Opposition to Colombian Immigration in Venezuela

and the 1980 Matrícula General de Extranjeros

Alex Escalona
11.15.2004
B.A. Thesis
Faculty Reader: Andreas Feldmann

Introduction
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

1

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
political.
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
remarked,
“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
1

Berglund, Susan, and Hernández Calimán, Humberto, Los de Afuera: Un Estudio Analítico del Proceso Migratorio
en Venezuela, 1936-1985 (Caracas: CEPAM, 1985), 119.
2
Pellegrino, Adela, Los Indocumentados en la Inmigración Colombiana en Venezuela (Caracas: UCAB, 1985) 1.

2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60. Venezuela was in an advantageous position given the country’s role as the number one exporter of oil in the western hemisphere. Part of this renewed source of immigration. 1 Berglund and Hernández (1985). Peru and Uruguay.I. Ibid. particularly the increase in Portuguese and the new Southern Cone immigrants. immigration hit a high point during this period of positive economic performance and the active segment of the foreign-born population doubled.”1 As a result of this newfound source of national income. That same year the OPEC cartel implemented a policy of increasing oil prices that benefited its exporting members. which had been steady before this period. Indeed. “which allowed it to accelerate its programs in search of economic and social development. Venezuela profited considerably from the hike in oil prices. Adela. then.3 To understand the considerable rise in immigration flows. 2 . going from 325. 112. As an OPEC member country.2 Colombian and Portuguese immigration. Dominican Republic. it is important that we take a closer look at the Venezuelan economy of the 1970s. “Los Indocumentados en la Inmigración Colombiana en Venezuela. was a result of government policies that sought to attract skilled labor to the country. 3 Pellegrino. the Venezuelan economy entered a period of “economic bonanza” that was due partly to an upsurge in the prices of hydrocarbon and iron exports.” Revista sobre Relaciones Industriales y Laborales 18 (1986): 51. Further. the country saw a resurgence of immigration flows from the region that now included groups of people from Chile.702 between 1971 and 1981. also saw a reinvigoration of their flows. The higher oil prices thus brought in new financial resources for the country. Colombian Immigration and the Period of “Economic Bonanza” The Economic Bonanza of the 1970s Beginning in 1973.755 to 632. Ecuador. Argentina.

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

Pellegrino (1986). Deportations became more frequent and the government tried to suppress flows from the Andes (primarily Colombia) and the Caribbean. This led to a decrease in protectionist policies.7 In 1979 Venezuelan immigration policy took a stringent turn. At the same time. In 1983. in the figure of $6.3 percent to 7. the abrupt economic changes effectuated a “so-called ‘economic crisis’ that practically broke with the high economic performance that had characterized the previous decade. Colombian immigration continued to enter the country due mostly to a parallel rise in unemployment in Colombia and the devaluation of the Colombian peso.3 percent. going from an all-time low of 4. due to an excess in public spending. these restrictive immigration policies reflected the close relationship between immigration and the Venezuelan 6 Berglund and Hernández (1985).that. private investment began to drop.”6 Concomitantly. overall trade between Venezuela and Colombia dropped considerably between the first semesters of 1979 and 1980. the devaluing of the currency and tightening spending limits. the government faced staggering debt. to a deficit of $21.7 million. Tellingly. official immigration from Colombia became negative in 1979.8 Coming at the end of a decade of economic bonanza. all of which created a climate of “uncertainty. when many sectors of the economy and particularly economic investments experienced a drop from the general state of economic resurgence. 131. However. In fact. the trade balance between the two countries went from a surplus of $189 million. Signs of this economic decline had begun to appear in 1979. the economy became “overheated”. 54.” Unemployment nearly doubled between 1978 and 1980. As a result. 8 Bidegain (1986). it should be noted that despite the steady economic decline of the early 1980s. 7 14 .175 billion. 20. then. as more Colombians left than entered the country.

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

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

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

13

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.
14

17

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

15

Pellegrino (1986), 30.
“Venezuela Decidió Retirarse de Comité Intergubernamental para Migraciones Europeas”, El Nacional [Caracas],
1966, Oct. 9.
16

18

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

17

“Bolsa de Trabajo para Inmigraciones Selectivas Propuesta en Fedecámaras,” El Nacional [Caracas], 1976, Sep.
12.

