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LATIN AMERICA | 04-09-2018 13:31

Latin America seeks common ground to handle Venezuelan migrants

Venezuelan government criticises UN, saying it has been using data from 'enemy countries.' They refused to identify which ones in particular.

Latin American ministers are meeting in Ecuador in a bid to tackle the massive Venezuelan migrant crisis that has jolted the region. Meanwhile, Venezuela's government has accused the United Nations of exaggerating the situation to justify "international intervention." 

The delegates from 13 regional nations were seeking outside funding as they discussed in Quito a common solution to regularise the situation of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have migrated due to a situation whose very existence Caracas denies.

Venezuelans who immigrate "are highly vulnerable to human trafficking, the smuggling of migrants, labour exploitation, lack of access to social security, extortion, violence, sexual abuse, recruitment for criminal activities, discrimination and xenophobia," said Ecuadorean Deputy Foreign Minister Andrés Terán.

The two-day meeting in Quito precedes extraordinary talks at the Organisation of American States (OAS) set to begin Wednesday to discuss the same issue.

Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez said the government had complained to UN Secretary-General António Guterres that "individual officials" have been portraying "a normal migratory flow as a humanitarian crisis to justify an intervention."

Meltdown

The UN says 1.6 million Venezuelans since 2015 have fled economic meltdown in the country, which has been hit by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.

Venezuela is in a fourth year of recession while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted inflation in the troubled country will reach one million percent this year.

The flood of migrants abandoning their country to seek a better life elsewhere has left countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru creaking under the strain.

In addition to discussing a common regulatory framework, Latin American nations are seeking to show the impact that the massive arrival of migrants has on various countries' finances.

Argentina's envoy, and ambassador to Quito, Darío Giustozzi stressed the need to "unify" document requirements for Venezuelans, who depending on the nation must present a certificate, passport or visa.

'Enemy countries'

The delegates from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Uruguay are scheduled to issue a joint statement on Tuesday.

The UN's representative in Ecuador, Arnaud Peral, celebrated the regional effort and urged international donors to continue contributing.

The United States, a fierce critic of Nicolás Maduro's government, has already disbursed aid to Colombia and Brazil to handle the Venezuelan influx, while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced last week European funding of 35 million euros (US$40 million).

Most Venezuelan migrants have travelled to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, but only Colombia has temporarily regularized some 820,000 Venezuelans.

With the exception of Bolivia and Nicaragua, most governments in the region reject the Maduro government as a dictatorship and blame it for the crisis.

At the same time, countries like Colombia are seeking greater international pressure to make way for a democratic transition.

'Fake news'

Speaking at a press conference, Rodríguez said UN officials had been using data from "enemy countries" and presenting it "as if it was their own."

Rodríguez didn't identify who those officials or enemy states were, though.

"The worst humanitarian crisis the world is going through right now is that cause by NATO and European Union countries in Africa and the Middle East," added Rodríguez, who called on top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini to stamp out "fake news."

She pointed to a new UN report that stated nearly 1,600 migrants had died or gone missing in 2018 on "the way to Europe."

Rodríguez branded neighbouring Colombia "pimps" and claimed it is seeking international funds in order to use Venezuela to "live" off donations.

But Colombian President Iván Duque, who will host his US counterpart Donald Trump in November, advocated for a strategy to "diplomatically isolate Maduro," but batted down any possible "military intervention" led by the United States.

- TIMES/AP

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