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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tellingly.8 Coming at the end of a decade of economic bonanza. these restrictive immigration policies reflected the close relationship between immigration and the Venezuelan 6 Berglund and Hernández (1985). as more Colombians left than entered the country.3 percent. due to an excess in public spending.”6 Concomitantly. Signs of this economic decline had begun to appear in 1979. At the same time. 20. Colombian immigration continued to enter the country due mostly to a parallel rise in unemployment in Colombia and the devaluation of the Colombian peso. the devaluing of the currency and tightening spending limits. in the figure of $6. Pellegrino (1986).175 billion. 7 14 .” Unemployment nearly doubled between 1978 and 1980. all of which created a climate of “uncertainty. In 1983. going from an all-time low of 4. 54. the government faced staggering debt. This led to a decrease in protectionist policies. overall trade between Venezuela and Colombia dropped considerably between the first semesters of 1979 and 1980.that. to a deficit of $21. when many sectors of the economy and particularly economic investments experienced a drop from the general state of economic resurgence. Deportations became more frequent and the government tried to suppress flows from the Andes (primarily Colombia) and the Caribbean. the economy became “overheated”. it should be noted that despite the steady economic decline of the early 1980s. the trade balance between the two countries went from a surplus of $189 million.7 In 1979 Venezuelan immigration policy took a stringent turn. In fact. private investment began to drop. the abrupt economic changes effectuated a “so-called ‘economic crisis’ that practically broke with the high economic performance that had characterized the previous decade. 8 Bidegain (1986).7 million. then. As a result. However. official immigration from Colombia became negative in 1979. 131.3 percent to 7.

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

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

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.


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

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

270.000 hectares of land were cultivated through industrial methods. the economy suffered significant overall losses. 22 . Pellegrino cites figures that illustrate the major losses in rural land ownership. we shall take a look at the condition of the Colombian economy in the 1970s. 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. 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”.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. is unknown. Moreover. that took off starting in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These factors. In terms of monetary value. 2.200. The frequency of such practices. Thus. are the principal reasons for the mass migration flows of Colombians to Venezuela. in 1960 campesino landowners –who comprised 58 percent of the country’s landowners—controlled 3. then. by 1970. large landowners –who comprised 1. While in 1950. Despite this uncertainty. this industrial sector controlled 70 percent of overall production in agriculture. however.6 percent of the agricultural lands in Colombia.These accusations. undocumented workers filled vacant positions in the agricultural sector.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.700. Much of the data in this section were cited from Pellegrino (1989: 263-8). Conversely. reports of the displacement of Venezuelan workers by poorly-paid undocumented workers contributed to the stigmatization of undocumented immigrants. More likely.7 percent of the landowners— 21 Pellegrino (1989) 263. and less so in urban industries. argues Pellegrino (1989). and abroad.000 hectares –out of a total of 4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. it is difficult to provide exact deportation figures for the end of this period. Mar. 4.429 Indocumentados en Operativo Policial ‘Sur del Lago.” 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 National Guard general involved 26 “Reunión en Cúcuta. Faced with more numerous deportations. 1980. 28 “Detenidos 1. In fact. 5. Selective immigration policies that sought to encourage mostly skilled workers were implemented in 1976. Mar. a noticeable increase in deportations had taken place between July 1979 and February 1980. according to local police reports.” Further. 1980.000 in 1979.27 However.’” El Nacional [Caracas].000 people had been deported in the first four months of 1980.000 were deported the following year. 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 1976.429 undocumented immigrants had been detained around the various states in the Venezuelan Andes.28 These roundups had been carried out over a period of “hardly a week. 27 29 . less than 19. Official figures from the DIEX –the country’s department of immigration—showed that while almost 46.000 people had been deported 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.” El Nacional [Caracas]. One report in March 1980 stated that 1. As reported that year. Venezuelan immigration authorities may have decided to cease cooperation with their Colombian counterparts in order to expedite the outflow of deportees. Didonet (1983: 424) states that. during this time press articles in Venezuela published frequent reports of deportations to Colombia. official entries decreased annually starting in 1977.the step away from established deportation procedures may reflect an important change in immigration policy. Further. and only 9.26 Given the informal deportation methods employed in 1980. however.

