For the first time, Venezuelans are at the front of the line in the number of asylum seekers in the United States. Given the sorry state of their homeland, it’s not hard to believe. The numbers tell the story of their ailing country.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 18,155 Venezuelans sought asylum in our nation last year; thousands of them live in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
That figure represents an increase of 150 percent from 2015, and six times more than in 2014, according to an Associated Press report.
Chinese citizens, with 17,745 applications, come in just behind Venezuelans.
Comparing the population of China, which stands at more than 1.3 billion people, with that of Venezuela, which has just over 30 million, the gross imbalance in the number of asylum applications reveals the crisis that is devastating the South American nation.
Today, it’s safe to say that the failed regime of Nicolás Maduro has caused a stampede out of Venezuela, once one of South America’s richest countries.
What went wrong? The exodus increased at the end of 2015, when the opposition gained control of parliament. Many saw a ray of hope in that victory to get rid of the president. However he could not reach any agreement with the opposition leaders, which fractured power in Caracas.
Meanwhile, the country has been in the grips of an inflation rate of more than 100 percent — one of the highest in the world — and food and medicine shortages reached catastrophic levels. A big culprit is the drop in oil prices around the world, which has hurt Venezuela’s most profitable export.
And now, there is an international scandal. In a major escalation of its confrontation with Venezuela, the United States on Monday accused that country’s new vice president, Tareck El Aissami, of being an international drug trafficker and money launderer and froze his assets, including some properties in Miami. The Trump administration said it took the action after a years-long investigation and that the matter was not political.
Maduro called it “imperialist aggression.”
Getting out of the country is now the goal of many citizens. The high number of petitions for political asylum in the United States is more proof of the failure of the chavista model, a regressive one that Maduro and his followers are determined to maintain in Venezuela.
What the government has done is criminal. It has discouraged investment with arbitrary measures; devastated Venezuela’s ability to produce goods; and caused a shortage of basic items that has turned the procurement of basic foods and medicines into a daily Herculean effort.
It is no longer solely a matter of hopelessness among the poorest sectors, as it was before Hugo Chávez assumed the presidency years ago.
Now, the middle class, with its capital, makes up the majority of those who are fleeing the ruined country in search of better horizons.
Instead of trying to negotiate with the parliamentary opposition and to submit to the recall referendum that a large part of the Venezuelan population wants, Maduro has clung to power by his fingertips.
His inability — unwillingness, really — to recognize his failure as a ruler, and that of chavism as a model of government, will only feed the flow of asylum seekers to this country.