Extreme poverty among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia? Exploring media perspectives

Master's Thesis, 2020

123 Pages, Grade: B







List of tables

List of figures

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Motivation to conduct this research report
1.3 Purpose of the Research Report
1.4 Research question Sub-questions
1.5 Definition of Concepts
1.5.1 Refugee
1.5.2 Poverty
1.5.3 Media & Media Analysis
1.6 Research Report Outline

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Summary of the history of Venezuela
2.3 The Political crisis in Venezuela
2.4 The economic crisis in Venezuela
2.5 The public health crisis in Venezuela
2.6 Summary

3.1 Introduction
3.2 What is Poverty?
3.3 Poverty faced by refugees globally
3.4 Media representations of refugees
3.5 Conclusion

4. 1 Introduction
4.2 Methodology
4.3 Secondary data collection method
4.4 Sampling
4.5 Qualitative media analysis
4.6 Ethical considerations
4.7 Conclusion

5.1 Introduction
5.2 Theme 1: The poverty of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia
5.3 Theme 2: Factors impacting the living conditions of Venezuelans in Colombia
5.4 Theme 3: The assistance provided by Colombia to Venezuelan refugees
5.5 Conclusion

6.1 Introduction
6.2 Theme 1: The poverty of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia
6.3 Theme 2: Factors impacting the living conditions of Venezuelans in Colombia
6.4 Theme 3: The assistance provided by Colombia to Venezuelan refugees
6.5 Conclusion

7.1 Introduction
7.2 Answering the research questions
7.2.1 Sub-question 1: How does the media describe the level of poverty found among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia?
7.2.2 Sub-question 2: What factors affect the living conditions of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia?
7.2.3 Sub-question 3: How are the media representing Colombian assistance to Venezuelan refugees to reduce their poverty?
7.2.4 Research Question: What does the media report about the poverty of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia?
7.3 Research Limitations
7.4 Recommendation for future research



This research report focuses on exploring how the media describes the level of poverty among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia.

Very little research has been conducted on the poverty experienced by Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. Thus, the purpose of this research is to explore how the media (newspapers) describe the level of poverty and living conditions of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. This study also aims to explore what the media report about the support given by Colombia to Venezuelan refugees. Furthermore, the research report investigates how the media describe the socio-economic situation of the Venezuelan refugees in Colombia and how poverty impacts their living conditions.

The methodological approach employed to conduct this research report is a qualitative media analysis. The study did not collect primary data produced by interviews, focus groups or surveys. Rather, this research is based entirely on the exploration and analysis of other investigations and reports that have been conducted about Venezuelan refugees including 20 articles from online newspapers from seven countries, written in three languages, Spanish, English and Portuguese. This with the objective of having a more global vision on the media's perspective on the level of poverty of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia.

The media analysed in this research report suggest that according to the media newly arrived Venezuelan refugees in Colombia face extreme poverty. But the media also suggest that over time these people can improve their living conditions. However, in the process of adaptation in Colombia, these refugees face the economic poverty of Colombia, unemployment, discrimination, health problems and violence experienced by Colombia for 60 years. The media describe these issues as factors that impact the living conditions of these people in Colombia.


First of all, I want to express my gratefulness to the heavenly God who gave me strength and health to carry out this research project.

Secondly, I would like to thank Dr Sharon McLennan and Dr Sharon Bell, my supervisors for all their support them gave me during the entire duration of the execution of this research project. Also, for all valuable time, they spent checking my writings and giving me valuable advice.

Likewise, I would like to thank Professor Dr Regina Scheyvens, for her support and guidance. I also thank Dr Maria Borovnik, Dr Helen Leslie, Dr Gerard Prinsen and Dr Rochelle Stewart-Withers, for all the valuable information they transmitted to me and taught in their respective classes during my studies in this master's programme.

I would also like to express my gratitude to Massey University and especially to the School of People, Environment and Planning for accepting me in the Master of International Development programme.


I want to dedicate this research to all Venezuelan refugees in the world. But also, I dedicate this research to all Venezuelans who are in their country suffering from the humanitarian crisis of Venezuela. I hope that very soon the situation of this beautiful country improves and all Venezuelans in exile can return home.

List of tables

Table 2: The 20 selected online newspapers

Table 3. Additional information about the selected newspapers reports

List of figures

Figure 1. Venezuelans in Colombia walking the route from Cúcuta to Bucaramanga. (The New York Times, 2019)

Figure 2. Poor houses inhabited by Venezuelans in Colombia (El Espectador, 2019)

Figure 3. Venezuelans living in overcrowded accommodation in Colombia (El Heraldo, 2017)

Figure 4. A Venezuelan sells medicine in Colombia (The New York Times, 2019)

Figure 5. Venezuelans emigrate to give birth in Colombia (Once News, 2017)

Figure 6. Venezuelans making a line for a plate of food in Cúcuta (EFE)


