Opposition to Colombian Immigration in Venezuela

and the 1980 Matrícula General de Extranjeros

Alex Escalona
B.A. Thesis
Faculty Reader: Andreas Feldmann

In August of 1980, the government of Luís Herrera Campíns instated a general amnesty
for undocumented immigrants residing in Venezuela. The amnesty –titled the Matrícula General
de Extranjeros (General Register for Foreigners: 1980 MGE, thenceforth)—came at the end of a
period of unprecedented economic prosperity that had been initiated in 1973 as a result of the
sudden increase in oil prices brought about by the OPEC cartel. As I will argue in this paper, the
ulterior purpose of this program was to displace the blame for the sudden economic downturn
onto the sizable undocumented immigrant population in the country. In the late 1970s –with the
first signs of economic depression—the Venezuelan media and government put into motion a
campaign to stigmatize undocumented immigration, blaming this group for much of the
country’s economic woes. The contradictions between the media- and government-sponsored
campaign to stigmatize undocumented immigration and the particular position of these flows
within the Venezuelan economy inform the role of the 1980 MGE. That is, many undocumented
Colombians –who constituted the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants—had
been brought into the country to fulfill labor shortages in the mid-1970s, and, primarily, to build
a sustainable base of cheap labor. However, faced with a sharp economic downturn –and
ineffective economic policies—the government and the media began to blame undocumented
immigrants for the country’s unemployment problems, the social services deficit, and the overall
condition of “underdevelopment” they now confronted. Around the same time, and particularly
at the end of 1979, deportations took a stringent turn and the volume of deportations not only
increased, but procedures became more aggressive. On the one hand, then, the 1980 MGE
represented an attempt on the government’s behalf to put a precise number on the magnitude of
the situation, one that would confirm the runaway figures estimating undocumented immigration


in the country. On the other, however, the rather sobering results of the 1980 MGE served to
counter further entrenchment of opposition to Colombian immigration in Venezuela. In fact,
according to the government and media, estimations of the size of undocumented immigration in
the country had reached up to 4 million people, in 1980. This figure overwhelmingly surpassed
the official figure of 1,312,318 registered foreigners, for 1979.1 In particular, I would argue that
opposition to Colombian immigration around the time of the 1980 MGE was formulated in the
language of national sovereignty and, primarily, economic development. As we shall see,
national sovereignty was inextricably bound to the theme of economic development. Thus,
though the problems the country faced were largely economic in nature, the language through
which they were formulated (i.e., opposition to undocumented immigration) was essentially
In her study of “Undocumented Immigrants within Colombian Immigration in
Venezuela”, Adela Pellegrino notes that
“the population exchange between Venezuela and Colombia was a running practice in the
border regions of both countries since Independence, both having fallen under the same
administrative jurisdiction during the colonial period.”2
The reality of this historical interaction is highlighted by the common culture shared between
people living on both sides of the Colombo-Venezuelan border. This border region is
characterized by a relatively homogenous and even distinct cultural entity that shares not only
geography, but a common linguistic identity and even a common livelihood. As Pellegrino has
“the cultural identity presented by the Andean population of both countries, united by the
fact that the exchange of products within the international market of the border states was carried

Berglund, Susan, and Hernández Calimán, Humberto, Los de Afuera: Un Estudio Analítico del Proceso Migratorio
en Venezuela, 1936-1985 (Caracas: CEPAM, 1985), 119.
Pellegrino, Adela, Los Indocumentados en la Inmigración Colombiana en Venezuela (Caracas: UCAB, 1985) 1.


Moreover. 1983) 74. determined a certain economic unity in the region and a relative autonomy with respect to other economic circuits in both countries”. et al. both in the urban 3 Castaño. These remarks emphasize not only the fluidity of immigration between these regions. 3 .3 Yet despite the sudden increase in immigration from Colombia in the 1930s. with the outbreak of la violencia in the 1940s and 1950s. (Bogotá: Editorial Carrera. “La Legislación Migratoria Colombiana y Andina: Un Marco Necesario para el Estudio de la Migración entre Éstos Países”. these flows did not represent a sizable and sustained movement until the 1950s. when a small but significant contingent of Colombians immigrated to the neighboring country in search of work in the new oil industry.out through the Port of Maracaibo during most of the nineteenth century. but also their well-established history. while immigration flows between Venezuela and Colombia began to receive political attention in the beginning of the 1940s with the passage of the Estatuto de Régimen Fronterizo –a statute regulating cross-border migrations through the issuance of “frontier permits”—the institution of cross-border immigration policies did not garner considerable discussion until the late 1950s. however. Colombian immigration in Venezuela increased significantly in volume. Migración de Colombianos a Venezuela. owing to the growing practice of mechanized agriculture and the concomitant decreases in employment opportunities. the Colombian economy entered a period of declining power that was initiated by the political instability and growing rural unemployment. Indeed. when a joint commission was established by the governments of both countries to debate the matter. had not always been a characterized by sizable flows. Added to the displacing effects of industrialization. Colombian immigrants began to seek refuge away from highly vulnerable rural areas. Juanita. ed. Colombian immigration in Venezuela. Ramiro Cardona Gutierrez. Furthermore. these movements did not register significant numbers until the 1930s. In the late 1950s and early 1960s. With the outbreak of civil war.

Colombian immigration represented the largest group of people entering the country. 4 . Pellegrino (1985). Small groups of skilled workers and technicians left for Venezuela as well in the 1970s to take advantage of higher pay in the neighboring country. in particular. but also because of economic growth back home. Italy and Portugal. During this time –particularly after WWII—Venezuela saw a sudden increase in immigration that made it and Argentina the two largest destinations for migrants moving to South America. In the decade of the 1970s. people looked to escape the growing unrest and economic downturn through migration to more populous centers within the country.economy and in the agricultural sector. especially to Venezuela and the US. These European immigrants came largely from Mediterranean countries. Historia de la Inmigración en Venezuela. as well as to Ecuador. These movements were constituted by a large number of men in search of work in Venezuela’s growing urban sectors. due largely to deteriorating economic conditions in 4 5 Pellegrino. Siglos XIX y XX (Caracas: ANCE. especially those originating in Europe. Spain. immigration in Venezuela reached its highest point. it should be noted.5 However. Before this period. 1-2. but also through emigration. In the 1960s however. 1989).4 As former campesinos became landless and jobless. Adela. though smaller groups came from other Western and Eastern European nations. as an increasing number of immigrants from Venezuela’s “brother country” were joined by flows from South America and the Caribbean. European immigration lost much of its momentum. and many Europeans that had settled in Venezuela packed their belongings and returned to their home countries due to political instability in the country. even when migration flows from Colombia lost momentum in the 1980s. these factors created the conditions for larger migrations out of rural regions in Colombia. Panama and Peru in smaller numbers.

The first was the renewed strength of the Venezuelan economy –added to the stability of its currency—which was due largely to OPEC’s strategy of increasing oil prices. while the Venezuelan government had setup a program to attract skilled workers from South America and Europe. in particular. the government proceeded to address the issue by looking past its borders for sources of labor –both skilled and unskilled. faced with acute labor shortage. government efforts to attract immigrant workers to the country through newly established legal channels were largely ineffective. while other Latin American immigrants faced stagnant economies and high rates of unemployment. 29. The upsurge in oil prices created a newfound source of public spending. thanks to artificially-high oil profits and heavy borrowing. That is. Gabriel. the country’s economy took a sharp turn for the worse. this period of “economic bonanza” was rather short-lived.6 The growth in overall immigration to Venezuela in the 1970s –from Colombia and elsewhere in South America. and the Caribbean—was due to two major economic factors. in 1973. Between 1979 and 1980.8 However. This spending translated into significant economic expansion and the creation of new employment opportunities in the country. sought to escape military regimes at home.7 Further. In fact. Ibid. the overwhelming majority of skilled workers applied to consulates in their home countries.Venezuela. 33. At the same time. ignoring the legal mechanisms established through the new program that sought to attract skilled workers. 18 (1986): 17. 7 5 . many Colombian immigrants opted to remain in their new country of residence due to a rise in unemployment next door and the devaluation of the Colombian peso. “Inmigrantes: ¿Mito o Realidad?”. The signs of this 6 Ibid. 8 Bidegain. Immigrants from the southern cone countries. most immigrants came to Venezuela on their own means. Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales.

The unprecedented scope of this amnesty made it the first of its kind in the country’s history. The media. the role of the 1980 MGE was to displace the blame for the economic downturn onto the country’s sizable undocumented population.000 people. worsening levels of unemployment. and worsening levels of unemployment. and a general “importation of underdevelopment. Further. deteriorating social services. however. their previously “irregular” situation was regularized. As will be argued in this paper.downturn were increasing inflation. in the process. At first sight. though smaller amnesty programs had been instated before. Faced with ineffective economic policies that sought to rescue the country from further economic depression. the number of applicants for the MGE failed to reach 300. That is. figures published in the media and stated by government officials concerning the size of the undocumented population were essentially disproved by the sobering results of the MGE. Despite its veneer of benevolence. 6 . the implementation of the MGE may be seen as a conscientious step on the government’s behalf to right the situation of thousands of undocumented immigrants.” However. the particular context within which it was implemented points to a different role for the amnesty program.and government-sponsored campaign to stigmatize undocumented immigration blamed this group of people for the increasing social services deficit. practically everybody who applied for the amnesty was successfully registered and. in 1980 the government of Luís Herrera Campíns instated an amnesty for undocumented immigrants residing in the country. as well as an overall decrease in private and public spending. While running estimates over the size of this group were as high as 4 million people. the overwhelming majority of these undocumented immigrants were granted a temporary identification card that lasted for a period of one year and that was open to renewal.

within this literature the issue of opposition to Colombian immigration in Venezuela was generally considered as a secondary topic. The issue of undocumented immigration in Venezuela has garnered considerable discussion within the immigration literature of the 1970s and 1980s.” a dispute between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela over territorial waters in the oil-rich region of the Gulf of Venezuela—and economic development within the discussion of undocumented immigration. I was unable to find any one source that devoted itself fully to the topic of 7 . I will look closely at immigration discourse in government and in the media around the time of the 1980 MGE. are not only relevant to the current Venezuelan political situation. they offer important contributions to the immigration literature as whole. there exist few elaborated discussions on the particular factors –whether economic. among others—is central to the formulation of opposition to Colombian immigration in Venezuela. moreover. how was opposition to Colombian immigration formulated in the public sphere during this time? In order to answer these questions. Most of this literature is sociological in nature. I will consider the various ways through which this opposition was formulated.This begs the following questions. historical. focusing on the role of territorial sovereignty –specifically within the context of the ongoing “diferendo. though there have been some anthropological and historical approaches to the subject. however. it will be necessary to develop a description of the particular political and economic context within which the Colombian immigrant in Venezuela became a pivotal actor. In particular. Moreover. or geopolitical—that inform the subject. However. How is opposition to Colombian immigration in 1980 Venezuela informed by the end of the "economic bonanza" of the 1970s? Moreover. Before we may proceed with this. Thus. The ongoing project of economic development –which informs the question of territorial sovereignty. The questions this paper will address.

Several academic sources that did emphasize the effects of economic factors on opposition to Colombian immigration even endorsed the very ascriptions of crime.opposition to Colombian immigration. economic actors in Venezuela actively stimulated Colombian immigration to the country through various means. the role of undocumented immigration changed drastically at the end of the decade. highlighting the effects the countries’ economies had on the sudden increase in Colombian migration to Venezuela in the 1970s. disease epidemics. While these objectives were seen as essential for the economic development of the nation. The second section of the paper discusses the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of Colombian immigration. and other sources of stigmatization published in the press and voiced by government officials at the time. and they aimed to create a sustainable base of cheap labor for the Venezuelan economy. As we shall see. Therefore. unemployment. This paper is divided into three sections. Most of this discussion will be based on the evidence presented by sociologists working with the topic of immigration in Venezuela. In the same 8 . At that time. particularly surrounding the 1980 MGE. I hope to illuminate on the particular context within which such sources of opposition to Colombian immigration were formulated. The first section seeks to provide the economic and political context within which Colombian immigration played a pivotal role. These migrations took place during a period of considerable policy planning that sought to define the role of immigration within a general program for economic development. particularly in the face of a sharp economic downturn. In this section. These efforts to attract immigration were quite successful. placing a particular emphasis on the economic and political factors that inform the issue. I will elaborate on the contemporary economies of Colombia and Venezuela. deportations came to be seen as a solution to economic “problems” posed by undocumented immigration.

the size of the legally-resident Colombian population was actually larger –if only slightly—in comparison. Ultimately. That is. in particular. The third and final section of this paper will discuss the general implications of the 1980 Matrícula General de Extranjeros and. the magnitude of these problems was widened by overestimations of the size of undocumented immigration published in the press and voiced by government officials. The discussion of immigration in the media and in government represents an influential forum through which public opinion on the subject of immigration –especially undocumented immigration—is elaborated. In his study on the “Influence of the Press on Public Opinion concerning Immigration. at the same time. a subject which was closely tied to the securing of the same oil resources that had fueled the economic boom of the 1970s. Further. Colombian immigration was described as largely undocumented. The purposes of the 1980 MGE were largely defined by opposition to Colombian immigration. Thus. This contributed to a process of stigmatizing redefinition of Colombian immigration as largely undocumented. the press reported statements by government officials that stigmatized undocumented immigration by blaming these flows for the economic downturn of the late 1970s. I will show that not only was undocumented immigration considered to be problematic for the country’s economy. 9 .” van Roy (1983: 368) states that “within a democratic system. Through this process of redefinition. the discussion of Colombian immigration in government and in the media at the time.section. undocumented Colombian immigration was seen as a threat to territorial sovereignty. while most of the undocumented immigrants applying for the 1980 MGE were Colombian. I will elaborate on the meaning of the “undocumented immigrant” in Venezuela. the “problems” associated with undocumented immigration –however unfounded they may have been—were essentially ascribed to Colombian immigration as a whole. In particular. but.

though I gathered sources for other periods as well. over a period of two to three weeks.government has to confront and compete … in the formation and capture of public opinion mainly with those who. the author notes that the discussion of immigration was most frequent around the time of the 1980 MGE. Van Roy’s study found that between 1977 and 1980 discussion of immigration in the press editorials of two “popular” newspapers increased with time. and it can be said that their discussion of immigration is an important source of public opinion concerning the topic. Most of my newspaper sources were gathered during research in Caracas. 10 . Moreover. will be its consideration of this discussion within the context of opposition to Colombian immigration. Most importantly. Evidently.9 I have translated all of these sources into English. The overwhelming majority of my newspaper sources were taken from the pages of El Nacional. have the easiest and most direct reach” over that opinion. government statements concerning immigration and those made by the press around the time of the 1980 MGE did not differ too strongly on their treatment of undocumented immigration. around 1983. While this assertion may be true. we know that the total circulation for the nation’s four largest newspapers reached 800.000 people. The thrust of this paper. newspapers in Venezuela have a broad and captive audience. I will be discussing mostly newspaper articles from 1980 and before. not surprisingly articles in the press often cited extracts of statements by government officials concerning undocumented immigration. between the last quarter of 1979 and through 1980. most of the official statements on immigration cited in this paper come from sources in the Venezuelan press. therefore. Though this trend was not uniform for the period in question. 9 A list of the newspaper articles cited in this paper is available under Appendix A. Therefore. like the mass media. which circulates throughout the country and competes with another major newspaper.

