Forced internal migration grows in Venezuela
“I came from Trujilo because I needed to get a job, but also because life there is getting very difficult. Even though people work, they don’t have gas, electricity or petrol. Cooking has become a herculean task. First you have to buy whatever you can, whatever reaches us and then we have to look for firewood or coal to cook it. This is not an exaggeration; this is what it’s like.”
The statement by Rebeca Torres, a 24-year-old cashier at a bakery on Rómulo Gallegos Avenue in Caracas, demonstrates the new phase of migration in Venezuela: internal displacement. After the departure of more than 4 million people, according to figures from international organisations, many of those who stayed in the country decided to leave their homes in the interior of the country to go to the big cities, especially Caracas.
Rebeca, who was able to complete her high school studies in Boconó, which is a tourist and agricultural city in the Venezuelan Andes, now tries to earn money to send her mother and two younger siblings, one of whom is in a wheelchair because of illness. “To take him to the hospital for his checks we have to use my uncle’s car. We often can’t go because there is no petrol, so we have to get until he gets it,” she says.
Trujillo borders the states of Barinas, Lara, Merida, Portuguesa and Zulia, regions where public services such as electricity, gas, water and telecommunications have been most affected by the crisis. There is also a lack of fuel and cash. On the other hand, internet failures and the overload of banking systems have prevented payments going through and have led to the closure of businesses, making product supply nearly impossible. That is why moving to an area close to her home state was not an option for Rebecca.
Although the quality of public services and transport in Caracas have worsened, they are better than in the other 23 states of the country. In Miranda (where four of its municipalities form part of Greater Caracas) there has been a temporary shortage of petrol, but people in the interior have had to go onto long lists to buy fuel or have had to wait up to two days in line to stock up at service stations.
Like Rebeca, many people have moved to Caracas to look for employment, especially for higher salaries or payment in dollars. Experts believe that is what is happening in Venezuela is internal migration rather than displacement, since people move to new locations intending to stay there. They explain, furthermore, how the rural to urban migration that occurred in previous years has now become urban to urban migration.
“In the interior of the country there are hardly any jobs, companies have closed because they have gone bankrupt or left Venezuela and the service sector is much smaller than in big cities. People are forced to leave in order to find what they need to live, on top of having lost their quality of life” says Claudia Vargas a sociologist and researcher at the Simón Bolívar University (USB).
Fifteen months ago Anfrer López, moved to Caracas from El Tigre, Anzoátegui, one of the oil states in eastern Venezuela. He says that the job situation worsened after the production of crude oil began to fall dramatically.
He worked for a company that provides services to PDVSA, but after the drilling stopped the extraction of crude oil did too and the company didn’t need many workers. The city is virtually on top of the Orinoco oil belt, and the Eastern Petroleum Division of Venezuela was for many years the largest producer in the industry, meaning that El Tigre was emerging as a large city.
“For a long time, I tried to find another job in El Tigre so I could support my four children, but I couldn’t find one, so I decide to go to Caracas, I had to move to Caracas.”
Anfrer studied telecommunications engineering for five semesters at the headquarters of UNEFA (Universidad Nacional Experimental de la Fuerza Armada Bolivariana, National Experimental University of the Bolivarian Armed Forces) in El Tigre. Another reason he moved to the capital with his 12-year-old son was to continue his career. "In this city (Caracas) there are more opportunities for better employment and study."
In Venezuela there has always been migration from the interior of the country to the big cities by people in search of a better life; but currently the main driver of migration is the profound crisis in the country and deterioration in people’s quality of life. Recently, the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict indicated that there were 708 different protests reported throughout the country last September alone. 245 were due to public service failures: 118 protests were demand for drinking water, 99 for electricity and 28 for petrol.
In the past rural-urban migration was driven by industrialisation process and it improved the lives many. Everything in Venezuela was related to the oil economy and the development of the commerce and service sectors. Obviously, those who have left the countryside for the city found a better life in terms of income and quality of life,” Vargas recalls.
Instead, she explains, people today are forced to migrate because the situation in the interior is 2 or 3 times worse than in the major cities, especially, when compared to Caracas. The lack of services prevents people carrying out their daily routines such as going to school, teaching or opening their businesses because they don’t have the basic means to do so.
