Colombia has accepted more than 1 million Venezuelans fleeing the economic collapse brought on by the administration of President Nicolás Maduro, but will find it difficult to handle another million new arrivals that are now predicted for the coming months, Colombia Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez said Tuesday.
Speaking at an Americas Conference organized by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, Ramírez said Colombia cannot single-handedly manage the massive exodus of Venezuelans that is already without precedent in Latin America.
“This is very difficult, an enormous risk,” she told the conference at the University of Miami. “It’s like someone is drowning and the person who jumps in to rescue him has the best intention but is not sufficiently prepared. In the end, that could lead to two drownings.”
“We want to continue welcoming those people because there’s a humanitarian concern. But we cannot carry that weight alone. We need more and more timely international help,” she told journalists after her presentation.
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During the conference, moderated by Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer, Ramírez insisted that the international community needs to start taking the Venezuelan crisis more seriously and step up pressure on the Maduro regime to change its policies.
But she denied rumors that Colombia is somehow involved in plans to forge an international coalition that would intervene militarily in its oil-producing neighbor.
“I truly hope we can all work to apply diplomatic pressure, and in all international settings, for the dictatorship’s departure from Venezuela,” she said when asked about the rumors, but added that “Colombia would never do anything like that.”
For Colombia, she said, the mass exodus of Venezuelans “is a humanitarian tragedy” of historic proportions, but the entire region has a responsibility to assist.
“All the hemisphere bears responsibility for the dictatorship in Venezuela. There was a great indifference. There were countries that benefited from the oil Venezuela sent them. There were others that were simply indolent because of their own politics,” said Ramírez.
That’s why all the countries in the hemisphere must work together to help Venezuela return to democracy, she said.
The more than 1.2 million Venezuelans already in Colombia are putting great pressure on the government’s finances, generating a burden estimated at nearly .5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Colombia’s Deputy Finance Minister Luis Alberto Rodríguez, who also participated in the conference, said the Venezuelan immigrants have access to the host country’s public health system.
“In the short run, all this is going to have a giant impact. Right now, all the Colombian economists are discussing whether this exodus will change forecasts,” Rodríguez said.
Jorge Familiar, World Bank vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, said there are no major expectations for significant changes in Venezuela. The bank estimates that Venezuela’s GDP will shrink by 14.3 percent this year, and another 7 percent in 2019.
The Venezuelan economy has shrunk by more than half during the five years that Maduro has been in power, according to economists.