El Universal. This paper is essentially a case study of the public perception of undocumented immigration in Venezuela. and I have translated excerpts cited in this paper where necessary. This is a result of the relative obscurity of the topic. Furthermore. chauvinism. most of these sources are dated in the 1980s. Although the general purpose of this paper is to provide a case study of undocumented immigration. 11 . but pertain to the topic of immigration as it applies to the Venezuelan and Colombian contexts. most of my sources are not only sociological in nature. I hope to contribute not only to the Venezuelan and Colombian immigration literature. A few of my newspaper sources will also come from a work on undocumented immigration written by Alcides Gómez Jiménez and Luz Marina Díaz Mesa. Therefore. I will be considering sources that relate mostly to immigration in Venezuela. and only one comes from the 1990s. and it is largely confined to discussion around the time of the 1980 MGE. and the half decade or so that followed. which is titled “The Modern-day Slavery: Undocumented Immigrants in Venezuela” (1983). but also to the general literature on international migrations. for national readership. Again. In this work. the authors catalogued a considerable number of newspaper sources between 1979 and 1980 that discussed the subjects of “xenophobia. For this reason. I hope to offer new interpretations of this dated discussion of undocumented immigration in Venezuela. Many of these sources are in Spanish. and others” in response to undocumented Colombian immigration in Venezuela.

Venezuela profited considerably from the hike in oil prices. The higher oil prices thus brought in new financial resources for the country. Peru and Uruguay. Argentina. Adela. 60. immigration hit a high point during this period of positive economic performance and the active segment of the foreign-born population doubled. As an OPEC member country. Colombian Immigration and the Period of “Economic Bonanza” The Economic Bonanza of the 1970s Beginning in 1973. it is important that we take a closer look at the Venezuelan economy of the 1970s. Indeed.702 between 1971 and 1981.I. particularly the increase in Portuguese and the new Southern Cone immigrants.2 Colombian and Portuguese immigration. Ecuador.”1 As a result of this newfound source of national income. was a result of government policies that sought to attract skilled labor to the country. the Venezuelan economy entered a period of “economic bonanza” that was due partly to an upsurge in the prices of hydrocarbon and iron exports.755 to 632. then. the country saw a resurgence of immigration flows from the region that now included groups of people from Chile. going from 325. 2 . Venezuela was in an advantageous position given the country’s role as the number one exporter of oil in the western hemisphere. 1 Berglund and Hernández (1985). which had been steady before this period. Dominican Republic. “Los Indocumentados en la Inmigración Colombiana en Venezuela. Further. also saw a reinvigoration of their flows.” Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales 18 (1986): 51.3 To understand the considerable rise in immigration flows. 3 Pellegrino. 112. Part of this renewed source of immigration. “which allowed it to accelerate its programs in search of economic and social development. Ibid. That same year the OPEC cartel implemented a policy of increasing oil prices that benefited its exporting members.

5 The overwhelming effects of this bonanza –the fact that it affected all sectors of the economy simultaneously—gave rise to a high demand for labor that could not be fulfilled by the native population. per-capita income in the country nearly tripled. et al (1981: 33) argue 4 In fact.” As a result. As Berglund and Hernández (1985: 115) put it. saw considerable growth.072 to 3. 112-5. this high point in the Venezuelan economy was to be rather short-lived.5 to the dollar. the country experienced “a radical change in the behavior and performance” of the economy. since “from a situation of general bonanza it passes to the opposite extreme. which would translate the latter figure into roughly $707. and construction increased every year through 1978. 71% corresponded to new firms that had been founded during this period. Venezuela found itself in a period of “economic bonanza”. it went from Bs. mining. all of which furthermore facilitated political and highly qualified immigration.180.The Venezuelan economy of the 1970s Between 1972 and 1977. The manufacturing sector. Out of 654 new projects. the country decided to turn to sources of labor beyond its borders to fulfill this shortage. Capital in agriculture. 13 . industry. some five years after the launch of this fecund period of economic production. and Pellegrino (1986). Construction alone saw a ten percent annual growth rate during this period. both in the public and private sectors. At the time. as Bidegain (1986: 17) has pointed out. The subsequent fall of the economy came just before the end of the 1970s. in particular. Moreover.” However. increased 45% between 1974 and 1978. “native labor was not sufficient with respect to capacity and technical experience. Berglund and Hernández (1985: 131) state that during the period 1980-1984.” Samper. much of Latin America at this time was experiencing “economic and social crisis and in some [countries] coups had taken place. 44. 4. 5 Figures cited from Berglund and Hernández (1985). Indeed. as a result of high growth rates across all economic sectors in the country. the exchange rate was about Bs. 1.4 Investments in the country.

these restrictive immigration policies reflected the close relationship between immigration and the Venezuelan 6 Berglund and Hernández (1985).175 billion. 8 Bidegain (1986). private investment began to drop.3 percent. Signs of this economic decline had begun to appear in 1979. when many sectors of the economy and particularly economic investments experienced a drop from the general state of economic resurgence. going from an all-time low of 4. At the same time. 7 14 .”6 Concomitantly. all of which created a climate of “uncertainty.that.3 percent to 7. then. This led to a decrease in protectionist policies. the economy became “overheated”.8 Coming at the end of a decade of economic bonanza. However.7 million. As a result. as more Colombians left than entered the country. in the figure of $6. Deportations became more frequent and the government tried to suppress flows from the Andes (primarily Colombia) and the Caribbean. 54. the devaluing of the currency and tightening spending limits.7 In 1979 Venezuelan immigration policy took a stringent turn. 131. overall trade between Venezuela and Colombia dropped considerably between the first semesters of 1979 and 1980. Colombian immigration continued to enter the country due mostly to a parallel rise in unemployment in Colombia and the devaluation of the Colombian peso. it should be noted that despite the steady economic decline of the early 1980s. In fact. the government faced staggering debt. In 1983. Pellegrino (1986). the abrupt economic changes effectuated a “so-called ‘economic crisis’ that practically broke with the high economic performance that had characterized the previous decade. to a deficit of $21. due to an excess in public spending. official immigration from Colombia became negative in 1979. Tellingly. the trade balance between the two countries went from a surplus of $189 million. 20.” Unemployment nearly doubled between 1978 and 1980.

” Whether the Venezuelan government implemented the 1980 MGE to prevent a worsening of unemployment levels. et al. Pellegrino (1989). The motives behind the 1980 MGE. economically-productive period of the 1970s. any effort to solve the present occupational problem. “unskilled workers … hinder. Berglund and Hernández (1985). remains to be seen. As stated within the plan. 135.. Within the context of an abrupt downturn in the economy. “it would be lamentable and dangerous. which definitively accentuates … unemployment and underemployment. with regards to xenophobia. 35. E. and particularly the displacement of Venezuelan workers.9 In 1980 the Venezuelan government unrolled the MGE as a political solution to the economic implications of the presence of a large. the media and government began to use undocumented immigration as a scapegoat for Venezuela’s economic woes. the Fourth Plan of the Nation 1970-4 –an outline of the national goals of the executive office—called for selective immigration policies that did not compromise the employment opportunities of Venezuelans. or if they would be substituted by non-national labor that enters the country in an uncontrolled manner.economy. cheap source of labor that could competitively displace Venezuelan workers. 244. The increase of this type of immigrants normally translates into a displacement of national labor and generally results in a significant deterioration of the level of real salaries..” The New Model for Economic Development Implemented under President Rafael Calder (1969-74). may be elucidated through a closer look at the policies implemented during the period of “economic bonanza. Indeed. however. if not completely outdo.”10 9 Samper P. No a Venezuela (Bogotá: ANIF. 1981). 10 15 . if unemployed [Venezuelans] saw their possibilities reduced. especially seeing as immigration had brought in rather large flows in the earlier. attracted by the existence of new opportunities. as Berglund and Hernández (1985: 136) have speculated.

Venezuela would decide on “policies that determine how many and which [immigrants] we need” for its economic development. highlighting the challenges posed by mass immigration and. Dec.. but decisive national policy. 27.This opposition to undocumented immigration had been elaborated before. This led to a rejection of immigration agreements with Colombia. “Los Movimientos Migratorios Internacionales en Venezuela: Politicas y Realidades”. Put simply. Selective immigration policies selected for “qualified” immigrants. 12 16 . faced with acute labor shortages the government responded with a new and vigorous plan for selective immigration. While in Europe these efforts were mostly unsuccessful.12 These convictions against undocumented immigration were closely tied to the poor economic situation in the country at the time. however. In 1973. favoring instead unilateral. the advantages of selective immigration. the country had entered a period of unforeseen economic productivity fueled by a sudden rise in oil prices. shunning open-door policies that attracted mass immigration. Further. pero Selectiva”. in 1970. the Department of Labor presented a speech on “The Policy of Selective Immigration” at the First National Convention for Employment. Chen. 1980. while the initial implementation of the new selective immigration program 11 “Inmigración Si. under President Carlos Andrés Pérez. economic expansion knocked on the door and. Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales (Caracas: UCV. Chi-Yi. 22-3. 1982). in the Southern Cone countries they were met with a willing and professional work force looking to escape the political situation in their home countries.11 The Secretary of the department considered undocumented Colombian immigration a grave concern that should be addressed within the framework of a concrete. El Nacional [Caracas]. In order to attract muchneeded skilled labor to the country. or skilled workers. That year. By the following year. Pérez reintroduced immigration policies that called for the recruitment of immigrants from Europe and a select group of Latin American countries. national labor policy. et al. contrastively.

took place during a high point in the period of “economic bonanza” of the 1970s, coinciding with
this apogee was a boom in immigration from South America as a whole. In fact, South American
immigration flows more than doubled in size during this year, in comparison to the first year of
the decade of the 1970s.13
In 1976, the Fifth Plan of the Nation called for the implementation of a new program for
economic development. This program called for one million new workers over the following
four years. Fifty percent of these workers were to be brought in from oversees. These alternative
sources for economic expansion were thought to be necessary for the attraction of new sources of
economic investment. Concerning this, Didonet (1983: 426) states that
“not only in the government but also in the institutions that represented the [country’s]
capital and employment sources, [was] a strong conviction that the country should reopen itself
to immigration or face the consequences of shortcutting the new possibilities for development
created by Venezuela’s condition as an oil country.”
These skilled workers would be directed to basic industries controlled by the state, for example,
such as petroleum, petrochemicals, iron and electrification.14 These recruitments were made
possible by the founding of several government entities in charge of the new policies for
selective immigration.
To fulfill these recruitment goals, the government created the Human Resources Program
and established the Tripartite Committee for Selective Immigration, which was constituted by
Fedecámaras, the CTV –the country’s largest worker’s union—and the government. Recruitment
of the necessary foreign workers was to be carried out under the Human Resources program. In
particular, this program which was responsible for handling the petitions for workers submitted


Berglund and Hernández (1985), 116.
Schloeter, et al., “Selective Latin American migration in Venezuela: the Case of Sidor,” White Collar Migrants in
the Americas and the Caribbean, ed. Arnaud, A.F., and Vessuri, H.M.C. (Leiden: Royal Institute of Linguistics and
Anthropology, 1983) 212.


by the various entities in the country’s economic sector. The DIEX, the country’s immigration
office, was to take charge of visa processing and to ensure that the nation’s security standards
were fulfilled throughout the program’s implementation. Finally, the CIME was to take charge of
the recruitment process in Europe.
From 1973 on, the CIME –the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migrations—
handled settlement, funding, and the general coordination of the entry of European immigrants.15
This was the same entity that had controlled the logistics for the largely European immigration of
the 1950s. The CIME had been founded in Brussels in 1951, and was largely a result of US
backing. The entity took charge of oversight of the then lively European emigration process,
including placement, finance, and transportation means.16 However, Venezuela had suspended
the local functions of this entity in 1966, when the country withdrew from the committee
following the end of the era of European immigration.
However, despite the hopeful planning that went into effect, the goals of the program
were poorly met: between 1977 and 1980, only 18,400 “qualified” foreign workers were brought
into the country through the newly established legal channels. On the contrary, many more
immigrants entered the country through legal means that made no recourse to the Human
Resources program. Between 1970 and 1979, the DIEX processed a total of 246,944 visas for
foreigners coming to Venezuela. Moreover, as Chen, Chi-Yi, et al (1982: 24) have noted,
alongside the recruitment of skilled professionals came a large group of unskilled workers that
filled numerous industrial and agricultural positions. Thus, though the explicit goals of the new


