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‘Latin America will never be the same’: Venezuela exodus reaches record levels | Global development

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The continuing exodus of millions of Venezuelans is reaching “a tipping point” as the response to the crisis remains critically underfunded.

More than 5.6 million have left the country since 2015, when it had a population of 30 million, escaping political, economic and social hardships. It has become the largest external displacement crisis in the region’s history, and the most underfunded.

“Never in our history in Latin America have we faced such movement of people out of a country that was one of the richest in the region and a country that is not at war,” said Eduardo Stein, special representative of the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “Whatever fails in one of the largest and richest countries in the subcontinent is going to affect the rest of the region. Latin America will never be the same.”

He claimed “donor fatigue” threatened funding, saying: “This pandemic has hit very hard those developed countries who have been traditional donors.”

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What caused the crisis in Venezuela?

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The crisis in Venezuela is largely a political one. With the biggest oil reserves in the world, the country made great social gains during the early years of the Hugo Chávez presidency. 

When Chávez died in 2013, he was succeeded by his top aide in the socialist PSUV party, Nicolás Maduro. A recession followed in 2016 when consumer prices in Venezuela increased by 800%.

In December 2016, opposition parties won a majority in the national assembly. In response, Maduro created a more powerful body, the national constituent assembly, and filled it with supporters.

The same year saw drought and electricity shortages in a country dominated by hydroelectric power. Maduro introduced blackouts and short working weeks for state workers.

Maduro was re-elected in 2018 in a poll widely seen as rigged. The national assembly leader, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president in January 2019 and won the backing of the US, the UN and more than 50 countries. But the Venezuelan military remained loyal to Maduro, who remains in the presidential palace.

A number of opposition politicians have been arrested and many have left the country, along with more than 5 million Venezuelans, as the economy collapsed. Shortages of basic food supplies are widespread, with people forced to queue for hours or go without necessities such as medicines.

The US has imposed sanctions on Maduro, his cronies and Venezuela’s oil industry, making it hard to obtain fuel and foreign currency.

Photograph: Vannessa Jimenez G/Rex Features

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Stein hoped that a conference hosted by Canada last week would bring renewed attention “because we do not think that Latin American countries by themselves will be capable of dealing with this”.

Governments and agencies at the videoconference in Canada pledged $1.5bn (£1.1bn) in funding to respond to the crisis, including $954m in grants and $600m in loans. At least 30 countries were reported to have committed money.

Dany Bahar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in Washington DC, told the Guardian there remained “a big gap” in help for Venezuelan refugees, compared with other modern crises, such as Syria.

He said the total funding per capita for Syrian refugees was more than 10 times that for Venezuelans – at $3,150 compared with $265, based on figures for 2020. Venezuela is second only in the world to Syria in terms of external displacement.

“Most of the host countries in the Venezuelan refugee crisis are in the region, and are developing countries,” Bahar said, “whereas Europe had much skin in the game in the case of the Syrians. Maybe that triggered much more generous funding.”

Last year’s UN response plan received less than half the $1.41bn requested.

The Red Cross has said it needs to raise $264m to support Venezuelans and 17 host countries over the next three years.

Venezuelan migrants Reinaldo, left, 26, Anyier, 40, and her daughter Danyierly, 14, cross the highlands on the border between Bolivia and Chile on foot.
Venezuelan migrants Reinaldo, left, 26, Anyier, 40, and her daughter Danyierly, 14, cross the Bolivian-Chilean border on foot. Photograph: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty

Border closures due to the pandemic stalled migration. But by the end of 2020, 3.9 million Venezuelans were designated as being displaced abroad without formal refugee status – but still judged in need of international protection – up from 3.6 million in 2019, according to the latest UN figures.

Stein said 1,800 to 2,000 people had been leaving Venezuela daily in the past three months, many taking dangerous paths out, including using people traffickers.

Roger Alonso Morgui, at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC), said the crisis was “not news any more”, adding: “When the big population movement happened a few years ago, there was still some attention. That now has become more silent in a way.”

