Venezuelan socialist leader and alleged drug lord Diosdado Cabello told a crowd this weekend that the ongoing exodus of Venezuelans is a false flag operation led by right-wing governments, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo noted on Monday.
Cabello, who is head of the regime’s illegal lawmaking body known as the “national constituent assembly,” continued to deny the existence of a humanitarian crisis, claiming that photos taken of large-scale migration are staged.
“The right is very good at putting together worldwide campaigns. Right now this happening with the Venezuelans who are leaving,” Cabello said in a speech to the assembly on Monday, according to El Tiempo. “Does it seem suspicious to you that there are photos in Peru (of Venezuelans) walking along the side of the road? In Ecuador, in Colombia (…) it seemed like it was lights, camera, action.”
Cabello’s claim came after Joel Millman, spokesperson for the UN’s International Organization for Migration, warned that the crisis was reaching proportions similar to that of people from African and Middle East crossing the Mediterranean into Europe.
“This is building to a crisis moment that we’ve seen in other parts of the world, particularly the Mediterranean,” Millman said. “We have to start lining up priorities and funding and means to manage this as soon as we can. A difficult situation can become a crisis situation very quickly and we have to be prepared.”
Over two million Venezuelans have left the country since socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2014, as the aftermath of Hugo Chávez’s socialist revolution left millions of people in dire poverty and in need of humanitarian assistance. The exodus has come to be known as “Bolivarian diaspora.”
The majority of people have migrated to Brazil, Colombia, and other Latin American countries, sparking tensions among local communities and presenting a major challenge for migration authorities. Last October, Venezuela surpassed Syria as the number one source of asylum requests into the United States.
Large-scale migration has also caused major tension among local communities in border towns, such as Cúcuta in Colombia and Romeira in Brazil, over fears that many Venezuelans will turn to crime or prostitution because of a lack of employment opportunities.
Others end up sleeping in slums or makeshift camps, surviving off food donations and trying to earn money by washing car windows at traffic lights. Some towns have been subject to anti-migrant protests, some of which have involved violence. Many Venezuelans are also seeking refuge in Ecuador and Peru, with around 3,000 people a day trying into the Peruvian crossing point at Tumbes through Colombia.
Having witnessed Venezuela's unraveling during the last four years, I had no doubt the migration crisis was going to spiral out of control. But watching it happen is heartbreaking: https://t.co/MVF8ILzRlc pic.twitter.com/EMpCT4d8jC
— Alexandra Ulmer (@AlexandraUlmer) August 20, 2018
Both countries recently announced that those without valid passports would be denied entry, a move that will affect the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who only hold a paper ID card rather than a valid passport.
“On the one hand we’re sorry for the Venezuelan people, but they are taking a job away from a Peruvian,” Giannella Jaramillo, an owner of a clothes store, told AFP. “It’s hard to help more people.”
This is the immigration queue to get in to #Peru – from midnight, they won’t let Venezuelans through if they don’t have passports. Less than half an hour left – immigration officials expect lots of angry people who can’t get stamped in time. #migrationcrisis #venezuela pic.twitter.com/LmbJKwvF8E
— Katy Watson (@katywatson) August 25, 2018
This month, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that the country must keep its border open to Venezuela after local authorities closed it, claiming that they could not prepare sufficiently for the influx of people. The state of Roraima has since asked the federal government to halt all Venezuelan migration indefinitely.
Last week, Venezuela’s Minister of Communication Jorge Rodríguez assured that departing Venezuelans “will return” to their homeland so they can help revitalize the country’s shattered economy.
“Fortunately, the conclusion is that Venezuelans will return, and we invite them to do so, because we need them for our plan for economic revival.