19

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

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

and less so in urban industries. Much of the data in this section were cited from Pellegrino (1989: 263-8). in 1960 campesino landowners –who comprised 58 percent of the country’s landowners—controlled 3.000 hectares of agricultural lands—had joined the trend in industrial agriculture. Thus. 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”.6 percent of the agricultural lands in Colombia. is unknown.000 hectares –out of a total of 4.7 percent of the landowners— 21 Pellegrino (1989) 263. Conversely. While in 1950. More likely. undocumented workers filled vacant positions in the agricultural sector. 22 . These factors. argues Pellegrino (1989). in order to understand the willingness of these Colombian workers to emigrate to Venezuela. Despite this uncertainty. that took off starting in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 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. The frequency of such practices. then. this industrial sector controlled 70 percent of overall production in agriculture. however. large landowners –who comprised 1.200.000 hectares of land were cultivated through industrial methods. 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.700. by 1970. 270. reports of the displacement of Venezuelan workers by poorly-paid undocumented workers contributed to the stigmatization of undocumented immigrants.21 At the same time. In terms of monetary value. are the principal reasons for the mass migration flows of Colombians to Venezuela. Moreover. the economy suffered significant overall losses. and abroad. 2.These accusations. Pellegrino cites figures that illustrate the major losses in rural land ownership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

and only 9. official entries decreased annually starting in 1977. In fact. 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. One report in March 1980 stated that 1. Official figures from the DIEX –the country’s department of immigration—showed that while almost 46. 1980. 28 “Detenidos 1. Venezuelan immigration authorities may have decided to cease cooperation with their Colombian counterparts in order to expedite the outflow of deportees. Further.429 undocumented immigrants had been detained around the various states in the Venezuelan Andes. Mar. less than 19.” El Nacional [Caracas]. during this time press articles in Venezuela published frequent reports of deportations to Colombia. 5. Didonet (1983: 424) states that.26 Given the informal deportation methods employed in 1980.” and the report emphasized that an operation to detain these immigrants had taken place in order to “diminish the criminal incidents carried out principally by undocumented immigrants that come to these frontier regions in order to commit their misdeeds. a noticeable increase in deportations had taken place between July 1979 and February 1980. however.000 people had been deported in the first four months of 1980. As reported that year. 27 29 .the step away from established deportation procedures may reflect an important change in immigration policy. Reports of the mass deportations taking place at this time were often accompanied by a generic shopping list of “problems” associated with undocumented immigration.000 in 1979.429 Indocumentados en Operativo Policial ‘Sur del Lago.’” El Nacional [Caracas].000 were deported the following year. Mar. a National Guard general involved 26 “Reunión en Cúcuta. it is difficult to provide exact deportation figures for the end of this period. 1980.000 people had been deported in 1977. according to local police reports. 15. Faced with more numerous deportations.28 These roundups had been carried out over a period of “hardly a week.27 However.” Further. Selective immigration policies that sought to encourage mostly skilled workers were implemented in 1976. 4.

249 undocumented immigrants had been deported “in the last three days. located in the south-eastern part of the country. and Ciudad Bolívar. One survey found that 30. given the “good results” obtained. The second survey found that 27. surveys among Colombians deported during this period showed that a disproportionately large number of these undocumented immigrants had been detained in the larger urban areas of the country. and by CEPAM. 3 (Autumn. Indeed. Feb. Venezuela’s second largest city. and press reports reflected a significant increase in overall deportations. one report stated that 1. Two surveys of deportees conducted in 1980 and 1979 reflected the geographic distribution of deported Colombian immigrants. These figures compare to the 18. Interestingly.” El Universal [Caracas]. Maracaibo. to the west. 1980. 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. Adella. These operations had resulted in even more prodigious deportations in the previous month.3 percent of undocumented immigrants that registered for the 29 “La Policía de Inmigración Deportó a 1. 7. 1984): 753.30 The surveys were conducted by the Department of Labor and Social Security of Colombia.249 Indocumentados en los Últimos Tres Días.” Internacional Migration Review 18. deportations had increased significantly between the end of 1979 and the second semester of 1980.in the operation assured the reader that. that they reactivate and intensify” such operations. “we have given precise instructions to our commands. 30 Pellegrino. “Venezuela: Illegal Immigration from Colombia. in February of that year. 30 .500 undocumented immigrants had been detained at a flea market in Maracaibo. 11. where most urban and industrial centers are concentrated –with the exception of the country’s second city.2 percent of deportees had been detained in the same regions.5 percent of those interviewed had been deported in the capital and central regions of the country. In fact.”29 According to another press report in January of the same year.

