Video of a 2010 conversation excerpt with Venezuelan activist and civil-military relations expert Rocío San Miguel, who was just arrested in Caracas.
I don’t get to work on Venezuela very often, but I did get to record a conversation in 2010 with activist and civil-military relations expert Rocío San Miguel. Here’s an excerpt where we discussed the military’s politicization.
Rocío was arrested last Friday in Caracas. Authorities are accusing her of terrorism and treason, which is as horrifying as it is absurd.
Fresh numbers from Panama show a 35 percent drop, from September to October, in the number of people migrating through the Darién Gap. The main cause was a 41 percent decline in the number of citizens of Venezuela (blue in the chart) who traveled through the treacherous jungle region.
2023 is still—by far—a record-breaking year for Darién Gap migration, though. 458,228 people migrated through the region during the first 10 months of the year, making it certain that the year-end total will surpass 500,000. 294,598 of this year’s migrants (64 percent, blue in the chart) have been Venezuelan.
Data from the United States and Honduras also show sharp drops in migration from Venezuela. The cause appears to be U.S. and Venezuelan governments’ October 5 announcement that they would be renewing deportation flights to Caracas. Though these flights are proving to be relatively infrequent so far, the mere possibility of being sent all the way back to Venezuela seems to have led many Venezuelan citizens considering migration to “wait and see” and delay their plans.
Honduras is the country that reports in-transit migration in the most current manner. Looking at weekly migration through Honduras shows a possible recovery in Venezuelan migration (blue) during the first full week of November. However, a single week’s data don’t necessarily point to a trend. Here is migration of citizens of Venezuela during each week between September 1 and November 9.
The chart also shows citizens of Haiti (green), whose numbers rose then fell during the same period. The recent drop owes to the Haitian government, at strong U.S. suggestion, banning charter flights to Nicaragua at the end of October.
New CBP data for the U.S.-Mexico border is out through October. Combining migrants who came to ports of entry with migrants whom Border Patrol apprehended between the ports of entry, migration fell from 269,735 people in September to 240,988 in October (-11 percent).
Nearly all of the net reduction is citizens of Venezuela, whose numbers fell -39 percent (66,584 in September to 40,863 in October). The Biden administration’s October 5 announcement of resumed deportation flights to Venezuela probably explains the reduction. News of the resumption may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans.
This drop will probably be short-lived, unless the Biden administration pursues a massive, costly, cruel, and politically absurd blitz of frequent aerial deportation flights to Caracas. (We see no signs of that happening yet.) As I wrote a couple of days ago, it is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.
We’ve grown accustomed to Venezuela (blue in this chart) being the number-one nationality of migrants transiting Central America and Mexico to come to the United States. Venezuela has been the number-one country of citizenship of people transiting Honduras during every month since March, and U.S. authorities encountered more migrants from Venezuela than from any other country—including Mexico—at the U.S.-Mexico border in September.
Data from Honduras in October, however, show at least a temporary pause in that trend. Last month, Honduras registered more migrants from Haiti transiting its territory (brown in this chart) than from Venezuela. (A new “Mixed Movements Protection Monitoring” report from UNCHR also notes this trend.)
It was a record month for Honduras’s registries of in-transit migrants from around the world: 102,009 people with “irregular” migratory status registered with the government, a necessary step for a short-term legal status making it possible to board buses to get across the country. Of that number, 35,529 were Haitian and 34,547 were Venezuelan. (271 were recorded as Brazilian and 489 as Chilean; many—probably most—of them were children born to Haitian citizen parents who had been living in those countries.)
Transit of Venezuelan migrants through Honduras fell 19 percent from September to October, from 42,550 to 34,547 people.
A possible reason could be a reaction to the Biden administration’s early October agreement with Venezuela to resume deportation flights to Caracas, news of which may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans. Aerial deportations are expensive, however, and a charter flight to Venezuela only holds about 100-150 people. It is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.
The sharp increase in Haitian migration appears to owe to a new air route from Haiti to Nicaragua, which does not require that visiting citizens of Haiti obtain a visa in advance (though it charges them a steep fee upon arrival). For more on that, see this good November 6 analysis from the Honduras-based journalism website ContraCorriente.
Just-released data show that Border Patrol apprehended 54,833 citizens of Venezuela in the areas between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry in September, a record for countries other than Mexico, and far more than its apprehensions of 39,773 Mexican citizens in September.
At the ports of entry (official border crossings), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered 11,751 more Venezuelan citizens, most of them asylum seekers who had made appointments using the CBP One smartphone app. (In September, of 50,972 people who made it onto U.S. soil at ports of entry, CBP reports that about 43,000—84 percent—had CBP One appointments.) Mexico, with 13,523 citizens encountered, was still the number-one nationality at the ports of entry.
Add together the ports of entry and the areas between them, and Venezuela was the number-one nationality in September with 66,584 migrant encounters. Mexico was the number-two nationality, with 53,296. No other nationality came close; Guatemala was in third place with 34,537.