1.1 Introduction

This research report explores how the media describe the level of poverty among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. It is estimated that by June 2019, more than four million Venezuelans had fled their country in search of a better quality of life (UNHCR, 2019a). This massive exodus of Venezuelans, is due to the political and economic crisis Venezuela faces since Nicolas Maduro came to power in 2013 (Ordóñez & Ramírez-Arcos, 2019; John, 2019; La Nación, 2017; BBC News, 2015). Most Latin American countries affirm that the policies of past president Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro have plunged Venezuela into an economic and humanitarian crisis, made worse by US American sanctions (Kurmanaev, 2019). Venezuela has become a country where there is not enough food and medicine (Doocy, Ververs, Spiegel, & Beyrer, 2019; Espinosa & Mirinaviciute, 2019; Page, et al., 2019). For this reason, thousands of Venezuelans left their country daily to meet their basic needs in other countries. Colombia is the country that receives the largest number of Venezuelan migrants. UNHCR (2019b) estimated Colombia in 2019 hosted almost one and a half million Venezuelan refugees (UNHCR (2019b). According to many media reports, the majority of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia live in extreme poverty, even claiming many Venezuelan refugees had to sleep in the streets because they did not have a home to live in (Gonzalez Morales, 2017).

1.2 Motivation to conduct this research report

This research topic is particularly important to me because as a Colombian, during all my life in Colombia, I experienced the consequences of the war that my country was facing1. When I lived in Colombia, I saw how a lot of people were killed every day, I could also see how others fled their homes, so as not to be killed by armed groups. Thus, due to the Colombian armed conflict, many Colombians fled from Colombia to neighbouring countries. Venezuela and Ecuador were the countries where Colombians went most in search of international protection. I never imagined that I would also have to flee my country to save my life, I used to think that it was enough to have a neutral attitude to keep safe. However, it is not always the case. Therefore, I had to flee to Ecuador in 2007 for safety.

In Ecuador, I lived for 14 months as an urban refugee.1 An urban refugee is a refugee who lives in the city and not in refugee camps. In fact, in Ecuador, there are no refugee camps, refugees in that country live throughout the national territory. During my life as a refugee in Ecuador, I experienced extreme poverty, for example, not having a place to live, having nothing to eat and lacking a job. Later in 2008, I was resettled in New Zealand where I have been living since then. In this country, I continue facing poverty but not at the level experienced by me in Ecuador.

After having been away from my country for more than 11 years, in 2018 I visited my country and I was very surprised to see Venezuelan refugees in extreme poverty, even in worse conditions than those I had experienced in Ecuador. In Colombia, I saw many Venezuelan refugees sleeping in the streets, sidewalks, and public parks. I had never seen anything like that in my life. Many of them were begging for food and money in the streets, while others were selling all kinds of products to survive. I had several informal conversations with many of them and they told me about the bad things they were experiencing in Colombia. For instance, they said that even sleeping in the streets, they were so much better than in their country. According to them, in Colombia they could feed themselves and their families, while in Venezuela they had large and beautiful houses but faced lack of food. Markedly, these people preferred to sleep in the streets of Colombia and feed themselves than been in their homes in Venezuela with an empty stomach.

This situation of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia motivated me to carry out this research on how the media represent the level of poverty of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. In order to better understand what I saw and experienced when talking to many of these Venezuelan refugees in my country of origin, Colombia and how this was being presented to the world through the media. Thus, my purpose in conducting this research is not to investigate the causes of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and who are responsible for this crisis. Instead, my objective is simply to explore how the media describes the poverty faced by Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. I think that to describe the causes and who are responsible for the crisis in Venezuela, I would need to do another research on that particular issue.

1.3 Purpose of the Research Report

The purpose of this research is to explore how the media (newspapers) describe the level of poverty and living conditions of Venezuelan refugee in Colombia. Also, this study aims to explore what the media report about the support given by Colombia to Venezuelan refugees. Furthermore, the research report investigates how the media describe the socio-economic situation of the Venezuelan refugees in Colombia and how poverty, impacts their living conditions. In addition, to analyse the media representations of Venezuelan refugee poverty within the Colombian context.

1.4 Research question

What does the media report about the poverty of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia?


1-How does the media describe the level of poverty found among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia?
2- According to the media (Newspapers) what factors affect the living conditions of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia?
3- How is the media representing Colombian assistance to Venezuelan refugees?

1.5 Definition of Concepts

This report constantly employs the following operational terms: Refugee, poverty and media, which are defined here.

1.5.1 Refugee

According to the Article I of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, a refugee is:

A person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (p. 14)

Likewise, Article III (3) of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees declares:

[...] the refugee definition or concept of a refugee to be recommended for use in the region is one which, in addition to containing the elements of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, includes among refugee’s persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression. (p. 6)

Truly, the situation of many Venezuelans who fled from Venezuela and currently live abroad, fits very well with the descriptions previously mentioned about who is a refugee (United Nations General Assembly, 1951). However, we must recognize that not every Venezuelan who flee from his/her country, does so, due to political persecution. The vast majority of them flee their country for lack of food and medicine (Nacional, 2017; Politico, 2017; Nacional, 2018; García, 2018; Elcomercio, 2018). In other words, they have to flee Venezuela to avoid starvation (Ordóñez & Ramírez-Arcos, 2019; John, 2019). Because the economic crisis is what forced these people to flee their country and not necessarily political persecution, most Venezuelans fleeing their country can be classified as economic migrants. (Ordóñez & Ramírez-Arcos, 2019; John, 2019). However, Venezuelans fleeing their country due to lack of food and medicine should not necessarily be considered as common economic migrants, but they are not refugees in the full sense neither; thus, it could be said that the majority of Venezuelans fleeing their country become humanitarian refugees. They are people who need international help to survive. So, I use the expression “Venezuelan refugees” in this investigation because they are people who take economic refuge in Colombia and need humanitarian assistance.

