Anamer left Venezuela as so many others have: fleeing seemingly intractable economic and political crises. She arrived in Peru and, unlike Venezuelan migrants to other countries, Anamer was received warmly. She thought she‘d found a new home, until one day Anamer realized something had changed.
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You can also read an English translation.
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Translated by Patrick Moseley
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[Woman]: Simply put, our life fits in a suitcase. Our life is a suitcase. That’s what it’s turned into.
[Daniel]: There’s a lot of talk about the Venezuelan exodus.
[Journalist 1]: The Venezuelan exodus: that is the story.
[Journalist 2]: Thousands are leaving the country every day.
[Journalist 3]: We’re talking about an unprecedented flow of displaced people in the region.
[Journalist 4]: At least 2.300.000 Venezuelans have fled their country.
[Daniel]: These are unbelievable numbers. In recent years, more than two million Venezuelans have left their country. Listen closely: that’s almost 7% of the population.
But sometimes we forget about these stories. Or rather, the human stories are lost among such jarring figures. Like the story of the woman we heard at the start…
[Anamer Salazar]: My name is Anamer Alejandra Salazar Chirinos. I’m 29. I was born in El Tigre, in the state of Anzoátegui, in Venezuela.
[Daniel]: In Anamer’s case, she first arrived in Panama, but she would end up in Peru. Venezuelans like her are migrating to whatever country that will take them: Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica. They’re moving all over Latin America. Every place has received them differently, depending on local politics, geography, the economic situation, and the history they share with Venezuela.
And we have reported on this phenomenon before, but in this episode, our focus is a little different. We’re focusing not so much on their journey but on their arrival. On their integration.
How the large-scale arrival of immigrants affects the country that takes them in. In this case, we’re talking about Peru, where it is estimated that nearly 600 thousand Venezuelans have migrated.
We heard about Anamer’s story from two journalists.
[Diego Salazar]: I’m Diego Salazar. I was born and raised in Lima. I lived in Spain for 10 years and came back to Peru in 2012.
[Lizzy Cantú]: I’m Lizzy Cantú. I’ve lived in Peru for 8 years.
[Daniel]: Lizzy is Mexican. Both know what it means to be an immigrant and have felt very moved by the Venezuelans’ situation.
[Diego]: Anamer is a journalist. And well, her life in El Tigre was like that of any other middle-class liberal professional in Latin America. She worked at a local newspaper. She lived with her boyfriend Jorge, who is a graphic designer. She had their own apartment.
[Daniel]: It was a nice, comfortable life. It was prosperous.
[Journalist 1]: The government of Venezuela declared a state of economic emergency today.
[Daniel]: The year many people’s lives became unsustainable.
[Journalist 2]: The year could end with an annual inflation rate of 1.000.000%.
[Daniel]: A humanitarian crisis erupted.
[Journalist 3]: The situation is getting worse and worse. People are going hungry.
[Journalist 4]: The medicine shortage reached 85%.
[Journalist 5]: In addition, there is limited access to water, electricity, internet and much more.
[Lizzy]: And, of course, Anamer’s life would change significantly.
[Anamer]: I had to look for an alternative means of supporting myself. To help myself, to be able to eat and subsist.
[Lizzy]: So, Anamer and Jorge quit their jobs and created a digital marketing company. They got clients in the US, who they charged in dollars.
[Diego]: And well, for that reason, their situation was —economically speaking— better than that of many Venezuelans at the time.
[Daniel]: But it wouldn’t last. They couldn’t ignore the scarcity, the violence, and in the end the political suppression of Nicolás Maduro’s government any longer.
Anamer never imagined she would have to leave Venezuela behind. But in only a couple months, migrating became her only option.
Anamer first went to Panama —without Jorge— to try her luck. But…
[Lizzy]: No, it didn’t go well for her at all.
[Anamer]: There are no opportunities for Venezuelans to work and if you did get a job, it was exploitation. They didn’t even pay minimum wage.
[Diego]: And what affected Anamer the most in Panama was the xenophobia.
[Anamer]: They spat on me in the streets. The called me awful, terrible names. They would call me “Venezuelan woman” plus any negative adjective they could think of. If you went in to look for a job, it wasn’t enough for them to turn you away, they had to make fun of your situation, too. They would mock us and tell us we were thieves, that we were swindlers, that we were opportunists.
[Lizzy]: After three months in Panama, Anamer returned home. And by then, she and Jorge were very disheartened.
[Diego]: And they were a little lost. They didn’t really know what they were going to do next.