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. 11. Feb. 30 Pellegrino. in February of that year. 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.3 percent of undocumented immigrants that registered for the 29 “La Policía de Inmigración Deportó a 1. located in the south-eastern part of the country.in the operation assured the reader that. 3 (Autumn. These operations had resulted in even more prodigious deportations in the previous month.” El Universal [Caracas]. Adella. 30 . 1980. “we have given precise instructions to our commands. 1984): 753.249 Indocumentados en los Últimos Tres Días. that they reactivate and intensify” such operations. to the west. Maracaibo.” Internacional Migration Review 18.30 The surveys were conducted by the Department of Labor and Social Security of Colombia. and press reports reflected a significant increase in overall deportations. deportations had increased significantly between the end of 1979 and the second semester of 1980. given the “good results” obtained. 7.2 percent of deportees had been detained in the same regions. These figures compare to the 18. and Ciudad Bolívar. “Venezuela: Illegal Immigration from Colombia. Two surveys of deportees conducted in 1980 and 1979 reflected the geographic distribution of deported Colombian immigrants.”29 According to another press report in January of the same year. One survey found that 30. Interestingly. The second survey found that 27. Indeed. In fact. where most urban and industrial centers are concentrated –with the exception of the country’s second city.5 percent of those interviewed had been deported in the capital and central regions of the country.249 undocumented immigrants had been deported “in the last three days.500 undocumented immigrants had been detained at a flea market in Maracaibo. one report stated that 1. and by CEPAM. Venezuela’s second largest city.

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

1 According to the MGE. about 90 percent of the undocumented immigrants that registered were Colombian. figures for undocumented immigration alone varied between 1.voiced their concerns regarding undocumented immigration and the overall burdens they posed to economic development. as criminal offenders. 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. opposition to Colombian immigration became most acute during the final year of the decade. Towards the end of the 1970s. II. Even in 1986. six years after the sobering results of the 1980 MGE were made public –under 300. As stated in “No to Venezuela” (1981: 13). when faced with economic crisis.” As we shall see. which were published in the media and echoed by government officials.000 undocumented immigrants registered for the 1980 MGE—government officials and the media estimated that one million undocumented immigrants were residing in the country. and especially around the 1980 MGE. 32 . Undocumented immigrants were characterized as potential threats to national sovereignty.5 and 4 million people.” These stigmatizations. were compounded by estimations of the alleged. Much of this opposition was shaped by unfounded claims in the press that speculated over the characteristics of undocumented immigration. 10. unwieldy size of this group. 1 Bidegain (1986). and even as factors of economic “underdevelopment. Venezuelan governments “have chosen to use [Colombian] immigrants as scapegoats for the political problems brought about by the economic ones. 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. moreover.

Even more uncertain is the number of the undocumented Colombian immigrants in Venezuela. However. Adding this figure to the MGE results.148 Colombian immigrants were residing legally in the country.174 and 600. in 1980.000 undocumented Colombian immigrants. Moreover. in 1980 and 1986.000 Colombian immigrants –more or less—residing permanently in Venezuela in 1980.000 people migrated to the country between 1971 and 1981. respectively. Pellegrino (1986: 33) notes that it should not be assumed that undocumented Colombians were unwilling to participate in the 1981 census. and 900. However. From the latter we may consider the characteristics of the total Colombian population in the country.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. and certainly some educated guessing. given that no formal identification was required to participate in the census. it is difficult to estimate the total size of the Colombian population in Venezuela. we would arrive at a maximum figure of 570. 34. we could say that around 550.000 Colombian immigrants were living in Venezuela in 1980. Such a consideration would ultimately rely on available poll and census data. 2 Pellegrino (1986). Even assuming that 95 percent of these immigrants were Colombian. Citing various sources including census figures and scholarly estimates. 33 . Bidegain (1987: 45) obtains a figure of around 530. 307. According to the DIEX’s register. Pellegrino (1986: 33) concludes that between 478. however.000 Colombians migrating to Venezuela during that period.Taking this into consideration with the previous estimates. that it would be difficult to defend estimates as large as 1 to 4 million undocumented immigrants in Venezuela. as Pellegrino (1986) has noted. this would result in a figure between 1 and 3.6 million. It should be noted.