Pellegrino (1986), 30.
“Venezuela Decidió Retirarse de Comité Intergubernamental para Migraciones Europeas”, El Nacional [Caracas],
1966, Oct. 9.


plan for immigration called for skilled workers, provisions for the entry of unskilled workers
were included within this plan, though in a less formal manner.
Interestingly, in 1976 Fedecámaras –the nation’s largest business conglomerate—
announced that included within the new plan for selective immigration was the possibility of
immigration programs to bring in unskilled labor.17 On the one hand, we might assume that the
potential need for unskilled labor was the result of labor shortages addressed by the plan. On the
other hand, another possibility is that the nation’s preeminent business conglomerate was looking
for sources of cheap labor outside of the country’s borders. Indeed, the unofficial economic
strategies that took advantage of mass undocumented immigration in the country operated along
similar lines, and knowledge of their widespread implementation was known to the public by the
1980s. As we shall see, undocumented Colombian immigration occupied a vulnerable space
within the new model for economic development. These flows were exploited for their size and
promise of cheap labor. Moreover, they fulfilled a real need for experienced workers in the
stagnant agricultural sector. Therefore, their undocumented flows were not only condoned, they
were encouraged by powerful actors in the economic sector. For many unemployed rural workers
in Colombia, then, the promise of paid work across the border was a prospect that stood within
their grasp.
Colombian Immigration and the New Model for Economic Development
Powerful economic actors in Venezuela looked to secure a sustainable source of cheap
labor by attracting undocumented Colombian immigration. However, Colombian workers also
provided much-needed labor for the stagnant agricultural sector. Given decreasing wages and a


“Bolsa de Trabajo para Inmigraciones Selectivas Propuesta en Fedecámaras,” El Nacional [Caracas], 1976, Sep.


or “hooking”. 1980. Others argued that once documented. they would likely leave their current employer in search of better-paying employers. local actors in the Venezuelan economic sector could and did solicit Colombian workers through extra-legal channels. mechanisms for their recruitment –as well as the social networks that often supported their journey—were already in place.” El Nacional [Caracas]. these immigrants were willing to take positions in better-paid. readily available agricultural work in Venezuela. In particular. undocumented Colombian immigrants were in fact considered essential to the economic model of the country. Nov. Further. the general director of the country’s central immigration office. Colombian Immigration as a Source of Cheap Labor In an interview with the newspaper El Nacional. Therefore. as is “already known. Contrary to government and media statements that blamed the deteriorating economic situation on undocumented immigration. of Colombian agricultural workers were wellestablished processes that operated along the Colombo-Venezuelan border. Of course. undocumented Colombian immigration was not merely a response to the attractive economic surplus in the Venezuela of the 1970s. Colombian immigration to Venezuela date to the very inception of the Republic of Venezuela. their workers would demand higher pay. as I have already stated. On the one hand. in order 18 “Visa de Transeúnte y Cédula de Identidad a Extranjeros que se Hayan Registrado. while immigrants made the final choice whether to migrate or not to Venezuela. On the other hand. Moreover.largely landless and unemployed peasant community in Colombia. many would complain that once workers’ statuses were regularized. 20 . Efrén Lopez de Corral. 4. noted that some Venezuelan employers might discourage their workers from registering in the 1980 MGE. the mechanisms for the enganche.18 As noted in the interview. the reasons for Colombian immigration to Venezuela included both economic and historical factors. the DIEX.

despite the fact that Colombian immigration was an integral part of the Venezuelan economy of the 1970s. accused an anonymous union leader of managing these transactions. 1980. another important western state within the context of Colombian immigration.” However.” El Nacional [Caracas]. and in response to. whose members allegedly receive commissions. Dec.to maintain a source of labor with very low pay. something Venezuelans do not do. and the secretary of Zulia.” 19 20 “Tensa Expectativa en Colombia y Honda Preocupación en Venezuela. “En 60 Días Censo de Indocumentados. “contractors in the region throw out Venezuelan workers in order to [replace them with] foreigners that are recommended by the union. a powerful industrial center for the country. Interestingly. the major-entry point for migration flows from Colombia. 4. Feb. landowners were eagerly expectant of the new waves of undocumented immigrants resulting from a new shortage of cheap labor. especially seeing as Colombians accept work in agriculture and ranching.19 Quoted in the article were the governor of Táchira. competitive wages accorded this group lead to an increase in the country’s unemployment levels by displacing better-paid Venezuelan workers. In fact. 1980. officials in government often argued that the low. These officials stated that.20 Fetracarabobo. payments had been made to facilitate the employment of undocumented workers. 21 . as the federation’s initials are spelled. “this immigration flow of Colombians is not only useful. some employers turn in their employees” before disbursement of their salaries. which alleged that in at least one case. just a month later another article in the same newspaper reported that while officials in government were concerned about the economic effects of mass expulsions that would theoretically follow the 1980 MGE. 12. Quoting the secretary general of the workers’ federation. pleas for salary increases.” El Nacional [Caracas]. but indispensable. we might assume. one newspaper article in early 1980 quoted the denouncements of the Federation of Workers of the state of Carabobo.

6 percent of the agricultural lands in Colombia. These factors.200.000 hectares of land were cultivated through industrial methods. then. posit a direct connection between the active efforts of local economic actors to recruit cheap labor and the effects of undocumented immigration with regards to unemployment. More likely. reports of the displacement of Venezuelan workers by poorly-paid undocumented workers contributed to the stigmatization of undocumented immigrants. we shall take a look at the condition of the Colombian economy in the 1970s.These accusations. Much of the data in this section were cited from Pellegrino (1989: 263-8). The frequency of such practices. Thus. While in 1950. 270. Conversely.000 hectares –out of a total of 4.000 hectares of agricultural lands—had joined the trend in industrial agriculture.7 percent of the landowners— 21 Pellegrino (1989) 263. Despite this uncertainty. and less so in urban industries. Moreover. The Colombian Economy of the 1970s and Emigration to Venezuela As a result of the era of la violencia in the 1950s and the concomitant trend in “decampesinization”. that took off starting in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Pellegrino cites figures that illustrate the major losses in rural land ownership. in 1960 campesino landowners –who comprised 58 percent of the country’s landowners—controlled 3. throughout the 1950s and 1960s Colombian campesinos became increasingly landless while the few that were able to hold on to their lands faced growing poverty and damaged harvests. undocumented workers filled vacant positions in the agricultural sector. is unknown. 22 . In terms of monetary value. argues Pellegrino (1989). this industrial sector controlled 70 percent of overall production in agriculture. in order to understand the willingness of these Colombian workers to emigrate to Venezuela. and abroad. the economy suffered significant overall losses. by 1970.21 At the same time. however. 2. large landowners –who comprised 1. are the principal reasons for the mass migration flows of Colombians to Venezuela.700.

but mechanization of agricultural decreased the need for manual labor. to border regions in Venezuela. Colombian immigrants originally went mostly from rural and border regions in Colombia.” That is. with the industrialization of agriculture not only did campesinos become increasingly landless. as unemployed rural workers migrated to the country’s metropolitan centers in search of better employment opportunities. At the same time. then. In fact. Further. due to a depopulation of frontier regions in Venezuela. was characteristic of the growing stake in agriculture commanded by large landowners. industrial employment grew significantly in the 1970s. In fact. it is not hard to imagine how already-mobilized rural populations that had migrated to their country’s urban centers saw the employment opportunities created by the booming economy next door. unemployed rural Colombians stepped in to fill labor shortages in the growing agricultural and ranching industries of that country. Pellegrino (1989: 267) has termed this trend in migrations to the border regions in Venezuela a “border regionalization of the labor market. Imports gave way to manufacturing exports. the growing concentration of agricultural lands under a decreasing number of landowners exacerbated unemployment levels in the country. Throughout the 1960s. Over the first three years of the 1970s. more employment opportunities were created within this rapidly growing sector than were during the entire previous decade. unemployment rates increased steadily. a process which encouraged foreign investment in manufacturing. rural-urban migrations grew significantly. then. The new trend. As Pellegrino has noted. Owing to the nature of these movements.controlled 55 percent of the agricultural lands. High rates of unemployment held steady in the 1970s. Their geographic distribution in Venezuela was in 23 . the Colombian economy underwent a strong movement towards industrialization. From these figures. landless. Starting in the 1960s.

” Díaz & Gómez (1983: 106) published their findings on the nature of the enganche. was a highly vulnerable one that left them open to economic exploitation. to be exact—of Colombians that had registered resided in border regions. Most of their data was based on interviews with human- 24 . but filled vacant positions in the growing agricultural and ranching sectors. Another crucial factor in the discussion of Colombian migration flows to Venezuela is the active recruitment of Colombian immigrants by economic actors –many of them landowners.fact confirmed by the 1980 MGE. as these flows were joined by a large contingent of Colombians from urban areas. the economic trends delineated in this section illustrate only one part of the larger picture. Over time. However. In fact. This shift in the origin of migration flows may have been a result of the sizable rural-urban migrations of the 1960s. That is. or “hooking in. which showed that more than two-thirds –seventy-three percent.” of Colombian immigrants. as evidenced in a group of surveys carried out following deportation. then. but also business entities—on the Venezuelan side of the border. these undocumented workers were actively recruited by Venezuelan companies in search of a cheap and willing source of labor. faced with rising unemployment rates –particularly in urban areas—it’s possible that previously rural Colombians decided to try their luck in the Venezuelan economy. The position of these undocumented workers. As I have stated before. however. Colombian immigration to Venezuela shed its largely rural characteristics. Securing an Undocumented Colombian Workforce In their chapter on “the Entry of Colombians for the Sugar-Cane Harvest in Venezuela. In fact. Pellegrino (1989: 330) reports a rather diverse geographic representation amongst deported Colombian immigrants. the purposes of these actors were to contract largely undocumented workers that not only helped keep wages down. and particularly in the agro-industrial sector of the economy.

Active efforts to recruit Colombian workers from within Colombia originated in the mid1970s. As Díaz & Gómez explained. and Gómez. which borders on Venezuela in the northeast. they said. especially given the fact that many of them were seasonal migrants. Alcides. which includes regions north and south of the state. the authors reported that businesses made general recourse to bribes paid to authorities patrolling the Venezuelan border in order to import undocumented Colombian workers. secured entry into Venezuela through the same means. lawyers. in southwestern Colombia. A third of these Colombians were recruited from the Valle del Cauca region. As the authors have explained. “starting in 1975. and enganches began to take place in Valle del Cauca … tailors. located just north of Cúcuta. and Nariño. La Moderna Esclavitud: Los Indocumentados en Venezuela. 1986) 108. this gave workers greater liberty in switching between employers. it was in the workers and employers interests to subvert these mechanisms and reach “arrangements” in a more direct manner. Further. to the south). The targeted regions included: Valle del Cauca (including Chocó. Many Colombians. Further. businesses generally recruited Colombian workers through middlemen that traveled personally to specific regions in Colombia in search of willing seasonal workers. extralegal alternatives prevailed in the recruitment process. and 60 percent were sugar-cane workers. the main entry-point for Colombian immigrants entering Venezuela. (Bogotá: Oveja Negra.”22 While the interviewee claimed to have submitted the necessary paperwork in order to bring these workers into Venezuela. Boyacá.traffickers and business leaders in Venezuela. According to the manager of a large “agricultural services” firm. and Puerto Santander. In 22 Díaz. technicians came. The authors concluded that while the mechanisms for legal entry allowed businesses to petition for workers. 25 . Luz M. one interviewee commented on the economic considerations involved in the recruitment process. [the country] suffered from a general labor shortage. to the north.

366. I want to say that Central Carora will not be returning to Colombia to make enganches. 108-9. Further. “the majority of those that leave [us] go to the center of the country. Explained the Chief Engineer of Cane Harvest of the Central Azucarero Carora that. the guards could release detailed information. guards were often employed to ensure workers’ commitment to the company. including workers documents and pictures. to the necessary authorities. a Colombian colony. in the event that a worker decided to “desert” his company. from Cali to Cúcuta. These contractors were said to have recruited Colombian workers leaving other agricultural companies or migrating into Venezuela on their own. particularly because this outsourcing strategy saved the company time and money. Many Colombian workers were recruited in the northern part of Boyacá. The trip lasted 28 hours. one company opted to recruit Colombian workers from “contractors” working within Venezuela. the cost per worker came to be Bs. 26 . These desertions were termed sonsaques. this region has figured prominently in the 23 Ibid. That is. it’s far easier and more economic to contact contractors that supply Colombians that are already in Venezuela … everyone knows that close to Puerto Santander is ‘El Chivo’. asking that the workers be deported at first sight. Despite the desertions [the company] has the good fortune of a prolonged harvest … many sugar-cane workers come our way. Thus. “desertion” was a common concern for companies and landowners that relied on recruited workers for their harvest. and you can get to the front door of [the company] without any problems. Díaz & Gómez explained that the frequency of desertions was due the difficult working and living conditions of migrant workers in Venezuela. which apparently included Bs. and the workers were generally recruited through radio announcements. Díaz & Gómez (1983: 109) inform that since the mid-1970s. 15 a day for basic necessities.particular. or “wheedling outs” of migrant workers. You pay a fee that varies between 200 and 600 Bs.”23 The interviewee reported that when the company handled the recruitment process.