September marked the end of the U.S. government’s 2023 fiscal year. For decades, CBP has reported its migrant encounters by fiscal year, so we now have a “year-end” comparison, at least for Border Patrol apprehensions between the ports of entry. Using this metric—which may include some double-counting, with the same migrant being apprehended two or more times—we find that 2023 was the number-two year ever for Border Patrol migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border. Only 2022 was higher.
Only 28 percent of migrants apprehended at the Mexico border in fiscal 2023 were citizens of Mexico. Since 2000, 67 percent of migrants apprehended at the border have been Mexican citizens.
(Note: at GitHub, I’ve updated the tool I use to make these and many other migration charts, with data going back to October 2019. I use it all the time, feel free to run a version of your own. It does require you to know how to run a free web server on your computer; I don’t make it public because generating a table with 48 months and 20 countries makes a web server work very hard.)
Extraordinary and temporary conditions continue to prevent Venezuelan nationals from returning in safety. …Venezuela continues to face a severe humanitarian emergency due to a political and economic crisis, as well as human rights violations and abuses and high levels of crime and violence, that impacts access to food, medicine, healthcare, water, electricity, and fuel, and has led to high levels of poverty.
The United States is announcing today that it will resume direct repatriations of Venezuelan nationals who cross our border unlawfully and do not establish a legal basis to remain. This announcement follows a decision by authorities from Venezuela to accept the return of Venezuelan nationals.
Approximately 50,000 migrants from crisis-stricken Venezuela crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully last month, a record and once-unthinkable number, according to preliminary Department of Homeland Security statistics obtained by CBS News.
According to my records (U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s public monthly reporting by citizenship is spotty before the mid-2010s), 50,000 Venezuelan citizens is the greatest-ever number of migrants in a single month at the U.S.-Mexico border from any country other than Mexico. For non-Mexican migrants, the closest numbers I see in the past are 45,201 citizens of Guatemala in May 2019, and 45,297 citizens of Honduras in July 2021.
Charted out, that September number would look like this. The blue part, which more than doubled from August to September, is Venezuelan migrants who crossed the border between ports of entry, ending up in Border Patrol custody. We still don’t know the additional green part for September, which shows migrants who came to ports of entry, usually with “CBP One” appointments (9,373 Venezuelan citizens in August).
Heavy U.S.-bound movement of Venezuelan citizens continues through the Darién Gap, Central America, and Mexico. If arrivals continue at this pace, calls to “do something” about the situation causing so many Venezuelans to migrate will proliferate. Within a few months, Venezuela could be right up there—after perhaps Ukraine and the South China Sea—among the Biden administration’s top foreign policy priorities going into an election year.
While not 100 percent exact—the Department of Homeland Security isn’t sharing exact numbers—this chart gives a pretty accurate sense of which nationalities’ citizens have benefited from the two-year Humanitarian Parole program that the Biden administration has set up for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. To qualify for the paroled status in the United States, citizens of those countries must apply online from outside U.S. territory, have a passport, have a U.S.-based sponsor, and undergo a background check.
Haitians have taken fullest advantage of the program since the Biden administration created it for Venezuelan citizens in October 2022, and expanded it to the other three countries in January 2023. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported on September 22:
Through the end of August 2023, over 211,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans had arrived lawfully under the parole processes. This number includes more than 45,000 Cubans, more than 71,000 Haitians, more than 32,000 Nicaraguans, and more than 61,000 Venezuelans who have arrived in the U.S. More than 47,000 Cubans, more than 84,000 Haitians, more than 39,000 Nicaraguans, and more than 68,000 Venezuelans have been vetted and authorized for travel.
Before it collapsed into authoritarianism, poverty, and criminality, Venezuela had 30 million people.
7.71 million have left since the mid-2010s: more than a quarter of the original population.
And now, as of yesterday, more than 2% of them (714,700 people) qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States, as they absolutely should. From DHS:
There are currently approximately 242,700 TPS beneficiaries under Venezuela’s existing TPS designation. There are an additional approximately 472,000 nationals of Venezuela who may be eligible under the redesignation of Venezuela.
Under U.S. asylum law, as amended in 1996, applicants for asylum in the United States cannot obtain a work authorization until their application is six months old. Asylum seekers want to work, and TPS is a way to get around this unhelpful 27-year-old law to enable that.
This is from a September 5 update from the Regional Inter-agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V). Some changes owe to governments (like Panama’s) recalculating their population estimates, rather than actual movement of Venezuelan migrants.
Eight countries (not including the United States) now have at least 100,000 Venezuelan-born people living within their borders:
I learned a lot about the current moment in Venezuela during this podcast conversation with one of my newest colleagues, Laura Dib, the recently arrived director of WOLA’s Venezuela Program. Here’s the overview text from WOLA’s podcast landing page.
In this podcast, Laura Cristina Dib, WOLA’s director for Venezuela, discusses the daunting political situation in Venezuela with WOLA’s Adam Isacson.
Venezuela is to hold presidential elections at some point in 2024. Whether they will be at least somewhat free and fair is unlikely but far from impossible. It is a goal that must guide the international community and Venezuelan civil society.