and Peruvians 1. as did 35.2 percent of men. Therefore. were male. more than three quarters. In comparison to the 1981 census. Within this latter group. the majority of Colombians registering under the MGE were living in border states or in those near the border with Colombia.2 Colombian men.000 Colombians over age 9. or 92. for every 100 of their national counterparts. 8. 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. 91. These figures show undocumented Colombian immigrants to be somewhat younger than their previously registered counterparts. Of these.795 people over age 9 registered successfully for the 1980 MGE. including South and Central American countries.1 percent. were between 15 and 40 years old.3 percent of those registered under the MGE came from other Latin American nations. Another 6. were Colombian. while of the latter. as well as Caribbean countries.8 percent of the population. Moreover. 39.3 percent.0 of the total population registered under the MGE. or 76.194.3 percent were between 15 and 20 years old. 246. while under the 1981 census. the 1981 census showed that while women tended to migrate more to the capital region.4 percent falling within this segment. Ecuadorians comprised 1. 34 .266. gender distributions for Colombians registering for the MGE show some differences.2 percent were between 15 and 19 years old. 16.2 percent of women registering for the MGE claimed to have children.6 percent. European immigrants comprised 1.8 Colombians. as Pellegrino (1986: 36) has noted Colombian immigration is a concern of rural border-states more than it is one of urban areas. For every 100 Colombian women that registered. there were 119. with 81.8 percent. Dominicans 1. Of the former. In contrast. Amongst Colombian immigrants. Of the 246.

the registrants did not reach ten percent of the local population. Within the Capital region. “Undocumented Migration to Venezuela.4 29. 4 35 .5 10. 2.0 100. 3.4 Interestingly. 4.0 100.” 3 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).Pellegrino (1986: 34) classifies Colombian immigration in Venezuela according to three categories: 1. working mostly in industrial. registrant’s represented 1. there is “practically no migration from one region to another.9 9. ** Táchira. Pellegrino (1984: 751) notes that while the Andean and coastal regions of both Colombia and Venezuela have internal cross-border migrations.5 8. within the central region 1. Seasonal immigration flows taking place during harvest time or that fulfill other temporary needs in agriculture.9 percent of the population. These categories are closely tied to the geographic proximity of Colombia to Venezuela.8 percent of the country’s total population.1 Others 8. and in Zulia and the Andes to the west.9 Táchira and Zulia** 60. Immigrants registering for the 1980 MGE represented 1.2 43. respectively.8 and 6. Zulia.3 Barinas and Mérida** 7. Barinas and Mérida are all located near the border with Colombia.1 17. 37.0 *Caracas is distributed across the Federal District and parts of the state of Miranda.0 7.1 percent of the local population. business and services sectors.0 Total 100.1 56.7 Aragua and Carabobo 4. 1983): 547.0 6. Immigration flows with the most permanence in the country that reside in urban areas.0 percent of the local population. Van Roy. and within the border region that encompasses the Andean states and Zulia. but also in positions of an “urban” nature within these regions.3 11. Permanent immigration flows that migrate to border regions in the west and are employed in the agricultural and ranching sectors. This means that a very small number of people –just over 1 percent—in the capital region were undocumented before the MGE. Geographic Distribution of Colombians in Venezuela3 State or District 1971 Census 1980 MGE 1981 Census Federal District and Miranda* 20. Ralph.” International Migration Review 18 (Autumn.

