Apr 23, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Every now and then, there is a news item that reminds us that we have many of our neighbours living here. But truth be told, nobody knows with any great degree of accuracy, how many Venezuelans are present. It would be fair to say that our officials have some idea of their numbers, but that could be more a matter of educated guesses, on the one hand, and outright speculation, on the other. But the higher the number of Venezuelans present in this country, the greater the concern and probability of problems in a wide array of areas.
It is believed that there are several tens of thousands of our hungry and hurting neighbours in Guyana. That could easily be somewhere north of 50,000, or not too much lesser. When numbers alone are considered, there has to be alarm and worry in official circles. Alarm and worry because the situation in Venezuela is grim, and when that is so, people look for any exit point. They flee with whatever they can carry in the hope of gaining relief, any kind of relief. This has been the history of man from time immemorial, where he is always on the move, when the pressures in his social environment build, the prospects are dimmest and there is no option left, but to hit the road, and to anywhere that will accept.
As much as Guyana and Guyanese are sympathetic (because they know of such travails) and want to lend a helping hand to those in need, we can only accommodate so many, absorb so much. So, when the talk and conclusion is of tens of thousands, the concerns intensify on many levels. At the government level, the issues are of social services, not abundant to begin with, that are stressed to beyond what can be borne. The housing sector currently only has space for so many, and with an emphasis on those who can pay for land and the construction of a home. That is a nonstarter for many of the Venezuelans who come here hoping to start over from the bottom, and without anything, but the clothes on their backs, and a few dollars, if even that.
Along the same lines, the Guyana job market, always tightly strapped by any measurement used, is unable to cope with local job needs, with unemployment largely believed to be in the double-digits percentage. This is a stark picture, which oil related employment demand could relieve to some extent, but not by much more, and only with the passage of time. There are several points embedded in this reality, especially as it relates to Venezuelans, and on which we now elaborate.
First, it is believed, and is the local experience, that a considerable number of the incoming Venezuelans are non-English speakers, and this is even at a basic, getting by level. That is a problem for job seekers, and entities with jobs to fill. Second, there are very few jobs left to offer to Venezuelans, should they speak English. Some local employers in the retail merchandising sector have taken a chance and pushed the envelope with a few Venezuelans, who are extremely limited in what they can do to assist inquiring customers. It goes without saying that such labour is much cheaper than that of regular job seeking Guyanese. Third, if incoming foreigners – be they Venezuelans or whomever – are unable to work and earn, then there are several things that are beyond their reach.
This includes housing and paying the rent. This would extend to putting food on the table and feeding themselves and their families, whether the latter is here or in Venezuela. In such circumstances, where the outlook is discouraging, and the reality worse, the alternatives are homelessness and crime, if only for the sake of survival. This is already happening in drips and drabs, and largely under the radar.
An early bird parishioner was robbed by a Venezuelan (immediately apprehended) outside a local place of worship in Central Georgetown. There are reports of Venezuelan “encampments” aka squatting areas on the East Bank Demerara, by the western riverside; and what is called ‘Venezuelan Scheme’ on the lower East Coast Demerara. There may be other enclaves around the near and far outskirts of Georgetown. Regarding the interior locations, it is anybody’s guess as the total number of Venezuelans present.
Venezuelans have helped us before in their good times and our bad ones. Our times are struggling to get to a good plateau, but we are still open to helping. The reality is that we can only welcome so many and do so much, given what we have right now. We can barely carry ourselves, which means that we would be unable to carry too many of them. And that is the bottom-line; no matter how we look at this.
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