1.5.2 Poverty

According to Cornwall (2007), poverty is a term commonly employed in the development field. From the economic and political point of view, poverty has to do with the lack of sufficient economic resources to enjoy a decent life. Therefore, the World Bank (2016) states that more than 700 million people living on less than two dollars a day experience extreme poverty. Low income does not allow these people to eat properly, they also lack clean water and sanitation. In other words, poverty is generally synonymous with lack of the most basic things to live, such as food, water, housing, employment, health services, education and recreation.

In general, refugees fleeing their home countries to save their lives face extreme poverty in the country of asylum. Many of them have to live in refugee camps2 (Kohn, 2016; Agier, 2012; Banjong, et al., 2003; Berbic, 2016; Schechter, 2004; Darychuk & Jackson, 2015). Living conditions in refugee camps are extremely difficult (Kohn, 2016; Agier, 2012; Banjong, et al., 2003; Berbic, 2016; Schechter, 2004; Darychuk & Jackson, 2015). In these camps, refugees lack sufficient water and food to allow them to enjoy good health (Sigismondi, 2011). Hence, it could be said that the refugees living in these camps are some of the poorest people in the world. In the review of the literature, in the next chapter, a more detailed definition of the theoretical concept of poverty is presented.

1.5.3 Media & Media Analysis

The media are channels and instruments to inform and communicate to the current society about events that occur. Currently, people access these means to keep informed of all kinds of events that may be: political, social, economic, national, international, or local. There are different types of media which are: Printed and online newspapers, newspaper magazines, radio, TV, social media news, blogs among others. For this particular investigation, online newspapers have been used to perform a media analysis, according to Altheide (2000), media analysis is "qualitative document analysis similar to all qualitative methodology in that the main emphasis is on discovery and description, including search for underlying meanings, patterns, and processes, rather than mere quantity or numerical relationships between two or more variables" (p. 290). In the same way, Altheide and Schneider (2013), argue that qualitative media analysis and qualitative document analysis are the same, both are mainly used to conduct qualitative research using the same or similar analysis methods such as discourse analysis, content analysis, thematic analysis and narrative analysis. This will be discussed further in the methodology chapter.

1.6 Research Report Outline

This research report is composed of seven chapters: (1) Overview, (2) Background context, (3) Literature review, (4) Research report design (5) Research report findings, 6) Discussion and analysis, and (7) Conclusion. Below a brief overview of each chapter is given.

This chapter one provides a brief introduction to the study, research objective and benefits. Also, it defines the key operational terms, presents the research questions and displays an outline of the content of each chapter. Chapter two explains the causes that force Venezuelan refugees to leave their country of origin and how this situation has affected their life even in Colombia. Chapter three reviews the relevant literature about the theoretical concept of poverty. In addition, this section includes literature on media representations of poverty and refugees worldwide.

Chapter four presents the methodology and methods used in the conduction of this study, which includes the methodological approach, design and analysis method. Chapter five presents the findings of the study in three emergent themes which are: (1) Poverty of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, (2) Factors impacting the living conditions of Venezuelans in Colombia and (3) The assistance provided by Colombia to Venezuelan refugees. The findings of this chapter are based on 20 selected online newspapers from the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. Chapter six analyses and discuss the emergent themes presented in the findings chapter in accordance with the relevant literature reviewed in chapter three. Chapter seven summarises the conclusions of the research. Additionally, it discloses the research’s limitations, thoughts and recommendations for future research.


2.1 Introduction

This chapter describes the causes that force Venezuelan refugees to leave their country of origin and how this situation affects their living condition in Venezuela and Colombia. Firstly, the chapter presents a summary of the history of Venezuela and also describe the political, economic and health crisis in Venezuela.

2.2 Summary of the history of Venezuela

In 1498 Christopher Columbus took his third trip to the new world and arrived in the territory known today as Venezuela (Bastin, 1996). In this way, began the conquest of the Spanish empire in South America. Later, around the year 1500, the Spaniards had an important and growing community in Venezuela (Bastin, 1996). By 1717 King Felipe V of Spain decided to unite Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and Guyana in a single country, which was called the Viceroyalty of New Granada, whose capital was Bogotá, Colombia (Bastin, 1996). Subsequently, between 1810 and 1830 the territories that composed the Viceroyalty of New Granada achieved their independence from the Spanish empire and established their own sovereignty (Bastin, 1996). In 1830, Venezuela obtained its complete freedom as an independent country. However, this period of time began an era in which the country was ruled by a series of military dictators known as caudillos. General José Antonio Páez, was the first of these leaders, governing from 1829-1835 and from 1839-1843 (Bastin, 1996; Bello, 2012; Plaza, 2001).