8 5. Pellegrino (1986: 37) notes that the overall educational levels of Colombians in the country are not unlike that of Venezuelans in general.0 ** Primaria 66. These numbers are derived by dividing 5 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).S. 36 . while Andean populations do so within the Andes region.). 7 or older. which is the equivalent of first grade in the U. for the Colombian population from the 1981 census. The active segment of the Colombian population is higher in comparison to those born in Venezuela. 37.2 56.” 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..5 11. However.0 *For the 1980 MGE. in comparison to 46.4 29.S. This compared to 65.).6 percent of Colombians in the country are employed.0 100. respectively. ** Primaria includes first through sixth grades (second through seventh in the U.0 Total 100.1 *** Secundaria 16.S. and for the Venezuelan population from the 1981 census. Sixty-eight percent of those registered under the 1980 MGE were active members of the country’s working population. and Pellegrino concludes that these “findings confirm that migrants tend to settle in those regions culturally closer to their place of origin.2 percent of Venezuelans. Educational Attainment for Colombian and Venezuelan Population5 Colombians Venezuelans * * Educational Level 1980 MGE 1981 Census 1981 Census* Illiterate and without formal education 17.4 24. 5 or older. is not included within Primaria.2 3.0 100.1 10. ***Secundaria includes seventh through eleventh grades (eighth through twelfth in the U. coastal residents migrate mostly to other coastal regions. figures represent population aged 9 or older.Thus.9 Superior 0.3 59. Preparatorio.2 and 54 percent of previously registered foreigners and Venezuelans. 59. This pattern is reflected in the available data on deportations.

the active population.948 2. 40.210 5.680 1.676 27. 22.429 4. even in comparison to the overall foreign-born population.964 8.79 675 0.5 percent of respondents spent 1 to 8 days searching for work once in Venezuela and then finding employment.054 100.28 71. This figure is derived by dividing the inactive segment of the population by the total population.12 2. that there was a high degree of demand for their labor. in comparison to 69.32 4. van Roy (1983: 62) cites a poll among Colombian deportees wherein 72. from the 1981 census.000 16. 6 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).17 422 0.212 16. if we split the figures for the MGE by gender.21 303.07 4. while more than fifty percent worked in industry.414 1.968 15. Ranching.372 23.5 percent spent 9 days to one month in the same process.05 183.22 214 0.604 23.838 34. and 13.90 50.469 100.57 6. ranching or fishing. by the corresponding age group of the total population and multiplying by one hundred. Factory Operators and Related Occupations Other Artisans and Operators Service Workers. age 12 and older.7 percent of Colombian men worked in agriculture.63 26. Moreover. Fishing Transportation and Communications Miners.232 1.14 82. concomitantly. These figures show that undocumented workers were quite successful in finding work once in Venezuela. Quarrymen and Related Occupations Artisans. Occupational Groups for the Colombian Population6 Occupation Professionals and Technicians Managers.346 4.35 43.70 28. The low levels of unemployment amongst MGE registrants are significant.78 3.602 8.37 379 0. Further. and. 37 .57 17. Concerning this.770 1. Pellegrino (1986: 39) found that 40.8 percent of Venezuelans.25 30.0 About seventeen percent of Colombian immigrants registering for the MGE worked in agriculture.3 percent of Colombians were “economically dependent”. Administrators and Functionaries Office Employees and Related Occupations Salesmen and Related Occupations Agriculture. and multiplying by one hundred. Sports and Entertainment Undeclared or Unidentified Total 1980 MGE Total % 2.568 2.0 1981 Census Total % 12.21 62.68 26.64 7.

