On August 24, the Colombian government sent additional police units to the border with Ecuador in order to prevent riots involving migrants from Venezuela. On August 23, thousands of people from the Bolivarian Republic blocked the work of the border post between Colombia and Ecuador. Thus, Venezuelans protested against the decision of the Ecuadorian authorities to let them into the country from August 26 only with a visa. Why did Ecuador close the border for Venezuelan migrants? What policy does the Ecuadorian government intend to pursue with the citizens of the Bolivarian Republic?
The sluggish political crisis in Venezuela culminated in January 2019. On January 23, the country’s parliament speaker, Juan Guaidó (Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez), proclaimed himself acting president. On the same day, he was recognized in his new capacity by the US leader Donald Trump (Donald John Trump), saying that the power of incumbent leader Nicolás Maduro (Nicolás Maduro Moros) is illegitimate.
Within a few days, the domestic political crisis in Venezuela has acquired an international dimension. Following the United States, Guaidó was supported by a number of countries in Latin America and Europe. On the contrary, support for Maduro was announced in Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey, South Africa and other countries. The White House has introduced several packages of sanctions against the oil industry of the Caribbean state, the banking sector and personally against the military, who remained loyal to the legitimate authorities.
Events developed rapidly. On February 22-23, an attempt was made to break through the so-called “humanitarian column of the opposition” from Colombia, which the Venezuelan official government refused to allow into the country. During the clashes on the border between the two countries, several people died, and Caracas announced the severance of diplomatic relations with Bogotá. At the end of March 2019, the Russian military delivered about 35 tons of humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
In recent years, Venezuela has experienced difficult times: an acute socio-economic crisis, accompanied by hyperinflation, the devaluation of the national currency (bolivar) and a shortage of essential goods and medicines. According to recent UN estimates, more than 4 million people have already left the country in search of “hope” for a better life. Every day, about 25,000 Venezuelans cross the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Most of them return home with purchases – the most necessary that they cannot buy in their own country. But also daily about 3 thousand people do not return. Colombia and Ecuador remain the main directions for migration for a couple of years, however, the flow of immigrants from the Bolivarian Republic has spread to other states of the region.
Last August, an Ecuadorian court suspended a rule prohibiting Venezuelans from crossing the border without a passport. The verdict was issued at the suit of human rights defenders, who claimed that this requirement violates the right to freedom of movement. As a result, the Ecuadorian authorities said they would submit to the court’s decision and let Venezuelans admit on the national identity card. Quito then demanded that this document should be legalized. At the end of 2018, due to the influx of migrants, Peru and Ecuador still tightened border crossing rules: Venezuelans were required to present passports, not national identity cards. On June 15, the Republic of Peru further changed the rules for admitting refugees from Venezuela. The rules that have entered into force include, among other things, the requirement for migrants to provide valid visas. According to the Peruvian government, the Republic has already received more than 760 thousand migrants from Venezuela.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of citizens leaving Venezuela has reached 4 million. Most often, they are sent to other Latin American countries, according to a joint statement by the UNHCR and the IOM. In particular, Colombia has already received about 1.3 million Venezuelans, Peru – 768 thousand, Chile – 288 thousand, Ecuador – 263 thousand, Brazil – 168 thousand, and Argentina – 130 thousand. In the first four months of the current year (from January to the end of April), about 14,257 applications for asylum in the EU countries were received from residents of the Bolivarian Republic. Such a result is more than twice as much as in the same period of 2018.
Following the Peruvian government, on July 26, the President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno (Lenín Boltaire Moreno Garcés) announced the signing of a decree that provides for the introduction of visas for citizens of Venezuela. According to the Ecuadorian leader, a separate type of visa is provided for Venezuelans who are already in Ecuador. They will be able to obtain permission to stay in the country, subject to the laws of the Latin American state. Moreno also noted that there are already about 500 thousand Venezuelans in Ecuador who have fled from an unprecedented economic and political crisis. According to the Ecuadorian head of state, his country can no longer accept so many migrants.
On August 26, hundreds of Venezuelan migrants blocked the border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador, blocking the Rumichaca Bridge. So the citizens of the Bolivarian Republic protested against the decree signed by the Ecuadorian president, according to which Venezuelans will need a visa to enter the country starting from August 26.
How Quito will solve the problem of Venezuelan migrants already living in the state is still unclear. However, the Ecuadorian leader insists that citizens of the Bolivarian Republic in this situation should not worry: they will be able to obtain permission to stay in the country on the basis of current legislation.
First, in 2018, Ecuador left the ALBA bloc (Spanish – Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América – Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos, ALBA-TCP), an unprecedented ideological project launched by Hugo Chavez (Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías). Then, the new leader of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, increasingly began to accuse Nicolás Maduro of destabilizing not only Venezuela, but the entire region. In turn, Maduro has repeatedly called his Ecuadorian counterpart “fascist and traitor” who supports xenophobia against Venezuelan migrants. How the interaction between the two countries will develop, time will tell. Nevertheless, it is very obvious that one cannot count on a “warming” of relations in the near future.