During the first half of the twentieth century, Venezuela was ruled by five military rulers. One of these military rulers was General Juan Vicente Gómez, who ruled Venezuela for three periods from 1908-1913, 1922-1929 and from 1931 to 1935 (Plaza, 2001, Bello, 2012). In the 1910s, large oil fields were discovered in Venezuela and this helped strengthen the government of Gómez economically. Later, in the 1920s Venezuela became the largest oil exporter in the world. As a result, the Gómez government paid Venezuela's foreign debt and the country was strengthened economically (Plaza, 2001, Bello, 2012). However, the wealth obtained from oil was not used to remove the vast majority of citizens from poverty. The rapid money that came from the international sale of oil caused Venezuelans to neglect agriculture and the manufacture of other types of products. For Venezuela, it was much easier to import many products from abroad than to produce them in their territory (Plaza, 2001, Bello, 2012). As a result, while this system was successful for a while, it became detrimental for the country's economy. This system adopted by Venezuela to depend almost entirely on the sale of oil has remained in force to date. For example, Bajpai (2018: 6) affirms:

Although Venezuela is a major crude oil exporter, it is dependent on imports for almost everything else. Thus, dollars earned on oil exports are precious as they are used to pay the import bill. The government has been issuing its petrodollars at artificially maintained subsidized rates, and this “subsidy” on dollars has given rise to economic and social problems because the benefits are not being felt by the common man. The Venezuelan exchange rate system offers different rates to different people depending on the purpose. While it might be passable to give a preferred rate for essential imports, problems arise when the preferred rates are accessible only by the influential.

Later, from 1969 to 1999 five presidents ruled Venezuela, they were: 1) Rafael Caldera from 1969 to 1974 and again from 1994 to 1999. 2) Carlos Andrés Pérez from 1974 to 1979 and again from 1989 to 1993. 3) Luis Herrera Campins from 1979 to 1984. 4) Jaime Lusinchi from 1984 to 1989. 5) Ramón José Velásquez from 1993 to 1994 (Plaza, 2001, Bello, 2012). During the governments of Rafael Caldera and Carlos Andrés Pérez (1969-1979), the continuous flow of money from oil went into the coffers of the country maintaining a solid economy in Venezuela (Plaza, 2001, Bello, 2012). These two Venezuelan governments benefited from the oil bonanza. Therefore, not only was the production and exportation of oil increased but also the price of oil more than quadrupled after the Arab-Israeli war in 1973. However, for the 1980s, oil profits declined, sharpening unemployment and inflation and forcing the country once again to acquire external debt (Plaza, 2001, Bello, 2012). The fall in oil prices in 1988 cut government revenues in half, doubting Venezuela's ability to pay its debt. For the 1990s, political corruption and bankruptcies turned the economic situation of Venezuela even further. As a result, unemployment, poverty and violence skyrocketed in Venezuela (Plaza, 2001).

From 1999 to 2013 Hugo Chavez became the president of Venezuela.2 Chavez started a social revolution where priority was given to empowering vulnerable classes. With these social policies, public spending was increased to help marginalized people (Plaza, 2001, Bello, 2012). As a result, absolute poverty was reduced in Venezuela and thousands of jobs were created. Many social aids were also offered in education, health and housing. In addition, the government took control of many private companies. However, with the fall in oil prices and the excess in public spending, inflation rates in Venezuela increased. All this contributed to the economic decline of Venezuela (Bajpai, 2018). Later, when Nicolas Maduro assumed the presidency of Venezuela in 2013, he followed the economic model of Chavez and this added to the economic sanctions imposed by the United States has ended up sinking Venezuela into extreme poverty (The World Bank Group, 2017).

2.3 The Political crisis in Venezuela

According to the UNHCR (2019a), by June 2019 more than four million Venezuelans had fled from Venezuela in search of better living conditions abroad. The mass migration of Venezuelans has become a common practice since Mr Nicolas Maduro was elected President of Venezuela on 1st April 2013 (BBC News, 2015; La Nación, 2017). According to Selee, Bolter, Muñoz-Pogossian, and Hazán, (2019), Maduro has implemented a dictatorship in the country and the human rights of the population in Venezuela are constantly violated (BBC 2019a; BBC, 2019b; United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2017; Human Rights Watch, 2019; Selee et al., 2019; Semana, 2016; Rojas, 2019; BBC, 2019a; BBc, 2019b). In fact, people frequently face political and social persecution in Venezuela by the Maduro regime (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2017; Human Rights Watch, 2019; Selee et al., 2019; Semana, 2016; Rojas, 2019).

To investigate the political crisis facing Venezuela, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, visited Venezuela between June 19th and 21st 2019 (BBC, 2019a; BBC, 2019b). During her visit, the High Commissioner for Human Rights interviewed more than 558 people, all victims of physical abuse and mistreatment by the government of Nicolas Maduro (BBC, 2019a). In her report on her visit to Venezuela, Bachelet states that the government of Nicolas Maduro commits extrajudicial executions for social control (BBC, 2019b). In addition, Bachelet accused the Venezuelan government of making arbitrary arrests and torture against members of the opposition (BBC, 2019a; BBC, 2019b). According to Bachelet, it is clear that in Venezuela human rights are violated (BBC, 2019a; BBC, 2019b). Likewise, in a report for El Mundo, Lozano (2017) argues that in Venezuela many people considered opponents to the regime, were killed by the police and the army since Maduro came to power in April 2013 until the end of 2017. In the same way, Lozano and Santander (2018), affirm that at the end of 2018, Venezuela was catalogued by the international community, as the country with the most violent deaths in the world with 23,047 murders, and a rate of 81.4 percent per every 100,000 inhabitants.