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

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

000 people migrated to the country between 1971 and 1981. given that no formal identification was required to participate in the census. However.6 million. this would result in a figure between 1 and 3.Taking this into consideration with the previous estimates. Such a consideration would ultimately rely on available poll and census data. According to the DIEX’s register.174 and 600. we could say that around 550.148 Colombian immigrants were residing legally in the country. and 900. however. in 1980 and 1986. Pellegrino (1986: 33) notes that it should not be assumed that undocumented Colombians were unwilling to participate in the 1981 census. It should be noted.000 Colombian immigrants –more or less—residing permanently in Venezuela in 1980. respectively. in 1980. that it would be difficult to defend estimates as large as 1 to 4 million undocumented immigrants in Venezuela. Moreover. Citing various sources including census figures and scholarly estimates. and certainly some educated guessing. Bidegain (1987: 45) obtains a figure of around 530.000 undocumented Colombian immigrants. Adding this figure to the MGE results.2 In order to make comparisons between the two groups of Colombian immigrants –those that registered for the MGE being subsumed by the total Colombian population—we will look at figures from the 1980 MGE and the 1981 Census.000 Colombians migrating to Venezuela during that period. it is difficult to estimate the total size of the Colombian population in Venezuela. From the latter we may consider the characteristics of the total Colombian population in the country. 34. However. 307. Pellegrino (1986: 33) concludes that between 478. 33 .000 Colombian immigrants were living in Venezuela in 1980. 2 Pellegrino (1986). we would arrive at a maximum figure of 570. Even assuming that 95 percent of these immigrants were Colombian. Even more uncertain is the number of the undocumented Colombian immigrants in Venezuela. as Pellegrino (1986) has noted.

were Colombian.795 people over age 9 registered successfully for the 1980 MGE.2 percent of women registering for the MGE claimed to have children. while of the latter. Amongst Colombian immigrants.3 percent of those registered under the MGE came from other Latin American nations. 8. were between 15 and 40 years old.8 Colombians.2 Colombian men. 91. In contrast. as well as Caribbean countries.8 percent of the population. the 1981 census showed that while women tended to migrate more to the capital region.1 percent. European immigrants comprised 1. there were 119. and Peruvians 1.3 percent. For every 100 Colombian women that registered. or 76. 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 of their national counterparts.2 percent of men. Dominicans 1.8 percent. Of the 246. while under the 1981 census. with 81. These figures show undocumented Colombian immigrants to be somewhat younger than their previously registered counterparts. In comparison to the 1981 census.0 of the total population registered under the MGE. the majority of Colombians registering under the MGE were living in border states or in those near the border with Colombia. gender distributions for Colombians registering for the MGE show some differences. Moreover. 246.4 percent falling within this segment.2 percent were between 15 and 19 years old. Another 6.3 percent were between 15 and 20 years old. 39. as did 35.6 percent. or 92.266. Of these. including South and Central American countries. Therefore. Ecuadorians comprised 1. the 1981 census showed the overall age distribution of Colombians in Venezuela to lie mainly between 15 and 54 years of age. 34 . were male. men migrated to rural areas in the border states.000 Colombians over age 9. 16. Of the former. Within this latter group. more than three quarters.194.

