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At a virtual conference on the Cuban and Venezuelan diasporas sponsored by CADAL this past April, participants noted that Cubans and Venezuelans often have not received the same scholarly attention, or, and more importantly, the same political solidarity, that some other Latin American diasporas have.
Cuban emigrants have long constituted a special case, one now seen as a Cold War relic, that does not fit easily into trans-nationalist paradigms of human uprootal via global-capitalist (“neoliberal”) dynamics. The Cuban government has promoted a negative view of Cuban migrants, who tended, in the earliest waves, to be middle-class professionals fleeing the revolution. Cubans transformed the city of Miami and made innumerable contributions to the United States, but the negative home-state-diaspora relations and the ideological compartmentalization of them within Latin American studies both continue to the present day.
Like Cubans, Venezuelans constitute a diaspora produced by, to quote a Venezuelan academic in the seminar, “the other model,” the “socialist” one. The perception of Venezuelans’ social characteristics in the region has some parallels to the Cuban case. Although Venezuelans of all social classes and education levels have been displaced, on average members of the Venezuelan diaspora have more years of education than people in the countries that have received them.
There are more than a thousand NGOs in various host countries that are working to organize the Venezuelan diaspora. Its leaders are aware of the Cuban experience and are interacting with diaspora Cubans via events like the one CADAL sponsored in April. Can the knowledge gained from these interactions help Venezuelans?
The answer likely depends on the goal.
The first and most pressing question by some lights is whether analyzing the Cuban example will help Venezuelans solve the problem of an oppressive and authoritarian regime back home. In the short term, this picture looks grim: it is easier to see that the Cuban government is helping the Venezuelan state to ignore the diaspora. On several occasions Venezuelan officials have followed the Cuban playbook of criticizing those who left; even more often, the government simply avoids acknowledging their existence. Venezuelan organizations are collecting their own information about their diaspora which will be useful should opportunities to engage arise, however.
Second, will the Cuban example help improve access to immediate legal and humanitarian refuge? Here, we can observe the importance of historical timing. Prior to the mass exodus of Venezuelans, Venezuela was party to more and deeper regional integration agreements than was pre-revolutionary Cuba. As a result, previously existing freedom of travel regimes permitted many Venezuelans to enter Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Panama, and other Latin American countries. (The fact that Venezuelans can leave on foot is also relevant.) Colombia’s welcome decision in February 2021 to grant a 10-year protected status to Venezuelans was rooted in a history of reciprocal migration.
The Cuban example is more relevant to Venezuelans seeking refuge in the United States. Until 2017 the United States offered Cubans a special kind of assured political asylum that was denied to other Latin American diasporas, such as Salvadorans and Guatemalans, and therefore was perceived as unfair. In spite of his animosity toward the Maduro regime, US President Donald Trump never attempted to provide a similar status to Venezuelans. President Joe Biden, on the other hand, assigned Venezuelans a Temporary Protected Status, a remedy that has also been granted to people of various nationalities, including, currently, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians, in March of this year. Receiving similar treatment to other Latin American diasporas by US immigration and asylum policy may help Venezuelans avoid the resentment Cubans have faced.
A third concern is whether studying the Cuban case can help Venezuelans adapt to the communities that have received them. Certainly, the Cuban example in Florida would seem to inspire Venezuelans that can also achieve economic and political success. Cubans and Venezuelans also have things to teach their receiving communities about race relations, given the context of increasing awareness of and interest in racism in the United States particularly but also in some other countries across the hemisphere.
To conclude, the Venezuelan diaspora can learn from the Cuban, but the question should also be inverted. Sympathy for and cultural solidarity with the Venezuelans forced to leave their homes because of the disastrous policies of an authoritarian government has the potential to lead Latin Americans to rethink attitude towards the Cuban diaspora and toward the Cuban government.