The Venezuelan dictatorship, with 25 years in power, continues to bet on increasing forced migration as a useful strategy for blackmailing President Biden’s administration against reimposing sanctions against the regime.
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez has threatened to immediately revoke migrant repatriation flights and review any existing bilateral cooperation mechanism in the even that sanctions return. The threat comes from a regime that took the most prosperous economy in Latin America and forced more than 7 million of its own citizens to emigrate in abject poverty and desperation.
Over the last year, the U.S. had relaxed many of the sanctions against Venezuelan gold, gas and oil in a bid to ensure free elections and help stabilize the nation’s deteriorating economy. It seemed like a reasonable proposal, but the dictatorship is not willing to risk two decades of Chavismo and the resultant ill-gotten gains.
Last month, the Supreme Court of Justice, controlled by the regime of Nicolas Maduro, banned the main opposition leader, María Corina Machado, from running for office for 15 years. The ruling closed the doors to any possibility of democratic change and reignited a desire among its 28 million citizens to emigrate.
The weaponization of migration has been part of the old Marxist toolkit since the days of Fidel Castro and the Mariel boatlift. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter tried to promote dialogue and democracy in Cuba, easing sanctions with good faith. All the while, Fidel Castro increased repression and corruption in the Caribbean nation.
This story seems to be repeating itself.
Last year, the communist regimes of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela carried out massive joint operations to promote irregular emigration to the U.S. Cuba provided the migrants, Venezuela the Conviasa airline and Nicaragua the gateway to begin the northward journey toward the U.S. border.
Although this immigration scheme was scaled back due to a timely U.S. response, the Nicaraguan dictatorship has opened other routes to take migrants to the border. Even last December, a charter flight headed to Nicaragua was caught trafficking 276 Indian nationals at an international airport in France.
Manuel Orozco, a researcher at the Inter-American Dialogue, has said that Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega wanted to open the immigration valve for 100,000 people, obtaining millions each month in income taxes on remittances. This is a risky but profitable business.
All around the world, the communist model has been a resounding failure. But migrants fleeing communist systems have generated resounding success. In Nicaragua, during the first six months of 2023, the Ortega regime collected more than $2 billion in remittances. The worse the tyrant, the better forced emigration is for his economy.
In Venezuela, it is clear that the migratory hemorrhage requires something more than walls to stop. A foreign policy and security strategy is needed to address the weaponization of immigration by dictatorships like those of Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela, but actions are also needed to prevent the emergence of new tyrannies or failed states like Haiti.
We recently saw an extraordinary example of leadership in Ecuador. The country has not yet emerged from the crisis caused by drug trafficking and gangs, but it is receiving timely international cooperation to avoid a total disaster. Even a divided U.S. Congress presented a bipartisan statement .
Another positive example was the immediate response to the governance crisis in Guatemala. Corrupt power groups wanted to prevent the transfer of leadership to the new president, Bernardo Arevalo. Strong international pressure and the leadership of the U.S. prevented a tragedy there. These have been good recent examples of what can be done to prevent new migration crises.
If we limit ourselves to believing that the migration crisis is solved at the border, we are only addressing part of the problem — the symptoms, but not the disease. Dictatorships, narco-states and corruption are issues that require an urgent and comprehensive response. It is critical for the U.S. to take care of its so-called backyard, promoting democracy, security and prosperity. This is not an expense, but an investment.
Arturo McFields Yescas is an exiled journalist, former Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Organization of American States, and a former volunteer in the Peace Corps of Norway.
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