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.


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

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

8 Bidegain. Gabriel. in 1973. In fact. thanks to artificially-high oil profits and heavy borrowing. 33. ignoring the legal mechanisms established through the new program that sought to attract skilled workers.8 However. sought to escape military regimes at home. government efforts to attract immigrant workers to the country through newly established legal channels were largely ineffective. 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. the overwhelming majority of skilled workers applied to consulates in their home countries. “Inmigrantes: ¿Mito o Realidad?”. faced with acute labor shortage. while other Latin American immigrants faced stagnant economies and high rates of unemployment.6 The growth in overall immigration to Venezuela in the 1970s –from Colombia and elsewhere in South America. Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales. The signs of this 6 Ibid. and the Caribbean—was due to two major economic factors. 18 (1986): 17. Between 1979 and 1980. 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. 7 5 . the government proceeded to address the issue by looking past its borders for sources of labor –both skilled and unskilled. most immigrants came to Venezuela on their own means. The upsurge in oil prices created a newfound source of public spending. At the same time. Ibid.7 Further. Immigrants from the southern cone countries. while the Venezuelan government had setup a program to attract skilled workers from South America and Europe. the country’s economy took a sharp turn for the worse. This spending translated into significant economic expansion and the creation of new employment opportunities in the country. That is. this period of “economic bonanza” was rather short-lived. in particular.Venezuela. 29.

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

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

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

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

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. we know that the total circulation for the nation’s four largest newspapers reached 800. Most importantly. the author notes that the discussion of immigration was most frequent around the time of the 1980 MGE. While this assertion may be true. 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. have the easiest and most direct reach” over that opinion. which circulates throughout the country and competes with another major newspaper.000 people. not surprisingly articles in the press often cited extracts of statements by government officials concerning undocumented immigration. Most of my newspaper sources were gathered during research in Caracas. newspapers in Venezuela have a broad and captive audience.government has to confront and compete … in the formation and capture of public opinion mainly with those who. most of the official statements on immigration cited in this paper come from sources in the Venezuelan press. The overwhelming majority of my newspaper sources were taken from the pages of El Nacional. like the mass media. Moreover. around 1983. 10 . though I gathered sources for other periods as well. Van Roy’s study found that between 1977 and 1980 discussion of immigration in the press editorials of two “popular” newspapers increased with time. I will be discussing mostly newspaper articles from 1980 and before. will be its consideration of this discussion within the context of opposition to Colombian immigration. between the last quarter of 1979 and through 1980. The thrust of this paper. over a period of two to three weeks. therefore.9 I have translated all of these sources into English. and it can be said that their discussion of immigration is an important source of public opinion concerning the topic. Evidently. Therefore.

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

As an OPEC member country.”1 As a result of this newfound source of national income. “which allowed it to accelerate its programs in search of economic and social development. Ecuador. Adela. “Los Indocumentados en la Inmigración Colombiana en Venezuela. was a result of government policies that sought to attract skilled labor to the country. 3 Pellegrino. Further.702 between 1971 and 1981. Venezuela profited considerably from the hike in oil prices. it is important that we take a closer look at the Venezuelan economy of the 1970s. Indeed. 2 . Argentina.3 To understand the considerable rise in immigration flows. the country saw a resurgence of immigration flows from the region that now included groups of people from Chile. 1 Berglund and Hernández (1985). That same year the OPEC cartel implemented a policy of increasing oil prices that benefited its exporting members. then.2 Colombian and Portuguese immigration. Dominican Republic. also saw a reinvigoration of their flows.I. the Venezuelan economy entered a period of “economic bonanza” that was due partly to an upsurge in the prices of hydrocarbon and iron exports. The higher oil prices thus brought in new financial resources for the country. Part of this renewed source of immigration.” Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales 18 (1986): 51. which had been steady before this period.755 to 632. going from 325. Colombian Immigration and the Period of “Economic Bonanza” The Economic Bonanza of the 1970s Beginning in 1973. 60. immigration hit a high point during this period of positive economic performance and the active segment of the foreign-born population doubled. 112. particularly the increase in Portuguese and the new Southern Cone immigrants. Ibid. Peru and Uruguay. Venezuela was in an advantageous position given the country’s role as the number one exporter of oil in the western hemisphere.

increased 45% between 1974 and 1978.” Samper. the country decided to turn to sources of labor beyond its borders to fulfill this shortage.The Venezuelan economy of the 1970s Between 1972 and 1977. “native labor was not sufficient with respect to capacity and technical experience. much of Latin America at this time was experiencing “economic and social crisis and in some [countries] coups had taken place. 4. saw considerable growth. The subsequent fall of the economy came just before the end of the 1970s. as a result of high growth rates across all economic sectors in the country. mining.5 to the dollar. it went from Bs. At the time. The manufacturing sector. some five years after the launch of this fecund period of economic production. as Bidegain (1986: 17) has pointed out. and construction increased every year through 1978. Venezuela found itself in a period of “economic bonanza”.4 Investments in the country.180. 13 .” However. both in the public and private sectors. which would translate the latter figure into roughly $707. Construction alone saw a ten percent annual growth rate during this period. and Pellegrino (1986). 112-5. 1. this high point in the Venezuelan economy was to be rather short-lived.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. As Berglund and Hernández (1985: 115) put it. per-capita income in the country nearly tripled. the exchange rate was about Bs. the country experienced “a radical change in the behavior and performance” of the economy. Indeed. all of which furthermore facilitated political and highly qualified immigration.” As a result. in particular. Capital in agriculture. 44. et al (1981: 33) argue 4 In fact. since “from a situation of general bonanza it passes to the opposite extreme.072 to 3. industry. 5 Figures cited from Berglund and Hernández (1985). Moreover. Out of 654 new projects. Berglund and Hernández (1985: 131) state that during the period 1980-1984. 71% corresponded to new firms that had been founded during this period.