On May 1, 2017, President Nicolas Maduro announced the convening of a Constituent Assembly in Venezuela, with the aim of renewing the Political Constitution of the country of 1999 that was promoted by the late President Hugo Chávez (Telesur, 2017; Linares, 2017; Sulbarán, 2017). According to Maduro, the country's new Political Constitution would be an improvement of the revolutionary plan of Hugo Chávez, who ruled between 1999 and 2013 (Telesur, 2017; Linares, 2017; Sulbarán, 2017). Maduro also affirmed that on this occasion, members of the Constituent Assembly would be elected from the community, countryside and labour; regardless these members were academically prepared or no, the main purpose was to exclude wealthy people (Telesur, 2017; Linares, 2017; Sulbarán, 2017). The announcement by Maduro created discomfort between the members of the opposition and many countries (Sulbarán, 2017). For this reason, the members of the Venezuelan opposition called on the people to disobey the call to the National Constituent Assembly of Nicolás Maduro and to denounce this as a constitutional fraud (Linares, 2017; Sulbarán, 2017). As of this moment, the political crisis in Venezuela worsened. Thousands of people marched through the streets of Venezuela for days rejecting the implementation of the call to the National Constituent Assembly of Nicolás Maduro (Sulbarán, 2017; Linares, 2017). However, on 30 July 2017, elections were held to choose the 545 constituents that would make up the National Constituent Assembly (Meza, 2017). Finally, on 4th August this National Constituent Assembly was formally installed, which is responsible for drafting a new Constitution for Venezuela, assuming plenipotentiary powers over the other public powers of the state (Meza, 2017).

On the other hand, on 20 May 2018, Nicolas Maduro was re-elected for the second time as president of Venezuela for an additional period of six years (Elmundo, 2018). However, the Venezuelan opposition and approximately 51 countries, members of the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU), and the Lima Group do not recognize the re-election of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela (Bello & Rodríguez, 2019; Elmundo, 2018). These countries disagree with Maduro's election and affirm that the electoral elections of 20 May 2018, were illegal, lacked minimum guarantees and did not respect the international norms of electoral processes (Bello & Rodríguez, 2019; Elmundo, 2018). Thus, for these 51 countries, Nicolas Maduro is not legally the president of Venezuela (Bello & Rodríguez, 2019; Elmundo, 2018). Likewise, the Venezuelan parliament or the National Assembly and which is mainly composed of the opposition does not recognize Nicolas Maduro as president (Bello & Rodríguez, 2019; Elmundo, 2018). As a result, the Venezuelan National Assembly decided to assume the powers of the Executive branch on 22 January 2019 (Bello & Rodríguez, 2019). A day later, its president, Juan Guaidó, was sworn in as interim president of Venezuela (Andino, 2019; Bello & Rodríguez, 2019). The foregoing shows that currently, Venezuela has two presidents, Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaidó. The latter has the support of most Latin American countries, the United States Canada, UK and other countries, while Maduro has the support of countries such as China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Mexico, Bolivia, and some others (Andino, 2019; Bello & Rodríguez, 2019). Without a doubt, the political conflict in Venezuela has created a division between many countries and the Venezuelan population.

2.4 The economic crisis in Venezuela

The World Bank Group (2017), states that the government of Nicolas Maduro has submerged Venezuela in the worst economic crisis in the history of the country. The World Bank (2017), also describes another issue that has contributed to poverty in Venezuela:

Nevertheless, the collapse in international oil prices, along with inadequate macro and microeconomic policies, have significantly affected Venezuela’s economic and social performance. The country’s reliance on the hydrocarbon sector has sharply increased (oil now accounts for 96 per cent of exports). Also, during the economic boom, Venezuela did not accumulate savings to mitigate a reversal in terms of trade or to cushion the necessary macroeconomic adjustment. In the short and medium term, Venezuela faces major financing needs, with a fiscal deficit estimated at 20 per cent of GDP at the end of 2015, and external financing needs to be estimated at between US$25 billion and US$35 billion. Access to external financing is restricted and the public deficit has been largely monetized. This source of financing, price controls, limitations on access to foreign currency, and the collapse of the private sector in the provision of basic goods, have cumulatively led to one of the world’s highest inflation rates. (para. 2, 3)

Furthermore, the regime of Nicolas Maduro is accused of corruption (Martinez, 2018). Maduro is also accused of illegally selling the gold and other riches of the country to the allied countries (Martinez, 2018). All this situation has contributed to the economic crisis in the country. In fact, according to Portafolio (2019), in January 2019 Inflation in Venezuela reached 2,688,000% in the last 12 months. Portafolio (2019) added: "the hyperinflation suffered by Venezuela took a new leap last January when prices rose by 3.5% each day and closed the month with an increase of 191.6%" (para.1).