However. one interviewee informed that the National Guard –the Venezuelan entity in charge of border patrol—would alert these traffickers as to when they would carry out their roundups of undocumented immigrants.recruitment drives from Venezuela. many Colombians opted for passage on their own through the infamous “green paths” –caminos verdes. it’s presumed that human traffickers and middlemen working for Venezuelan companies visited these inns sporadically in search of undocumented workers. as well in domestic service in the country’s urban centers. these human-traffickers generally bribed border authorities in order to carry out their work. according to Díaz and Gómez. where 4 in every 10 migrant workers were recruited. always for a certain fee. in the Venezuelan state of Táchira. those that opted for a less conspicuous passing often crossed at other points. However. From this point. were the “leftovers”. Reading through the interviews with human-traffickers. or paths cutting across unsettled parts of the border—along the Colombo-Venezuelan border. coffee plantations in Táchira. then. Like in the recruitment drives carried out by Venezuelan companies. Cúcuta and Maicao were the two main entry points for many immigrants from Colombia and abroad. many undocumented immigrants simply sat and waited in or around local inns after crossing the border. further east. In such instances. Recruited workers from this region move on to work in sugar-cane plantations. the old. Falling prey to the National Guard’s roundups. Moreover. including Puerto de Santander. This enabled traffickers to choose potential workers from recent arrivals on the Venezuelan side. and the weak amongst 27 . Although Díaz and Gómez do not elaborate fully on the procedures of this informal process. Many of these immigrants fell prey to the whims of human-traffickers. many immigrants proceeded to Coloncito. the reader can note several important facts related to their work. the sick. ranching in Zulia and in agro-industry in Portuguesa.

in 1980 deportation procedures in Venezuela became more unilateral. undocumented immigrants began to be deported in large numbers in 1979 and 1980. the DAS. notes Didonet (1983). the Venezuelan government began to simply rid itself of its immigration “problem” by deporting undocumented immigrants across the same Colombo-Venezuelan border through which they entered. many immigrants attempted the border crossing once again. while others settled in local colonies. Undocumented Colombian immigrants offered an indispensable source of cheap labor that helped fill the acute labor shortages in the agricultural sector. of course. “La Inmigración Clandestina y la Política Inmigratoria en Venezuela. Instituto de Altos Estudios de América Latina (Caracas: Universidad Simón Bolívar. Instead. Mateo. causes “a distortion in the registry of the real number of deportees. 25 28 . these immigrants came to be seen as the main source of the country’s economic woes. Rather. This. Indeed.” Migraciones Latinas y Formación de la Nación Latinoamericana. recruitment and enganche efforts were thriving in the 1970s.895 immigrants deported between 1970 and 1979.24 Once deported. Moreover. Didonet. As a result. 24 Ibid. 1983): 423.undocumented immigrants. Deporting the Immigrant “Problem” The DIEX’s official figures reported 168. carry out transportation-runs between Colombia and jails on the Venezuelan side of the border during deportations. No longer would the Colombian border police. Ironically. 113.” However. the pivotal role they played in the Venezuelan economy lost its meaning in the face of the economic depression of the late 1970s. shunning cooperation even with the Colombian authorities. or even ended up homeless. immigration authorities in Venezuela decided to simply release deportees at entry points along the border. Instead of addressing the issue of deportations via diplomacy with the deportees’ countries of origin. The author identifies this trend as a break from the bi-national treatment of immigration.25 Didonet (1983: 419) notes that seven percent of those deported to Colombia were nonColombian nationals.

1980.000 in 1979. Mar. 28 “Detenidos 1.” El Nacional [Caracas]. it is difficult to provide exact deportation figures for the end of this period.000 people had been deported in the first four months of 1980. One report in March 1980 stated that 1.26 Given the informal deportation methods employed in 1980. however. Faced with more numerous deportations. As reported that year. less than 19. and only 9. Further. Official figures from the DIEX –the country’s department of immigration—showed that while almost 46. The large number of deportations for 1977 –which were similar to figures for 1976—may be a result of concerns over the sudden increase in immigration between 1974 and 1976. official entries decreased annually starting in 1977.28 These roundups had been carried out over a period of “hardly a week. 27 29 .27 However. 15. 4. during this time press articles in Venezuela published frequent reports of deportations to Colombia. Mar. 1980.” Further. Didonet (1983: 424) states that. a National Guard general involved 26 “Reunión en Cúcuta. Venezuelan immigration authorities may have decided to cease cooperation with their Colombian counterparts in order to expedite the outflow of deportees.429 Indocumentados en Operativo Policial ‘Sur del Lago. according to local police reports. a noticeable increase in deportations had taken place between July 1979 and February 1980. 5.000 were deported the following year.’” El Nacional [Caracas]. Reports of the mass deportations taking place at this time were often accompanied by a generic shopping list of “problems” associated with undocumented immigration. In fact.000 people had been deported in 1977. Selective immigration policies that sought to encourage mostly skilled workers were implemented in 1976.the step away from established deportation procedures may reflect an important change in immigration policy.429 undocumented immigrants had been detained around the various states in the Venezuelan Andes.” and the report emphasized that an operation to detain these immigrants had taken place in order to “diminish the criminal incidents carried out principally by undocumented immigrants that come to these frontier regions in order to commit their misdeeds.

Maracaibo. Indeed. Venezuela’s second largest city. 30 Pellegrino. to the west. and Ciudad Bolívar. These operations had resulted in even more prodigious deportations in the previous month. “Venezuela: Illegal Immigration from Colombia. 1984): 753. 3 (Autumn. “we have given precise instructions to our commands.249 undocumented immigrants had been deported “in the last three days. in February of that year.” Internacional Migration Review 18. The second survey found that 27. 30 . surveys among Colombians deported during this period showed that a disproportionately large number of these undocumented immigrants had been detained in the larger urban areas of the country. where most urban and industrial centers are concentrated –with the exception of the country’s second city. a prominent entity within immigration in Venezuela that sponsored various immigration projects and research with the help of the Catholic Church and academics in Venezuela. 7.500 undocumented immigrants had been detained at a flea market in Maracaibo. Feb. One survey found that 30. and press reports reflected a significant increase in overall deportations. Two surveys of deportees conducted in 1980 and 1979 reflected the geographic distribution of deported Colombian immigrants. Adella. 11.3 percent of undocumented immigrants that registered for the 29 “La Policía de Inmigración Deportó a 1. that they reactivate and intensify” such operations. These figures compare to the 18. In fact. given the “good results” obtained. deportations had increased significantly between the end of 1979 and the second semester of 1980.”29 According to another press report in January of the same year.30 The surveys were conducted by the Department of Labor and Social Security of Colombia. Interestingly. 1980.in the operation assured the reader that. and by CEPAM.2 percent of deportees had been detained in the same regions. located in the south-eastern part of the country.” El Universal [Caracas].5 percent of those interviewed had been deported in the capital and central regions of the country. one report stated that 1.249 Indocumentados en los Últimos Tres Días.

this pattern may be indicative of the highly metropolitan nature of concern over undocumented immigration in the country. Notwithstanding. It should be noted. At the same time. Finally. while a very large number of female undocumented immigrants worked in the services sector –particularly in domestic work—males tended to work in industry and agriculture.1980 MGE as residing in those regions. males were overrepresented in deportations of undocumented immigrants. In fact. especially in comparison to rural regions to the west. domestic nature of the work done by many female undocumented immigrants may have helped shield them from the legal consequences of their extra-legal status. this urbano-centric opposition to undocumented immigration was phrased in the language of economic development and public security.31 With the economic downturn of the late 1970s. This may denote the public aspect of these deportations. that the larger number of deportees detained in the central urban regions of the country may be a result of better-developed policing capacities in these regions. In fact. then. The disparity in geographic representation between the surveys of deportees and the applicants of the 1980 MGE may reflect an intensification of deportation procedures in urban areas located in the central and capital regions of the country. government officials and the Venezuelan media 31 Pellegrino (1984): 750. Concerning this. opposition to undocumented immigration was often termed from a metropolitan perspective. Further. Pellegrino (1984: 750) argues that the private. deportations in Venezuela became more frequent and informal. however. as we shall see we in a later section. As has been argued previously. this concern increased significantly as the number of immigrants moving to urban centers increased in the 1970s. 31 . among deportees registered in Cúcuta –an important site for entries and deportations in Venezuela–nine of every ten deportees were male. That is.

1 Bidegain (1986). six years after the sobering results of the 1980 MGE were made public –under 300. were compounded by estimations of the alleged. as criminal offenders. The blame placed on undocumented immigrants ignored the important position these immigrants had held within the country’s model for economic development of the 1970s.” As we shall see. moreover. and especially around the 1980 MGE. and even as factors of economic “underdevelopment.” These stigmatizations. about 90 percent of the undocumented immigrants that registered were Colombian. which were published in the media and echoed by government officials. Venezuelan governments “have chosen to use [Colombian] immigrants as scapegoats for the political problems brought about by the economic ones. opposition to Colombian immigration became most acute during the final year of the decade. Characteristics of Colombian Immigration Demographic and Migratory Characteristics The size of the Colombian population in Venezuela had been an object of heated debate in the press and government of the 1970s and 1980s. Undocumented immigrants were characterized as potential threats to national sovereignty.000 undocumented immigrants registered for the 1980 MGE—government officials and the media estimated that one million undocumented immigrants were residing in the country. II. Towards the end of the 1970s. As stated in “No to Venezuela” (1981: 13). 10. figures for undocumented immigration alone varied between 1. 32 . Even in 1986.5 and 4 million people.1 According to the MGE. when faced with economic crisis.voiced their concerns regarding undocumented immigration and the overall burdens they posed to economic development. unwieldy size of this group. Much of this opposition was shaped by unfounded claims in the press that speculated over the characteristics of undocumented immigration.

Such a consideration would ultimately rely on available poll and census data. and 900. as Pellegrino (1986) has noted. From the latter we may consider the characteristics of the total Colombian population in the country.148 Colombian immigrants were residing legally in the country. However. this would result in a figure between 1 and 3. Citing various sources including census figures and scholarly estimates. however.000 people migrated to the country between 1971 and 1981. 307. respectively. Bidegain (1987: 45) obtains a figure of around 530.6 million. in 1980. It should be noted. 34. it is difficult to estimate the total size of the Colombian population in Venezuela. According to the DIEX’s register. that it would be difficult to defend estimates as large as 1 to 4 million undocumented immigrants in Venezuela. Even assuming that 95 percent of these immigrants were Colombian.2 In order to make comparisons between the two groups of Colombian immigrants –those that registered for the MGE being subsumed by the total Colombian population—we will look at figures from the 1980 MGE and the 1981 Census. we would arrive at a maximum figure of 570. However.000 Colombian immigrants –more or less—residing permanently in Venezuela in 1980. in 1980 and 1986. 2 Pellegrino (1986). given that no formal identification was required to participate in the census.Taking this into consideration with the previous estimates. Even more uncertain is the number of the undocumented Colombian immigrants in Venezuela. Pellegrino (1986: 33) concludes that between 478.000 undocumented Colombian immigrants. Adding this figure to the MGE results. Moreover. Pellegrino (1986: 33) notes that it should not be assumed that undocumented Colombians were unwilling to participate in the 1981 census. we could say that around 550. 33 .174 and 600.000 Colombian immigrants were living in Venezuela in 1980. and certainly some educated guessing.000 Colombians migrating to Venezuela during that period.

4 percent falling within this segment.8 percent of the population. there were 119. men migrated to rural areas in the border states. including South and Central American countries. 34 . the 1981 census showed the overall age distribution of Colombians in Venezuela to lie mainly between 15 and 54 years of age. were male. the 1981 census showed that while women tended to migrate more to the capital region.194. Amongst Colombian immigrants. In contrast. Within this latter group. 91.2 percent of women registering for the MGE claimed to have children. Of the former. were Colombian. while under the 1981 census.2 percent of men. 8.6 percent. as well as Caribbean countries. 246. 16. more than three quarters.795 people over age 9 registered successfully for the 1980 MGE. Of these. Of the 246. Ecuadorians comprised 1.3 percent. or 92. were between 15 and 40 years old.8 Colombians.3 percent were between 15 and 20 years old.1 percent. gender distributions for Colombians registering for the MGE show some differences. For every 100 Colombian women that registered. Therefore. with 81.2 Colombian men.0 of the total population registered under the MGE.3 percent of those registered under the MGE came from other Latin American nations. for every 100 of their national counterparts. as did 35.266. as Pellegrino (1986: 36) has noted Colombian immigration is a concern of rural border-states more than it is one of urban areas. Another 6. or 76. Moreover. These figures show undocumented Colombian immigrants to be somewhat younger than their previously registered counterparts. while of the latter. Dominicans 1. and Peruvians 1.8 percent.2 percent were between 15 and 19 years old. 39. In comparison to the 1981 census. the majority of Colombians registering under the MGE were living in border states or in those near the border with Colombia.000 Colombians over age 9. European immigrants comprised 1.