8 Coming at the end of a decade of economic bonanza. 131. In fact. the trade balance between the two countries went from a surplus of $189 million. private investment began to drop.that. Signs of this economic decline had begun to appear in 1979. As a result. to a deficit of $21. Pellegrino (1986). However. the economy became “overheated”. in the figure of $6. 8 Bidegain (1986). official immigration from Colombia became negative in 1979. This led to a decrease in protectionist policies. going from an all-time low of 4.175 billion. In 1983.7 million. all of which created a climate of “uncertainty. due to an excess in public spending. At the same time. the devaluing of the currency and tightening spending limits. when many sectors of the economy and particularly economic investments experienced a drop from the general state of economic resurgence. 20. these restrictive immigration policies reflected the close relationship between immigration and the Venezuelan 6 Berglund and Hernández (1985). Colombian immigration continued to enter the country due mostly to a parallel rise in unemployment in Colombia and the devaluation of the Colombian peso.3 percent. 7 14 . Tellingly. it should be noted that despite the steady economic decline of the early 1980s. as more Colombians left than entered the country.3 percent to 7. Deportations became more frequent and the government tried to suppress flows from the Andes (primarily Colombia) and the Caribbean.”6 Concomitantly. overall trade between Venezuela and Colombia dropped considerably between the first semesters of 1979 and 1980. then. the abrupt economic changes effectuated a “so-called ‘economic crisis’ that practically broke with the high economic performance that had characterized the previous decade.” Unemployment nearly doubled between 1978 and 1980.7 In 1979 Venezuelan immigration policy took a stringent turn. the government faced staggering debt. 54.

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

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

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.


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

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

7 percent of the landowners— 21 Pellegrino (1989) 263.000 hectares of land were cultivated through industrial methods. large landowners –who comprised 1. however. that took off starting in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Thus. and abroad. undocumented workers filled vacant positions in the agricultural sector. in 1960 campesino landowners –who comprised 58 percent of the country’s landowners—controlled 3. Moreover. reports of the displacement of Venezuelan workers by poorly-paid undocumented workers contributed to the stigmatization of undocumented immigrants.700. 270. are the principal reasons for the mass migration flows of Colombians to Venezuela. Despite this uncertainty. Pellegrino cites figures that illustrate the major losses in rural land ownership. and less so in urban industries.21 At the same time. 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. 2. The frequency of such practices. we shall take a look at the condition of the Colombian economy in the 1970s. Much of the data in this section were cited from Pellegrino (1989: 263-8). 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”.200. These factors. 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. While in 1950. Conversely. this industrial sector controlled 70 percent of overall production in agriculture. the economy suffered significant overall losses. argues Pellegrino (1989). 22 .These accusations.000 hectares –out of a total of 4. by 1970. More likely. then. is unknown. In terms of monetary value.6 percent of the agricultural lands in Colombia.000 hectares of agricultural lands—had joined the trend in industrial agriculture. in order to understand the willingness of these Colombian workers to emigrate to Venezuela.

landless. then. Imports gave way to manufacturing exports. Throughout the 1960s. but mechanization of agricultural decreased the need for manual labor. The new trend. Further.controlled 55 percent of the agricultural lands. High rates of unemployment held steady in the 1970s. 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. In fact. As Pellegrino has noted. Pellegrino (1989: 267) has termed this trend in migrations to the border regions in Venezuela a “border regionalization of the labor market. more employment opportunities were created within this rapidly growing sector than were during the entire previous decade. Owing to the nature of these movements. Their geographic distribution in Venezuela was in 23 . Colombian immigrants originally went mostly from rural and border regions in Colombia. From these figures. rural-urban migrations grew significantly. Starting in the 1960s. due to a depopulation of frontier regions in Venezuela. In fact. industrial employment grew significantly in the 1970s. to border regions in Venezuela. At the same time. then. the growing concentration of agricultural lands under a decreasing number of landowners exacerbated unemployment levels in the country. was characteristic of the growing stake in agriculture commanded by large landowners. unemployed rural Colombians stepped in to fill labor shortages in the growing agricultural and ranching industries of that country. a process which encouraged foreign investment in manufacturing. Over the first three years of the 1970s. the Colombian economy underwent a strong movement towards industrialization. unemployment rates increased steadily.” 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.

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

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

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

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

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

000 in 1979. One report in March 1980 stated that 1. 1980. 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 1976.000 were deported the following year. and only 9. during this time press articles in Venezuela published frequent reports of deportations to Colombia. Official figures from the DIEX –the country’s department of immigration—showed that while almost 46. Selective immigration policies that sought to encourage mostly skilled workers were implemented in 1976. 1980. Venezuelan immigration authorities may have decided to cease cooperation with their Colombian counterparts in order to expedite the outflow of deportees. 4.” El Nacional [Caracas]. official entries decreased annually starting in 1977. Reports of the mass deportations taking place at this time were often accompanied by a generic shopping list of “problems” associated with undocumented immigration. according to local police reports. 15.” Further.429 undocumented immigrants had been detained around the various states in the Venezuelan Andes. a National Guard general involved 26 “Reunión en Cúcuta.28 These roundups had been carried out over a period of “hardly a week. Further. Didonet (1983: 424) states that. Faced with more numerous deportations. 28 “Detenidos 1.the step away from established deportation procedures may reflect an important change in immigration policy. however. it is difficult to provide exact deportation figures for the end of this period. less than 19. 5.’” El Nacional [Caracas]. 27 29 . Mar.000 people had been deported in 1977. Mar.000 people had been deported in the first four months of 1980.” 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. a noticeable increase in deportations had taken place between July 1979 and February 1980.26 Given the informal deportation methods employed in 1980. As reported that year.27 However. In fact.429 Indocumentados en Operativo Policial ‘Sur del Lago.

