Monday, May 07, 2018

An Intolerable Dilemma of Need and Resentment

"We're very fearful this may lead to an economic and social destabilization in our state."
"I'm looking after the needs of Venezuelans to the detriment of Brazilians."
Suely Campos, Governor, Roraima state, northern Brazil

"I never thought we could find ourselves in this situation. We're not used to living like indigents."
"But Venezuela is destroyed. People are dying of hunger."
Ana Garcia, 56, Venezuelan refugee
Venezuelans In this March 9, 2018 photo, young Venezuelans pull their luggage after crossing the border to Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil. (Eraldo Peres/AP Photo)

In Roraima, Brazil, the director of the General Hospital, Samir Xuad, spoke of the patient population his hospital now must care for surging from its usual 400 patients daily to one thousand over the last few years, over-extending the capacity of the hospital to care for everyone. During particularly busy periods gurneys line the hallways with patients awaiting care. Syringes and gloves, common, basic supplies, are becoming scarce.

An estimated 1.8-million Venezuelans are on track, according to the United Nations, to leave their country of birth by the end of 2018. An estimated one and a half million have already done so, forced by necessity, faced with untenable privation. People leave the country with few possessions and even less money to tide them over as they cross open borders to find haven elsewhere, anywhere but Venezuela, stifling in its insecurity and lack of food.

Those who venture across borders are in dire need of both food and medical care, let alone shelter. The region has long prided itself on its open borders, but Brazil is now contemplating how injurious those open borders, given the collapse of Venezuela's social order, economy and politics have become under Nicholas Maduro and his inherited Bolivarian revolution so beloved of Hugo Chavez, the architect of the now-failing state.

Governor Campos is suing the Brazilian federal government in view of an influx of refugees that has destabilized her region with their presence driving down wages, setting off disease outbreaks and driving up the crime rate. The state capital of Boa Vista has been battered by the influx of 50,000 Venezuelans who now comprise an estimated ten percent of the population. Initially, Brazilians were generous in establishing soup kitchens and distributing clothing.

Local residents in Pacaraima, the border town with Venezuela, and Boa Vista, now feel overwhelmed. "Boa Vista was transformed. This has started generating tremendous instability", stated Mayor Teresa Surita. Squatters prepare meals on small wood-burning stoves where they have settled at the Simon Bolivar (grim irony) plaza. A virus has spread through the camp, leaving people to cope with vomiting and diarrhea. Nearby residents have burned a row of bushes the refugees had used as cover where they could defecate.

When Ana Garcia, a Venezuelan social worker faced the prospect of penury as her paycheque failed to match rising prices given soaring inflation, she decided she would quit her job, hoping for a payout sufficient to enable her to go abroad. What she received was enough to buy a bag of rice, a half chicken and a banana. With food increasingly scarce, she set out with her 18-year-old daughter on a 900-kilometer journey to Brazil.

Mercedes Acufia, 50, who had migrated to Brazil at an earlier date and now living in a shelter, feels that Brazil is quite justified in its intention to proceed with closing the border with Venezuela. "I realize we are all in need, but their country is being invaded", she said sympathetically. And residents of Boa Vista are concerned and fearful at the rise of crime. "Roraima was a place where you could sleep with your door open at night. That is no longer the case", mourned General Hospital director Xuad.

UNHCR/Reynesson Damasceno
Venezuelan families sheltering in Simon Bolivar public square in Boa Vista’s city centre. With assistance from UNHCR and national authorities, they have voluntary relocated to the Jardim Floresta shelter.

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