Two young Venezuelan women caught a glimpse of a text message and had a terrifying realization: they were about to be sold into a sex-trafficking network. When Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Tamara Taraciuk Broner interviewed the pair, they were walking down the road outside Cúcuta, Colombia, having just escaped.
The two women are some of the 200 Venezuelans who set out on foot across the border with Colombia each day. These walkers spend an average of 16 hours per day on the road for 13 days. Nine in 10 sleep on the streets. The walkers are among the 2.3 million Venezuelans—more than 7 percent of the total population—who’ve fled the country since 2014.
The migration is chronicled in the Human Rights Watch report The Venezuelan Exodus, for which Taraciuk is the lead researcher and author. Beyond chronicling the known numbers of migrants and their stories, the report also lays out three recommendations for the international community, and for Latin American countries in particular: 1) provide Venezuelans with some sort of temporary legal status, 2) create a regional fund to share the costs of receiving the migrants, and 3) address the root cause of the migration—the economic and political crisis occurring under the watch of the Maduro regime—through a globally coordinated plan to pressure the Venezuelan government further.
On sanctions, while the United States and Canada have placed more than 50 high-level Venezuelan officials under individual sanctions for corruption or human rights abuses, the European Union has only sanctioned 14. “So there’s a lot of room there to include more people in these lists,” says Taraciuk, who says that Latin American countries should also sign on to these sanctions.
“As long as Maduro continues to crack down...Venezuelans will continue to flee.”
The crisis is nonetheless motivating countries in the region to take action: they moved up a regional summit in Quito to address the migration crisis, days before a meeting from the Organization of American States (OAS) on the same topic. In one significant positive development, countries announced a plan to recognize Venezuelan legal documents, and the OAS is setting up a working group to further streamline migrants’ ability to set up new lives in their host countries.
One more action that's on the horizon: for the first time in the history of the International Criminal Court, five countries—Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru—are expected to file what’s called a state referral for prosecution of the Maduro regime for human rights violations in the coming weeks.
For Taraciuk, the Venezuelan exodus also touches a deeper historical and personal level: It was Venezuela that took in her own family members after they fled the military takeover in Argentina in 1976. “Venezuela welcomed immigrants from different parts of the world in different times,” she says. “Now we have the opportunity and the responsibility to help Venezuelans who need us to stand up for them.”
- Read the HRW report, The Venezuelan Exodus.
- Learn more about AS/COA’s Venezuelan Working Group.
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This episode was produced by Elizabeth Gonzalez. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.