These operations had resulted in even more prodigious deportations in the previous month.” Internacional Migration Review 18.500 undocumented immigrants had been detained at a flea market in Maracaibo.” El Universal [Caracas].5 percent of those interviewed had been deported in the capital and central regions of the country. Adella.in the operation assured the reader that. given the “good results” obtained. 1984): 753. 11. and press reports reflected a significant increase in overall deportations. where most urban and industrial centers are concentrated –with the exception of the country’s second city. In fact. one report stated that 1. 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.”29 According to another press report in January of the same year. deportations had increased significantly between the end of 1979 and the second semester of 1980. “we have given precise instructions to our commands. that they reactivate and intensify” such operations.249 Indocumentados en los Últimos Tres Días. One survey found that 30.30 The surveys were conducted by the Department of Labor and Social Security of Colombia.249 undocumented immigrants had been deported “in the last three days. 7. to the west. Maracaibo. 30 . These figures compare to the 18. 3 (Autumn. “Venezuela: Illegal Immigration from Colombia. Venezuela’s second largest city. 30 Pellegrino. 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. and by CEPAM. Feb. Two surveys of deportees conducted in 1980 and 1979 reflected the geographic distribution of deported Colombian immigrants. The second survey found that 27. in February of that year. Interestingly. Indeed. 1980.3 percent of undocumented immigrants that registered for the 29 “La Policía de Inmigración Deportó a 1. and Ciudad Bolívar. located in the south-eastern part of the country.2 percent of deportees had been detained in the same regions.

Concerning this. this concern increased significantly as the number of immigrants moving to urban centers increased in the 1970s. Pellegrino (1984: 750) argues that the private. males were overrepresented in deportations of undocumented immigrants. 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. This may denote the public aspect of these deportations. however. as we shall see we in a later section. deportations in Venezuela became more frequent and informal. Notwithstanding.31 With the economic downturn of the late 1970s. 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. As has been argued previously. 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. It should be noted.1980 MGE as residing in those regions. At the same time. That is. among deportees registered in Cúcuta –an important site for entries and deportations in Venezuela–nine of every ten deportees were male. opposition to undocumented immigration was often termed from a metropolitan perspective. 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. 31 . this pattern may be indicative of the highly metropolitan nature of concern over undocumented immigration in the country. then. government officials and the Venezuelan media 31 Pellegrino (1984): 750. Finally. Further. In fact.

moreover.” As we shall see.” These stigmatizations. Towards the end of the 1970s. Undocumented immigrants were characterized as potential threats to national sovereignty. 32 . and especially around the 1980 MGE.1 According to the MGE. about 90 percent of the undocumented immigrants that registered were Colombian. 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. six years after the sobering results of the 1980 MGE were made public –under 300.5 and 4 million people.000 undocumented immigrants registered for the 1980 MGE—government officials and the media estimated that one million undocumented immigrants were residing in the country. as criminal offenders. when faced with economic crisis. Even in 1986. 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. unwieldy size of this group. figures for undocumented immigration alone varied between 1. and even as factors of economic “underdevelopment. were compounded by estimations of the alleged. II. 1 Bidegain (1986). opposition to Colombian immigration became most acute during the final year of the decade. Venezuelan governments “have chosen to use [Colombian] immigrants as scapegoats for the political problems brought about by the economic ones.voiced their concerns regarding undocumented immigration and the overall burdens they posed to economic development. As stated in “No to Venezuela” (1981: 13). Much of this opposition was shaped by unfounded claims in the press that speculated over the characteristics of undocumented immigration. which were published in the media and echoed by government officials. 10.

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. 307. Even assuming that 95 percent of these immigrants were Colombian. 2 Pellegrino (1986). 33 .000 Colombians migrating to Venezuela during that period. It should be noted. Adding this figure to the MGE results. Bidegain (1987: 45) obtains a figure of around 530.174 and 600. it is difficult to estimate the total size of the Colombian population in Venezuela. Pellegrino (1986: 33) concludes that between 478. Pellegrino (1986: 33) notes that it should not be assumed that undocumented Colombians were unwilling to participate in the 1981 census. Citing various sources including census figures and scholarly estimates. Even more uncertain is the number of the undocumented Colombian immigrants in Venezuela. Such a consideration would ultimately rely on available poll and census data. this would result in a figure between 1 and 3. Moreover. respectively. that it would be difficult to defend estimates as large as 1 to 4 million undocumented immigrants in Venezuela. According to the DIEX’s register.000 undocumented Colombian immigrants.Taking this into consideration with the previous estimates. and certainly some educated guessing.000 Colombian immigrants –more or less—residing permanently in Venezuela in 1980. we would arrive at a maximum figure of 570. in 1980.2 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.000 Colombian immigrants were living in Venezuela in 1980. as Pellegrino (1986) has noted. we could say that around 550. given that no formal identification was required to participate in the census. and 900. However.000 people migrated to the country between 1971 and 1981.6 million. 34. however. However. in 1980 and 1986.

