Guyanese Venezuelans (the Guyanese diaspora in and/or from Venezuela and settled in other countries like the US and Canada) and Venezuelans in general tell of immediate human suffering and financial distress in their (former) homeland. In recent trips to Aruba and to Florida in June and July, Venezuelans related to me the difficulties of finding basic needs in their once prosperous country. Inflation has eaten away their savings and their salaries. While shopping or eating in a restaurant, prices skyrocket. The socio-economic and political situation is reminiscent of Guyana’s during the period of the dictatorship when Guyanese used to take refuge in the neighbouring country which was kind and generous to them although some did suffer from crime. Tens of thousands of Guyanese migrated to Venezuela where they built a better life owning homes and cars and received a state subsidized education. Now, there is reverse migration as thousands of Venezuelans are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
As I discovered on recent trips to Guyana, some Guyanese Venezuelans (and/or their children and grandchildren born there) have returned to Guyana to live because of the onerous socio-economic conditions they have endured there in recent years. I met quite a number of them, as well as several in New York City where they now live with family members from Guyana. Some Guyanese are married to Hispanic Venezuelans. Some Guyanese Venezuelans are also settled in Florida and Toronto and other parts of the US, sponsored by their Guyanese relatives under the family re-unification programme in America and Canada. They all related how difficult life is there, particularly in relation to the shortages of food and medicine.
The country is on the brink of financial and social collapse, and people are not getting three meals a day with many foraging garbage dumps. And begging in the streets has increased significantly. The situation could get worse in Venezuela because of crippling sanctions and low oil prices. If oil price falls at or below $45 a barrel, Venezuela will be in greater socio-economic trouble. We should note that Venezuela is an oil rich country and yet there is economic collapse – this should not escape the focus of Guyanese given that the government is transitioning Guyana from an agro-economy to an oil-based economy. We are heading into uncharted waters.
The Venezuela crisis should be a cause of alarm for Guyanese because of the potential refugee crisis. We must help people in need. Indeed, as I found, Guyanese shopkeepers are helping some of their Venezuelan Guyanese kin. They must be lauded. But they must go beyond that. We should help our neighbours regardless of their kinship ties to Guyanese especially when they once helped us during our time of difficulty. There should be a free flow of compassion and assistance in this crisis.