Panama and Costa Rica Prepare for Venezuelan Exodus

By Kausha Luna on March 28, 2018

As conditions in Venezuela worsen under President Nicolás Maduro, the number of Venezuelans leaving the country continues to increase and create strains on neighboring countries. In light of this issue, the presidents of Panama and Costa Rica began to prepare for the continued outflow of Venezuelan migrants in a recent meeting.

According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly one million Venezuelans have emigrated over the past two years and the numbers surged during the second half of 2017.

During a press conference, the two presidents highlighted the joint work carried out between 2015 and 2016 to address the wave of Cuban migrants, who wanted to cross Central America and Mexico to reach the United States. Initially, Panama and Costa Rica failed to enforce their borders and provided "humanitarian assistance" as Cubans sought to travel northward. However, these policies were unsustainable and the two countries began to enforce their borders. As the flow continued to strain resources, the Latin American countries carried out some deportations. Ultimately, their "joint work" amounted to thousands of Cuban migrants being dropped off at the U.S.-Mexico border, through a series of airlifts and bus transfers.

Both presidents agreed that the accumulated experience and work plans from 2015 and 2016 will allow for similar cooperation to be carried out in relation to Venezuelan migration, if necessary. Costa Rica's President Solis noted that at the moment significant flows are not being registered. He added that the migration directorates of both countries are ready to handle any potential flows and have such a possibility included in their work plans. Panama's President Varela described Costa Rica and Panama's model for migratory treatment as "an example worthy of imitation by other countries", due to the guarantee of respect for human rights and dignity.

The Panamanian president explained that after the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly in Venezuela last year, there was an "exodus of 10,000 Venezuelans per month" to Panama, which forced them to demand "a stamped visa". President Varela warned that another wave of Venezuelan emigration might be triggered if the government of President Maduro insists on holding elections without the participation of the opposition. The Panamanian president affirmed that his country will be in the best position to attend the migratory flows, but only according to its capacities and limitations.

Colombia and Brazil, Venezuela's immediate neighbors, have tightened their border control in response to the continued flow of Venezuelan migration. Additionally, Guatemala joined Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua in requiring visas for Venezuelans seeking to enter the country. On the other hand, Peru is granting Venezuelan migrants temporary resident permits, which allow them the right to work. However, as migrant flows continue to apply pressure on receiving countries, and regional frustration with President Marudo increases, it is possible that these countries will stop being as welcoming. This was the case in 2015 and 2016, when open-borders policies encouraged the wave of Cuban migrants.

Venezuelan asylum applications in the United States have increased dramatically in the last two fiscal years. Mexico has also experienced a surge in Venezuelan asylum applications.