gender distributions for Colombians registering for the MGE show some differences. Of the former. Of the 246. were Colombian. and Peruvians 1.0 of the total population registered under the MGE. 16. were male. Therefore. or 92. Ecuadorians comprised 1. were between 15 and 40 years old.2 Colombian men.795 people over age 9 registered successfully for the 1980 MGE. while of the latter. In comparison to the 1981 census. men migrated to rural areas in the border states. the 1981 census showed the overall age distribution of Colombians in Venezuela to lie mainly between 15 and 54 years of age.1 percent. as Pellegrino (1986: 36) has noted Colombian immigration is a concern of rural border-states more than it is one of urban areas. there were 119. as well as Caribbean countries. with 81.6 percent. 39. Another 6. 34 . more than three quarters. the 1981 census showed that while women tended to migrate more to the capital region.194. while under the 1981 census.2 percent of men.3 percent were between 15 and 20 years old. 246.2 percent of women registering for the MGE claimed to have children. for every 100 of their national counterparts. 8.8 Colombians. Dominicans 1. In contrast.4 percent falling within this segment.266. or 76. as did 35. Amongst Colombian immigrants. Moreover. Of these.8 percent.8 percent of the population. the majority of Colombians registering under the MGE were living in border states or in those near the border with Colombia.3 percent of those registered under the MGE came from other Latin American nations.000 Colombians over age 9.3 percent. Within this latter group. European immigrants comprised 1. 91. including South and Central American countries.2 percent were between 15 and 19 years old. For every 100 Colombian women that registered. These figures show undocumented Colombian immigrants to be somewhat younger than their previously registered counterparts.

0 6.1 Others 8.0 100.” 3 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986). the registrants did not reach ten percent of the local population. within the central region 1.4 29.0 *Caracas is distributed across the Federal District and parts of the state of Miranda. business and services sectors.0 7. 4. 4 35 .5 10. This means that a very small number of people –just over 1 percent—in the capital region were undocumented before the MGE.0 percent of the local population. Seasonal immigration flows taking place during harvest time or that fulfill other temporary needs in agriculture. Permanent immigration flows that migrate to border regions in the west and are employed in the agricultural and ranching sectors.4 Interestingly. 1983): 547. 3.9 9. 37. working mostly in industrial. Zulia.3 11. there is “practically no migration from one region to another. Geographic Distribution of Colombians in Venezuela3 State or District 1971 Census 1980 MGE 1981 Census Federal District and Miranda* 20.9 percent of the population. Pellegrino (1984: 751) notes that while the Andean and coastal regions of both Colombia and Venezuela have internal cross-border migrations.” International Migration Review 18 (Autumn.1 percent of the local population.2 43. “Undocumented Migration to Venezuela. ** Táchira.8 percent of the country’s total population. 2.8 and 6. Immigrants registering for the 1980 MGE represented 1.1 17. registrant’s represented 1.0 Total 100. Within the Capital region.9 Táchira and Zulia** 60. and within the border region that encompasses the Andean states and Zulia. Ralph. Immigration flows with the most permanence in the country that reside in urban areas.3 Barinas and Mérida** 7. but also in positions of an “urban” nature within these regions. These categories are closely tied to the geographic proximity of Colombia to Venezuela.1 56.5 8. Barinas and Mérida are all located near the border with Colombia.Pellegrino (1986: 34) classifies Colombian immigration in Venezuela according to three categories: 1.7 Aragua and Carabobo 4. respectively. and in Zulia and the Andes to the west. Van Roy.0 100.

37. in comparison to 46. and for the Venezuelan population from the 1981 census. 5 or older. coastal residents migrate mostly to other coastal regions. while Andean populations do so within the Andes region. 36 . 59.0 100. This compared to 65. which is the equivalent of first grade in the U.).2 56.3 59.S. for the Colombian population from the 1981 census. The active segment of the Colombian population is higher in comparison to those born in Venezuela.1 *** Secundaria 16.6 percent of Colombians in the country are employed.Thus..). Preparatorio.0 100.2 3.9 Superior 0.” 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. This pattern is reflected in the available data on deportations.2 and 54 percent of previously registered foreigners and Venezuelans.0 *For the 1980 MGE. respectively.8 5.S.2 percent of Venezuelans. 7 or older.5 11.0 ** Primaria 66.4 24.0 Total 100. and Pellegrino concludes that these “findings confirm that migrants tend to settle in those regions culturally closer to their place of origin. figures represent population aged 9 or older. Pellegrino (1986: 37) notes that the overall educational levels of Colombians in the country are not unlike that of Venezuelans in general. These numbers are derived by dividing 5 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).1 10. ***Secundaria includes seventh through eleventh grades (eighth through twelfth in the U.S. However. Educational Attainment for Colombian and Venezuelan Population5 Colombians Venezuelans * * Educational Level 1980 MGE 1981 Census 1981 Census* Illiterate and without formal education 17. is not included within Primaria. Sixty-eight percent of those registered under the 1980 MGE were active members of the country’s working population. ** Primaria includes first through sixth grades (second through seventh in the U.4 29.