8 and 6.1 17.9 9. 4. 3.5 8.0 percent of the local population. within the central region 1. Pellegrino (1984: 751) notes that while the Andean and coastal regions of both Colombia and Venezuela have internal cross-border migrations. Van Roy.3 11. but also in positions of an “urban” nature within these regions.3 Barinas and Mérida** 7. This means that a very small number of people –just over 1 percent—in the capital region were undocumented before the MGE.1 56. Barinas and Mérida are all located near the border with Colombia.2 43. Permanent immigration flows that migrate to border regions in the west and are employed in the agricultural and ranching sectors. business and services sectors. 37. 2.0 7.0 100. working mostly in industrial.1 percent of the local population. Ralph.1 Others 8. ** Táchira.0 *Caracas is distributed across the Federal District and parts of the state of Miranda.” International Migration Review 18 (Autumn. Zulia. respectively. the registrants did not reach ten percent of the local population. and in Zulia and the Andes to the west. Immigration flows with the most permanence in the country that reside in urban areas.8 percent of the country’s total population.4 29. registrant’s represented 1. Seasonal immigration flows taking place during harvest time or that fulfill other temporary needs in agriculture. 1983): 547.Pellegrino (1986: 34) classifies Colombian immigration in Venezuela according to three categories: 1.7 Aragua and Carabobo 4. there is “practically no migration from one region to another.4 Interestingly. Immigrants registering for the 1980 MGE represented 1. “Undocumented Migration to Venezuela. Within the Capital region.9 percent of the population.0 100.5 10. 4 35 . and within the border region that encompasses the Andean states and Zulia.0 6.0 Total 100.9 Táchira and Zulia** 60.” 3 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986). These categories are closely tied to the geographic proximity of Colombia to Venezuela. Geographic Distribution of Colombians in Venezuela3 State or District 1971 Census 1980 MGE 1981 Census Federal District and Miranda* 20.

while Andean populations do so within the Andes region. 37.0 ** Primaria 66.4 24. Preparatorio.0 100.6 percent of Colombians in the country are employed.1 10. 5 or older. Educational Attainment for Colombian and Venezuelan Population5 Colombians Venezuelans * * Educational Level 1980 MGE 1981 Census 1981 Census* Illiterate and without formal education 17.2 56. which is the equivalent of first grade in the U.0 100. is not included within Primaria. 59. figures represent population aged 9 or older.2 percent of Venezuelans. and for the Venezuelan population from the 1981 census. These numbers are derived by dividing 5 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986). 36 . Pellegrino (1986: 37) notes that the overall educational levels of Colombians in the country are not unlike that of Venezuelans in general. in comparison to 46.2 3. ***Secundaria includes seventh through eleventh grades (eighth through twelfth in the U. 7 or older.1 *** Secundaria 16.9 Superior 0.S. coastal residents migrate mostly to other coastal regions. and Pellegrino concludes that these “findings confirm that migrants tend to settle in those regions culturally closer to their place of origin. This compared to 65. respectively.0 *For the 1980 MGE.S.).).5 11.0 Total 100.8 5. This pattern is reflected in the available data on deportations. The active segment of the Colombian population is higher in comparison to those born in Venezuela.S.4 29. Sixty-eight percent of those registered under the 1980 MGE were active members of the country’s working population. for the Colombian population from the 1981 census.2 and 54 percent of previously registered foreigners and Venezuelans. However.3 59.” Socioeconomic and Occupational Characteristics The educational level of Colombian immigrants that registered for the MGE is somewhat lower than for the total Colombian population in Venezuela.. ** Primaria includes first through sixth grades (second through seventh in the U.Thus.

22.000 16. 6 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).968 15.57 17.604 23. The low levels of unemployment amongst MGE registrants are significant.3 percent of Colombians were “economically dependent”. Ranching. Occupational Groups for the Colombian Population6 Occupation Professionals and Technicians Managers.429 4.68 26. that there was a high degree of demand for their labor. by the corresponding age group of the total population and multiplying by one hundred. from the 1981 census. van Roy (1983: 62) cites a poll among Colombian deportees wherein 72. Concerning this. even in comparison to the overall foreign-born population.210 5.14 82.8 percent of Venezuelans.05 183.7 percent of Colombian men worked in agriculture.07 4.676 27.054 100. Sports and Entertainment Undeclared or Unidentified Total 1980 MGE Total % 2. This figure is derived by dividing the inactive segment of the population by the total population.0 About seventeen percent of Colombian immigrants registering for the MGE worked in agriculture.568 2.12 2. and 13.21 62. in comparison to 69.17 422 0.70 28. Factory Operators and Related Occupations Other Artisans and Operators Service Workers. concomitantly. if we split the figures for the MGE by gender.5 percent spent 9 days to one month in the same process.346 4. Further.the active population. age 12 and older. ranching or fishing.32 4.79 675 0.232 1.64 7. 40.372 23.25 30. and multiplying by one hundred. Quarrymen and Related Occupations Artisans. Administrators and Functionaries Office Employees and Related Occupations Salesmen and Related Occupations Agriculture.469 100. These figures show that undocumented workers were quite successful in finding work once in Venezuela. Pellegrino (1986: 39) found that 40.212 16.21 303.57 6.770 1.948 2.22 214 0.63 26. and. 37 . Fishing Transportation and Communications Miners.602 8.0 1981 Census Total % 12.964 8.5 percent of respondents spent 1 to 8 days searching for work once in Venezuela and then finding employment. while more than fifty percent worked in industry.680 1.414 1.28 71.37 379 0.35 43.838 34.90 50.78 3. Moreover.

and where the “tertiary sector” – essentially “businesses and services”—went from 35 percent of the active population in 1950. 40. 9 Ibid.ranching or fishing.7 Van Roy (1983: 64) suggests that this may be due partly to the difficulty of obtaining the necessary documentation for these positions. those registered under the MGE had very little representation in other sectors of the economy that demanded higher qualifications. the switch from undocumented to “legal” status) of undocumented immigrants under the MGE does not contradict the results of the running policy of selective immigration. of which 32 percent were working in similar occupations. 44. where construction grew 9.e. to 50 percent in 1980. undocumented Colombian immigrants were working in very similar occupations as those that had entered the country through legal channels. Compared to the overall Colombian population in Venezuela. van Roy (1983: 62) argues that. and the Venezuelan-born population had showed decreasing participation in this sector in the 1961 census. and not so much a lack of work experience. In fact. That is. given the negligible difference in overall occupational tendencies between previously registered Colombian immigrants and those registering for the MGE. Further. Colombian representation in the agriculture and services sectors exceeded that of the local population.8 This contrasted with the growth in the “urban” sector. Colombians in general and undocumented immigrants tended to replace native agricultural labor. while 79 percent of the women worked in services.4 percent in the 1970s. 8 38 . Ibid.9 Interestingly. the regularization (i. In fact.. especially domestic service in urban areas. 43. 7 Pellegrino (1986). Pellegrino (1984: 748) reports that 50 percent of working Colombians were employed in agriculture and services.

000 or under. Moreover.000 Bs.000 or under. 45.500 $ 250-375 $ 125-250 $ 375-500 $ 750-1250 $ 250-375 The salaries of Colombian workers employed outside of the agricultural sector were not unlike those accorded to the population in Venezuela as a whole. and of these 83 percent were Colombian. were more promising than for Colombian men.10 The employment prospects of these domestic workers.8 percent. 1. made Bs.000-1. 32. 1.500-2. food. 3. while 16 percent of all agricultural-sector workers in Venezuela earned more than 10 Ibid. 2. Specifically.000-1. and other necessities were provided by their patrons. Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).000 Bs. in general. especially seeing as shelter. while 47. Concerning this. while 91. However. a similar percentage of the Colombian agricultural work-force in the country.” and many were employed as domestic workers. men were more likely to be found in the border states to the west of the country.6 percent of the country’s agricultural work-force made Bs.7 percent of the agricultural work-force earned less than Bs. 66. the salaries of Colombian agricultural workers were significantly lower than those accorded the country’s total population. On this. 89. following are some monthly salary figures earned by Colombian workers according to the most common economic sectors they represented:11 Domestic Work (Women) Agricultural Workers and Fishing (Men) Construction Workers (Men) Specialized Industrial Workers (Men) Garment Industry Workers (Women) Bs. In other words.000.000-5. Dollar figures are based on the 1980 exchange rate of Bs.500 Bs.4 percent of domestic workers were foreign-born women. 3. 1.According to the 1981 census figures.6 percent of women registering under the MGE declared to be working as “service workers. 47. 500-1.5 percent of Colombian agricultural workers earned the same amount. 11 39 . while there was a higher tendency for women to migrate to the capital region.000 Bs. 4 to the dollar and were added by the author. 1. Pellegrino (1986: 39) reports that 78. Thus.

2. while those concerning the total working-population in Venezuela were taken from the “Random Survey of Homes” carried out in 1980 and 1981 by the OCEI.000.Bs. oscillates along an axis of cooperation and conflict. immigration is treated as an instance of cooperation when Colombians are contracted through legal channels to work in Venezuela. not having obtained the necessary visa.” the topic of immigration becomes conflictive. Berglund and Hernández (1985: 85) remark that. cross the border surreptitiously. “exempting their personal characteristics and formation. the image of the undocumented Colombian immigrant can come to represent a problematic factor when it is formulated in opposition to Venezuela’s model for economic development. only 3.” Because of the “invisible” nature of these migration flows. [undocumented immigrants] are marginalized for the simple fact of being undocumented.12 The Undocumented Immigrant in Venezuela In her section on the “Image of Migration. Specifically. in the latter instance the image of the undocumented immigrant is imbued with an aspect of illegality that leads to the automatic stigmatization of those falling under this category. The figures for the Colombian work-force were extracted from the 1981 census. These figures show a pattern of lower-pay for Colombian workers employed in the agricultural sector in comparison to the overall Venezuelan population working in the same sector. as in the other instances of interaction between the two countries [Colombia and Venezuela]. Indeed. However. when it concerns the “thousands of Colombians that. The lower-wages accorded Colombian workers evidenced the economic role of these immigrants as cheap laborers for the country’s agricultural sector. In this context.” That is. the undocumented immigrant is deemed “undesirable for his or her poverty and 12 The figures are cited from Pellegrino (1986: 49).8 percent of Colombian workers employed in the same sector earned the same amount. 40 .” Anzola (1983: 120) states that “migration.

Before getting too far into this discussion. However. the immigrant “problem” is compounded by the over-inflated figures that allegedly quantify their size. as we saw earlier. general lawlessness and even disease to this “clandestine” group of immigrants. or by the average Venezuelan. these negative characterizations of undocumented immigration are formulated in the language of economic development. In his report on “Los Indocumentados Colombianos” (1972). Pellegrino (1986: 30) elaborates on the definition of the word “undocumented” in Venezuela (“indocumentados”). However. Norman Gall informs that although the Venezuelan government was well aware of the “invasion” of Colombian conuqueros. Colombian immigration was often stigmatized due to its undocumented flows. for this reason. by government officials. however. 63. Moreover. the reality of the undocumented Colombian immigrant is one of economic exploitation. the term refers to anyone residing in the country that did not enter with a “transient” or “resident” visa (“Transeúnte” and “Residente”). This vulnerable group of immigrants is often seen by powerful economic actors and the Venezuelan government as an essential source of cheap labor that is beneficial to the process of economic development. whether in the press. also 13 As cited in Berglund and Hernández (1985). Ultimately. 41 . we should step back a little and start again with a clear definition of the “undocumented” in Venezuelan immigration. he or she “tends to be resented” (Berglund and Hernández 1985: 86).13 In spite of this. other forms of stigmatization include attributions of crime. it stood by passively and reasoned that the nature of their work was unacceptable to Venezuelans who refused to live and work in the isolated areas of the country’s western frontier. although undocumented immigrants are stigmatized for their alleged socioeconomic characteristics.alleged lack of knowledge” and. or agricultural workers. In practice. However.

Didonet (1983: 413) surmises that this group of people would have made recourse to loans and other sources of capital. Yet another group of undocumented immigrants had originally entered the country with “Border Identification Cards. in order to secure the financial means with which to pay for their journey to Venezuela. The first represented more affluent applicants that had the means to not only finance their trip to and stay in Venezuela. another group of “tourists” was constituted by immigrants who. a considerable number of people had entered the country with “tourist” visas acquired before leaving their home countries. many people in this group could count on returning to their home countries in the event of an unfavorable migration experience. more affluent group—in order to accrue the financial resources necessary to embark on a costly journey to Venezuela. Moreover. such as the liquidation of social benefits attached to their particular form of employment –these were probably less promising than those occupied by the previous. but could also vouch for the necessary financial assets. People applying for these visas could be classified according to two encompassing groups.” These identification cards were generally granted to a select group of agricultural and industrial workers from Andean countries (mainly Colombia) in search of work in the border regions closest to Colombia. underwent a long and costly preparation before emigrating. Among undocumented immigrants. We can surmise the break from their native societies to be more acute than for the previous group of more affluent “tourists”.included are those that entered the country as “tourists” and did not subsequently regularize their status. Didonet (1983) examines these latter sources of undocumented immigration. The “majority” of these immigrants overstayed 42 . In contrast. the likelihood of return to their countries of origin is significantly impeded by their scarce financial resources and lack of professional work experience. Given that these immigrants benefited from a more secure financial situation.

alleging the former to reach well into the millions and painting an unbalanced and generally stigmatized image of the presence of Colombian immigrants in the country. These were the same “green paths” mentioned in the earlier section on the enganche of undocumented workers from Colombia. In this way. and that “ad hoc” means of document forgery were also available. Didonet (1983: 415) makes an interesting distinction between these last two groups. especially given the cultural proximity between Colombians and Venezuelans living in border regions. because undocumented immigrants proceeding from other countries would have needed the necessary documentation to pass through the countries along their journey to Venezuela. a sizable group of immigrants entered the country with fraudulent documentation. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants in the country were comprised by Colombian citizens. undocumented immigration and Colombian immigration are inter-twined and mutually defined through marginalizing claims of a crime14 Didonet (1983). However. In fact. when it comes to quantifying the size of these flows. 43 . while yet another group made their entries through “green paths” (caminos verdes). figures generally skew the balance of undocumented and documented. This is so.14 Finally. or beaten trails that cut across unsettled parts of the Colombo-Venezuelan border. He claims that the label “without papers” is applicable mostly to Colombian immigrants and less so to the other groups of nationals entering the country through extra-legal means. but it’s a likely distinction that should be taken into consideration. Didonet states that these fraudulent visas were often issued at Venezuelan consulates.their visas and had subsequently been unable to renew them. and thus the ease the former would have had in “blending into” Venezuelan society. 414. It is possible that Didonet’s claims regarding the label “without papers” do not apply to all undocumented Colombian immigrants. he explains.

these workers provided much-needed cheap labor for the agricultural sector of the economy. 44 . Ultimately.ridden. As we already saw. As we shall see in the next section. these flows were considered essential to the economic model of the country. stigmatization of undocumented immigration hides the reality of a system of labor exploitation that preyed on their vulnerable situation by displacing blame for a situation of economic decline onto the very same immigrants that the Venezuelan economy had come to depend on. then. again. such stigmatization became most acute surrounding the 1980 MGE. disease-infested and generally unskilled (even backwards) Colombian population in the country. In reality. within the Venezuelan model for economic development of the 1970s.

g. Chile and Peru. or –in the case of domestic workers—an informal. which Venezuela joined in 1973. the temporary identification provided by the MGE 1 The details of the 1980 MGE were gathered from various journal articles. birth certificate) and proof of employment. The countries that had signed the agreement in 1969 were Bolivia. . The terms of the implementation of the 1980 MGE had been established by the passage of Presidential Decree 616 in May of that year. one year after their issuance. More permanent visas could be issued for Andean immigrants with proof of residence predating September 1978. Ecuador. However. which could be either a document from the employing company certifying the applicant’s occupation. In contrast. and Didonet (1983). notarized note from the domestic employer vouching for the applicant’s occupation. when the Andean Instrument for Labor Migrations went into effect. The MGE applied to undocumented immigrants who were legally employed and residing in Venezuela before May 23rd of 1980. a passport or national identification card. in 1977. Further.III. While Chile had been an original member country. the execution of the 1980 MGE had been previously anticipated by the signing of the Andean Instrument for Labor Migrations. The details of the registration of nationals of countries outside of the Cartagena Agreement were left unspecified.. Opposition to Colombian Immigration and the 1980 Matrícula General de Extranjeros The 1980 Matrícula General de Extranjeros1 The Matrícula General de Extranjeros took place between August 23rd and December 23rd of 1980. van Roy (1983). Colombia. including Pellegrino (1986). it abandoned the agreement in 1976. citizens of the Cartagena-Agreement countries would be issued temporary identity cards (visa de transeúnte) that could be renewed upon expiration. This instrument set the conditions for the passage of provisional identity documents for citizens of the member countries of the Cartagena Agreement. It required that applicants present a form of national identification (e.

