Migration and democracy in Latin America

Latin America is historically a region of migrants, but we are entering an era of unprecedented mass migrations around the continent, particularly out of Venezuela and countries in Central America. The Hay Festival Cartagena brought together experts from across the Spanish-speaking world to discuss migration - its roots and its future. 

Colombia may be entering a new migration crisis, as the crisis in Venezuela deepens: it is understood that millions have fled since 2015, but numbers are impossible to gauge with accuracy. Venezuelan journalist Luz Mely Reyes noted the total reverse in Venezuela’s fortunes: there was a time when Venezuela was a receiver of migrants and refugees from across Latin America. Now, the opposite is true. 

 “We are used to being a receiving country for Colombians, Peruvians, Chileans, Haitians. Where I lived, the neighbourhood came to be called Barrio Colombia because of the number of Colombians. Then we began to see how these people, who contributed so much to us, began to leave Venezuela,” she said.

Historically, poverty and fear drive migration, pointed out Peruvian Journalist Gustavo Gorriti: people in desperation who are forced to seek survival outside of their home countries. “When your own country is killing you, or robbing its own population of everything, bringing hunger to its people: this is the only solution – to flee,” he said.  

Migration from Central American countries has been in the headlines across the world in recent months, most notably the migrant caravana, which crossed into Mexico in 2018.

Those who flee Central American countries are often escaping spiralling homicide rates and a lack of basic security. “Even countries at war do not reach the homicide rates that these countries have. People are not marching - they are fleeing,” Jacobo García, a Spanish journalist and expert on Central America. 

The migrant caravana has changed the image of migration: it is no longer something nocturnal and clandestine, migration now has a face and a voice, García explained.

Politicians from the USA to Eastern Europe are leveraging xenophobia and anxiety about migration in order to take power and consolidate a politics of fear and indignation. “We have yet to have this happen in Latin America,” pointed out Jaime Abello Banfi, Director of the Gabriel García Marquez Journalism Foundation.

Now is not, however, the time for complacency, and the media have a duty to be vigilant about far-right and populist narratives. “We cannot leave this in the hands of those who would pit us against each other. Journalism more than ever is a responsibility which carries an ethical imperative,” said García.

The long-term solution must be wide-reaching and holistic: forced migration can only truly be solved by tackling its roots – violence, corruption, instability, and poor governance. 

“The problems of migration cannot be considered alone. Society must also fight against economic turmoil and government incompetence, and for true democracy. We have to fight for real democracy: we have to fight so that Venezuelans have a home to return to.” concluded Gorriti.

Listen to Jacobo García, Gustavo Gorriti and Luz Mely Reyes in conversation with Jaime Abello Banfi on the Hay Player.