68 26.5 percent spent 9 days to one month in the same process.968 15. even in comparison to the overall foreign-born population.14 82.770 1.25 30. Quarrymen and Related Occupations Artisans. Moreover.212 16.680 1.838 34.78 3. 22. ranching or fishing.0 1981 Census Total % 12. from the 1981 census. 40. Further. This figure is derived by dividing the inactive segment of the population by the total population. that there was a high degree of demand for their labor. and multiplying by one hundred. The low levels of unemployment amongst MGE registrants are significant.7 percent of Colombian men worked in agriculture.372 23. 37 .90 50. Sports and Entertainment Undeclared or Unidentified Total 1980 MGE Total % 2.5 percent of respondents spent 1 to 8 days searching for work once in Venezuela and then finding employment. and.37 379 0.21 62. Factory Operators and Related Occupations Other Artisans and Operators Service Workers. concomitantly.602 8. Occupational Groups for the Colombian Population6 Occupation Professionals and Technicians Managers.210 5.21 303. Pellegrino (1986: 39) found that 40.57 17.3 percent of Colombians were “economically dependent”.28 71.70 28.79 675 0.0 About seventeen percent of Colombian immigrants registering for the MGE worked in agriculture. 6 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).05 183.964 8.948 2.64 7.054 100. if we split the figures for the MGE by gender.414 1.the active population. Concerning this.8 percent of Venezuelans.07 4.232 1.17 422 0.57 6.32 4.22 214 0. Administrators and Functionaries Office Employees and Related Occupations Salesmen and Related Occupations Agriculture. Ranching. and 13.346 4. while more than fifty percent worked in industry.676 27. in comparison to 69.35 43. Fishing Transportation and Communications Miners. by the corresponding age group of the total population and multiplying by one hundred. age 12 and older.469 100. van Roy (1983: 62) cites a poll among Colombian deportees wherein 72.604 23.000 16. These figures show that undocumented workers were quite successful in finding work once in Venezuela.63 26.568 2.429 4.12 2.

9 Ibid.8 This contrasted with the growth in the “urban” sector. That is. Colombian representation in the agriculture and services sectors exceeded that of the local population. especially domestic service in urban areas. to 50 percent in 1980. where construction grew 9. Further. In fact. the regularization (i. Colombians in general and undocumented immigrants tended to replace native agricultural labor. 7 Pellegrino (1986). of which 32 percent were working in similar occupations. Compared to the overall Colombian population in Venezuela. 44. while 79 percent of the women worked in services. and the Venezuelan-born population had showed decreasing participation in this sector in the 1961 census. 43. van Roy (1983: 62) argues that. those registered under the MGE had very little representation in other sectors of the economy that demanded higher qualifications. In fact.e. and where the “tertiary sector” – essentially “businesses and services”—went from 35 percent of the active population in 1950. undocumented Colombian immigrants were working in very similar occupations as those that had entered the country through legal channels. Ibid.4 percent in the 1970s.9 Interestingly.. 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. given the negligible difference in overall occupational tendencies between previously registered Colombian immigrants and those registering for the MGE. 40.7 Van Roy (1983: 64) suggests that this may be due partly to the difficulty of obtaining the necessary documentation for these positions. Pellegrino (1984: 748) reports that 50 percent of working Colombians were employed in agriculture and services.ranching or fishing. 8 38 . and not so much a lack of work experience.

a similar percentage of the Colombian agricultural work-force in the country.000 or under.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. Thus. Moreover.000-5. 1. while 16 percent of all agricultural-sector workers in Venezuela earned more than 10 Ibid.4 percent of domestic workers were foreign-born women. Concerning this. However. 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.000 Bs.10 The employment prospects of these domestic workers.000 Bs. while 47. 47.000-1.000. 3. the salaries of Colombian agricultural workers were significantly lower than those accorded the country’s total population. On this. 4 to the dollar and were added by the author.6 percent of the country’s agricultural work-force made Bs.7 percent of the agricultural work-force earned less than Bs. Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).5 percent of Colombian agricultural workers earned the same amount. Dollar figures are based on the 1980 exchange rate of Bs. 1. Specifically. 32. and other necessities were provided by their patrons. 45.According to the 1981 census figures. In other words. especially seeing as shelter.000 Bs. 89.000 or under. 1. food.8 percent. while 91. were more promising than for Colombian men. while there was a higher tendency for women to migrate to the capital region.500-2. 11 39 .000-1. 3. 500-1.6 percent of women registering under the MGE declared to be working as “service workers.500 Bs.” and many were employed as domestic workers. 1. Pellegrino (1986: 39) reports that 78. made Bs. men were more likely to be found in the border states to the west of the country. 2. and of these 83 percent were Colombian. in general. 66.

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. 40 .12 The Undocumented Immigrant in Venezuela In her section on the “Image of Migration. cross the border surreptitiously. 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. However. 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. 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.000. Indeed. oscillates along an axis of cooperation and conflict. Specifically.” That is. immigration is treated as an instance of cooperation when Colombians are contracted through legal channels to work in Venezuela. In this context. when it concerns the “thousands of Colombians that. “exempting their personal characteristics and formation. 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. The lower-wages accorded Colombian workers evidenced the economic role of these immigrants as cheap laborers for the country’s agricultural sector. 2. The figures for the Colombian work-force were extracted from the 1981 census. as in the other instances of interaction between the two countries [Colombia and Venezuela]. [undocumented immigrants] are marginalized for the simple fact of being undocumented.Bs.” Because of the “invisible” nature of these migration flows.” Anzola (1983: 120) states that “migration. only 3. Berglund and Hernández (1985: 85) remark that. not having obtained the necessary visa.” the topic of immigration becomes conflictive.