Dec. 46 . The Department of Interior Relations was put in charge of the overall process of the MGE. including the Disip. the government’s implementation of the MGE established the mechanisms for a rather “tolerant” amnesty program. which is similar to the FBI. of the 250.000 undocumented immigrants. the National Guard. A second phase would follow the registration processes’ conclusion in late December. Practically everybody that applied for the amnesty was successfully registered. nine of every ten undocumented persons detained during this phase turned out to be Venezuelan nationals that lacked proper documentation at the time of arrest. However. ironically.could be exchanged for a “resident” visa after two years of residence in the country. Applicants would direct themselves to the DIEX offices across the country where they could take part in the registration process. In fact. Further. El Nacional [Caracas] 1980. while the initial number of 2 “Sólo 100 Indocumentados entre 250 Mil Personas Identificadas”. which has functions related to the maintenance of national security. “Operation Return” –as the second phase of the MGE was called—was carried out by the main national policing bodies. while the particular logistics involved were overseen by the Central Office for Computational Statistics. the PTJ. the MGE had a secondary formal purpose. 30.000 persons that were identified.2 Indeed. despite the efforts in place to regularize the status of the nation’s undocumented immigrants. While the government of Colombia awaited the deportation of some 250. a very small number of undocumented immigrants were detained during the second phase of the MGE. and called for the detainment and deportation of any undocumented immigrants that had failed to register for the amnesty. A few days after the commencement of “Operation Return” it was reported that. as van Roy (1983: 47) has noted before. only 100 were undocumented. and the numerous local police departments across the country.

In contrast.” The first part of this declaration focuses on the challenges to the “public order and security” of the nation posed by “the presence” of a large group of undocumented immigrants. Van Roy. “La Población Clandestina en Venezuela: Resultados de la Matrícula General de Extranjeros”. the more particular purposes of the MGE can be gleaned from a closer look at the decree that called for its passage. undocumented group of immigrants.”3 Given the insignificant number of undocumented immigrants detained after the commencement of the second phase of the MGE.4 The picture of undocumented immigration captured by the 1980 MGE thus represents a relatively dependable source of information regarding this group of immigrants. 544. “as the weeks passed by. we can conclude that the majority of the undocumented population in Venezuela was successfully registered. while the MGE functioned as a general amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Ralph. and the number of registrants increased considerably. However. particularly around the time of the MGE. with respect to the observance of the individual and social rights of the human being. 1983): 47. Van Roy. which stems from the difficulty of observing the Human Rights of this “clandestine” group of immigrants. Ralph (Caracas: CEPAM. “the presence in the territory of the Republic of a sizable group of foreigners not meeting the corresponding legal requirements [for their stay] can create a factor of disruption of the public order and security and can upset the goals of the international community. Crime and national security concerns were raised regularly within discussions of undocumented immigration. 4 47 . ed.immigrants applying for the MGE was significantly low. 3 Van Roy (1984). in the press and in government. Sincere discussion of the human rights of undocumented immigrants was overshadowed by the disparaging assertions made in the press and in government concerning the negative implications of the presence of such a large. Migraciones Internacionales en las Américas. the second part of the decree concerns the vulnerable position of undocumented immigrants. their suspicions diminished. Presidential Decree 616 stated that.

the MGE had important implications for the public awareness of undocumented immigration.” Theoretically. the Venezuelan public had a dependable template with which to construct “an understanding that went further than press reports. its results paved the way for a more positive perception of undocumented immigration in the country. Didonet (1983: 429) surmises that the purpose of the 1980 MGE was. which were typically sensationalist. However. primarily. As a practical consequence. the MGE provided the details that were necessary for a clearer understanding of undocumented immigration in the country.” Furthermore. the information provided by the 1980 MGE could then be used as a “real base” for the formulation of “new instruments and policies concerning immigration. the MGE put some closure to public concern over undocumented immigration. to create “an informational base that would quantify the number and [type of] occupational structures in Venezuela towards which undocumented immigrants had directed themselves. In particular. the sobering figures for undocumented immigration established by the MGE served in large part to temper public consternation over the unwieldy numbers defended by the country’s DIEX. For the first time since the beginning of the period of mass immigration in the 1970s. it cannot be denied that as a practical and unexpected consequence. and that until now have been the only source of information concerning [the 48 . Didonet argues that the steps taken to regularize the situation of undocumented immigrants in the country were not intended as a solution to the immigrant “problem” as much as it was a method of quantification of the economic conditions that characterized this group. the press and other influential sources within the discussion of immigration in Venezuela. While the stated purposes of the MGE were to address the greater social and public security implications posed by the presence of a sizable group of undocumented immigrants.Indeed.

van Roy (1983: 368) remarks that. though the lack of social services and crime are also prevalent in the media’s discussion of immigration. “Immigration is valorized negatively. rise in criminal activities. “Immigration tends to be conceived and identified as illegal immigration. “Immigration tends to be identified with Colombian immigration. threats to national sovereignty.undocumented] population. Van Roy (1983: 370) lists several trends –the author poses these trends as “hypotheses”—within the discussion of immigration in the media that reflect the principal characteristics of this process of “formation and capture of public opinion. which include: lack of basic services. government has to confront and compete … with other institutions interested in the formation and capture of public opinion. via the concept of territorial sovereignty. like the mass media.” Colombian immigration received considerable attention during the period of the study (19771980). and their flows had been central to the discussion of economic development in the country. capital losses through remittances. have the easiest and most direct reach” over that (public) opinion.” 5 Indeed. up to this point. loss of national identity. European immigration received little mention during this time. and the trends that surface in their discussion of immigration are telling of the nature of public awareness of the topic: 1. competition for scarce employment opportunities. 3. Discussion of Colombian Immigration in the Media and in Government In his study on the “Influence of the Press on Public Opinion concerning Immigration”. 5 Van Roy (1983). Surprisingly. the author lists the various “problems” associated with immigration in the media at the time. 48. Amongst these predominates the topic of national security. mainly with those who. 49 . The overwhelming majority of immigration to Venezuela in the 1940s and 1950s was European. 2. “within a democratic system.” The study focuses on two newspapers that are read mainly by the “popular classes of society”.” This is evident even at the beginning of the period in question.” To illustrate this point. public perception of undocumented immigration had been largely defined by statements made in the press and in government concerning the characteristics of these flows.

namely via the oil resources that have dominated more-recent territorial disputes between Colombia and Venezuela. overuse of social services and wage-competition are part of the discussion of economic development and undocumented immigration. I will also consider the role of territorial sovereignty within the discussion of undocumented immigration in the press and in government. to a large degree. such stigmatizations highlighted the public nature of these “problems. discussion of the size of the undocumented population is the first issue that will be considered in this section.To this last list of “problems” associated with immigration I would add the purported size of the undocumented population. Further. given both its historical recurrence and. Finally. The issue of territorial sovereignty has a strong economic component. the geopolitical interests that are played out within this context. Questions regarding the worsening of unemployment levels.” particularly within an urban context. the magnitude of these figures compounded the already negative public opinion of immigration by overestimating. the extent of the source of “problems” listed by van Roy. although no reliable sources for estimation were available at the time –the next census would not take place until 1981—the government and media did not hesitate in publishing figures estimating up to four million undocumented immigrants. Therefore. Figures for undocumented immigration were heavily discussed in the press and. In particular. particularly. overestimation of these figures helped create a “tainted” image of Colombian immigration as being largely undocumented. This emphasis facilitated public reception of 50 . I will also discuss the role of economic development within the discussion of undocumented immigration. Interestingly. This topic is central to these discussions. This is arguably the most influential topic within these discussions.

000 undocumented Colombian immigrants present in the country in 1976.7 Given general disbelief over the number of undocumented immigrants reflected by the MGE figures. In fact. 408. in some instances. “El 90 por Ciento de los Matriculados son Colombianos”. Early in 1980. Dec. newspapers headlined the overwhelming Colombian representation within undocumented flows.the stigmatizing discussion of undocumented immigrants by formulating the immigrant “problem” within a highly public sphere. these estimations increased considerably towards the end of the decade.6 Towards the end of the 1980 MGE. Estimations of the size of these undocumented flows oscillated between one and four million undocumented immigrants and were echoed by various sources in the press and in government until the final days of the 1980 MGE. reaching a high point in 1980. which surpassed 90 percent. The headline claimed that “One Million Undocumented [Immigrants] Have Entered the Country in Less than a Year. while figures for undocumented immigration released by the DIEX estimated 800. The Size of the “Invasion” As stated in Pellegrino (1986: 33). these headlines fed into a general perception of Colombian immigration as being largely undocumented. a newspaper article in El Nacional headlined the estimations of the director of Alien Control of the DIEX over the size of undocumented immigration in Venezuela. El Nacional [Caracas]. The rise in concern resulted largely from the increasing concentration of immigrants in urban areas.” The immigration official indicated that this recently-settled group added to 6 7 Didonet (1983). These figures were introduced under a climate of rising concern over undocumented immigration flows. 22. picked up by officials in government. 1980. in 1974 the Venezuelan press began to publish figures concerning immigration in the country that were. as well as from an upsurge in immigration in Venezuela. 51 .

11. one press article reported that “it is said that [the results of the MGE]. faced with the sobering results of the MGE. the government’s ability to respond to this “problem” –and to the problems that were generally ascribed to undocumented immigration—was largely rendered ineffective. Feb. The headline there read “The State Impotent before Undocumented [Immigration]”.the two million undocumented immigrants already present in the country. 10. 1980. 10 “El 90 por Ciento de los Matriculados son Colombianos”. Dec.9 These figures were again repeated later in the year during the final days of the MGE.10 The previous front-page article continued in the back page of that day’s edition. 1980. In fact. the daily El Nacional headlined a picture of an Ecuadorian immigrant at work: the title read “Three Million Undocumented Immigrants”. Feb. As we shall see ahead. 9 52 . El Nacional [Caracas]. owe in part to the fact that many landowners encouraged their Colombian workers to abandon the country and return after the conclusion of the [MGE]. these inflated figures had become so persistent by the time of the 1980 MGE that. following the conclusion of the MGE.”11 Such rumors of efforts to subvert 8 “Un Millón de Indocumentados han Ingresado al País en Menos de un Año”. though this time by different immigration official. the persistence of such figures evidenced the degree to which they had been cemented in the public sphere.8 As the article unfolded. “Tres Millones de Indocumentados”. 11 “Indocumentados Son los Venezolanos”. 8. the media and general populace were unable and unwilling to accept their disproval. the reader might assume that. citing the same official quoted in the opening lines of this paragraph. The following day. El Nacional [Caracas]. confronted with an overwhelming number of immigrants. the director unleashed a string of vituperative comments concerning undocumented immigration (more on this later). 1980. Indeed. highlighting the unwieldy size of these flows. 22. 1981. Jan. Given the size of government estimates of undocumented immigration. El Nacional [Caracas]. El Nacional [Caracas]. many government officials.

Ironically. Following the conclusion of the first phase of the MGE. 4. police. immigration. In fact.12 Foreseeing the logistic consequences posed by a massive return of Colombian immigrants. El Nacional [Caracas]. 12 “Colombia Preparó Plan de Emergencia para encarar expulsión masiva de indocumentados”.the goals of the government’s “census” reflected the general incredulity in the unexpectedly low numbers of immigrants registering under the MGE. 1980. 1980. the Colombian government repeatedly warned the Venezuelan authorities of the international and diplomatic consequences of their actions. military and other official authorities on both sides of the Colombo-Venezuelan border were gearing up for a decisive round of country-wide deportations of undocumented immigrants from the Venezuelan side. reflected the degree to which the bloated estimates of undocumented immigration had taken hold of the Venezuelan and Colombian governments. “Tensa Expectativa en Colombia y Honda Preocupación en Venezuela”. Such incredulity over the actual number of undocumented immigrants had become apparent in the final days of the MGE. 24. 53 . In fact. Dec. Dec. The impending flood of immigrants created a tense atmosphere in both countries that led to numerous articles in the press evidencing the charged nature of these events. El Nacional [Caracas]. the colossal gap between long-asserted figures for undocumented immigration in Venezuela and the actual number of immigrants that had registered under the MGE led the Colombian government to issue a series of diplomatic pleads to the Venezuelan government that it not undergo an unbridled and massive deportation of immigrants. These events. if anything else. the Colombian government erected camps near the Venezuelan border handle the resettlement of returning Colombians. for both governments. as the press and government officials struggled to account for the gaping difference between their estimates of undocumented immigration and the figures reflected in the MGE.

