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Are Venezuelans actually returning to the “patria”?
The short answer: kind of, but ultimately, not really.
Se puede acceder aquí a una versión en español traducida por inteligencia artificial.
“233 compatriots were successfully returned to Venezuela, coming from Peru,” reads out a recent Plan vuelta a la patria (“return to the homeland plan”) press release. Venezuela’s Maduro government has taken every opportunity to advertise their program to support voluntary repatriations of Venezuelans in the diaspora, spreading their propaganda in an effort to portray an image that Venezuela se arregló (“Venezuela is fixed”).
But are Venezuelans actually returning? Kind of. But not really. Certainly not in the medium- or long-term.
As of March 2023, up to 31,000 Venezuelans have reportedly returned to the country through the Plan vuelta a la patria since its inception in August 2018. During the same period, millions more Venezuelans fled the country, including nearly 120,000 currently applying for humanitarian parole in the US since October 2022. A further 27% of Venezuelans still in the country want to emigrate—with 7% having concrete plans to do so this year—according to a recent Consultores 21 survey. In total, an estimated 7.3 million live in the diaspora, according to R4V’s current numbers, as reported by receiving governments.
Source: R4V. Every country in the region has some level of back and forth movement, but the differences in entries and exits show a continuing net immigration for most countries and demonstrate that Venezuelans are still migrating across the region and away from their home country.
All this to say, a small number of Venezuelans are returning—including those returning on their own, outside of the Plan vuelta a la patria program—but there are a lot more that are leaving or staying abroad. And even among those returning, many stay in Venezuela only temporarily before moving on once again. Multiple migrations are common: when COVID-19 struck, some Venezuelans abroad returned home, later emigrating once more. Around border communities, migrants will often return to Venezuela temporarily multiple times a year.
Today, those Venezuelans that are returning to their country of birth are often doing so as they gear up for a new emigration further afield. Obtaining a passport in the process, however, can be difficult and time consuming, as El Pitazo recently reported, leading to temporary but protracted returns. Venezuelan returnees “are looking to return to Venezuela to settle their affairs, get documentation, and then look for a third country like the US, Canada, or in Europe,” explains Daniel Regalado, President of the Association Venezuela in Ecuador, to the Americas Migration Brief. Indeed, Spain has become a growing destination for Venezuelans due to the lack of visa restrictions (see last month’s special edition on that topic), with more than 26,000 Venezuelans granted humanitarian protection in the country in the first five months of 2023.
Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis remains in dire straits. Over half of the country is living in poverty. Annual inflation through May tops 429%. Human rights abuses and persecution remain rampant. And while political negotiations between Maduro and the opposition shine a light of potential hope, a lack of concrete electoral guarantees and meddling at the National Electoral Council (CNE) put into question the opportunity of tangible change ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.
Venezuela remains in crisis, and until something changes, Venezuelans will continue to leave the country in droves. Even then, years of mass emigration have changed the “DNA” of Venezuelan society, says Cristina Ciordia, a migration expert at Caracas-based human rights organization Cepaz: “Emigration was not a part of Venezuela’s collective imagination, but looking forward, people may consider leaving regardless of the political or economic situation since they now consider it a possibility.” In the grand scheme of things, few Venezuelans are currently returning, and among those that are, there is little reason to believe that they will stay put in the medium- or long-term. Most now have their sights set on countries in the Global North.
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