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

Didonet (1983: 413) surmises that this group of people would have made recourse to loans and other sources of capital.” 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. more affluent group—in order to accrue the financial resources necessary to embark on a costly journey to Venezuela. Yet another group of undocumented immigrants had originally entered the country with “Border Identification Cards. another group of “tourists” was constituted by immigrants who. Moreover. many people in this group could count on returning to their home countries in the event of an unfavorable migration experience. We can surmise the break from their native societies to be more acute than for the previous group of more affluent “tourists”. In contrast. but could also vouch for the necessary financial assets. a considerable number of people had entered the country with “tourist” visas acquired before leaving their home countries. Didonet (1983) examines these latter sources of undocumented immigration. 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. People applying for these visas could be classified according to two encompassing groups. 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. Among undocumented immigrants. Given that these immigrants benefited from a more secure financial situation.included are those that entered the country as “tourists” and did not subsequently regularize their status. underwent a long and costly preparation before emigrating. the likelihood of return to their countries of origin is significantly impeded by their scarce financial resources and lack of professional work experience. The “majority” of these immigrants overstayed 42 .

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

disease-infested and generally unskilled (even backwards) Colombian population in the country. In reality. within the Venezuelan model for economic development of the 1970s.ridden. As we shall see in the next section. such stigmatization became most acute surrounding the 1980 MGE. 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. As we already saw. then. these flows were considered essential to the economic model of the country. Ultimately. 44 . again. these workers provided much-needed cheap labor for the agricultural sector of the economy.

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

only 100 were undocumented.2 Indeed. the PTJ. the National Guard. Applicants would direct themselves to the DIEX offices across the country where they could take part in the registration process. which has functions related to the maintenance of national security. 30. While the government of Colombia awaited the deportation of some 250.000 undocumented immigrants. and called for the detainment and deportation of any undocumented immigrants that had failed to register for the amnesty. Dec. the MGE had a secondary formal purpose. which is similar to the FBI. despite the efforts in place to regularize the status of the nation’s undocumented immigrants. ironically.could be exchanged for a “resident” visa after two years of residence in the country. while the particular logistics involved were overseen by the Central Office for Computational Statistics. However. El Nacional [Caracas] 1980. of the 250. A second phase would follow the registration processes’ conclusion in late December. Practically everybody that applied for the amnesty was successfully registered. A few days after the commencement of “Operation Return” it was reported that. “Operation Return” –as the second phase of the MGE was called—was carried out by the main national policing bodies. In fact. the government’s implementation of the MGE established the mechanisms for a rather “tolerant” amnesty program. including the Disip. 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. a very small number of undocumented immigrants were detained during the second phase of the MGE. Further. while the initial number of 2 “Sólo 100 Indocumentados entre 250 Mil Personas Identificadas”. and the numerous local police departments across the country. 46 .000 persons that were identified. The Department of Interior Relations was put in charge of the overall process of the MGE. as van Roy (1983: 47) has noted before.

ed. and the number of registrants increased considerably. Migraciones Internacionales en las Américas. 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. while the MGE functioned as a general amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Crime and national security concerns were raised regularly within discussions of undocumented immigration. 544. “as the weeks passed by. 1983): 47. Ralph (Caracas: CEPAM. 4 47 . In contrast. Presidential Decree 616 stated that.immigrants applying for the MGE was significantly low. which stems from the difficulty of observing the Human Rights of this “clandestine” group of immigrants. Van Roy. with respect to the observance of the individual and social rights of the human being. the more particular purposes of the MGE can be gleaned from a closer look at the decree that called for its passage. Van Roy. “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. 3 Van Roy (1984). the second part of the decree concerns the vulnerable position of undocumented immigrants. Ralph.4 The picture of undocumented immigration captured by the 1980 MGE thus represents a relatively dependable source of information regarding this group of immigrants. in the press and in government. undocumented group of immigrants. we can conclude that the majority of the undocumented population in Venezuela was successfully registered. their suspicions diminished. However. “La Población Clandestina en Venezuela: Resultados de la Matrícula General de Extranjeros”.”3 Given the insignificant number of undocumented immigrants detained after the commencement of the second phase of the MGE.” 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. particularly around the time of the MGE.

For the first time since the beginning of the period of mass immigration in the 1970s. and that until now have been the only source of information concerning [the 48 . 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. the MGE put some closure to public concern over undocumented immigration. As a practical consequence. However. the press and other influential sources within the discussion of immigration in Venezuela. the MGE provided the details that were necessary for a clearer understanding of undocumented immigration in the country. 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. it cannot be denied that as a practical and unexpected consequence. the MGE had important implications for the public awareness of undocumented immigration. its results paved the way for a more positive perception of undocumented immigration in the country. 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.” Furthermore. Didonet (1983: 429) surmises that the purpose of the 1980 MGE was. to create “an informational base that would quantify the number and [type of] occupational structures in Venezuela towards which undocumented immigrants had directed themselves. the Venezuelan public had a dependable template with which to construct “an understanding that went further than press reports.” Theoretically. In particular.Indeed. which were typically sensationalist. primarily. 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.