18. “territorial boundaries have been the subject of recurring negotiations but never have been settled to the satisfaction of both nations. the recent controversy stemmed from “the development of international shelf boundary law since the end of World War II. they had little success in reaching any final agreement on the matter.” Even after the independence wars of South America. territorial disputes between the two countries have centered around geopolitical interests in the Gulf of Venezuela. in 1830. Larry N. Since that time.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 30 (Winter. Colombian Immigration and Territorial Sovereignty Territorial disputes between Venezuela and Colombia date back to the secession of Venezuela from “Gran Colombia..”14 That is.” Only a decade later. 54 .”15 In particular.”13 More recently. 1988-1989): 143. “concern over maritime borders emerged with the doctrine established by President Truman that claimed that every country was the owner of the riches contained in the marine subsoil adjacent to its territorial coasts. Venezuela and Colombia continued to be joined under “Gran Colombia. Territorial sovereignty over these waters has long been contested. 143. Despite the long history of territorial disputes between Colombia and Venezuela. did Venezuela secede from this union. In essence. however.” Although bilateral conventions were established to discuss a solution to the ongoing dispute. “Realism and Internationalism in the gulf of Venezuela. George (1988: 143) explains that the recent territorial dispute –commonly termed the “diferendo”—was driven by the discovery in the 1960s of substantial offshore oil fields located in the area in question.the majority of the “undocumented” persons arrested by the Venezuelan authorities in the wake of the MGE turned out to be unsuspecting Venezuelans lacking papers to prove their citizenship. adding potentially significant economic interest to already strongly felt legal and patriotic convictions in both countries. this discovery “’petrolized’ the conflict. The 13 George. 14 George (1988-1989). 15 Samper (1981).

government officials and influential economic actors made statements tying the presence of undocumented immigrants to concerns over the territorial dispute. in 1970 a journalist writing in the pages of the newspaper El Nacional said that.discord that characterized these conventions permeated throughout Venezuelan (and Colombian) society. “Las Migraciones Espontáneas se Convierten en Sensitivo Problema de América Latina”. just as was painfully shown by the war between Honduras and El Salvador … such [undocumented] migrations on a large scale can create international tensions. only to be abrogated for another period of time and then revived at the end of the decade. As we shall see.”16 The following year. in 1972. The project was titled “Frontier Service” (Servicio de Fronteras). undocumented immigrants from Colombia posed a real threat to national security interests –namely those concerning sovereignty over the gulf waters—of the country. In fact. Mar. 17 55 . These conventions were again restored in 1974. “as evidenced by the recent incidents between Colombia and Venezuela. 1970. the Venezuelan National Guard set into motion a colonization project that aimed to populate the country’s frontier regions to the west. During that time.”17 A year later. Concerns in the media over an “invasion” of undocumented Colombian immigrants date back to the beginning of the 1970s. In 1980. 1971. El Universal [Caracas]. El Nacional [Caracas]. May 25. In their view. In an interview with El Nacional. “I must denounce … the campaign that has been forwarded to attribute to the … Colombian workers that come to this country in search of work. one could read that. the condition of subjects organized diabolically by the state to invade the country. the commanding general of the 16 No Title Available. bilateral conventions that had been initiated during the previous decade to discuss the details of the territorial dispute were suddenly terminated. concerns over territorial sovereignty were again posited within discussions of undocumented immigration. 24.

National Guard.” Unlike the “pioneers of the North-American west. were twofold: “first is a security matter. Dec. exposed the details of the project. of Venezuelans. 28. he later explained. because “we have the best intention of serving the greater and 18 19 “Colonizaremos las Fronteras”. The government’s commitment to this project was reasserted a month and a half later. to develop the frontier regions. “Los que no se Acogieron a la Matrícula Tienen que ser Sancionados”. when the president of the republic announced that “we aim. Eduardo Loaiza Giordano.” The project would be carried out with the help of married national guardsmen that would essentially settle the frontier region and sustain themselves through agricultural work and even cattle ranching. to prevent the clandestine entry of people and things into the country. Nov. were “to convert the natural barriers … into authentic means of rapprochement and affirmation of sovereignty. explained the commanding general. these groups would be connected by economic trade. careful oversight of the project would be carried out by the national government. El Nacional [Caracas].” alongside which would be integrated other farmers and ranchers. 4. Driven by a common cause of securing the frontier region of the country. This settlement model constituted a series of “civic-military nuclei for development. above all. 1980. integrating the communities through “networks of commerce with just prices.” This “development and productivity” referred to the particular aims of the proposed project. The project would ultimately “constitute a base for a stable and permanent future population. These aims. to prevent any trespassing of the frontier for alternate reasons. El Nacional [Caracas].18 The current goals of the National Guard. 56 . both military and civilian.”19 This was necessary. explained the general. as is the settlement of nationals from neighboring countries that in the future could be turned into populations that would be difficult to control. through development and productivity. Secondly.” the national guardsmen would ultimately construct permanent settlements that in turn would spawn other local communities. to guarantee the presence. 1980.” Throughout its development.

economic and intellectual figures argued that with mass immigration the country faced an erosion of its nationality. “the penetration of the Colombian man in the frontier … brings [with it] political dispositions. Mar. social conduct and cultural traits already surpassed by the Venezuelan population.” Later in his speech. 21 “Con el Himno Nacional Colombiano Despierta el Campesino Tachirense”.e. 20 “El Presidente de Fedecámaras en el V Curso de Comando y Estado Mayor de las FAC Reiteró sus planteamientos de control de inmigrantes ilegales”. Speaking before a class of national guardsmen. 1979. One article summarized statements by vice-admiral Elio José Zambrano.supreme interests of the country. El Nacional [Caracas]. These immigrants. El Nacional [Caracas].”20 The reference to “the nationality” (i.” Such statements concerning national security concerns and territorial sovereignty had been pronounced before in the press. 1979.. particularly with regards to the ongoing diferendo dispute.” The Venezuelan military responded to such concerns over the undocumented immigrant “invasion” with the reassurance that they would be ready to respond to any threats to national security. Jul. posed a threat “to the very integrity of the nationality. it was defined in direct opposition to Colombians. 57 . who stated that. of course. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 163). “Fedecámaras maintains … that the Gulf of Venezuela forms an inalienable part of the Venezuelan territory. he warned. The particular nature of that nationality. 4. the previous statements were headlined by the title “Táchiran Campesinos Wake Up to the Colombian National Anthem. As one writer put it. In particular. Thus. Rather. was never clearly elaborated. 18.”21 These statements were generally formulated within the context of national and territorial integrity. the Venezuelan nationality) was common in the government and media around the time of the 1980 MGE. the president of Fedecámaras –the nation’s preeminent business conglomerate— warned about the dangers posed by a large number of undocumented immigrants residing in the country. leading officials. he added that. [particularly] its defense and territorial integrity.

” In particular. 23 “Deportación de Indocumentados Afectaría Negociaciones sobre el Diferendo”. 1980. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 174). El Nacional [Caracas]. Colombian politicians voiced their concerns over the political consequences of the massive deportation of undocumented immigrants that would follow the MGE. Jan.” adding that deportees had been treated in the most humane manner “with the fullest observance of [their] Human Rights. on January 2nd. Dec. 31. Oct. On the final eve of 1980. 1981. 58 . however.”23 They protested that. on behalf of conglomerates of undocumented foreigners that may put the country in danger. The day that the newspaper El Nacional reentered circulation.24 The headline read. 24 “El Diferendo y La Repatriación de Indocumentados Son Dos Aspectos Diferentes”. 20. These politicians warned that such an operation “could create an unfavorable climate for the solution of the diferendo dispute.” Despite his reassurances. the front-page of that day’s edition featured an article by Venezuelan councilor José Alberto Zambrano Velasco. 2. concluded his statements saying that. 1979. The councilor. “this good treatment [of undocumented immigrants] should be the object of the most cordial recognition.” Colombian Immigration and Economic Development 22 “Las Autoridades Están Preparadas para Neutralizar Cualquier Acción en Perjuicio del País”. abuses were reported during the second phase of the MGE. El Nacional [Caracas]. El Nacional [Caracas]. both military and civilian. “The Diferendo and the Repatriation of Undocumented Immigrants Are Two Different Things. a general “hysteria” had overtaken the Venezuelan public.”22 Such reassurances evidenced deep-rooted concerns over the challenges to national sovereignty posed by undocumented immigration. the councilor explained that the issue of undocumented immigration was “a question of national sovereignty. in the wake of the media and government campaign to stigmatize undocumented immigrants. have the adequate means to neutralize any actions. however.“The Venezuelan authorities.

undocumented Colombian immigrants offered cheap labor that was essential to the Venezuelan model for economic development of the 1970s. Deportation procedures became more aggressive around this time. as cheap laborers. as well as the government’s inability to stem economic deterioration. especially starting in 1979. Another concern was that.As has been argued in this paper.. 59 . concerns over immigration were voiced through unarticulated epithets that were nonetheless economic in character. Sometimes. early in 1978.3 percent. For example. This passing of blame was formulated in various ways. A.. particularly those to Colombia. however. the deficit in social services was often blamed on mass undocumented immigration. undocumented immigrants were displacing Venezuelan workers.L. 25 Flores. the unemployment rate decreased in the 1970s –though it increased again in 1979—reaching its lowest level in Venezuelan history at 4. The general spike in concern over undocumented immigration was fueled by fears over the economic downturn. which in turn resulted in “abusive use” of the health system by these immigrants. The Impact of Migration in the Receiving Countries: Venezuela (Geneva: CICRED. governmental. et al.25 Government officials and the press also protested that immigrants were “importing underdevelopment” by adding to the number of urban poor that constructed make-shift homes. However. Colombian immigration came to be seen as a scapegoat for the nation’s problems. In effect. In fact. 1992). 32. and intellectual figures argued that undocumented immigrants brought disease into the country. as economic depression set in at the end of that decade. media and government discussion of undocumented immigration became more frequent. Leading economic. despite fears of a rise in unemployment due to undocumented immigration. particularly along the valley walls of the capital region. resulting in an increase in national unemployment.

1980. contraband. which apparently claimed that undocumented immigrants contributed to “the growing deterioration of social services. Feb.”26 According to his statements.” The article summarized his comments.An offensive string of comments concerning undocumented immigration was voiced by the director of the office of Foreigner Control (Control de Extranjeros) of the DIEX during an interview with the newspaper El Nacional. 10. Fermín Mármol León. 1981. and we can now add to these [problems] sanitary factors.27 The general replied. 26 “Un Millón de Indocumentados Han Ingresado al País en Menos de Un Año”. and drug trafficking. In fact. he informed the reader that 35 percent of the Venezuelan population was comprised by foreigners. and that there were 3 million undocumented immigrants in the country. [particularly] robberies. that more details would be divulged in the following week. Jan. 60 . while he did not want to necessarily imply that there was a “condition of xenophobia. following the conclusion of the 1980 MGE. such comments were not notable for their singularity. once the workers’ statuses were regularized they “would leave their work and devote themselves to prostitution. such as the importation of contagious diseases.” as a result of the recently instated second phase of deportations. El Nacional [Caracas]. he stated that these undocumented flows were importing “scum and underdevelopment. lamented that. El Nacional [Caracas]. Of course. one journalist asked the commanding general of the National Guard –whom the reader has heard from before—whether there had been a drop in “criminal activities. vaguely. they have increased crime. when an official program to import female domestic workers had been tested before. 9. 27 “No Afectará a la Producción Agropecuaria la Deportación de Indocumentados”.” In sum.” To make matters worse. The director. unfortunately these illegal flows have created a situation that worries those of us that occupy posts in government.

31 “Sacados del País 5 Mil Indocumentados”. an increased concentration of immigrants in urban areas – particularly in Caracas—led to a climate of growing concern within government over the economic implications of this trend and the role of undocumented immigration. one article reported that “as always. 1980. In Caracas they can be found mostly in the downtown area and other popular shopping districts. 29 61 .28 As stated before. 30 A buhonero is a street vendor. “others came to add to the numbers of unemployed persons. 12. which are almost always numerous in size. while some immigrants went to Venezuela in search of employment opportunities. By the following year. 28. this concern led to estimations –in the press and in government—over the size of undocumented immigration.”30 The direct effects undocumented immigrants have on unemployment were repeated in other press articles. “Patrullas Combinadas Buscan a Los Indocumentados”. Feb.” These residential structures generally consist of exposed brick and tin roofs and are the homes of the numerous poor residents of the city’s barrios. Oftentimes. Thus they moved on to the ranchos of the belt of misery. referring to the deportation roundups that followed the MGE. One illustrative piece titled “5 thousand undocumented immigrants expulsed from the country.The new period of mass immigration of the 1970s took off following the rise in OPEC prices in 1973.” reported the statements of a Caracas police chief who claimed that many of the deported immigrants were detained “while they devoted themselves to the construction of ranchos. The term rancho can be translated as a “shack. Dec. or “shanty-towns. 33. Buhoneros generally setup tent in a very informal fashion. concerns over these flows pointed to their contribution to the growing size of the barrios. these types of actions were stepped up in the poor barrios of the belt that surrounds the city.”31 Moreover.”29 The writer explained that. in order to support their families. Thus.” that surrounded Caracas and other urban areas. and were unable to find a place to live. “one hundred percent of the [deportees] lacked any employment whatsoever. or to add to the street workers such as buhoneros.” 28 Pellegrino (1986). 1980. El Nacional [Caracas]. oftentimes with an umbrella and display table. El Nacional [Caracas].

they are generally located throughout the city’s busiest shopping districts and in the heavily-frequented downtown area. then. opposition to undocumented immigration was imbued with a strong public aspect that contributed to its entrenchment in Venezuelan society. Through the invocation of the images of barrios and buhoneros. Due to their prominent location within the capital’s landscape – many lie along the valley walls of the capital region—these barrios are visible throughout most of the city. and their positioning within the media and government discussion of immigration highlights a central aspect of opposition to Colombian immigration. many figures in government and in the media pointed to Caracas’ numerous barrios in formulating their concerns over undocumented immigration. the buhoneros occupy a very public space within the Venezuelan economy. The public aspect of the buhoneros and barrios. That is. Moreover.These concerns have a strong public aspect. In particular. The prevalence of these topics in the discussion of immigration mirrors their physical prominence along visible areas of the country’s urban centers. 62 .