1 percent of the local population.3 Barinas and Mérida** 7.9 9. but also in positions of an “urban” nature within these regions.5 10.1 Others 8.7 Aragua and Carabobo 4.0 6. These categories are closely tied to the geographic proximity of Colombia to Venezuela. Ralph.0 7. “Undocumented Migration to Venezuela. Seasonal immigration flows taking place during harvest time or that fulfill other temporary needs in agriculture. Zulia. 1983): 547. respectively.0 percent of the local population. 37.0 *Caracas is distributed across the Federal District and parts of the state of Miranda. This means that a very small number of people –just over 1 percent—in the capital region were undocumented before the MGE.0 Total 100. Barinas and Mérida are all located near the border with Colombia.8 percent of the country’s total population.2 43. Van Roy.Pellegrino (1986: 34) classifies Colombian immigration in Venezuela according to three categories: 1.9 percent of the population. Pellegrino (1984: 751) notes that while the Andean and coastal regions of both Colombia and Venezuela have internal cross-border migrations. Geographic Distribution of Colombians in Venezuela3 State or District 1971 Census 1980 MGE 1981 Census Federal District and Miranda* 20. 4 35 . and within the border region that encompasses the Andean states and Zulia. registrant’s represented 1.1 17.3 11.4 Interestingly.8 and 6. 4. Permanent immigration flows that migrate to border regions in the west and are employed in the agricultural and ranching sectors.” 3 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).4 29.9 Táchira and Zulia** 60. Immigration flows with the most permanence in the country that reside in urban areas. within the central region 1.0 100. ** Táchira. business and services sectors. the registrants did not reach ten percent of the local population.5 8. and in Zulia and the Andes to the west. Immigrants registering for the 1980 MGE represented 1.1 56.” International Migration Review 18 (Autumn.0 100. there is “practically no migration from one region to another. 3. 2. Within the Capital region. working mostly in industrial.

S.4 29.6 percent of Colombians in the country are employed. 5 or older. Pellegrino (1986: 37) notes that the overall educational levels of Colombians in the country are not unlike that of Venezuelans in general. 36 .1 *** Secundaria 16.8 5.).4 24.3 59.2 56. Preparatorio. This compared to 65.0 100. ** Primaria includes first through sixth grades (second through seventh in the U. and for the Venezuelan population from the 1981 census. ***Secundaria includes seventh through eleventh grades (eighth through twelfth in the U.9 Superior 0.. However.0 Total 100. while Andean populations do so within the Andes region. respectively.1 10. is not included within Primaria.2 and 54 percent of previously registered foreigners and Venezuelans. 7 or older. Educational Attainment for Colombian and Venezuelan Population5 Colombians Venezuelans * * Educational Level 1980 MGE 1981 Census 1981 Census* Illiterate and without formal education 17. and Pellegrino concludes that these “findings confirm that migrants tend to settle in those regions culturally closer to their place of origin. 59.0 ** Primaria 66. which is the equivalent of first grade in the U. in comparison to 46.0 *For the 1980 MGE.” 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.S.0 100. figures represent population aged 9 or older.2 3.S. Sixty-eight percent of those registered under the 1980 MGE were active members of the country’s working population.5 11. 37.2 percent of Venezuelans.Thus. The active segment of the Colombian population is higher in comparison to those born in Venezuela. This pattern is reflected in the available data on deportations. for the Colombian population from the 1981 census. coastal residents migrate mostly to other coastal regions.). These numbers are derived by dividing 5 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).