Morgui said the work of aid workers was complicated by the fact that the Venezuelan refugees and migrants move through several countries before reaching a final destination.

“You need to keep on providing resources all over the path, all over the way,” he said. “When you are underfunded,” he added, you “keep on going to the emergency part of the [response] and even [the funding] is not enough to cover [it]”, which makes it “really complicated to find a longer-term solution”.

The majority of refugees are being hosted in Latin America and the Caribbean. Colombia hosts more Venezuelans than any other country, accounting for 1.73 million people..

Colombia has announced that a 10-year legal status would be granted to its undocumented Venezuelans, in a move hailed by Filippo Grandi, of the UN refugee agency, as “the most important humanitarian gesture”.

Dominika Arseniuk, director in Colombia for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said “we stand at a tipping point” amid the cash shortfall.

“International solidarity and financial support is woefully insufficient and falls desperately short of what is needed to respond to the mass exodus from Venezuela,” she said.

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Teenager saves baby from shipwreck during Mediterranean crossing | Global development

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The actions of a teenager from Togo have been lauded after video footage was published of him supporting a baby he saved from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea last week in which at least 30 people died.

The 17-year-old, whose identity has not been disclosed, swam to save the child, whom he was holding above water when a rescue team arrived, in footage published by the French media group Brut.

“I am a good swimmer and I went to help people,” the teenager said, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose Geo Barents rescue ship arrived at the site of the shipwreck.

A teenager holds a baby above water after a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea
The identity of the 17-year-old, who was keeping the baby out of the sea as he clung to the wreckage, has not been disclosed. Photograph: Michael Bunel/Le Pictorium Agency/Zuma/Rex

Michael Bunel, a French photojournalist who was onboard the rescue ship, told Brut that when they arrived they could hear the teenager shouting: “There’s a baby. There’s a baby.”

The crew threw the teenager a flotation device to pull him and another survivor in, and gave urgent treatment to the four-month-old baby, who at first was not breathing. The baby and her mother were evacuated to Malta, according to MSF.

The rubber dinghy was detected only after nine days at sea, said Safa Mselhi, a spokesperson for the UN’s International Organization for Migration. A pregnant woman who could not be resuscitated died onboard the rescue ship.

The Geo Barents rescued 71 people from the shipwreck, some of them with fuel burns, caused when skin comes into contact with petrol that has mixed with seawater.

The survivors on the Geo Barents had to wait almost five days to get to land, only being allowed to disembark at the Italian town of Taranto on Saturday. The ship had been carrying the body of the pregnant woman during this time.

Juan Matías Gil, MSF’s search and rescue representative, said: “This traumatic event is a deadly consequence of the growing inaction and disengagement of European and other border states, including Italy and Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Tragedies at sea continue to cost thousands of lives, and these people are being lost on Europe’s doorstep, with absolute silence and indifference from EU states.”

Sea rescue charities have repeatedly accused the European Union of failing to save refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean by requesting that Libya’s so-called coastguard intercept any boats attempting the crossing, despite allegations of abuse in Libya’s militia-run detention centres.

According to MSF, at least 8,500 people died or went missing, and 95,000 were returned to Libya, in attempting crossings of the Mediterranean between 2017 and 2021.

On Wednesday morning 306 people disembarked in Sicily from SOS Méditerranée’s rescue ship Ocean Viking. Some of the survivors had been onboard for 12 days. The ship carried out eight rescues in less than two weeks – the most recent, on Monday, of 15 people who had been adrift for two days.



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Environment: Colombia and the new Latin American left | Opinion

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After the victory of president-elect Gustavo Petro and vice-president-elect Francia Márquez in Colombia, many have concluded that we are entering a new leftist wave in Latin America. But simply announcing the rise of a new left is more confusing than it is illuminating. New in what sense? In comparison to what? What distinguishes it from others? Who are its members? Without answers to these questions, Latin America’s political moment cannot be understood, and one risks stating the obvious (that the left is new because it is recent) or randomly grouping together very different movements and governments.

