In 2016, when Venezuela’s economy fell by 18.6% and inflation broke all records with nearly 800%, Fátima Camacho was one of the millions of Venezuelans who put their lives in a suitcase and went abroad.
At that time, hunger, unemployment, the high cost of living and the pyrrhic minimum wage, which was not enough to cover the basic basket, pushed many to seek a better life in other nations of South America and the world.
And although many of these problems continue for the vast majority, last April this 31-year-old Venezuelan thought it was time to return.
repacked everything and took the same road route by which he arrived in Peru six years ago. She moved with her 3-year-old son to Maturín, in eastern Venezuela.
“The isolation that we live in Lima affected my child a lot, we had to take him to therapy. And also culturally we never managed to adapt to Peru”, explains the young woman in an interview with BBC Mundo.
“Also, I heard the economy got a little better and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I want my son to enjoy it,” he adds.
Fatima is part of a new phenomenon that is becoming more and more visible in all Venezuelan cities: emigrants who decide to return to Venezuelamost of them from other South American nations.
Despite the fact that her relatives insisted that the situation is “more stable”, she took precautions: “I left my husband in Lima. We both didn’t dare to come, because we weren’t sure if he was going to do well for us”.
signs of recovery
The serious economic crisis that has affected Venezuela since 2013 and has forced more than six million Venezuelans to leave their country seems to have bottomed out, according to experts.
In fact, for months now, the Venezuelan economy has shown some signs of recovery.
In March, the South American country had a rate of monthly inflation of 1.4%the lowest registered since September 2012, and in April it rose to 4.4%, still well below the 24.6% registered in April 2021.
On the other hand, oil production, the main source of wealth for the State, began to increase at the end of last year, after bottoming out in November 2020, when it fell to 434,000 barrels per day.
In December of last year Venezuela produced 718,000 barrels per day and since then production has remained slightly below 700,000 barrels.
It is still a very small figure for a country that produced more than three million barrels a day in 1998 and that has the largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, but it is almost double that registered during the historical fall in 2020.
The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) places Venezuela this year as one of the countries that will grow the most in the region with an estimated 5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while the International Monetary Fund points to a more modest 1 ,5%
The Venezuelan economist Luis Vicente León explains that is an improvement “about a small portion of what used to be” the Venezuelan economy.
He assures that the crisis, together with the sanctions imposed by the US and the isolation of the government, forced the president Nicholas Maduro to accept an economic opening.
“The pressure and the loss of government control over the economy forced it to allow a de facto dollarization of the economy and it also led to price opening processes and to be less hostile to the private sector”, the also president of the Datanalysis consultancy tells BBC Mundo.
“The economy is still small, but it’s in a better position than it was a couple of years ago.”
More entrances, less exits
Calculating the exact number of people returning is almost impossible, as the Venezuelan government does not publish statistics on migration and did not respond to BBC Mundo’s requests for comment.
But since her arrival two months ago, Fatima claims to have witnessed “an economic movement” that she did not see when she decided to leave and that has prompted the return of other compatriots.
“There are many people coming back. I came by road and I came across people who had spent a lot of work and saved to return to Venezuela. There are also people who are still leaving, but it is less compared to other years”, he continues.
“The improvement is evident. It is seen that people are investing in businesses, there is more maintenance in the streets, the Venezuelan now treats himself from time to time”.
Fatima hopes that the growth will be “lasting” so that her country “can really improve”.
The South American nation reached the peak of its exodus in 2018, registering a net migration rate – those who leave minus those who return – of around 1,850,000 people, according to data from Datanalisis.
In 2021, the migratory balance was -180,000 people: still negative, but only 10% of what it was in 2018.
“Venezuela keeps losing people. There are still more people leaving than returning, but departures have fallen drastically and now there are more and more people coming back”, confirms Luis Vicente León.
“For many it makes no sense to stay”
According to the economist, most return from other Latin American nations.
“Venezuela went through three great migratory waves. The elite came out first; then came the professionals who did not see a good professional future; and the most recent was also the most massive. It was generally a poorer population with less education and they went to closer countries, most of them by land”, he points out.
“And the last ones to emigrate are also the first to return.”
León explains that the reason is simply that geographically they are closer and can be reached by land. Furthermore, he claims that the salary differences in the jobs of unqualified personnel between Venezuela and its neighboring countries are now lower.
“A couple of years ago, service ladies in Venezuela earned between US$10 and US$15 a month and it was impossible for them to survive on that. Now they can earn between US$200 and US$250 a month,” she says.
“The difference between what they earned abroad and what they can earn in Venezuela now is not that much. And if you add to that the fact that in their country they do not have to deal with xenophobia and that normally they would not have to pay rent, because they have their houses or stay in family homes, for many it does not make sense to stay outside.
Xenophobia was precisely another reason why Fatima decided to return to her country.
“When we arrived, even though we did it with few resources, there was not much xenophobia. People were very warm and openbut in the last year that I spent in Peru I noticed a lot of difference”, he says.
“When they realized that you are Venezuelan, they stopped treating you well. Banks put a thousand obstacles to open an account to a Venezuelan. Everything is more complicated if you are Venezuelan”.
He admits that initially it didn’t affect him much and he tried to ignore it, until he saw that his 3-year-old son was beginning to be affected.
“There were cases of xenophobia at school. The few Venezuelan friends I had who also had children told me things that had happened to their children, despite the fact that they are children born in Peru,” says Fátima.
“But since their parents are Venezuelan they make a difference and the truth is that no parent wants their child to be excluded”.
In mid-May, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry announced that it had repatriated 264 Venezuelans from Peru with the “Plan Vuelta a la Patria” government program, launched in 2018 to facilitate the return of migrants.
According to the agency, since the creation of this program in 2018 to date, they have returned to the Caribbean country around 30,000 Venezuelans from more than 20 nations.
Since November 2021, Argentina has also seen a change in the migratory flow.
According to data compiled by the Argentine newspaper Clarín, since that date some 1,000 Venezuelans leave Argentina every month and a large part of them return to their country.
Like many who return, Fatima wants to try again with her own business: she sells on the Internet elastic and ergonomic baby wraps made by herself.
“It is a product that is not very popular here in Venezuela, but it is very practical. Sales are slow, but I’m just getting started,” he explains.
“I have sold some. I have received a lot of love and people like it. They see it, but Venezuelans are now more cautious when it comes to investing in something.”
Apart from virtual stores, many of those who return have undertaken opening small restaurants, bought cars to work as taxi drivers; others have simply resumed the work they used to do before going abroad.
Everyone dreams of the country going back to being “as before”. But most are aware that radical change will not come overnight.
According to estimates, the economy would have to grow 10% per year for almost two decades to recover the size it had in 1997, a year before the former socialist president Hugo Chavez would come to power.
Luis Vicente León emphasizes that today’s Venezuela is not one country, but several.
“There are segments of the population whose income has been dollarized and for them the situation has improved. But for others, whose income is not in dollars, they are worse than beforebecause their costs were dollarized,” he explains.
Despite the economic limitations that persist in Venezuela, Fatima maintains a positive attitude and asks her compatriots who intend to return to the country to bring intentions to get ahead and work.
The former migrant considers that those who return now have the duty to try to “undertake and motivate” their compatriots to move the country forward. (YO)