Call Venezuela’s evil by name


Catholic Register, 21 January 2019

For several years now, Catholic refugee policy — articulated passionately and repeatedly by the Holy See and many national bishops’ conferences — has focused on the urgent secondary thing, rather than the most important primary thing.

The urgent, secondary thing is to receive refugees who are fleeing their homelands, to welcome the stranger, to comfort the wretched of the earth.

The important, primary thing is to prevent people from becoming refugees in the first place. It is mistaken to confuse what a refugee most needs with what he most wants. He needs, today, a refuge. He wants not to be in need of a refuge at all; he wants to remain in his homeland.

There are signs that that confusion is being addressed, at least by those on the ground.

“What we would like is more attention to addressing why people flee,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, the principal charitable arm of the American bishops. “There’s a range of reasons why people migrate from different parts of the world, but in summary: conflict, persecution, climate change and extreme poverty are the principal drivers that we see.”

That’s not exactly true. There are certainly people who seek to emigrate to escape poverty; it is not so evident that anyone does so because of climate change. But immigrants are not refugees; the former plan to move from one country to another, the latter leave their own country immediately, often with no definitive destination chosen.

Refugees are already on the move, often leaving behind most of their goods, because of a clear and urgent danger. They leave overnight because their lives are in danger, not because of chronic poverty. The best option, if possible, would be to work to remove that danger.

All of which brings us to the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. His brand of petro-communism, enforced with lethal violence, has pauperized an oil-rich country. For years there has been a critical shortage of food and medicine; people are starving, rummaging for food in the trash, unable to secure basic necessities for personal hygiene, including toilet paper.

Communism, or authoritarian socialism, or corrupt gangsterism, has produced an unimaginable flood of refugees — some three million refugees to date, with an expectation that, according to UN forecasts, the number will reach 5.4 million in 2019. That latter figure is one-sixth of the entire population of Venezuela, estimated at 32 million.

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