” While the dispute over gulf waters remained unsettled until two years later. In particular. 16. These concerns were sometimes accompanied by estimations of the undocumented Colombian population in 1 “Nos Preocupa”. nursing positions and domestic service. . One editorial at the time stated that. the governments of Venezuela and Colombia collided over the issue of territorial sovereignty.”1 Added to these concerns were fears over the entry of guerrilla fighters. the press and government in both countries took the opportunity to vent their frustrations over the issue. Not surprisingly. the Colombian navy sailed a frigate into disputed territory in the Gulf of Venezuela. gas stations. Aug. “we are worried that part of this population is organized as a ‘fifth column’ and that it occupies key positions” in the national economy. in what came to be knows as the “Caldas incident. Protesting what was often termed an invasion of sovereign territory. According to various editorials in the press. it was feared that Colombian immigrants could represent a potential group of insurgents that would put the country’s national security in peril. Earlier that month. the media did not pass the opportunity to comment on the issue within the context of undocumented immigration. In August of 1987. including “transportation. undocumented immigration was yet again stigmatized for the negative implications it held for territorial sovereignty and economic development. El Universal [Caracas] 1987. and undocumented Colombian immigration was particularly associated with the importation of guerrilla fighters and general criminality into Venezuelan territory. government officials and the Venezuelan press asserted that the Gulf of Venezuela belonged to Venezuela.Epilogue Undocumented immigration has attracted considerable attention in Venezuelan politics since the 1970s.

As had been established by various press reports. http://www. which had been established through the United Nations. though these estimates were not as unwieldy as the ones published in the press around the time of the 1980 MGE –nor were they cited as regularly as before. Helena. “we have been hit by common delinquency. owing to recent cross-border incidents between Colombian paramilitaries and guerrillas and the Venezuelan government. All of that comes from Colombia. 2 Feldmann. 2003. Asylum Seekers. In 1999. 2004. these Colombian refugees were essentially detained at the border and deported back to Colombia. & Olea. were contradicted by an amnesty implemented by the government of Hugo Chávez later that year.Venezuela. Andreas. without any juridical consideration of their refugee status. however. contra-subversion. The Venezuelan government deported these refugees without due process despite the country’s commitment to the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees.2 To this day the issue of undocumented immigration in Venezuela continues to be relevant to politics in the country. “Chávez Chides Colombia over Border Control”. 3 Latinnews. Old Sins: Human Rights Abuses Against Migrant Workers. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez received criticism from Human Rights organizations concerning his treatment of Colombians fleeing the war in their country.latinnews. 4th. According to the president. at a workshop for the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago.com. paramilitaries and drug-dealing.”3 The nature of these statements and their disregard for Colombian immigration. and Refugees in the Americas.. “New Formulas.” presented Nov. 8 Jan. the question of whether to allow the entry of Colombian immigrants fleeing the current period of civil unrest in Colombia was raised within the context of refugee law. current Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remarked on the origins of crime in Zulia. 64 .com. subversion. Just recently. a state in western Venezuela that borders on Colombia. that was not born here and it has shocked us a lot. Early in 2004.

gov..000 undocumented immigrants were actually registered. 2004. 5 Ministerio de Comunicación e Información. [especially] given that a long time has passed since programs of this type were last carried out. a large number of new computers were purchased to expedite the registration process. According to the government’s Department of Information and Communications.gov. 16 Feb. in reality some 200. a large number of the people applying for this “amnesty” were Venezuelan citizens and residents whose national identification cards had expired. the government made the process free to all applicants.”4 While the amnesty was purported to register 3 million foreign-born persons. and many applicants were understandably relieved to have their identification documents updated and regularized before the referendum. Further. 65 . 16 Feb. “ONIDEX Regularizara a 3 Millones de Extranjeros que Viven en Venezuela”. http://www. a general amnesty for undocumented immigrants was implemented in Venezuela.. At the same time. Decree 2823 states that the application for naturalization would be processed within 6 months.minci.ve/. http://www. Portugal. however. Further. On the other hand. Presidential Decree 2823 authorized the amnesty in order to “resolve the problems faced by foreign residents in the country for many years now. This amnesty came just half a year before the recent referendum on the presidential office.5 Thus. or any Latin American countries the application would be processed in less than four months.ve/.minci. providing informal registration tables which were setup throughout the country in public spaces. the press and opposition protested that the amnesty was a campaign ploy to register new voters that would allegedly vote 4 Ministerio de Comunicación e Información. 2004. anyone who wished to apply for naturalization could do so under the amnesty. “ONIDEX Regularizara a 3 Millones de Extranjeros que Viven en Venezuela”. many of these people were simply unable to afford –or unwilling to pay—the fees that applied to renovate their ID cards. That is. Before the amnesty.In February of 2004. though for citizens of Spain.

though it is possible that the naturalization process was delayed for many of the amnesty’s applicants. disease. including crime. concern over undocumented immigration continues to be a lively topic in Venezuelan politics. This concern was not entirely unfounded. 66 . especially in the face of an impending referendum on its term. That is. the model for economic development of the 1970s. In fact. the current Venezuelan government posed undocumented immigration to its advantage. this time offering citizenship to thousands of undocumented and documented immigrants in what may have been an attempt to bolster its support in Venezuela. Like in the 1980 MGE. that the vulnerable role of undocumented Colombian immigration was and continues to be phrased in the strategic language of the political interests of the Venezuelan government. there blaming the group for various reasons—reflects the vulnerability of this group to the whims of government policy and to the public perception under its influence.to strike down a recall on the president’s term. the 1980 MGE. Though the particular focus of opposition to Colombian immigration changes with the political climate –especially depending on the condition of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela—several themes are commonly repeated. Indeed. wage-competition. the government’s contrastive position on undocumented immigration –here legitimizing its presence. and the recent amnesty reflect a common aspect. and a general subversion of national legal standards. In fact.

Gabriel (1987). 367-379). Migraciones Latinas y Formación de la Nación Latinoamericana (pp. Chen. Leszek A. Old Sins: Human Rights Abuses Against Migrant Workers. Cardona Gutierrez. & Vessuri. at a workshop for the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago. Arnaud F. Luz M. Gabriel (1986). Lucia. Andreas. Bogotá: Editorial Oveja Negra. Bidegain. Merlano M. A. Leiden. Feldmann. “New Formulas. (1982). Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales. Caracas: ANCE. 67 . 9-27.. Asylum Seekers. In Instituto de Altos Estudios de América Latina. No a Venezuela. and Hernández Calimán. María Matilde. Castaño. Didonet. Lauricella. Van Roy. Suárez. La Legislación Migratoria Colombiana y Andina: Un Marco Necesario para el Estudio de la Migración entre Éstos Países. Gómez. 29-55. Maryluz. Hernando (1981). 199234). “Realism and Internationalism in the Gulf of Venezuela. and Urquijo. 4. Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales.. (1992). Pellegrino. Bidegain. Ramiro. Caracas: UCAB. Larry N. and Refugees in the Americas. Torres V. M. Los Movimientos Migratorios Internacionales en Venezuela: Políticas y Realidades. In Instituto de Altos Estudios de América Latina. Jorge. 748-66. Geneva: CICRED. Helena (2003). Flores . Adela (1989). Ricardo (1983). et al. Migración de Colombianos a Venezuela (pp. Matthew (1983). Adella (1984). Chi-Yi. J. Schloeter. Picouet.. Bogotá: Editorial Carrera. La Moderna Esclavitud: Los Indocumentados en Venezuela. Migraciones Latinas y Formación de la Nación Latinoamericana (pp. 2003. 1936-1985. 4th. 405-430). Pellegrino. Juanita (1983). Javier. and Torrealba. 10-11. and Olea. Siglos XIX y XX. Caracas: CEPAM. and Ruiz H. Las Migraciones Internacionales en Venezuela: Bibliografía para Su Estudio. Tarazona de Niño. 18. White Collar Migrants in the Americas and the Caribbean (pp. Historia de la Inmigración en Venezuela.). 11-47. Inmigrantes: ¿Mito o Realidad? Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales. Alcides and Díaz. Rivas. Helga. Chen. (1986). Ernesto P. Internacional Migration Review 18.” presented Nov. Los Indocumentados en la Inmigración Colombiana en Venezuela. Humberto H. La Influencia de la Prensa en la Opinión Pública ante la Inmigración. 18. Caracas: Universidad Simón Bolívar.” Journal Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 30. Bogotá: ANIF... La Inmigración Clandestina y la Política Inmigratoria en Venezuela. 65-99). Samper.. George. Selective Latin American migration in Venezuela: the Case of Sidor.C. Netherlands: Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology. Hebe M. Adela (1986). Chi-Yi. In Instituto de Altos Estudios de América Latina. 139-170. Pellegrino.. (1988-1989).Bibliography Texts and Journal Articles Berglund. Susan. Venezuela: Illegal Immigration from Colombia. In Marks. Los de Afuera: Un Estudio Analítico del Proceso Migratorio en Venezuela. 3. Ralph (1983). The Impact of Migration in the Receiving Countries: Venezuela. Caracas: Universidad Simón Bolívar. (Eds. (1985). and Kosinski.

Ralph (1983).gov.). In Van Roy.latinnews. Migraciones Internacionales en las Américas (pp.ve/ http://www.Van Roy. 47-66).com 68 . Caracas: CEPAM. Ralph (Ed. La Población Clandestina en Venezuela: Resultados de la Matrícula General de Extranjeros. Newspapers El Nacional (Caracas) El Universal (Caracas) Websites http://minci.

El Nacional. 1979. El Nacional. 1970. 12. El Nacional. Jan. Nov. “Visa de Transeúnte y Cédula de Identidad a Extranjeros que se Hayan Registrado. El Nacional. Nov. “Los que no se Acogieron a la Matrícula Tienen que ser Sancionados”. 1980. “Sólo 100 Indocumentados entre 250 Mil Personas Identificadas”. El Nacional. 1980. “La Policía de Inmigración Deportó a 1. 1980. 1981. 31. Dec.” El Nacional. “Patrullas Combinadas Buscan a Los Indocumentados”. 20. 4. 4. El Nacional. 16. 10. 1980. 69 . “Indocumentados Son los Venezolanos”. 30. Feb. El Universal 1987. El Nacional. El Nacional. Jan. El Nacional. Mar. Mar. “En 60 Días Censo de Indocumentados. “Sacados del País 5 Mil Indocumentados”. 1980. 4. “El 90 por Ciento de los Matriculados son Colombianos”. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 174). El Universal. “Con el Himno Nacional Colombiano Despierta el Campesino Tachirense”. 9. 22. 1980. 1980. Feb. El Nacional 1980. 24. Dec. 11. No Title Available. Jul.” El Nacional. Feb. El Nacional.’” El Nacional. “El Diferendo y La Repatriación de Indocumentados Son Dos Aspectos Diferentes”. 1966. 1980. 1980. 1976. 2. Jan. “Colombia Preparó Plan de Emergencia para encarar expulsión masiva de indocumentados”.” El Nacional. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 163). “El Presidente de Fedecámaras en el V Curso de Comando y Estado Mayor de las FAC Reiteró sus planteamientos de control de inmigrantes ilegales”. El Nacional. “Nos Preocupa”. “Colonizaremos las Fronteras”. Feb. Dec. Oct. “Detenidos 1. Feb. 8. 28. 24. 1971. Mar. 1980. 1979. 12. 4. Mar. “Un Millón de Indocumentados han Ingresado al País en Menos de un Año”. 28. El Nacional. El Nacional. 1979. 4. 1980. 1980. 5.429 Indocumentados en Operativo Policial ‘Sur del Lago. El Nacional.249 Indocumentados en los Últimos Tres Días. “Las Autoridades Están Preparadas para Neutralizar Cualquier Acción en Perjuicio del País”. El Nacional.” El Universal. Dec. “Tres Millones de Indocumentados”. “No Afectará a la Producción Agropecuaria la Deportación de Indocumentados”. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 167). 1980. El Nacional. 1981. 12. “Reunión en Cúcuta. Oct. 9. “Tensa Expectativa en Colombia y Honda Preocupación en Venezuela. “Venezuela Decidió Retirarse de Comité Intergubernamental para Migraciones Europeas”.” El Nacional. 1981. Dec. El Nacional. 11.Appendix A Newspaper Headlines Cited “Bolsa de Trabajo para Inmigraciones Selectivas Propuesta en Fedecámaras. Dec. “Las Migraciones Espontáneas se Convierten en Sensitivo Problema de América Latina”.” El Nacional. 1980. May 25. Sep. Aug. 1980. 18. “Deportación de Indocumentados Afectaría Negociaciones sobre el Diferendo”. Dec.

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