Venezuelan MSNBC Correspondent Mariana Atencio Sheds Light on Venezuelan Migrant Crisis
THE BOLIVARIAN DIASPORA
The massive exodus of Venezuelans escaping the humanitarian and political crisis in their country — also known as the 'Bolivarian Diaspora — does not stop. According to UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), between 4,000 and 5,000 Venezuelans leave the country every day. Many of them travel on foot to neighboring countries. Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are the most common destinations for these migrants.
"The Venezuelan migrant crisis has reached a breaking point," says MSNBC correspondent Mariana Atencio, who was born in Venezuela and has covered the political and humanitarian crisis in her country for various networks. "I can tell you from my experience that almost every Venezuelan, still in the country, has a family member who has fled."
HOPING FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE
"The U.N. estimates there are 4.5 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide, and it projects the number to increase to 6.5 million by December 2020," Atencio adds. "Aside from the socioeconomic impact of this exodus on the receiving countries, there are alarming reports of exploitation and abuse."
In this photo, taken this month, a Venezuelan migrant feeds her child as she begs in the streets of La Paz. According to reports, thousands of Venezuelans fleeing economic and political devastation at home are now starting to arrive in Bolivia.
"Here in the U.S., members of Congress have shown support to Venezuela’s growing migrant community," Atencio says. "The House of Representatives is voting on an appropriations bill to support the Venezuelan people, introduced by South Florida Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Donna Shalala (FL-27), and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26), which is expected to pass soon. There’s still a lot to be done, including extending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelan refugees, but it’s a start." In this photo, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Knight Craft gives a meal to a Venezuelan migrant during a visit to Cucuta, Colombia, in November 2019.
A NEW PROMISE
"When the opposition’s leader Juan Guaidó emerged as an option for change earlier this year, a lot of Venezuelans felt hopeful for the first time in a long time," Atencio explains. "But the reality is that now they are getting more and more disillusioned, and everyday Venezuelans continue to flee the country."
Meanwhile, Nicolás Maduro hangs on to power in Venezuela and continues to criticize capitalism and President Donald Trump, who has expressed his support for Guaidó. "Some critics say that Guaidó may have missed his moment, and the inability of the opposition to unite and settle on actions rather than dialogue has further deepened the crisis," Atencio says.
"One of the most devastating parts of this crisis is the sense of isolation we feel as Venezuelans in and out of the country. The feeling that the rest of the world doesn’t understand, or worse, that nobody else cares," Atencio admits. "It hits you in the pit of your stomach when you’re trying to get medicine for a family member or see kids go hungry in the streets as I have painfully experienced firsthand." In this photo, a Venezuelan family stays at a UNHCR camp in La Guajira, Colombia in October.
LEAVING THEIR HOMELAND
"The situation of the caminantes is particularly worrisome given the perils along the long journey they have to endure to reach their destinations," Atencios says of the migrants. "They are also facing increased xenophobia, health concerns, human trafficking and gender-based violence, among other serious issues."
Protests continue in the streets of Venezuela. In this photo, women wearing red suits and masks take part in a choreographed performance against gender violence and patriarchy at the Venezuela square in Caracas on December 6.
SCARCITY AND DESPERATION
"Buying basic hygiene products has become a major struggle. The cost of shampoo exceeds 140,000 bolivars. At the pharmacy, the price of a generic anti-allergy medication can reach 120,000 bolivars," Atencio says about the economic devastation in Venezuela. The International Monetary Fund projects that the inflation rate will reach 200,000 percent by the end of 2019. According to a report by Voice of America, a 14-ounce pack of powdered milk costs 100,000 bolivars. In September 2019, when the minimum wage was 40,000 bolivars (equivalent to $6), the cost of a basic food basket was 3.8 million bolivars (about $178, or 93 times the minimum wage), according to reports from the Documentation and Analysis Center for Workers in Venezuela.
"Less than 20 years ago Venezuela was one of the wealthiest countries in the region due to its large oil reserves. It's almost heartbreaking that it now faces severe poverty," Atencio says. "In the streets of my hometown, you find mothers feeding their children out of garbage cans."
"We have to come together as human beings to lend each other a helping hand in a time of need. If there’s something we can all learn from the crisis in Venezuela, it’s that you can be a prosperous country one day and have the tables turn dramatically the next. It's why I emphasize empathy in my storytelling," the Emmy-winning journalist concludes. "No matter the differences, learn to put yourself in other people’s shoes, trying to understand their circumstances without judging or patronizing. Our world is more interconnected than ever. The good and the bad that happens everywhere will affect you at some point."
How can people help Venezuelans in the country and migrants who have fled? "By making donations," Atencio says. "Venezuelans are facing severe shortages of basic human needs, both monetary and humanitarian (medicine, food, volunteers). Organizations like Project HOPE visit hospitals and treat patients in need. Also, by extending a hand to a Venezuelan friend. As we celebrate the holidays, Venezuelans in the U.S. and around the world are separated from their families. They work tirelessly to provide for their relatives back home. A simple act of kindness or show of support during this season goes a long way. Offer legal help. Spread the word about what's happening in Venezuela on social media. Reach out to your representatives and urge them to support granting TPS to Venezuelans."