age 12 and older.346 4. Administrators and Functionaries Office Employees and Related Occupations Salesmen and Related Occupations Agriculture. if we split the figures for the MGE by gender. Ranching.68 26.000 16. Moreover. Further. while more than fifty percent worked in industry. Quarrymen and Related Occupations Artisans. that there was a high degree of demand for their labor.372 23. Factory Operators and Related Occupations Other Artisans and Operators Service Workers. by the corresponding age group of the total population and multiplying by one hundred.70 28.32 4.35 43.0 1981 Census Total % 12. 40.948 2.90 50. Concerning this.12 2.21 303.0 About seventeen percent of Colombian immigrants registering for the MGE worked in agriculture.57 6. The low levels of unemployment amongst MGE registrants are significant.469 100. Pellegrino (1986: 39) found that 40.964 8.37 379 0.568 2.78 3.14 82. Sports and Entertainment Undeclared or Unidentified Total 1980 MGE Total % 2.212 16.680 1.414 1.64 7.8 percent of Venezuelans. and multiplying by one hundred. This figure is derived by dividing the inactive segment of the population by the total population. ranching or fishing.22 214 0.232 1.604 23.17 422 0.3 percent of Colombians were “economically dependent”.21 62.676 27. 22. Occupational Groups for the Colombian Population6 Occupation Professionals and Technicians Managers.210 5.5 percent spent 9 days to one month in the same process. van Roy (1983: 62) cites a poll among Colombian deportees wherein 72. 37 .79 675 0. in comparison to 69. and. from the 1981 census.28 71.770 1.968 15. Fishing Transportation and Communications Miners.602 8. concomitantly.the active population.07 4.25 30.57 17. 6 Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986).429 4.054 100.05 183. These figures show that undocumented workers were quite successful in finding work once in Venezuela.63 26.838 34.5 percent of respondents spent 1 to 8 days searching for work once in Venezuela and then finding employment. and 13.7 percent of Colombian men worked in agriculture. even in comparison to the overall foreign-born population.

44. and the Venezuelan-born population had showed decreasing participation in this sector in the 1961 census. 8 38 . 7 Pellegrino (1986). to 50 percent in 1980.4 percent in the 1970s. Pellegrino (1984: 748) reports that 50 percent of working Colombians were employed in agriculture and services. Colombian representation in the agriculture and services sectors exceeded that of the local population. undocumented Colombian immigrants were working in very similar occupations as those that had entered the country through legal channels. That is.7 Van Roy (1983: 64) suggests that this may be due partly to the difficulty of obtaining the necessary documentation for these positions..e. the regularization (i.9 Interestingly. Colombians in general and undocumented immigrants tended to replace native agricultural labor. especially domestic service in urban areas. 43. Further. Compared to the overall Colombian population in Venezuela. those registered under the MGE had very little representation in other sectors of the economy that demanded higher qualifications. given the negligible difference in overall occupational tendencies between previously registered Colombian immigrants and those registering for the MGE. and where the “tertiary sector” – essentially “businesses and services”—went from 35 percent of the active population in 1950. of which 32 percent were working in similar occupations.8 This contrasted with the growth in the “urban” sector. while 79 percent of the women worked in services. Ibid. 9 Ibid.ranching or fishing. 40. van Roy (1983: 62) argues that. and not so much a lack of work experience. where construction grew 9. In fact. In fact. 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.

4 to the dollar and were added by the author. 1. 66. In other words. especially seeing as shelter.6 percent of women registering under the MGE declared to be working as “service workers. 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.500-2.000 or under. On this. a similar percentage of the Colombian agricultural work-force in the country.000-5. 11 39 . while there was a higher tendency for women to migrate to the capital region. while 91.500 $ 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. 500-1. Dollar figures are based on the 1980 exchange rate of Bs. 1.500 Bs. However. while 47.8 percent. and of these 83 percent were Colombian.5 percent of Colombian agricultural workers earned the same amount. made Bs. 1. Concerning this. Specifically. men were more likely to be found in the border states to the west of the country. 2. 1. 45. Reproduced from Pellegrino (1986). 3. and other necessities were provided by their patrons.According to the 1981 census figures. in general.4 percent of domestic workers were foreign-born women.000 Bs.000. the salaries of Colombian agricultural workers were significantly lower than those accorded the country’s total population.000 Bs. 32.000-1. food.” and many were employed as domestic workers.7 percent of the agricultural work-force earned less than Bs. Moreover.000 Bs. 89.10 The employment prospects of these domestic workers. 3. Thus. while 16 percent of all agricultural-sector workers in Venezuela earned more than 10 Ibid.000-1.000 or under. 47.6 percent of the country’s agricultural work-force made Bs. Pellegrino (1986: 39) reports that 78. were more promising than for Colombian men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the MGE had important implications for the public awareness of undocumented immigration. which were typically sensationalist.Indeed.” Furthermore. As a practical consequence. to create “an informational base that would quantify the number and [type of] occupational structures in Venezuela towards which undocumented immigrants had directed themselves. In particular. 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. and that until now have been the only source of information concerning [the 48 . 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. primarily. its results paved the way for a more positive perception of undocumented immigration in the country. it cannot be denied that as a practical and unexpected consequence. the MGE provided the details that were necessary for a clearer understanding of undocumented immigration in the country.” Theoretically. However. 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. the information provided by the 1980 MGE could then be used as a “real base” for the formulation of “new instruments and policies concerning immigration. the sobering figures for undocumented immigration established by the MGE served in large part to temper public consternation over the unwieldy numbers defended by the country’s DIEX. For the first time since the beginning of the period of mass immigration in the 1970s. the press and other influential sources within the discussion of immigration in Venezuela. Didonet (1983: 429) surmises that the purpose of the 1980 MGE was.

