In this Sept. 7, 2018, Sandra Cadiz and her 10-year-old daughter Angelis pose for a cell phone photo for a souvenir after they got permission to stay in Peru, in Tumbes.
( Ariana Cubillos
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. When we think of Latin American migration, we think of refugees trekking northward toward the U.S. border. But there was also heavy traffic in the other direction. Buffeted by economic collapse, crime, political repression and even starvation, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere. This week, for the first time, the United Nations included the Venezuelan crisis in its global humanitarian appeal, seeking aid for Latin American countries who have taken in Venezuelans. Indeed, as NPR's Spanish language podcast Radio Ambulante reported this week, some nations are straining under the burden and are growing uneasy with the newcomers. Lima based journalist, Diego Salazar, who reported the piece with his wife, reporter Lizzy Cantu, says, 'Peru had never been home to a lot of outsiders.'
DIEGO SALAZAR: Let me give you this number, in order for, you know, your audience to understand. Until 2016, all the foreigners in Peru where around a 100,000. People from every country. Actually, there were more Americans than Venezuelans in Peru back in those days. Now, we have 600,000 Venezuelans. So we have more than six times the amount of foreigners in the country.
BOB GARFIELD: And at first, Peru rose to the occasion.
DIEGO SALAZAR: The previous government, whose president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, said, 'please, Venezuelans come to our country.'
PEDRO PABLO KUCZYNSKI: Venezolanos, bienvenidos al Perú.
DIEGO SALAZAR: We're going to pay you fair salaries. We are happy to have you here.
DIEGO SALAZAR: And a new permit, which was called a temporary residence permit, PTP, allowed Venezuelans to spend a year in the country. They were allowed to work with that id. While they were trying to change their migration situation to regular migrant worker. And actually when the government approved the PTP, almost 60 percent of Peruvians agree with it.
BOB GARFIELD: You have someone in your story talking about how beautiful the reception was from the people in the streets in Lima. Hugs!
DIEGO SALAZAR: Yeah, we interviewed this young Venezuelan name Anamer, who is a journalist. She arrived to Lima in October 2017. And at first, they were completely surprised about how welcoming people were, about how everybody in the streets recognized their accent and asked, 'Oh you’re Venezuelans.’
ANAMER: ¡Tú eres venezolano! ¡Ay pobrecitos de ustedes que no sé qué…!
DIEGO SALAZAR: We're so glad you are here. Please welcome to our country.
BOB GARFIELD: These were fellow Latin Americans in extremis and Peru was going to offer them as much opportunity as it could.
DIEGO SALAZAR: I think there were three main reasons. The first one was because Venezuela received Peruvians back in the 70s and 80s and early 90s, were Peru was going through a terrible economic crisis. And also, we were facing the dangers of local terrorism. And a lot of Peruvians flew out of the country and some of them went to Venezuela. I think the second reason is, from the early 2000s, Venezuela was kind of scarecrow for Peruvian politicians. It was, you know, the far left country, the socialist country who was actually trying to intervene in Peruvian, and not only Peruvian, but all across the region politics. So, now Venezuela was in a deep crisis. Politicians are saying, 'look this is what happens when you go full socialist.' So Peruvians felt good about themselves. And the other reason, the third one, is Peru hasn't being a country who received a lot of migrants for a long time. We had migration in the early 20th century but since then, we've been a country of migrants. We were on the receiving end.
BOB GARFIELD: And then things changed–like--
DIEGO SALAZAR: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: --a lot.
DIEGO SALAZAR: In January and February, this year, I started to notice the way Peruvian media was covering Venezuelan migration was different. It was in anymore, you know, the celebration and the self congratulation about how good we were because we were helping our brothers. It was different. It was about the way Peruvians and Venezuelans were colliding. You even have stories about a video were Venezuelans were saying they didn't like this or that Peruvian food. And newspapers were making news out of them. So one day, I was just checking Twitter and I saw someone who posted this picture which said, 'Venezuelans, fuera el país.' 'Oh we don't want more Venezuelans in Peru. Peru is only for Peruvians,' or something like that.
