Venezuela

Hundreds of Venezuelans seek refuge in Argentina every week, president says

Brazil's President Michel Temer, from left, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri and Paraguay's President Horacio Cartes, pose for a picture at the Mercosur Summit in Mendoza, Argentina, Friday, July 21, 2017.
Brazil's President Michel Temer, from left, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri and Paraguay's President Horacio Cartes, pose for a picture at the Mercosur Summit in Mendoza, Argentina, Friday, July 21, 2017. AP

Hundreds of Venezuelans are making the 3,000-mile journey to Argentina every week, and that number is likely to increase amid the ongoing economic and social turmoil in the socialist nation, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said.

“I’m told that anywhere from two hundred to three hundred” Venezuelans are arriving each week, Macri told Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer in an Aug. 7 interview. “In rare cases we might see more than 1,000 per month, but the numbers are increasing.”

The fact that Venezuelans are traveling to the southernmost country in the region to seek refuge is a testament to Caracas’ deep problems. Other nations around the hemisphere — particularly neighboring Colombia and Brazil — have been struggling with how to deal with the spike in Venezuelan migrants. For months, massive protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro have paralyzed city streets as Maduro has cracked down on dissent, leading the U.S. to impose sanctions.

On Wednesday, the UN High Commission for Refugees opened up an office in Riohacha, in northeastern Colombia, to aid migrants, both Colombian and Venezuelan, who are entering the country with “humanitarian needs and in need of international protection,” the agency said.

Read More: Seeking medical care, Venezuelans pour across the border

Even though the numbers flowing into Argentina are much lower, Macri said his nation has a historical duty to keep its doors open for Venezuelans.

“They are very welcome,” he said of the new arrivals. “Just as Venezuela received Argentines who went into exile, or were forced into exile, during the dictatorship [1976-1983], we are receiving Venezuelans.”

The interview with Macri took place just days before Wednesday’s meeting in Lima, Peru, of 17 Latin American foreign ministers who denounced the “breakdown of democracy” in Venezuela.

Venezuelan police set fire to motorbikes belonging to the press, after police were targeted with an explosive device on Sunday, July 30, 2017. A group of around 50 journalists was reporting on the clashes between the national guards and anti-government protesters when the pro-government forces targeted their motorbikes at a corner of the Plaza Francia de Altamira, in the capital.

“When I first started talking about Venezuela three or four years ago, I was the mayor of Buenos Aires, and the majority of the region was denying what was happening in Venezuela,” Macri said. “The human rights abuses have been going on for some time, but now they’ve passed all limits. [Maduro] has hundreds of dead on his shoulders, and I don’t know where it’s going to end.”

Since taking office in 2015, Macri has been a key player in turning up the pressure on Venezuela — voting to suspend it from the Mercosur trade bloc and opening up investigations into the finances of Venezuelan officials in Argentina.

Read More: Washington Venezuela policy wins Trump unlikely friends

But Macri said Washington has a special role to play in the Venezuelan crisis. As one of the most important buyers of Venezuelan crude, the United States is helping support Maduro’s socialist administration, he said.

“If the United States took the decision to suspend purchases from Venezuela, the Maduro regime would have serious financial problems,” he said. And that action could “change things definitively” in Venezuela, Macri predicted. 

The White House has suggested energy sanctions against Venezuela are in the cards. So far, however, Washington has limited its actions to slapping individual sanctions on 30 Venezuelan officials, including Maduro.

Asked what Venezuela’s neighbors could do about the crisis, Macri said “everything that we can, but everything also has its limits, because this is a Venezuelan internal issue.”

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