The episode covers the recent naming of a new National Electoral Council, a seemingly technical step with wide-ranging consequences; the need for a clear and transparent electoral timetable; and the importance of updating voter rolls and other crucial steps for the elections’ credibility.
Laura Dib notes a recent increase in repression, threats, and disqualification of candidates as the Maduro regime appears to grow uneasy. That makes the international role increasingly important—as it has been in Guatemala’s elections—starting with a stronger commitment to a humanitarian agreement, which resulted from the 2022 negotiations and has yet to be implemented. “International” includes Venezuela’s neighbors, like Brazil and Colombia.
“There’s always hope, I don’t think that everything is lost,” Dib concludes. “I think that there’s always opportunity, and I continue to work very closely with a civil society that is more knowledgeable than ever on how to advocate for their rights beyond their borders.”
The Venezuelan publication Tal Cual, citing unreleased data from Panama’s government, states that 196,370 people migrated through eastern Panama’s once-impenetrable Darién Gap jungles during the first 6 months of 2023.
Fifty-one percent, or 100,514 of the travelers who transited through the Darien jungle between January and June 2023, were Venezuelans.
Venezuelans were followed by Haitians (33,074), Ecuadorians (25,105), citizens of 23 African countries (6,420), Chileans (4,964) and Colombians (3,579).
(The Chileans were almost entirely the children of Haitian migrants who were born in Chile.)
If the 196,370 figure is near final, it is almost exactly 30,000 more than the 166,649 people whom Panamanian authorities had measured through May.
As this screenshot of Panama’s data shows, 30,000 migrants in a month—while still an unimaginably large number for such a remote and dangerous region—is about one-quarter fewer people than Panama measured in March (38,099), April (40,297), and May (38,962).
The decline is less steep than the 70 percent drop in daily migrant apprehensions that the U.S. Border Patrol chief’s regular tweets have been recording. That probably means that the population of migrants bottled up between Panama and the U.S. border—mostly in Mexico—is increasing.
The decline at the Darién is a result of uncertainty about how the Biden administration will apply its restrictive new post-Title 42 asylum access rule to migrants who turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.
It is also a result of the end (with the end of Title 42, on May 11) of a two-month period in which Mexico’s government, in the aftermath of a tragic March 27 migrant detention center fire that killed 40 people, was refusing U.S. Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelan citizens from at least a few border sectors. That eased Venezuelan asylum seekers’ releases into the U.S. interior, and word got out about that possibility in April and the first part of May, as U.S. authorities’ encounters with Venezuelan migrants increased sharply.
As noted above, Tal Cual reports that 100,514 Venezuelan migrants crossed the Darién Gap so far this year. That would mean about 18,500 Venezuelans crossed in June (there were 82,054 through May). That is a 30 percent drop in Venezuelan migration from May—8,000 fewer migrants, accounting for nearly all of the May-June worldwide reduction in migration through the Darién.
Since May 12, protection-seeking Venezuelan migrants must either:
apply for a two-year humanitarian parole status (which requires them both to hold a passport and to have a willing sponsor in the United States), or
make their way to northern Mexico and seek an appointment at a U.S. border port of entry using the CBP One smartphone app. CBP just increased the number of daily appointments to 1,450, about double what it was during Title 42.
While those pathways are important, they accommodate only a fraction of those seeking to migrate from Venezuela. Those reduced possibilities probably explain much of the June drop in migration through the Darién Gap, where more than half of this year’s migrants have been Venezuelan.
This talking point about a “95% drop in border migrant encounters from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela” is problematic.
Why? Let’s examine encounters along the migration route, from north to south.
Here’s where the 95% comes from.
US Border Patrol’s apprehensions of these 4 countries’ migrants really did drop steeply from December—after Mexico agreed to accept Title 42 expulsions of these nationalities, and once a “humanitarian parole” option opened up for some of them.
But there’s no 95% drop anywhere else along the migration route, where people fleeing those countries have become stranded.
Since December, Mexico’s encounters with these 4 countries’ migrants are only down 42%.
Since December, Honduras’s encounters with Cuban, Haitian, and Venezuelan migrants are up 10%.
(Nicaraguan citizens don’t need passports to be in Honduras, and thus don’t end up in Honduras’s count of “irregular” or “undocumented” migrants.)
Since December, in Panama’s Darién Gap, migration from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela is up 250% (though down 57% from a high in October, before Mexico started accepting expulsions of Venezuelan migrants).
The upshot: migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela may be down sharply at the US-Mexico border, due to aggressive Title 42 expulsions.
But the expulsions have absolutely not deterred these nations’ citizens from migrating. They’re still fleeing—but they’re stranded.
After passing through the Darién Gap, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, some U.S.-bound migrants get stranded en route as they struggle to raise money to pay bus fares.
At the beginning of this century, Venezuela was one of Latin America’s wealthier countries. Back then, the idea of its citizens using an image of their flag to evoke pity in Honduras—the 2nd or 3rd poorest nation in the hemisphere—would’ve been ludicrous.