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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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Delta COVID Variant Reportedly Draws Biden’s Attention, Resources Away From Other Priorities

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Despite high overall rates of vaccinations in the US, more and more Americans are getting infected with the new, rapidly spreading ‘delta’ variant of the coronavirus, once again testing the limits of hospitals and reportedly sparking talks about new mask-up orders from authorities.

The rapidly increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the US caused by the more infectious delta strain of the virus is frustrating the Biden administration, as the problem draws attention and resources away from other priorities that the White House would like to concentrate on, the Washington Post reported, citing several anonymous sources. Among the problems that the administration reportedly had to de-prioritise are Biden’s infrastructure initiatives, voting rights, an overhaul of policing, gun control and immigration.

The White House reportedly hoped that the pandemic would be gradually ebbing by this time, allowing it to focus more on other presidential plans. Instead, the Biden administration is growing “anxious” about the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases, the newspaper sources said. The White House press secretary indirectly confirmed that Biden is currently preoccupied with the pandemic the most.

“Getting the pandemic under control [and] protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been [and] continues to be his number-one priority. It will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 22 July.

The administration had reportedly expected new outbreaks in the country, but not as many as they’re seeing. Current analytical models predict anything between a few thousand new cases and 200,000 new infected daily, the Washington Post reported. Washington also fears that daily deaths might reach over 700 per day, up from the current average of 250. However, the White House doesn’t expect the pandemic numbers to return to their 2020 peak levels.

At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to find scapegoats to blame for the current shortcomings in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Namely, Biden  last week accused the social media platform of failing to combat the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 and thus “killing people”. The statement raised many eyebrows since many platforms mark COVID-related posts and insert links to reliable sources of information regarding the disease and the vaccination efforts aimed at fighting it. The White House also hinted that the Republican-controlled states became the main sources of new COVID cases, while often underperforming in terms of vaccination rates.



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Sierra Leone abolishes death penalty | Global development

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Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.

On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.

Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.

A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.

Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.

Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.

Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.

“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.

“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”

Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.

“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.

Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.

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[Ticker] EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021

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The European Commission announced it is on track to share some 200 million doses of vaccines against Covid-19 before the end of the year. It says the vaccines will go to low and middle-income countries. “We will be sharing more than 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with low and middle-income countries by the end of this year,” said European commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

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