Latin American Policy Series (4): Venezuela’s Crisis and its Impact on the American Continent

Simon Bolivar was a Venezuelan politician and part of the military force. In 1819, he founded Gran Colombia (a country that consisted of the territories that now form Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá and Venezuela). Bolivar was one of the main precursors of the American emancipation from the Spanish Empire. He contributed to the independence of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Panama. Hugo Chavez, the former Venezuelan president, was often compared to Bolivar because of his admiration for Bolivar’s legacy. One of their shared dreams was to unify the countries of Latin America, inspired by Gran Colombia, where power was shared among the member countries.

Contrary to Bolivar’s vision, the policies taken by the government of Hugo Chavez from 1999 to 2013, and continued by his successor Nicolas Maduro, have led to an economic, social and political crisis in Venezuela. As a result, the idea of a unified continent has become more and more unlikely. In line with this development, in December 2016 Venezuela was suspended from MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market – Regional Trade Agreement)[1] due to their failure to fulfill the requirements set by the organization. Furthermore, the disintegration of the continent was noticeable when, on March 14th of this year, Luis Almagro, the general secretary of OAS (Organization of American States), due to their poor democratic practices, made a call to the member states to suspend Venezuela from the organization, if no free, fair and transparent elections were called. In the subsequent voting, of the 35 member countries, 19 approved the resolution, 4 abstained and 10 voted against it, including Venezuela[2].

The countries that voted in favor of Venezuela, and have been supporting the regime, are Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, where governments represent left-wing parties. Other countries that supported Venezuela were Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Suriname; countries that in the past received subsidized oil from Venezuela. This scenario showed the political division that remains among the Latin American countries, but most of all it disclosed that there is no will to reconcile existing differences, not even under the pressure of a crisis, like the one Venezuela is suffering from. While facing the possibility of being suspended, on April 27th Venezuela decided to withdraw from the OAS, meaning that all chances of negotiation or mediation among the international organization and the government to find a solution are gone. This decision intensifies the isolation of the Venezuelan government from the continent. Yet apart from the political differences on the continent, there still is something that unifies most of the countries: religion. At this point of the crisis it seems that the Vatican is the only remaining intermediary who could be able to negotiate solutions[3].

On the other hand, the relationship between Venezuela and Colombia represents another challenge for the continent. The two countries share a border of 2.219 km characterized by a long history of military, social, commercial, economic and safety issues between both nations[4]. In 2015, President Maduro decided to deport thousands of Colombians and closed the border after an alleged confrontation between food smugglers (due to the great price difference between the two countries) and the military forces[5]. Since then, the tensions among both governments have increased. Additionally, since 2014, 1,046,708 Venezuelans have entered Colombia seeking refuge from the crisis[6], possibly following Bolivar’s advice “Flee the country where a lone man holds all power: It is a nation of slaves”. In order to tackle this problem, in August 2016, the Colombian government decided to provide Venezuelan citizens with a Provisional Border Mobility Card, which has since been renamed Border Mobility Card. This instrument allows Venezuelans living in the border zone to enter Colombia, mainly to buy products, but not to remain there. Venezuelans seeking to stay in Colombia need to follow the same procedure as any other foreigner. This situation has generated a social problem in Colombia because, due to their situation, Venezuelans work illegally and under poor conditions.

A glance of hope for Venezuelans fleeing their country has been given by the Peruvian government, which has decided to give Venezuelans, that have entered the country legally and have no criminal or judicial records in the national or international sphere, a temporary stay permit (Permiso Temporal de Permanencia – PTP). This permit allows Venezuelans to stay legally in the Peruvian territory for a year while they manage to adapt to any other migration categories (e.g. finding a job, enrolling in a study program, etc.) that could allow them to stay in the country. This temporary benefit will be available until August this year and it is estimated that 36.000 migrants will benefit from it. The reason behind the Peruvian government’s decision is clear: reciprocity. During the political and social crisis in the 90’s many Peruvians fled the country and received similar benefits in Venezuela that at that time was one of the leading economies of the continent.

Recently, President Nicolas Maduro has announced his intention to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution[7]. The announcement has generated international disapproval and increased the number of protests. The current situation not only represents a challenge for democracy but also for the integration of the continent and its people. The crisis has been proven that great political differences remain among Latin American countries governments but also that unifying factors such as history, language, culture and religion will continue to play a decisive role in finding a resolution to the prevailing conflict.

Disclaimer: The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.


[1] Author’s translation from the original in Spanish:



[4] Author’s translation from the original in Spanish:

[5] Author’s translation from the original in Spanish:

[6] Author’s translation from the original in Spanish:


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Daniela Sota Valdivia is a second-year Master of Public Policy student at the Willy Brandt School majoring in International Political Economy and Public and Nonprofit Management. She is registered lawyer in Peru and has worked for both the public and the private sector. Her experience in the Public Prosecutor’s Office has given her a special interest in topics related to corruption, organized crime and violence against women. On top of that, her volunteer work has awakened her concern about education and sexual and reproductive rights.