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

000-5.000 Bs. In other words. 1. 3. 11 39 . 1. Moreover. while 47.000 or under. Thus. 4 to the dollar and were added by the author.5 percent of Colombian agricultural workers earned the same amount.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. while 16 percent of all agricultural-sector workers in Venezuela earned more than 10 Ibid. Concerning this. 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. 500-1. especially seeing as shelter.6 percent of the country’s agricultural work-force made Bs. Specifically. 2. On this. made Bs. 89. Pellegrino (1986: 39) reports that 78.000-1.10 The employment prospects of these domestic workers. Dollar figures are based on the 1980 exchange rate of Bs.000. 47. in general.500-2.According to the 1981 census figures.4 percent of domestic workers were foreign-born women.8 percent.000 Bs. 66.000 or under.000-1.000 Bs. men were more likely to be found in the border states to the west of the country. 3. 32.500 Bs.6 percent of women registering under the MGE declared to be working as “service workers. 45. a similar percentage of the Colombian agricultural work-force in the country.7 percent of the agricultural work-force earned less than Bs. 1. were more promising than for Colombian men. However. and other necessities were provided by their patrons.” and many were employed as domestic workers. food. Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986). 1. while 91. and of these 83 percent were Colombian. while there was a higher tendency for women to migrate to the capital region. the salaries of Colombian agricultural workers were significantly lower than those accorded the country’s total population.

the undocumented immigrant is deemed “undesirable for his or her poverty and 12 The figures are cited from Pellegrino (1986: 49). Specifically. In this context.” Because of the “invisible” nature of these migration flows. 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. when it concerns the “thousands of Colombians that.” Anzola (1983: 120) states that “migration. [undocumented immigrants] are marginalized for the simple fact of being undocumented.” the topic of immigration becomes conflictive. as in the other instances of interaction between the two countries [Colombia and Venezuela].” That is. 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.Bs.8 percent of Colombian workers employed in the same sector earned the same amount.000. 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. only 3. 40 . Berglund and Hernández (1985: 85) remark that.12 The Undocumented Immigrant in Venezuela In her section on the “Image of Migration. 2. “exempting their personal characteristics and formation. The figures for the Colombian work-force were extracted from the 1981 census. Indeed. The lower-wages accorded Colombian workers evidenced the economic role of these immigrants as cheap laborers for the country’s agricultural sector. immigration is treated as an instance of cooperation when Colombians are contracted through legal channels to work in Venezuela. 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. oscillates along an axis of cooperation and conflict. not having obtained the necessary visa. cross the border surreptitiously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 1980.7 Given general disbelief over the number of undocumented immigrants reflected by the MGE figures. newspapers headlined the overwhelming Colombian representation within undocumented flows. 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. 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. Early in 1980.6 Towards the end of the 1980 MGE. in some instances. 408. The Size of the “Invasion” As stated in Pellegrino (1986: 33). these headlines fed into a general perception of Colombian immigration as being largely undocumented. picked up by officials in government. these estimations increased considerably towards the end of the decade.the stigmatizing discussion of undocumented immigrants by formulating the immigrant “problem” within a highly public sphere. 51 .000 undocumented Colombian immigrants present in the country in 1976. while figures for undocumented immigration released by the DIEX estimated 800. which surpassed 90 percent. in 1974 the Venezuelan press began to publish figures concerning immigration in the country that were. In fact.” The immigration official indicated that this recently-settled group added to 6 7 Didonet (1983). These figures were introduced under a climate of rising concern over undocumented immigration flows. “El 90 por Ciento de los Matriculados son Colombianos”. reaching a high point in 1980. El Nacional [Caracas]. as well as from an upsurge in immigration in Venezuela. 22. The headline claimed that “One Million Undocumented [Immigrants] Have Entered the Country in Less than a Year. The rise in concern resulted largely from the increasing concentration of immigrants in urban areas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just recently.. All of that comes from Colombia. “Chávez Chides Colombia over Border Control”. According to the president. subversion. Old Sins: Human Rights Abuses Against Migrant Workers. Helena. As had been established by various press reports. that was not born here and it has shocked us a lot. however. 3 Latinnews. In 1999.Venezuela. 2003. http://www. 4th.2 To this day the issue of undocumented immigration in Venezuela continues to be relevant to politics in the country. & Olea. which had been established through the United Nations. owing to recent cross-border incidents between Colombian paramilitaries and guerrillas and the Venezuelan government.com.”3 The nature of these statements and their disregard for Colombian immigration. Andreas. current Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remarked on the origins of crime in Zulia. “we have been hit by common delinquency. contra-subversion. “New Formulas. without any juridical consideration of their refugee status. 2 Feldmann. paramilitaries and drug-dealing. and Refugees in the Americas. were contradicted by an amnesty implemented by the government of Hugo Chávez later that year. these Colombian refugees were essentially detained at the border and deported back to Colombia.” presented Nov. a state in western Venezuela that borders on Colombia. Early in 2004. The Venezuelan government deported these refugees without due process despite the country’s commitment to the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees. 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. at a workshop for the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago. 64 . 2004. 8 Jan. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez received criticism from Human Rights organizations concerning his treatment of Colombians fleeing the war in their country. 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.com.latinnews. Asylum Seekers.

