Latin America Tightens Borders in the Face of Venezuelan, Nicaraguan Outflows

By Kausha Luna on August 23, 2018

Latin American states have been generous in their reception of Venezuelans and Nicaraguans fleeing their countries' socialist policies and government repression. However, the "all are welcome" approach adopted by many of their neighbors appears to be deteriorating as emigration from the two countries continue to grow.

Colombia, as the primary recipient of Venezuelan migrants, requires Venezuelans to present a passport or border-crossing card at its northern border. However, the Colombian government recently criticized Ecuador and Peru for instituting similar requirements. Colombian officials expressed concern that the new requirements would create a bottleneck for the increasing number of Venezuelans using Colombia as a bridge to reach other South American countries (Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina).

Last week, after declaring a state of emergency due to the influx of Venezuelan migrants, Ecuador announced it would require Venezuelans to present a valid passport to enter the country. Prior to this announcement, Venezuelans only needed to show their national identity cards. The Ecuadoran government explained that the measure was necessary for a "safe, regular, and orderly" migration flow. More specifically, the government cited the use of fraudulent national identification cards by traffickers and smugglers. Ecuador's President Lenín Moreno told local media, "Everything has its limits." An estimated 600,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador so far this year.

Peru followed Ecuador's lead and announced that starting this Saturday, Venezuelans will have to present passports to enter the country. Like Ecuador, the Peruvian government said the passport requirement was needed to ensure orderly migration. Peruvian emigration officials say there are approximately 400,000 Venezuelans in the country, most of whom entered this year. The increase in Venezuelan migrants has provided some politicians a platform to run a "Peruvians first" campaign, including Ricardo Belmont, former mayor of Lima (1990-1995), who hopes to win this year's mayoral race and potentially make a presidential run.

Amidst the growing number of Venezuelan arrivals, Ecuadorans and Peruvians have expressed concern over potential job competition and increased crime.

In Brazil, the influx of Venezuelan migrants has given rise to calls for closing its northern border. Over the weekend, Brazilian nationals attacked Venezuelan migrants after a local store owner was robbed, stabbed, and beaten in an assault that Brazilians attributed to Venezuelans. Given the social and economic strain on the Brazilian border state of Roraima, the state governor requested a temporary suspension of Venezuelan immigration in Brazil. Moreover, the state official asked the federal government of Brazil to compensate Roraima with $45 million for the expenses it has incurred since 2016 when the flow of Venezuelan migrants began to increase. The governor also wants to establish an "immigrant quota" for each state, to reduce the pressure on Roraima. Despite these calls, the Brazilian federal government maintains it will not close its border with Venezuela, but has sent additional military forces.

Meanwhile, Costa Ricans are taking to the streets to protest the influx of Nicaraguan migrants. Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado Quesada chastised the violent protests in an address to the nation: "I call for calm, for peace, to act with prudence, not to fall into provocations or calls to hatred." The president reaffirmed the government's commitment to ensure Costa Rica continues to be a country of peace, without an army, respectful of the laws and rights of people. He added that his administration has always worked to guarantee a safe and orderly migration to safeguard the welfare and security of the country. President Alvarado offered examples such as the reinforcement of migration police along various border points and an "effective migratory control in order to deport, in an expedited manner, those people with unwanted profiles." Per Costa Rican authorities, nearly 8,000 asylum claims by Nicaraguan nationals have been registered since April, and some 15,000 more have been given appointments for later registration as the national processing capacities have been overwhelmed.

As conditions in Venezuela and Nicaragua worsen, and domestic concerns increase, countries in the region will have to decide if they will continue to increase border enforcement or not.