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

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

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

22. 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]. Indeed. “Tres Millones de Indocumentados”. The following day.10 The previous front-page article continued in the back page of that day’s edition. Jan. 10 “El 90 por Ciento de los Matriculados son Colombianos”. 1981. 10. 1980.9 These figures were again repeated later in the year during the final days of the MGE. highlighting the unwieldy size of these flows. 9 52 . In fact. El Nacional [Caracas]. El Nacional [Caracas]. the director unleashed a string of vituperative comments concerning undocumented immigration (more on this later).the two million undocumented immigrants already present in the country. one press article reported that “it is said that [the results of the MGE]. As we shall see ahead. the persistence of such figures evidenced the degree to which they had been cemented in the public sphere. the media and general populace were unable and unwilling to accept their disproval. confronted with an overwhelming number of immigrants. Feb. the daily El Nacional headlined a picture of an Ecuadorian immigrant at work: the title read “Three Million Undocumented Immigrants”. the reader might assume that. Given the size of government estimates of undocumented immigration. El Nacional [Caracas]. Feb. The headline there read “The State Impotent before Undocumented [Immigration]”. Dec. though this time by different immigration official. El Nacional [Caracas].8 As the article unfolded. faced with the sobering results of the MGE. citing the same official quoted in the opening lines of this paragraph. many government officials. the government’s ability to respond to this “problem” –and to the problems that were generally ascribed to undocumented immigration—was largely rendered ineffective. 1980. these inflated figures had become so persistent by the time of the 1980 MGE that. following the conclusion of the MGE.”11 Such rumors of efforts to subvert 8 “Un Millón de Indocumentados han Ingresado al País en Menos de un Año”. 11. 1980. 11 “Indocumentados Son los Venezolanos”. 8.

53 . Dec. 24. 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. 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. 1980. 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. In fact. for both governments. Ironically. Following the conclusion of the first phase of the MGE. 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. immigration. reflected the degree to which the bloated estimates of undocumented immigration had taken hold of the Venezuelan and Colombian governments.12 Foreseeing the logistic consequences posed by a massive return of Colombian immigrants.the goals of the government’s “census” reflected the general incredulity in the unexpectedly low numbers of immigrants registering under the MGE. These events. 12 “Colombia Preparó Plan de Emergencia para encarar expulsión masiva de indocumentados”. Dec. if anything else. 1980. In fact. the Colombian government repeatedly warned the Venezuelan authorities of the international and diplomatic consequences of their actions. El Nacional [Caracas]. El Nacional [Caracas]. police. 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”. 4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1980.27 The general replied. contraband. 60 . Fermín Mármol León.” as a result of the recently instated second phase of deportations. vaguely.” The article summarized his comments. they have increased crime. unfortunately these illegal flows have created a situation that worries those of us that occupy posts in government. 26 “Un Millón de Indocumentados Han Ingresado al País en Menos de Un Año”. he informed the reader that 35 percent of the Venezuelan population was comprised by foreigners.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. El Nacional [Caracas].” To make matters worse. which apparently claimed that undocumented immigrants contributed to “the growing deterioration of social services. The director. Jan.” In sum. 27 “No Afectará a la Producción Agropecuaria la Deportación de Indocumentados”. 1981. Feb. such as the importation of contagious diseases. and drug trafficking. and that there were 3 million undocumented immigrants in the country. 10. when an official program to import female domestic workers had been tested before. [particularly] robberies. he stated that these undocumented flows were importing “scum and underdevelopment. El Nacional [Caracas]. In fact. 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. 9.”26 According to his statements. lamented that. while he did not want to necessarily imply that there was a “condition of xenophobia. following the conclusion of the 1980 MGE. such comments were not notable for their singularity. 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. that more details would be divulged in the following week. Of course.