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

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

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

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

28. El Nacional. 12. “Colombia Preparó Plan de Emergencia para encarar expulsión masiva de indocumentados”. Feb. “Detenidos 1. 12. 8. El Nacional. El Nacional. Dec. 1980. Dec. Nov. “Sacados del País 5 Mil Indocumentados”. “Colonizaremos las Fronteras”. Dec. “Patrullas Combinadas Buscan a Los Indocumentados”. Jan. 24. Oct. Dec. “La Policía de Inmigración Deportó a 1. “En 60 Días Censo de Indocumentados. 1980. Jan. “Un Millón de Indocumentados han Ingresado al País en Menos de un Año”. El Nacional. “Nos Preocupa”. 5. 28. El Nacional. Feb. 1971. 1980. Mar.” El Nacional. 9. Dec. 11. “Las Migraciones Espontáneas se Convierten en Sensitivo Problema de América Latina”. “El Presidente de Fedecámaras en el V Curso de Comando y Estado Mayor de las FAC Reiteró sus planteamientos de control de inmigrantes ilegales”. 1980. “Tensa Expectativa en Colombia y Honda Preocupación en Venezuela. Feb. El Universal 1987.’” El Nacional. 4. 1980. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 167). 31. 1980. May 25.Appendix A Newspaper Headlines Cited “Bolsa de Trabajo para Inmigraciones Selectivas Propuesta en Fedecámaras. Mar. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 163). “El 90 por Ciento de los Matriculados son Colombianos”. 18. 1970. El Nacional. El Nacional. Dec. Aug. 1980. No Title Available.” El Universal.” El Nacional. El Nacional. “Las Autoridades Están Preparadas para Neutralizar Cualquier Acción en Perjuicio del País”. El Nacional. 4.” El Nacional.” El Nacional. 1980. 1980. 22. 1979. Mar. 1976. El Nacional. 1981. 1980.249 Indocumentados en los Últimos Tres Días. 1980. 1980. 20. 2. 11. “Indocumentados Son los Venezolanos”. 4. In Díaz & Gómez (1983: 174). Mar.429 Indocumentados en Operativo Policial ‘Sur del Lago. El Nacional 1980. 4. 1966. “No Afectará a la Producción Agropecuaria la Deportación de Indocumentados”. 1979. Sep. El Nacional. 12. El Nacional. Nov. “Venezuela Decidió Retirarse de Comité Intergubernamental para Migraciones Europeas”. El Universal. 1980. El Nacional. 1980. “Con el Himno Nacional Colombiano Despierta el Campesino Tachirense”. Jan. Feb. “El Diferendo y La Repatriación de Indocumentados Son Dos Aspectos Diferentes”. El Nacional. “Los que no se Acogieron a la Matrícula Tienen que ser Sancionados”. 1980. El Nacional. Jul. Feb. 69 . 16. 30. “Sólo 100 Indocumentados entre 250 Mil Personas Identificadas”. Dec. Oct. “Deportación de Indocumentados Afectaría Negociaciones sobre el Diferendo”.” El Nacional. El Nacional. “Visa de Transeúnte y Cédula de Identidad a Extranjeros que se Hayan Registrado. 4. 9. 1981. 24. “Tres Millones de Indocumentados”. “Reunión en Cúcuta. 1979. El Nacional. 1981. 10.

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