What is new about the new left?” is a question that surfaces from time to time. The last “new left” (which, of course, it is no longer) was the pink wave at the beginning of the century. As I wrote at the time in a book entitled, predictably, The New Latin American Left, it was the wave led by Lula’s Brazil and swelled by other governments that would follow very different paths, from the progressive democracy of Tabaré Vásquez and Pepe Mujica in Uruguay to the authoritarian disaster of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, as well as governments as diverse as those of the Kirchners in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

I think that what is new and distinctive of the progressivism that won this year in Colombia and Chile is precisely what all those left-wing governments lacked: an environmental agenda and economic policies that understand that fossil fuels and extractive industries are the past. And that there is no future, neither for the left nor for anyone else, on an uninhabitable planet. Despite the profound differences among the leftist governments of the last two decades, all of them shared with right-wing governments the enthusiastic promotion of extractive industries, from oil and coal to mining and agribusiness.

In Brazil, Lula and Dilma Rousseff ended up fulfilling the military dictatorship’s dreams of opening up the Amazon to monumental hydroelectric dams like Belo Monte, to feed energy to mining projects throughout the region. In Bolivia, former vice-president Alvaro García Linera went so far as to publish a defense of extractivism in the Amazon. Rafael Correa was even more explicit: he referred to Indigenous peoples and environmentalists who opposed his policies of aggressive expansion of oil and mining in Ecuador as the “infantile left.” The aberrant case of Venezuela belongs to a different category: “21st century socialism” not only maintained oil dependence, but used it to finance what ended up being a “dictatorship of the 21st century,” as Provea, the well-known Venezuelan NGO, has called it.

The extractivism of the left was due, in part, to reasons of convenience. The pink wave overlapped with a period of record prices for commodities. The resulting hard currency financed exemplary social policies in several countries, such as the Zero Hunger and Bolsa Familia programs in Brazil. In part, however, it was due to sheer conviction. Even today, important sectors of the left, such as the López Obrador government in Mexico, tend to see oil and mining exploitation as indisputable pillars of national development and sovereignty—and environmentalism as a naïve movement, at best, or as an instrument of the rich countries, at worst.

But much has changed in the last twenty years. Today we are living the reality of climate change and know that we have less than a decade left for governments to take urgent action to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios of global warming and the irreversible destruction of vital ecosystems such as the Amazon. We understand that human health and the health of the planet depend on national policies and international agreements to protect biodiversity in at least 30% of the Earth by 2030. Finally, we know that Latin America would suffer disproportionately from the effects of environmental collapse, such as forced migrations, economic and food crises, and social conflicts.

If it is to deserve the label “new,” the left in power would have to rise to this new planetary moment. And follow the momentum of the progressive movements that embody it and that were essential to the electoral outcome in Colombia, as shown by the iconic figure of vice-president-elect Francia Márquez: the Black and Indigenous movements, the urban environmentalism of young people, ecofeminism, the small farmers’ movements.

At a time when the global right seems to bet on the destruction of the planet (Bolsonaro, Modi, Putin, etc.), the left should distinguish itself not only by its social agenda but also by its environmental agenda. Abandoning extractivism and moving towards clean economies is not irresponsible, as critics suggest, but indispensable. This seems to be the view of the environmental progressivism that is emerging in Colombia and Chile. Petro and Márquez’s proposals contemplate a gradual and fair transition to reduce the historic dependence on oil and coal, among other measures. Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s government promised a “just socio-ecological transition” and has just shut down the Ventanas copper smelter, an emblem of mining pollution.

Thus, the first leftist government in Colombia may have regional and global repercussions. An initial sign of this turn was the first conversation between Petro and President Biden, which included a possible alliance on climate change and Amazon conservation. If accompanied by a shift to the left in Brazil (where it remains to be seen whether a possible Lula government would abandon the extractivist tradition) and adequate funding from wealthy countries that have polluted the most, the proposal of Latin American environmental progressivism could contribute not only to the consolidation of a new left, but also to the preservation of life on the planet.