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

In particular. 62 . That is. The public aspect of the buhoneros and barrios.These concerns have a strong public aspect. Through the invocation of the images of barrios and buhoneros. and their positioning within the media and government discussion of immigration highlights a central aspect of opposition to Colombian immigration. then. Moreover. opposition to undocumented immigration was imbued with a strong public aspect that contributed to its entrenchment in Venezuelan society. The prevalence of these topics in the discussion of immigration mirrors their physical prominence along visible areas of the country’s urban centers. many figures in government and in the media pointed to Caracas’ numerous barrios in formulating their concerns over undocumented immigration. they are generally located throughout the city’s busiest shopping districts and in the heavily-frequented downtown area. the buhoneros occupy a very public space within the Venezuelan economy. 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 undocumented Colombian immigration was particularly associated with the importation of guerrilla fighters and general criminality into Venezuelan territory. According to various editorials in the press. the Colombian navy sailed a frigate into disputed territory in the Gulf of Venezuela.” While the dispute over gulf waters remained unsettled until two years later. gas stations. nursing positions and domestic service. including “transportation. it was feared that Colombian immigrants could represent a potential group of insurgents that would put the country’s national security in peril. the governments of Venezuela and Colombia collided over the issue of territorial sovereignty. In particular. Protesting what was often termed an invasion of sovereign territory. . Earlier that month. El Universal [Caracas] 1987. These concerns were sometimes accompanied by estimations of the undocumented Colombian population in 1 “Nos Preocupa”. government officials and the Venezuelan press asserted that the Gulf of Venezuela belonged to Venezuela. One editorial at the time stated that.Epilogue Undocumented immigration has attracted considerable attention in Venezuelan politics since the 1970s.”1 Added to these concerns were fears over the entry of guerrilla fighters. undocumented immigration was yet again stigmatized for the negative implications it held for territorial sovereignty and economic development. the press and government in both countries took the opportunity to vent their frustrations over the issue. in what came to be knows as the “Caldas incident. Not surprisingly. Aug. the media did not pass the opportunity to comment on the issue within the context of undocumented immigration. In August of 1987. 16. “we are worried that part of this population is organized as a ‘fifth column’ and that it occupies key positions” in the national economy.

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

”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. Further. “ONIDEX Regularizara a 3 Millones de Extranjeros que Viven en Venezuela”. http://www. Presidential Decree 2823 authorized the amnesty in order to “resolve the problems faced by foreign residents in the country for many years now. That is. however.000 undocumented immigrants were actually registered.gov. Further. or any Latin American countries the application would be processed in less than four months. 2004.minci. Before the amnesty. 2004.5 Thus. [especially] given that a long time has passed since programs of this type were last carried out..gov. 16 Feb. Portugal. This amnesty came just half a year before the recent referendum on the presidential office. a general amnesty for undocumented immigrants was implemented in Venezuela. in reality some 200. http://www. though for citizens of Spain. 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. According to the government’s Department of Information and Communications. a large number of new computers were purchased to expedite the registration process. At the same time. 16 Feb. “ONIDEX Regularizara a 3 Millones de Extranjeros que Viven en Venezuela”. Decree 2823 states that the application for naturalization would be processed within 6 months.In February of 2004. a large number of the people applying for this “amnesty” were Venezuelan citizens and residents whose national identification cards had expired. 5 Ministerio de Comunicación e Información. many of these people were simply unable to afford –or unwilling to pay—the fees that applied to renovate their ID cards. providing informal registration tables which were setup throughout the country in public spaces. and many applicants were understandably relieved to have their identification documents updated and regularized before the referendum. 65 ..minci.ve/. On the other hand. the government made the process free to all applicants.ve/.

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

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