CARACAS, VENEZUELA – Last month 20 Venezuelans were arrested as they were trying to sneak into Curaçao, the island country in the southern Caribbean Sea, using a small boat — just like Cubans rafters do to make their way to Florida.
Venezuela’s northernmost point is less than 20 miles away from the Dutch territory, so this has become the route of choice for dozens trying to flee the socialist, hunger-stricken country every week.
According to a Datin Corp poll released last week, 57 percent of Venezuelan registered voters want to leave the country. This means that approximately 12 million people want out, almost half of the 30 million who populate the country if we take out children and teens.
In a similar survey conducted in 2015, Datin Corp found out that 49 percent of Venezuelans wanted to move overseas.
Datin Corp’s head, political analyst Jesus Seguias, said that one of the most surprising facts this year is that as many as one of every four admirers of the late Hugo Chavez also said they would emigrate if they could.
“They are Chavistas and they declare themselves as such, but they are angry at President Nicolas Maduro because of the country’s situation,” he said to Fox News Latino.
The country’s situation is one of acute shortages of the most basic products, a 700 percent inflation projected for 2016 and record levels of street crime.
According to Seguias, the new rise is partly explained by the number of opposition members and independents who now want out — 71 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
“The desire of leaving is clearly related to the lack of hope and the disappointment at the current situation,” said Seguias, warning that the number could escalate if a vote to recall President Maduro is not held this year, as the majority of Venezuelans expect.
Yet the wish to relocate is for most people an almost impossible dream.
“Leaving your country is a real complex matter,” said sociologist Ivan De La Vega, professor at Simon Bolivar University. “It requires a plan and is risky, so normally those who emigrate are young people without children.”
He said that some countries in the region are setting an increasing number of restrictions to avoid undesired migration from Venezuela.
Curaçao, for example, now requires any Venezuelan entering the island to carry at least $300 in cash, hold hotel reservations and have a return ticket. In neighboring Aruba, some people are asking the government to start demanding a visa to all Venezuelans.
In May, the Curaçao Red Cross announced that they were working on a contingency plan to deal with Venezuelan expatriates, but expressed concern because they said the country simply doesn’t have the resources needed.
Since Chavismo took power in 1999, more than 1.8 million Venezuelans have fled the country, De La Vega said.
Up until 2012 most of them were highly educated professionals who were typically well received anywhere they went. A Pew Research Center conducted in early 2013 estimated that 51 percent of Venezuelans living in the U.S. at the time had at least a college degree.
But that began to change rapidly after Maduro took power in March of 2013.
“In 2013 and 2014 we had a new wave of migration that included a wider range of social strata,” De La Vega told FNL.
According to an investigation published last month by the Grupo de Diarios America, the top three countries receiving Venezuelan exiles are currently the U.S., Spain and Colombia.
“We have been able to find Venezuelans living in all five continents and in at least 96 countries.
The list keeps growing. Many leave to one place and then move to another,” the sociologist said.
Many of those who choose Spain and Colombia are descendants of Spanish and Colombian immigrants who settled in Venezuela years ago, so they don’t count as foreigners.
“The total number of emigrants could rise to up to 3 million,” De La Vega said. “We would be able to calculate the number better if [the government of] Venezuela kept a better record of entries and departures,” he added.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.