The economic crisis in Venezuela has contributed to its poverty. For example, Vinogradoff (2016) claimed that in 2017 Venezuela was the poorest country in all America. Due to the lack of food in Venezuela, more than nine million Venezuelans eat only once a day (Nacional, 2017; Politico, 2017). Others have to spend many hours making lines to buy bread (Nacional, 2018). Supermarkets lack many basic products and their shelves are practically empty (García, 2018; Elcomercio, 2018). Consequently, a report by El Universo (2018), affirms that during 2017 most Venezuelans lost 24 pounds on average as a result of their extreme poverty and hunger. Surprisingly, the media have shown some Venezuelans eating from garbage or simply looking for something to eat in the trash (Troma, 2019; CNN, 2019; Valderrama, 2019; Lorenzo, 2018). According to Lopez (2018), "poverty in Venezuela is clearly reflected in the following aspects: hunger, deficient health service, economic inflation, violence and exodus of Venezuelans" (p. 3). Also, Kurmanaev (2019) argues that Venezuela is experiencing the worst economic crisis for a country without a war. In addition, Kurmanaev (2019) says:

“It’s really hard to think of a human tragedy of this scale outside civil war,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “This will be a touchstone of disastrous policies for decades to come.” (para. 3)

Moreover, recently, the Trump administration has imposed harsh economic sanctions on Venezuela, which have increased the country's economic crisis; these sanctions consist on freezing all the assets of the Venezuelan government in the United States and allow the Treasury Department to sanction any person, company or entity that helps the Nicolás Maduro regime. Under these circumstances, Venezuela was placed on the group of non-pleasant countries for the United States along with North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba (Armario, 2019). In general, all these problems contributed to the worst economic and health crisis in Venezuela’s history (Fraser & Willer, 2016; Fraser, 2017; John, 2019; Page et al., 2019).

2.5 The public health crisis in Venezuela

The economic crisis in Venezuela has also contributed to a public health emergency (Fraser & Willer, 2016; Fraser, 2017; Page et al., 2019). For instance, Egui-Brito (2016:1) affirms that in Venezuela many “hospitals with pediatric services, there is no milk formula for new-borns”. Likewise, Fraser and Willer (2016: 1) affirm that several groups of researchers found that "in 86 hospitals in 38 cities of Venezuela medicines were scarce in 76%, up from 55% in 2014, while 81% reported a lack of medical and surgical materials, up from 57% 2 years ago". According to Fraser and Willer (2016) and Egui-Brito (2016), hospitals in Venezuela lack availability of beds, medical supplies, medicines, and resources. However, the lack of medicines and access to vaccines in Venezuela are not the only problem that has contributed to the health crisis, also that the mass exodus of health professionals have devastated the country's hospitals (Egui-Brito, 2016). For this reason, it is common to see how many patients die every day in Venezuela due to lack of medicines, medical personnel, and hospital's inoperative services. Therefore, Fraser, (2017) and Page et al (2019) state that Venezuela is facing the biggest health crisis in its history. It is also for this reason that many ill people in Venezuela have travelled to Colombia in search of medical attention (Caracol-Radio, 2019; Hazbún, 2019; Calle, 2019).

2.6 Summary

The political, economic and health crisis in Venezuela already described, has resulted in the largest migration in the history of Venezuela (Selee, Bolter, Muñoz-Pogossian, & Hazán, 2019). According to the UNHCR in Colombia’s streets, there are about 1,400,000 Venezuelan refugees who have fled Maduro’s regime and the difficult living conditions in Venezuela. As a matter of fact, more than 768,000 Venezuelans are living in Peru currently. Another 288,000 live in Chile. Ecuador has received more than 263,000 Venezuelans. Argentina has more than 130,000 Venezuelan refugees living in its territory. Brazil currently hosts more than 168,000 (UNHCR, 2019a; UNHCR, 2019b). Further, thousands of Venezuelans are found in many other countries of America and the world (UNHCR, 2019a; UNHCR, 2019b). Nevertheless, Colombia is the country that has the most Venezuelan refugees living in its territory. This massive migration of Venezuelan refugees to Colombia has created economic and social problems in Colombia; because Colombia is a developing country unable to provide an optimum quality of life for its own citizens, much less has the resources to help the Venezuelan refugees (Gonzalez Morales, 2017). For that reason, the media has reported that the vast majority of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia live in extreme poverty, hundreds of them even live in the streets (Gonzalez Morales, 2017). Further, there are claims that the arrival of thousands of Venezuelans with diseases has generated a health crisis in Colombia (Chica-Garcia, 2018). Generally, the media affirms that Venezuelan refugees are living in extreme poverty in Venezuela and Colombia. These claims will be explored in this research.


3.1 Introduction

To date, there have been no studies published on the poverty experienced by Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. However, in the media, there are numerous reports describing the socio-economic situation of these people in Colombia (Arevalo, 2019; Prada, 2019; Semana, 2019; Trotta, 2019; Telesur, 2019; Lozano, 2019; Bracho, 2019; Gonalez Morales, 2017). Therefore, the review of the literature about Venezuelan refugees in Colombia has identified a significant gap, in describing the poverty they faced in Colombia. However, in order to examine the poverty of refugees, it is important to first understand how poverty is understood academically, and what research has been done in relation to poverty and refugees globally. Thus, this review first presents a brief description of the theoretical concept of poverty. Secondly, it describes the poverty faced by refugees globally in the light of literature. And thirdly, this literature review explains how the media tend to portray refugees.

