Venezuela crumbles

As Venezuela crumbles, its fleeing citizens are becoming Latin America’s new underclass

Free-spending Venezuelans once crammed store aisles in foreign countries famously uttering “dame dos” — “I’ll take two.” But the citizens of what was once South America’s richest nation per capita are now confronting a devastating reversal of fortune, emerging as the region’s new underclass.

As their oil-rich country buckles under the weight of a failed socialist experiment, an estimated 5,000 people a day are departing the country in Latin America’s largest migrant outflow in decades.

Venezuelan professionals are abandoning hospitals and universities to scrounge livings as street vendors in Peru and janitors in Ecuador. Here in Trinidad and Tobago — a petroleum-producing Caribbean nation off Venezuela’s northern coast — Venezuelan lawyers are working as day laborers and sex workers. A former well-to-do bureaucrat who once spent a summer eating traditional shark sandwiches and drinking whisky on Trinidad’s Maracas Bay is now working as a maid.

The U.N. refu­gee agency has called on nations to offer protection to the Venezuelans, as they did for millions of Syrians fleeing civil war. But in a part of the world with massive gaps in protection for refugees, Venezuelans fleeing starvation at home are often trading one harrowing plight for another. Trinidad, for instance, has no asylum laws for refugees, leaving thousands of desperate Venezuelans here at risk of detention, deportation, police abuse and worse.

Sometimes much worse.

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