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More than 5,000 people are missing in Balochistan. I want my father back | Sammi Deen Baloch

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I started protesting after my father, Dr Deen Mohammed Baloch, was abducted from his hospital in Khuzdar, Balochistan, on 28 June 2009. I became an activist, raising my voice against the heinous crime of enforced disappearances: more than 5,000 people are missing in Balochistan.

In the 13 years since my father was taken, I have spent most of my time on roads, in front of journalists’ press clubs across Pakistan – with a photograph in my hand, asking a simple question: “Where is my father? What is his crime?”

Enforced disappearances in my home province is a decades-old issue, from when the Balochistan nationalist movement began in the early 2000s.

In 2014, I, along with other relatives of missing people, marched 2,000km (1,200 miles) over 116 days from Quetta to the capital, Islamabad. As a 15-year-old, with my swollen feet, I thought going to the capital would make those in power have some mercy. I was wrong.

My mother does not know whether she is a widow or still married. We deserve to know the truth – whether my father is alive or dead.

If my father is alive, he should be released or brought to a court of law. If he has been killed, we should be given proof.

I have spent 13 years in this struggle to know the truth but I have never been as humiliated, harassed, beaten and verbally abused as I was at our recent peaceful protest in Karachi.

One police man grasped my hand forcefully and another held me by the neck. I felt as if my bones were going to be fractured.

My sister, Mehlab Baloch, was slapped three times. Bakhtawar, a fellow activist who was filming, had her phone snatched by the police. She was dragged along the road. This was all caught on camera and the video widely shared.

Police mocked us after throwing us in their van. We were warned not to protest or else they would “drag and beat us” more.

The police told me: “You think you are a leader and are at the forefront. We will teach you a lesson.”

Our headscarves were removed. The officers threatened us by saying to each other: “Once their shalwars [trousers] are removed, then they will stop protesting.”

Protesters march holding placards. One says: ‘Murder of Karima Baloch is the continuation of Baloch genocide’
A protest at the murder of Karima Baloch, a leading Pakistani human rights activist living in exile in Canada who was found dead in 2020. Photograph: Rahat Dar/EPA

They called us disgraced women, accusing us of protesting to win fame and to appear in the media.

We were released at about 2am.

The state and its security agencies have responded to the separatist movement with a “kill and dump” policy and are forcefully disappearing students, lawyers, doctors, political activists and their sympathisers.

Last year, I, along with other representatives of missing persons’ families, met the former prime minister Imran Khan, who was a critical voice on the issue before coming to power. Khan now seems to be a toothless tiger.

His human rights minister, Shireen Mazari, introduced a bill against enforced disappearances. The irony was that the bill itself went missing.

Now, after losing power, Khan’s party is once again denouncing enforced disappearances.

In the same way, Maryam Nawaz, [vice-president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, then the main opposition party], visited us last year and criticised Imran Khan for his false promises. She assured us that action would be taken if her party came to power.

Nawaz’s uncle, Shehbaz Nawaz, is prime minister now but they seem helpless before the security agencies.

Women’s organisations in Pakistan do not raise their voices for Baloch women and the violence against us. This is saddening.

We come from respectable families and we are not happy to be demonstrating on the streets. Our men have disappeared – that’s why Baloch women, from a conservative province, are coming out of their homes to protest.

I would rather focus on my career like other young women. But how can one if your father, husband or brother is missing?

In April, there was a female suicide bomber, Shari Baloch. Since then the state has cracked down against activists, students and women, saying that we are all terrorists.

We have nothing to do with such violent activities. We don’t support violence.

I am not demanding anything unlawful – enforced disappearance is unlawful. I just want my father back.

Am I asking for something illegal? The state may portray us as terrorists after Shari’s attack but we are not. We are peaceful protesters. We suffer every moment of every day.

Sammi Deen Baloch is general secretary of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a group that formed alongside the separatist movement in Pakistan

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