The humanitarian crisis caused by tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants streaming across the porous border with Colombia has yet to subside, and remains a threat to the economic stability of a region crippled by debt and stumped economic prosperity.
As scores of migrants head south to neighboring Ecuador and Peru, many others have sought refuge in Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. In Colombia, the migrants are dispersed, looking for an opportunity to earn a living, either in our cities or small towns. The deluge of Venezuelan refugees streaming into Colombia has fostered empathy from those who understand the inhumane situation they have been subjected to by a ruthless regime that has lost its political and economic horizons to endemic corruption, hyperinflation, and tyranny. But even though the hardships faced by millions of Venezuelans hardly transcends headlines, the refugee crisis that Colombia and its neighbors must grapple with is as desperate as what Europe and Turkey have faced with the collapse of Syria. Less than one month into his presidency, Iván Duque has to introduce tough, yet fair measures to stem the flow of migrants that could number 2 million over the next 12 months.
The unprecedented displacement is straining the country’s social welfare system at a time in which the outgoing government of Juan Manuel Santos allocated important economic resources to nance the peace process with the former guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. This process has reached a fragile crossroads, after FARC’s most senior negotiator ‘Iván Marquez, and ‘El Paisa’, dropped beneath the radar and whose whereabouts remain unknown. While rumor has it, that they may have fled to Venezuela (as opposed to 1 million heading this way), the disappearance of Márquez and El Paisa, confirms what many in this country believe: Venezuela continues to conspire against Colombia, while we welcome their hungry masses.
The disappearance of eight other members of FARC, compounded by contradictory reports on the whereabouts of the organization’s former en masse kidnapper “Romana,” reveals the precarious state of a post-conflict, hailed until the final hours of the Santos government, as “historic.”
The emergency on our borders and claims that many vulnerable migrants are being recruited into criminal organizations should be of major concern, at a time in which Colombia was finally shedding its cloak of a rogue nation and a particularly violent one. Even though history may look approvingly on Santos’ legacy, at the expense of a fiscal deficit of 25.6 trillion pesos (US$8.6 billion), if the new administration cannot find the necessary funds to make up the shortfall, the prospect of “enduring peace” may be more elusive than ever. And this, without considering how to pay the way of a humanitarian crisis, caused by a communist regime more intent on providing safe passage to former rebels, than feeding its citizens.
The collapse of Venezuela isn’t only about refugees, but a dictatorship that has shown since the early days of Hugo Cháves, its willingness to nance dissent and regime change in the hemisphere. One of the recipients of up to US$300 million were FARC, and who also received arms and military training in the cattle-growing estates owned by Chavistas.
Chances are Márquez isn’t sitting poolside at the Caracas Hilton, but his orchestrated disappearance within Colombia, has caused a seismic rift within FARC’s leadership, and hardly sets an example to the thousands of demobilized combatants who are staying the course with the implementation of the accords, and want to integrate into civilian life by getting an education, and land their first job.
While the organization’s top former commander, alias “Timochenko,” has shown his unwavering commitment to the accords, the fact that 29 dissident groups of former FARC rebels are in control of regions that border Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela is more than worrisome.
At a time in which Colombia should have been well down the road to peace, the criminal landscape is crowded as Clan del Golfo confronts dissidents for control of lucrative drug trafficking routes. Even though President Duqué has vowed to restore security with justice, the break up of FARC, compounded by a million refugees as fertile ground for subversion, has to snap Colombians out of complacency to avoid a hemispheric tragedy represented in the Caminantes.