BOB GARFIELD: Venezuelans had from being brothers to others. You are seeing the same patterns elsewhere?
DIEGO SALAZAR: Yeah, everywhere. Colombia is the country who has received the most Venezuelans. There are over a million Venezuelans in Colombia who has arrived in the last two years. The same is happening in Ecuador, Argentina and Chile and even Brasil. On a news show in Colombian television, there were these journalists, very early in the morning, were reporting about a robbery. And he said, 'well, you know, the door woman says they were Venezuelans and actually they raped her.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Mucha atención porque denuncian a varios Venezolanos que al parecer violaron a una mujer...
And a minute later, you have a police officer.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Tenían un acento Venezolano...
DIEGO SALAZAR: Saying exactly the same in front of the camera. Well one of the producers of Radio Ambulante has her office in that same building. So later that morning when she arrived to work, she went to see the door woman. And these lady said, 'I didn't say they were Venezuelans and they didn't rape me.' So it was just a regular crime scene. The police turned it into an opportunity to blame Venezuelans and media covered it and put it on national television.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, it's hard to imagine somebody saying, without evidence, that Venezuelans are rapists and murderers.
DIEGO SALAZAR: Exactly, who would say such a thing.
BOB GARFIELD: You've identified a number of tropes now, that Venezuelans are all criminals. Another that they're ungrateful. They reject our culture. Another is that they have special privileges. There's even something about stealing husbands.
DIEGO SALAZAR: Yeah. This has being going on not only in Peru but in Colombia and the other countries. People were complaining about how beautiful Venezuelan women were. So that was a crisis and infidelity. And actual government officials in Colombia said the infidelity was rising and was because there were so many Venezuelan and some of them were beautiful women.
BOB GARFIELD: Some of these countries have now tried to roll up the welcome mat to reverse their policies.
DIEGO SALAZAR: Right. What Peru, Chile and other countries are doing now, is asking for a passport to Venezuelans who wants to get into our countries. Until very recently, until October actually, Venezuelan didn't need a passport to get into our country. We were accepting their car because, to get a passport in Venezuela nowadays is impossible.
BOB GARFIELD: It's almost the equivalent of building a wall. Because you need so many dollars to get a passport.
DIEGO SALAZAR: There are some reports saying that you will pay it about a $1,000 in the black market in Venezuela, in order to get a passport. And a thousand dollars, no one has seen that amount of money in a long time.
BOB GARFIELD: The story that Radio Ambulate tells is a very familiar one. We see it playing out in Europe as well, where the Syrian refugees, at first, were welcomed and then regarded as a scourge. And created a big right wing backlash that is growing and growing and growing.
DIEGO SALAZAR: Unfortunately, this is just the Latin American version of what we've seen first in the states also in Europe, all across the world. The things that make those stories very similar is how quickly everything changes. I was a migrant myself. I lived in Spain for 10 years and I was very lucky because I had a good job. I was a writer, I was a journalist. I was part of a community of people who were more tolerant or curious about me and my country. But I also saw the way people in Spain treated other kinds of migrants from other countries.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, you've seen this movie before.
DIEGO SALAZAR: Exactly. But you know, to be an optimist in a way, at some point, that's an opportunity too. That's opportunity for media and for politicians to do it better the next time. Governments should be more careful the way they deal with it. And the media of course have to be more careful with the information they amplify.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Diego, thank you very, very much.
DIEGO SALAZAR: It was my pleasure Bob. Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Diego Salazar is a journalist based, right now, in Lima, Peru. He's also the author of We've Learned Nothingwhich is a book and a journalism blog. Diego is featured in the latest episode of the Spanish language podcast Radio Ambulante on the migration issue. And you can find it wherever you get your podcasts.