A staggering 15 to 19 percent of Venezuela’s total population has left the country amid an economic and political crisis with no clear end in sight, a new survey estimates. And those numbers are likely to increase in coming months and years if there are not profound changes in the South American country.
A recent poll by the Caracas-based think tank, Consultores 21, found that 48 percent of all families had an average of 1.6 members living abroad. Based on those numbers, the organization estimates that anywhere from 4.7 million to 6 million of the nation’s 31.8 million people are now living abroad.
The poll surveyed 2,000 people during July, has a margin of error of 2.2 percent and is likely to ruffle feathers. The Venezuelan government doesn’t provide demographic information, but has called United Nations’ estimates that more than 4 million people have left the country in recent years an “exaggeration” designed to paint the administration in the worst possible light.
Consultores 21 President Saul Cabrera said that the dearth of official information means all figures are simply estimates. While the U.N. relies on data provided by Venezuela’s neighbors, his firm is digging for answers by talking to those who have been left behind.
“It’s incredibly difficult to get [government] information that’s statistically significant,” he said. “But any way you look at it, it’s a shocking number of people. I mean, we’re talking about millions.”
The Venezuelan exodus is already the worst migratory crisis in the Western Hemisphere. Organization of American States researchers believe it could match or surpass the Syrian refugee crisis by next year.
According to Consultores 21, 44 percent of respondents now say they are planning on leaving the country — up from 37 percent the previous quarter.
Cabrera said those numbers had dipped earlier this year after National Assembly head Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by the U.S. and more than 50 other nations as the country’s legitimate president, tried to seize power from Nicolás Maduro.
But eight months into the venture, hopes that Guaidó, 37, could bring about change are evaporating.
“People didn’t see the quick fix they were hoping for,” Cabrera said. “And there’s a sense that there are no immediate solutions to the problems that are plaguing the country.”
While Washington has been focused on Central American migrants crossing along the southern border with Mexico, Venezuela’s exodus is largely a South American problem.
Of those surveyed who said they planned to leave the country, 20 percent said they were heading to Chile, followed by Colombia (16.9 percent), Peru (10.7 percent), Argentina (8.1 percent), Ecuador (6.7 percent) and then the United States (5.6 percent).
Not surprisingly, those numbers correlate with countries where Venezuelans already have family members.
While the drivers of Venezuelan migration range from hunger, political oppression and fear of violence, there is a huge economic element.
A full 72 percent of those who had family living abroad said their relatives sent them money some or all of the time. Another 18 percent said their relatives planned to send money — once they could support themselves. The average remittance was about $40 a month.
If there was good news in the figures, it’s that the exodus doesn’t have to be permanent. Forty-five percent of respondents said their family members planned to return if and when the country’s conditions changed — that’s up from 25 percent at the beginning of the year.