of migrants.
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In its report, Datincorp called the phenomenon “the gravest problem that Venezuela is facing — worse than the [food] shortages, the high cost of living and crime.”
Seguías said the statement isn’t overblown. While the economy can be fixed with reforms and crime can be reduced by overhauling the police, getting Venezuelans to come home once they’ve left will be challenging.
Most of those who are leaving are educated professionals, he said, and their departure is hollowing out society.
“This is a drama that could have historic consequences,” he said.
From 1990 to 2015, the number of Venezuelans living abroad more than tripled from 185,282 to 606,344, according to the United Nations’ Population Division. Venezuelan media, citing researchers, claim that as many as 1.6 million people might have left the country in the decade starting in 1999.
From 2005-2014, some 100,324 Venezuelans became legal residents in the United States — including 8,427 in that last year alone — according to the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, the PEW Research Center said there were 248,000 Venezuelans living in the United States in 2013, and that 42 percent of them live in Florida.
But Datincorp said it has seen a spike in those moving abroad starting after national protests in 2014. It also said that “based on several studies, there’s a second big exodus taking place right now.”
The survey of 1,200 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. And it was done on Aug. 22 — just days before an estimated 1 million people took to the streets of Caracas to push for a presidential recall.
Venezuela is rich in oil but poor in just about everything else. In recent years, it’s been caught in a downward spiral of triple digit inflation, food shortages and soaring crime. As President Nicolás Maduro has seen his ratings fall and his term threatened by the recall push, his administration has dug in, jailing politicians, activists and critical journalists.
What the administration hasn’t done is engage in the wholesale reforms that some say are needed to pull the country out of the morass.
Seguías said it was impossible to tell which of the multiple factors were forcing Venezuelans to flee.
“I think it’s the desperation of seeing a country that just keeps getting worse,” he said.