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

to a large degree. such stigmatizations highlighted the public nature of these “problems. Therefore. overuse of social services and wage-competition are part of the discussion of economic development and undocumented immigration. Interestingly. overestimation of these figures helped create a “tainted” image of Colombian immigration as being largely undocumented. The issue of territorial sovereignty has a strong economic component. This emphasis facilitated public reception of 50 . given both its historical recurrence and. I will also consider the role of territorial sovereignty within the discussion of undocumented immigration in the press and in government. namely via the oil resources that have dominated more-recent territorial disputes between Colombia and Venezuela. the geopolitical interests that are played out within this context. Questions regarding the worsening of unemployment levels. 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. In particular.” particularly within an urban context. Finally. the magnitude of these figures compounded the already negative public opinion of immigration by overestimating. This is arguably the most influential topic within these discussions. Figures for undocumented immigration were heavily discussed in the press and. This topic is central to these discussions. particularly. discussion of the size of the undocumented population is the first issue that will be considered in this section. I will also discuss the role of economic development within the discussion of undocumented immigration. the extent of the source of “problems” listed by van Roy.To this last list of “problems” associated with immigration I would add the purported size of the undocumented population. Further.

El Nacional [Caracas]. In fact. while figures for undocumented immigration released by the DIEX estimated 800. The headline claimed that “One Million Undocumented [Immigrants] Have Entered the Country in Less than a Year. These figures were introduced under a climate of rising concern over undocumented immigration flows.” The immigration official indicated that this recently-settled group added to 6 7 Didonet (1983).7 Given general disbelief over the number of undocumented immigrants reflected by the MGE figures. these estimations increased considerably towards the end of the decade. “El 90 por Ciento de los Matriculados son Colombianos”. The rise in concern resulted largely from the increasing concentration of immigrants in urban areas. 1980. Early in 1980. these headlines fed into a general perception of Colombian immigration as being largely undocumented. 22. 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. 51 . picked up by officials in government.6 Towards the end of the 1980 MGE. 408.the stigmatizing discussion of undocumented immigrants by formulating the immigrant “problem” within a highly public sphere. reaching a high point in 1980. which surpassed 90 percent. 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. in some instances. Dec. as well as from an upsurge in immigration in Venezuela. The Size of the “Invasion” As stated in Pellegrino (1986: 33). newspapers headlined the overwhelming Colombian representation within undocumented flows. in 1974 the Venezuelan press began to publish figures concerning immigration in the country that were.000 undocumented Colombian immigrants present in the country in 1976.

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

In fact. police. 24. Such incredulity over the actual number of undocumented immigrants had become apparent in the final days of the MGE. Dec. 1980. Ironically. In fact. 1980. El Nacional [Caracas].the goals of the government’s “census” reflected the general incredulity in the unexpectedly low numbers of immigrants registering under the MGE. the Colombian government repeatedly warned the Venezuelan authorities of the international and diplomatic consequences of their actions. if anything else. the Colombian government erected camps near the Venezuelan border handle the resettlement of returning Colombians. “Tensa Expectativa en Colombia y Honda Preocupación en Venezuela”. El Nacional [Caracas]. 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. 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. 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. Following the conclusion of the first phase of the MGE. immigration.12 Foreseeing the logistic consequences posed by a massive return of Colombian immigrants. for both governments. 53 . 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. 4. These events. reflected the degree to which the bloated estimates of undocumented immigration had taken hold of the Venezuelan and Colombian governments. 12 “Colombia Preparó Plan de Emergencia para encarar expulsión masiva de indocumentados”.

the recent controversy stemmed from “the development of international shelf boundary law since the end of World War II. Venezuela and Colombia continued to be joined under “Gran Colombia.” Only a decade later. “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. adding potentially significant economic interest to already strongly felt legal and patriotic convictions in both countries. in 1830. they had little success in reaching any final agreement on the matter. did Venezuela secede from this union. “territorial boundaries have been the subject of recurring negotiations but never have been settled to the satisfaction of both nations.”13 More recently. Territorial sovereignty over these waters has long been contested.” Although bilateral conventions were established to discuss a solution to the ongoing dispute. Despite the long history of territorial disputes between Colombia and Venezuela. 54 . The 13 George.”14 That is. In essence. Since that time. 143. 18. Colombian Immigration and Territorial Sovereignty Territorial disputes between Venezuela and Colombia date back to the secession of Venezuela from “Gran Colombia.”15 In particular.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 30 (Winter. Larry N. “Realism and Internationalism in the gulf of Venezuela. this discovery “’petrolized’ the conflict.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. 1988-1989): 143.. territorial disputes between the two countries have centered around geopolitical interests in the Gulf of Venezuela. 14 George (1988-1989). however. 15 Samper (1981).” Even after the independence wars of South America. 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.

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

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

57 . Rather. These immigrants. particularly with regards to the ongoing diferendo dispute. Mar. posed a threat “to the very integrity of the nationality. leading officials. 1979. 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”.”21 These statements were generally formulated within the context of national and territorial integrity. 18.supreme interests of the country. the previous statements were headlined by the title “Táchiran Campesinos Wake Up to the Colombian National Anthem. 21 “Con el Himno Nacional Colombiano Despierta el Campesino Tachirense”. 1979. it was defined in direct opposition to Colombians. economic and intellectual figures argued that with mass immigration the country faced an erosion of its nationality. 4. [particularly] its defense and territorial integrity.” 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. As one writer put it. Jul.”20 The reference to “the nationality” (i. of course. The particular nature of that nationality. El Nacional [Caracas]. Speaking before a class of national guardsmen. social conduct and cultural traits already surpassed by the Venezuelan population. In particular.. Thus. he warned. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 163). El Nacional [Caracas]. One article summarized statements by vice-admiral Elio José Zambrano. “Fedecámaras maintains … that the Gulf of Venezuela forms an inalienable part of the Venezuelan territory. the Venezuelan nationality) was common in the government and media around the time of the 1980 MGE. who stated that.” Such statements concerning national security concerns and territorial sovereignty had been pronounced before in the press. he added that.e.” Later in his speech. was never clearly elaborated. 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. “the penetration of the Colombian man in the frontier … brings [with it] political dispositions.