‘That forces people to move to a different place where they can find better opportunities. One of the costs of internal migration, as with external migration, is that it affects the social fabric, the household and the family, because not everyone in the family leaves, according to Professor Vargas.
Ramón Piñango, a sociologist at the Institute of Higher Studies in Administration (IESA) agrees that the causes of current internal migration are different from in the past.
“We may be witnessing a new form of rural-urban migration from the traditional sense of the term as was seen in the 60s, when people who came from the countryside to Caracas,” he says.
Initially, those who moved to Caracas had already decided to go abroad, they needed to go to the capital in order to process the necessary documents to live abroad such as educational and criminal records which had to be made official. Others moved into the homes of relatives who left the country. This meant they were able to look for a better quality of life, while taking care of properties.
Piñango says there are two types of people who have moved internally: those who travel from the interior to Caracas on their own and those who are forced to because of family connections and their relatives: these may have their children in Caracas and the children want to bring their parents to live with them so they don’t have to work any longer. Many people from the interior do not like living in a big city.
This is the story of two sisters, both 80, who lived in Maracaibo, the main oil state of Venezuela and who had to abandon the life they had built to move to Caracas, because the situation became unsustainable.
“They went to live in the houses of another of my sisters who have lived in Caracas for many years,” says ‘Humberto’ (not his real name so he cannot be identified) their brother, who says they were born in Maracaibo which as suffered the worst crisis of its existence in the last few years.
Maracaibo is a ghost city because of the constant blackouts have left the population without electricity for several hours and even days. This also affects the water supply, as well as the internet, business and mobile phone service. Many people are forced to sleep outside due to the intense heat in the region, although others do not dare, especially the elderly who are the most affected, because they have been left alone after their children have migrated.
The businessmen and industrialists of Zulia declared a state of emergency, as many businesses have had to close due to the lack of energy and the difficulties using the bank payments system, which has reduced the supply of food products and medicines.
Other than the monetary costs required to move from one city to another, t Claudia Vargas from the University Simon Bolivar explains there is also a loss of family roots, and costs in the places where they move.
This is the case with Anfrer, who regrets not being able to share more time with his three daughters but knows that he can get there to see them by travelling about seven hours of travel since they live in El Tigre with their mother. “The four of them are very attached to me, my son is with me studying here in Caracas and I call his sisters often. If I was not in the country it would take me more than 7 or 8 hours to go and see them. I prefer to be in my own country.”
Upon arriving in Caracas, Anfrer already had a place to live, since his aunt and grandmother were able to offer him a home. “We help each other, and we are slowly moving forward. We have problems with water, and we have go out to find it sometimes,” he says, although he also says he feels better in Caracas despite having to be careful because he feels insecure.
He says that although the economic situation and living conditions are improving, he doesn’t know if he will return to his hometown. “Caracas is much better than El Tigre with respect to public services. In El Tigre the biggest problem is that you can be left without electricity for two or three days”.
Claudia Vargas argues that a consequence of internal migration is an increase in population density, which is reflected in the difficulties and even the collapse of public services. “We are not saying that an internal migration towards the cities, particularly Caracas is affecting the quality of life of its inhabitants, but it is creating some problems”.
Ramón Piñango, a sociologist, agrees that this type of population displacement will aggravate the situation of cities and especially Caracas.
“There will be problems of adaption for people who decided to travel to city but they could also begin to collapse services such as water, electricity, toilets that are already quite overloaded,” he says.
Measuring internal migration in Venezuela has not yet been addressed by any private agency or educational institution and there are no official figures. The National Institute of Statistics (INE) has no information on it. Thus far, internal migration has only been observed qualitatively even though, according to experts, it is set to increase.
“Like external migration, it will continue to increase because the necessary measures are not being taken to reverse this situation. Except for a few exceptions such as those living on the border, people have to search for ways to get a better salary and support their family and one of the options migration from a place where you cannot do these things,” says Vargas.
For Piñango “Ihis is a trend that will continue to worsen”. He says there is a new element that could be generating internal migration. He believes that the trend of people coming to Caracas might also be due to the growing presence of rebel groups, especially in Táchira and Apure. “They could be fleeing rebel groups like the FARC and the ELN and the uncertainty that they bring.”
In any case, it is an unprecedented phenomenon caused by the political and economic crisis of the country over the last two years, the consequences of which experts are still unsure. It remains to be seen if INE can capture these demographic changes through the national population and housing census.
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