A Hellish Journey to the American Dream: Venezuelan Displacement in Latin America

A Hellish Journey to the American Dream: Venezuelan Displacement in Latin America

. 4 min read

“Somos Venezolanos, no tenemos que comer!” (We are Venezuelan, we have nothing to eat), were the words written on a handmade poster, carried through one of Costa Rica’s most transited streets in Santa Ana, by a family of four. Such words conveyed a message of desperation and uncertainty for the future that awaited the family, and the disturbing journey they had experienced before arriving in the country. Throughout late 2022, Costa Rica’s streets were filled with Venezuelan families who took on the terrestrial path to the United States.

Increase of Venezuelan Migration to the US

Since 2015, more than seven million Venezuelans have migrated to different parts of the world in search of better opportunities. However, as of last year, the limits of legal migration of Venezuelans have increased due to the White House’s effort to reduce irregular migration, which allows up to 24,000 qualifying Venezuelans to lawfully enter the United States. According to the Department of Homeland Security, for Venezuelans to lawfully enter the United States, they must have a financial supporter in the United States, complete vaccinations, and other public health requirements. They must pass a rigorous biometric and biographic national security and public safety vetting process. Additionally, Venezuelans are not eligible if they had been ordered removed from the United States in the previous five years, have crossed without authorization between ports of entry after the date of announcement, have irregularly entered Mexico or Panama after the date of announcement, or are a permanent resident or dual national of any country other than Venezuela, and/or currently hold refugee status in any country. Nevertheless, what limits most Venezuelans from participating in this process is that they are only approved if they travel by air directly into the country. Venezuelans are required to pay US$200, which is ten times the minimum wage, to apply for a passport. This is extremely limiting for most of the population, as the average Venezuelan lives on US$12 a month and 76.6 percent live in extreme poverty. Therefore, this policy disqualifies most families. As of 2022,  more than 150,000 Venezuelans migrants chose the terrestrial path to other Latin American countries and the United States. However, many Venezuelans arrive at the border only to be deported back to Mexico. While some are able to return to Venezuela, others are stuck in other regions of Latin America. This is devastating for Venezuelans who take the terrestrial route to the United States, as to get there they traverse one of the most dangerous jungles on earth—the Darien Gap—an over sixty-six mile roadless jungle filled with poisonous snakes, insects, and an armed drug trafficking guerrilla located between northern Colombia and Panamá. This is the infernal journey that all Venezuelans go through before arriving in Costa Rica.

Crossing the Darien Gap

Venezuelans who make it to Costa Rica often arrive with severe injuries, exhaustion, and trauma. In particular, they often arrive with tired feet, bleeding legs, dehydrated bodies, infected with diseases caused by the hostile mysteries of the Darien, not to mention that many are simultaneously grieving the loss of a family member or friend who did not make it through. In the Darien, Venezuelans along with their families have the horrifying experience of witnessing the lifeless bodies swallowed by the mud and beaten by the waters of the jungle. Pictures and videos documenting the journey of migrants are extremely explicit and help portray what many Venezuelans suffer when seeking political asylum.

Even then, the hellish journey is far from over. Many Venezuelans have to continue their migration unattended and severely ill along with their families. In late 2022, Venezuelans were in Costa Rica occupying the streets, vacant lots, and sleeping in carps in order to raise the necessary funds to continue their journey to the Mexican border with the United States. Furthermore, 11, 261 Venezuelans have crossed the Costa Rican border into Nicaragua. Venezuelans passing through Nicaragua’s oppressive authoritarian regime run the risk of becoming trapped and abused by governmental officials. In August of 2022, 118 Venezuelan migrants were docked by Nicaraguan migration functionaries who demanded US$150 in return for a safe-conduct that was never given to them. Furthermore, they were stripped naked, imprisoned, and had their personal belongings requisitioned where they had their money stolen.

Another alarming Nicaraguan case happened in October of last year, where thirteen Venezuelans, among them Samuel Segovia, a seven-year-old boy, were crossing the San Andrés island by boat and disappeared. Each of these Venezuelans were charged US$1300 dollars per person. However, various lamentable stories of Venezuelan migrants like this still go unseen by the media.

The Reality for Many Venezuelans Who Arrive at the Mexican Border

Moreover, Venezuelans who make it to the Mexican border but are returned from the United States face many challenges as they try to relocate to another region of Latin America. According to the United Nations Refugee and Migrant Needs Analysis (RMNA), 4.3 million Venezuelans are facing issues obtaining housing, stable jobs, and accessing food. Various Latin American countries are already facing high rates of unemployment and poverty, which makes it very difficult for them to afford their basic needs. Half of Venezuelan migrants are not able to afford three meals a day, which leads many to resort to “survival sex” to avoid living in the streets. 86 percent of Venezuelans’ income in Ecuador does not meet the basic necessities and 13 percent of Venezuelans in Chile live below the poverty line.

Venezuelan Crisis: What’s Next?

For over 20 years, Venezuela has been under an authoritarian regime. Venezuelans continue to lose their lives as they migrate in the pursuit of basic necessities to survive such as medicine and food. Their lives lay in the hands of the economic crisis as the regime continues to grow the citizens' government dependency on basic necessities without being able to meet the demand. Currently, Venezuela is in desperate need of real long-term solutions that can help battle governmental corruption at its core and help alleviate the troubles that millions of Venezuelans go through every day as they are forced to leave their homeland.

A combination of authoritarian laws have limited foreign help from intervening and taking action. However, the Venezuelan situation cannot be forgotten as it is of extreme concern and should be more delicately analyzed to further determine possible solutions. One potential avenue is communicating the struggles that Venezuelans must endure in order to arrive in the United States just to in many cases be deported and unable to go back to Venezuela where their family remains. Media coverage on the Venezuelan crisis continues to be underrepresented, therefore failing to showcase one of the world’s most devastating political and humanitarian issues. Conveying the shocking stories of Venezuelans is critical to calling governments into action by seeking solutions to provide the migrants who are crossing their country's border the necessary aid as well as combat the limitations that allow them to successfully seek asylum.