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

In effect.As has been argued in this paper.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.. undocumented Colombian immigrants offered cheap labor that was essential to the Venezuelan model for economic development of the 1970s. as well as the government’s inability to stem economic deterioration. 1992). resulting in an increase in national unemployment.. Deportation procedures became more aggressive around this time. 32. A. particularly those to Colombia. the unemployment rate decreased in the 1970s –though it increased again in 1979—reaching its lowest level in Venezuelan history at 4. et al. which in turn resulted in “abusive use” of the health system by these immigrants. as economic depression set in at the end of that decade. The Impact of Migration in the Receiving Countries: Venezuela (Geneva: CICRED. and intellectual figures argued that undocumented immigrants brought disease into the country. as cheap laborers. particularly along the valley walls of the capital region. the deficit in social services was often blamed on mass undocumented immigration. In fact. Sometimes.3 percent. governmental. For example. early in 1978. Leading economic. concerns over immigration were voiced through unarticulated epithets that were nonetheless economic in character. media and government discussion of undocumented immigration became more frequent. Colombian immigration came to be seen as a scapegoat for the nation’s problems. 25 Flores.L. This passing of blame was formulated in various ways. 59 . however. However. despite fears of a rise in unemployment due to undocumented immigration. Another concern was that. especially starting in 1979. The general spike in concern over undocumented immigration was fueled by fears over the economic downturn. undocumented immigrants were displacing Venezuelan workers.

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

29 61 . which are almost always numerous in size. 31 “Sacados del País 5 Mil Indocumentados”. Thus. 30 A buhonero is a street vendor. 28. and were unable to find a place to live. or to add to the street workers such as buhoneros. 33.”31 Moreover.” 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. 1980. oftentimes with an umbrella and display table. In Caracas they can be found mostly in the downtown area and other popular shopping districts.”29 The writer explained that. these types of actions were stepped up in the poor barrios of the belt that surrounds the city. “one hundred percent of the [deportees] lacked any employment whatsoever.The new period of mass immigration of the 1970s took off following the rise in OPEC prices in 1973. El Nacional [Caracas]. 1980.28 As stated before. “Patrullas Combinadas Buscan a Los Indocumentados”. The term rancho can be translated as a “shack. “others came to add to the numbers of unemployed persons. in order to support their families. 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. or “shanty-towns. concerns over these flows pointed to their contribution to the growing size of the barrios. Buhoneros generally setup tent in a very informal fashion. By the following year. 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. El Nacional [Caracas]. while some immigrants went to Venezuela in search of employment opportunities. this concern led to estimations –in the press and in government—over the size of undocumented immigration. one article reported that “as always.”30 The direct effects undocumented immigrants have on unemployment were repeated in other press articles. One illustrative piece titled “5 thousand undocumented immigrants expulsed from the country.” that surrounded Caracas and other urban areas. referring to the deportation roundups that followed the MGE. Dec. 12.” 28 Pellegrino (1986). Thus they moved on to the ranchos of the belt of misery.

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

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

Early in 2004. 3 Latinnews. these Colombian refugees were essentially detained at the border and deported back to Colombia. “Chávez Chides Colombia over Border Control”. The Venezuelan government deported these refugees without due process despite the country’s commitment to the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees. which had been established through the United Nations. As had been established by various press reports. owing to recent cross-border incidents between Colombian paramilitaries and guerrillas and the Venezuelan government. that was not born here and it has shocked us a lot. http://www. without any juridical consideration of their refugee status. contra-subversion. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez received criticism from Human Rights organizations concerning his treatment of Colombians fleeing the war in their country. however. 2003.. 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. 2 Feldmann. Asylum Seekers. current Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remarked on the origins of crime in Zulia. a state in western Venezuela that borders on Colombia.com. Andreas. 64 .”3 The nature of these statements and their disregard for Colombian immigration.com. and Refugees in the Americas.Venezuela. subversion. Old Sins: Human Rights Abuses Against Migrant Workers. 2004. According to the president. 4th. Just recently. Helena.2 To this day the issue of undocumented immigration in Venezuela continues to be relevant to politics in the country. at a workshop for the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago. paramilitaries and drug-dealing. were contradicted by an amnesty implemented by the government of Hugo Chávez later that year. “we have been hit by common delinquency.latinnews. & Olea. All of that comes from Colombia. In 1999. 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.” presented Nov. “New Formulas.

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

though it is possible that the naturalization process was delayed for many of the amnesty’s applicants. 66 . This concern was not entirely unfounded. 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. Like in 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. this time offering citizenship to thousands of undocumented and documented immigrants in what may have been an attempt to bolster its support in Venezuela. wage-competition. especially in the face of an impending referendum on its term. In fact. In fact. the 1980 MGE. concern over undocumented immigration continues to be a lively topic in Venezuelan politics. including crime. and the recent amnesty reflect a common aspect. That is.to strike down a recall on the president’s term. 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. the current Venezuelan government posed undocumented immigration to its advantage. the model for economic development of the 1970s. the government’s contrastive position on undocumented immigration –here legitimizing its presence. disease. and a general subversion of national legal standards. Indeed.

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