More than half of young Venezuelans want to move abroad permanently, after food shortages, violence and a political crisis escalated to new extremes in 2017, according to a new survey.
Once Latin America’s richest country, Venezuela’s economy is now collapsing and it is battling hyperinflation at levels unmatched anywhere else in the world. The IMF projects inflation will reach 13,000% this year and the economy will shrink 15%.
For Venezuelans between 15 and 29, the crisis has escalated to a point where they have lost confidence in their home, according to a poll carried out by the US firm Gallup. Some 53% would like to move abroad permanently.
One of the most painful effects of the current crisis has been widespread hunger. In 2015, when inflation and food shortages were well below current levels, nearly 45% of Venezuelans said there were times when they were unable to afford food; in the latest study, that figure had risen to 79% – one of the highest rates in the world.
Óscar Domínguez, 27, is one of millions dreaming of a new life abroad. He is still in Venezuela only because he is trying to scrape together the price of a plane ticket. “I want to go because our salaries are not enough to live on,” he said.
His disillusionment has been rapid. In 2016 he was optimistic enough about Venezuela that he invested in a food store, but a year later he had to close. “Food prices increased a lot and it was impossible for me to keep the business running,” he said. “I got into debt trying to make it work.”
He ruled out Australia because of its strict visa rules, and instead has decided to follow friends to Chile – which Gallup found was the third most popular destination for Venezuelans fleeing the country.
Because its land border is accessible to Venezuelans who can’t afford plane tickets, neighbouring Colombia is the most popular choice for a new home. So many people have fled into Colombia and Brazil that both countries have clamped down on controls along their long, shared frontier.
Venezuelans over 30 may also be feeling bleak about their future, but are not quite as ready to leave. Over a third of those between 30 and 54 want to emigrate, but less than a quarter of Venezuelans who are 55 or over hope to make a new home.
Norma Gutiérrez, a radiologist in eastern Caracas, is one of those older would-be migrants. Acute shortages in the hospital where she works depress her, and she says the idea of emigrating crosses her mind at least once a week.
She doesn’t have many friends and family in Venezuela any more. Her eldest son left four years ago for the United States and her brother lives in France; the main thing still tying her to home is her youngest daughter, who is trying to finish medical school.
“I want to leave because I have no quality of life,” she said. “With this hyperinflation, my salary is not enough to live with dignity.”
Overall, the number of Venezuelans looking to depart has risen steadily since 2013, when the charismatic former president Hugo Chávez died. Before that they had been steady for years, with little over 10% of citizens hoping to leave.
The figures in the last survey are the highest seen in Venezuela for a decade, Gallup said.
Up until 2014, no more than 15% of Venezuelans expressed a desire to leave their country and live elsewhere.
Johanna Godoy, Gallup World Poll regional director for Latin America, said: “Sadly there is not much optimism that the trend will reverse itself in a short period of time. With the government calling elections, hyperinflation continuing to rise and food shortages all over the country, it is hard to imagine Venezuelans’ desire to leave their homeland diminishing soon.”