3.2 What is Poverty?

The term poverty is widely used in the jargon (buzzword) of the development sector (Cornwall, 2007). However, Zoomers (2008) and Prada (2019) argue that poverty is a multidimensional concept that has different interpretations. For this reason, it is common to find both economic and more qualitative definitions used to explain the concept of poverty. From an economic point of view, poverty is usually defined as the lack of goods and necessary services to meet the basic needs of a person (Peet & Hartwick, 2015). Different models or economic systems agree with this definition and argue that economic growth is the solution to combat poverty (Peet & Hartwick, 2015). Among these economic systems, we find the classical and neoclassical economic theories promoted by smith, Ricardo, Comte, List and Mill from 1776 to 1920s (Peet & Hartwick, 2015). Likewise, all other economic systems from the Keynesian (1930s-1970s) economics model to neoliberalism and post-neoliberalism systems argument that poverty is the lack of economic resources (Peet & Hartwick, 2015).

The World Bank (2016), affirms that more than 767 million people in the world live in extreme poverty; these poor people survive with an average income of less than $ 1.90 dollars a day, falling below the poverty line (Agudo, 2018; United Nations Development Programme, 2018; White, 2014). Economic poverty deprives the person who faces it, from being able to access basic products to live with dignity (Shedlin, et al., 2016). Due to economy poverty, many people suffer from hunger and health problems (Shedlin, et al., 2016). For this reason, the United Nations and many NGOs work worldwide to combat economic poverty (UN General Assembly, 2015). The United Nations also uses economic indicators alongside other measures of poverty to create the Human Development Index (HDI) is a compisute indicator used to measure the level of poverty of countries (UN General Assembly, 2015). "The HDI is a composite of GDP per capita, life expectancy and a measure of educational attainment (which is an average of literacy and average enrolment rate for primary, secondary and tertiary education). However, just as per capita income does not take into account wealth distribution neither does the HDI" (White, 2014, p. 61).

According to Asselin (2009), “poverty consists in any form of inequity, which is a source of social exclusion, in the distribution of the living conditions essential to human dignity" (p. 3). Asselin also (2009) argues that in order to live in dignity a person must be able to satisfy 10 basic aspects of life, which are (1) income, (2) education, (3) health, (4) food and nutrition, (5) clean water and sanitation, (6) work and employment, (7) housing and living environment, (8) access to productive assets, (9) access to markets, and (10) community participation and social peace (p. 3). The concept of poverty described by Asselin (2009) shows that this concept covers many facets and has multiple dimensions. However, it can be seen that the approach of Asselin (2009) on a dignified life is based mainly on the satisfaction of material and objective things. Therefore, in that sense, Asselin (2009) suggests that a person is considered poor if he/she lacks the 10 aspects described above.

Townsend's point of view (2010) is in harmony with what was stated by Asselin (2009). For example, Townsend (2010), shows that a person is considered poor when she/he does not have enough resources to eat properly. Moreover, Townsend (2010), suggests that a poor person is one who does not have sufficient money to cover their most basic needs such as food, housing, health, and education.

White (2014), identifies different concepts and grades of poverty including absolute, relative, temporary and permanent. Thus, according to White (2014), "absolute poverty is measured against some benchmark, such as the cost of getting enough food to eat or being able to write your own name for literacy" (p. 60). In other words, White (2014) suggests that a person lives in absolute poverty when she/he lacks all kinds of academic education and does not have the economic resources to eat with dignity. Furthermore, White, (2014) points out that "relative poverty is measured against societal standards; in developing countries, the basket of essentials comprises food and a few items of clothing, whereas in developed countries it includes Christmas presents and going out once a month" (p. 61). In this way, White (2014) now suggests that a person lives in relative poverty when she/he has the basic items to live. Additionally, White (2014) presents the differences between people living in temporary and permanently poverty:

The distinction between the temporary and permanently poor is linked to the notion of vulnerability. The vulnerable are those at risk of falling into poverty. If there are poverty traps- such that once someone falls into poverty, they cannot get out again- then there is a good case for anti-poverty interventions to prevent this happening (p. 61).

Therefore, it could be argued that the description of a dignified life presented by Asselin (2009) is incomplete. In this sense, White's (2014) assertions about the different types of poverty appear to be clearer than the arguments presented by Asselin (2009). To emphasize this point, the first aspect of the dignified life described by Asselin (2009) is to receive an income, but the simple fact of having income does not automatically mean that the person has a dignified life. For instance, White (2014) argues that the income per capita and the HDI do not take into account wealth distribution. So as previously described, more than 700 million people in the world have an income of fewer than two dollars a day (The work Bank, 2016). Obviously, this is not a sufficient income that allows people living a dignified life.

