Foreign Policy Blogs

Police Detain Colombians and Consulate Official in Caracas

On August 16th a staff person from the Colombian Consulate and between 20 and 30 Colombian migrants were detained by the police in Caracas. Despite diplomatic immunities, consular documents and a computer were also confiscated. The Consulate was carrying out a documentation exercise for residents of the barrio Catía. Although accused of not receiving authorization to distribute IDs, they had conducted similar work in the past without problem. All of the Colombians were released later that evening.

The Miami Herald story (via the AP), and a comment by the Colombian Consul, María Elvira Cabello, can be found here. She has stated that nothing like this had happened during her four years working in Caracas.

This story may be minor in comparison to other events taking place in Venezuela and the region, but it holds personal interest. I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Cabello on two occasions as a Fulbrighter in Caracas, as I studied the lives of Colombian displaced persons and economic migrants. She understood the delicate political situation between Colombia and Venezuela, and the important role that the consulate played in providing services to its citizens living abroad.

During my time overseas I spoke to many Colombians who discussed their living situation and reason for moving to Venezuela. In essence, they sought a better life. Some wished to stay permanently, and others planned to return to Colombia after a year or two. All worked long hours. Many remitted money to family members back in their hometowns. With economic difficulties and unemployment in Colombia, they were able to find some way of making a living in Venezuela. Where possible they were employed as motor-taxi drivers, house cleaners, staff at casinos, construction workers, and as security guards. Without doubt many were in the country illegally, leading to particular difficulties in securing formal sector jobs. Unfortunately, they could not count on police forces to protect them in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The use of bribery and intimidation are commonplace.

On the other hand, the Chávez administration has received praise for its program called “Misión Identidad” / “Mission Identity”. Criticized by some as just a political tool to win votes, it did fast-track the citizen process for thousands of immigrants. Colombians with regularized status could better access jobs and schools. Regardless of identification, all persons are allowed attend the governments’ medical clinics. A 2006 Boston Globe article provides further description.

Given recent political tensions, is there any shift in government policy against immigrants living in Venezuela? In the above-mentioned case, the incident was probably resolved successfully and rapidly due to the direct involvement of the Colombian consulate. What happens, however, to Colombian migrants who are not so fortunate? If the detentions a week ago indicate a harsher approach by the Venezuelan government towards the thousands, if not millions of Colombians in country, it raises some concerns. This population, one that still includes large numbers of undocumented, is particularly vulnerable. They may be in Venezuela without the necessary paperwork, but they maintain their basic human rights.



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.