From a qualitative point of view, poverty is usually defined as a multicultural and social concept. For instance, Townsend (2010), suggests that poverty is a social and dynamic condition measured by living standards within communities at a particular point in time. This point of view coincides with the Rosenfeld’s (2010), who argues that "poverty as a social condition must be defined in reference to the period in which an individual lives" (p. 103). According to Rosenfeld (2010), the concept of poverty is dynamic and may change over time, this concept can also be influenced by the members of the community where people live, and this concept can vary from place to place. Rosenfeld (2010) adds: poverty also must be understood as locally defined according to the norms predominating in particular communities, allowing for comparative analyses of poverty thatadjust for ‘differences in condition between different societies at a simultaneous moment in time’ (Townsend 1985: 660). Poverty in Bangladesh looks, feels, andacts differently from poverty in Southampton. (p. 103)

Likewise, according to Allan (1997), the concept of poverty is related to the individualistic vision of each person. The arguments presented by Townsend (2010), Rosenfeld (2010) and Allan (1997), agree with what was stated by Zoomers (2008). For instance, Zoomers (2008) suggests that the term poverty is a multidimensional concept that is based on personal perception. For example, the study conducted by Zoomers (2008) reveals that the concept of poverty of the indigenous peoples of the Andes of Peru and Bolivia is very different from the concept of poverty held by western tourists. These indigenous of the Andes do not enjoy the comforts, luxuries and material goods enjoyed by the people of the First World, but even so, these indigenous consider that they are not poor people. On the other hand, many tourists, seeing the living conditions of these indigenous people of the Andes, say that these people live in poverty. Zoomers (2008) research shows that the concept of poverty encompasses many aspects of life and does not only refer to the lack of material goods.

Therefore, according to the literature, the concept of poverty varies according to time and place (Townsend, 2010; Rosenfeld, 2010; Allan, 1997), and by culture (Zoomers, 2008; Townsend, 2010; Rosenfeld, 2010; Allan, 1997). However, the most common definition of poverty continues to be economic, describing people who lack the most basic resources to have a quality life (Asselin, 2009; World Bank, 2016; Shedlin, et al., 2016; UN General Assembly, 2015, White, 2014). Generally, the lack of sufficient income, adequate housing, clean water, education, health services, and recreation, is used as material factors that determine the level of economic poverty of the people who experience it (Asselin, 2009; World Bank, 2016; White, 2014; Shedlin, et al., 2016; UN General Assembly, 2015). Refugees worldwide are people who generally face this type of economic poverty.

3.3 Poverty faced by refugees globally

Numerous studies show that globally millions of displaced people and refugees live in extreme poverty and unsafe manner (Hammond, 2014; Harper, 2008; Watters, 2007; Janmyr, 2013; Bloch & Schuster, 2002; Jacobsen, 2005; Gebreiyosus, 2014; Kumssa & Jones, 2014). Globally asylum seekers and refugees face many issues that impact their living conditions during the process of obtaining a recognized refugee status and after their settlement and integration in the new country (Cliff, 2000; Al-Qdah & Lacroix, 2010; Porter, 2007; Liedtke, 2002; Weaver & Burns, 2001; Benček & Strasheim, 2016; Style, et al., 2013; Besteman, 2014; King, 2004; Khamaja, White, Schweit, & Greenslade, 2008; Oatley, 2000 Choi, Davis, Cummings, Regenmorter, & Barnett, 2015).

Generally, many refugees fleeing their country of origin are housed in refugee camps when they arrive in the country of asylum. A refugee camp is a settlement outside the city designed to temporarily host refugees (Janmyr, 2013). However, although refugee camps are expected to be a place of temporary settlement, many refugees have been born, grown and spent their entire lives in those refugee camps (Janmyr, 2013). It is estimated that there are refugee camps scattered in more than 125 countries currently (Marina Koren, 2013). According to Cormand (2019), Kutupalong-Balukhali in Bangladesh, is the largest refugee camp on the planet. This refugee camp is located near the border with Myanmar and hosts more than 670,000 refugees from Myanmar (Cormand, 2019). This camp especially hosts Rohingyas, a Muslim minority living in Myanmar, but also hosts the Rakhines, who is a Buddhist group (Cormand, 2019).


1 For 60 years Colombia endured had an armed conflict between the guerrilla groups of Marxist Leninist ideology and the armed forces of the government (Gárate, 2014; Guglielmelli, 2011; López-López, et al., 2013; Gottwald, 2004; Jaramillo, 2008; Giraldo Forero , 2005; Schussler, 2009; Carreño, 2012; Bermudez, 2013; Gottwald & Rodríguez, 2016; Shedlin, et al., 2016; Cosoy, 2016). This armed conflict facing Colombia has caused the internal displacement of some seven million people and about 500,000 refugees scattered throughout the world (UNHCR, 2015; Reyes, 2013; Paz in Motion, 2016). This armed conflict experienced by Colombia, coupled with the violence promoted by drug mafias and gangs of common crime, have plunged Colombia into extreme violence.

2 This is not the case of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia who live as urban refugees, actually, there are not refugee camps in Colombia.

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Extreme poverty among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia? Exploring media perspectives
Massey University, New Zealand
Master of International Development
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colombia, exploring, extreme, venezuelan
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Alfredo Lopez (Author), 2020, Extreme poverty among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia? Exploring media perspectives, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/584821


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