[Daniel]: But a few months later, in April of 2017…
[Protesters]: Elections now! Out with Maduro! Elections now! Out with Maduro! Elections now!
[Daniel]: The opposition to the Maduro government took to the streets, demanding democratic elections and the release of political prisoners.
[Protesters]: If we don’t go out today, that is the end of unity.
[Anamer]: We saw hope in the protests. We went out to protest. For the first time Venezuela was so united, out protesting.
[Daniel]: It was a tense, violent and dangerous environment, but it was also encouraging.
[Anamer]: We were the last ones left, the ones who didn’t want to leave, who were unwilling to leave. I’m not going to abandon my country! No, I don’t want to leave!
[Daniel]: It seemed like a breaking point for the regime. A sign that change was inevitable.
[Lizzy]: Until in May of 2017, Maduro called together a Constitutional Assembly, with the aim to remain in power.
[Journalist 1]: The Constitutional Assembly has been rejected by a large portion of the international community.
[Daniel]: With this Constitutional Assembly, the majority opposition congress was dissolved.
[Journalist 2]: A failure. That is what the Venezuelan opposition considers the National Constitutional Assembly called by the government
[Daniel]: It was the only check on the Maduro government.
[Journalist 3]: In other words, he’s trying to get a kind of absolute power without any balances against him.
[Anamer]: And I remember the day that happened, I was flipping through the news and I looked at my boyfriend and said: “We’re leaving the country. I can’t take it anymore. This is too much for me.”
[Journalist 3]: …And parliament appointed new justices to the Supreme Court.
[Daniel]: Anamer’s experience in Panama weighed on her and her boyfriend, Jorge. They weren’t used to that kind of rejection. So they weren’t very sure where to go. They just knew that…
[Lizzy]: They wanted to go unnoticed. To go to a country where they wouldn’t stand out as foreigners, right?
[Daniel]: Though that was going to be difficult. The news had already been talking about massive emigration from Venezuela and its effects throughout the region for months. Most were going to Colombia, Chile and Argentina.
[Diego]: Jorge told Anamer that going to Chile seemed like a good idea because the economic situation seemed very promising, but…
[Anamer]: I was saying: “Let’s really think this through. Let’s really think this through, because I feel like Chile is already overpopulated.”
[Lizzy]: And well, in these conversations they started leaning toward a country that wasn’t mentioned very often at the time. Which was Peru.
[Daniel]: That was around the middle of 2017. And they didn’t analyze it much further. It was enough for them that they were going keep a low profile.
[Diego]: They had savings and they sold what they could. And with that, in total, they got together 1.200 dollars.
[Anamer]: We were afraid of staying on the street and, I mean, we had enough to be able to rent a place to stay, enough to be able to eat.
[Daniel]: Basic things that for many Venezuelans who are migrating are now luxuries.
You need money to go from Venezuela to Lima. Take Anamer and Jorge’s case for example: They had to cross all of Venezuela to get to Cúcuta on the Colombian border. Traveling by bus was too dangerous so they rented a car with two other people.
The trip cost $30 a person. Then they took a bus from Cúcuta to Lima: $250 and five days on the road.
It had already cost $300, not counting food. A plane ticket from Caracas to Lima would cost them more than $450. Which only the upper class could afford.
In other words, to get to Peru you have to make an enormous effort to get together the money you need, even if you are a member of the professional middle class. That, or, well, do what a lot of people are doing now: walk and walk for weeks, even months, trying to survive along the way.
Anamer and Jorge arrived in Lima in November of 2017. She was anxious.
[Lizzy]: She was very worried because she didn’t know if it was going to be a repeat of what happened in Panama. If she was going to be able to handle it emotionally, but, well…
[Anamer]: Then that fear started to subside a little.
[Daniel]: First, to her surprise, they found a place to live quickly and without much trouble.
[Lizzy]: They saw an ad online from a woman who was renting a room in her house. And well, even though they didn’t have steady jobs to prove to the woman they would be able to pay the rent, she took them in.
[Anamer]: She was really nice. We didn’t have money for the deposit. “Don’t worry, come in, when you find jobs you can pay the deposit!” She took us into her home. Her family came from Cuzco, she brought us special food from Cuzco for us to eat. In December, when I wasn’t working, the woman went with me everywhere. She would pay for my trip. She took me out to eat classic Peruvian food: picarones, ceviche.
And she made it clear that she wanted us to feel at home and to feel like family.
[Daniel]: And what set Anamer at ease the most was seeing people’s reactions on the street.
[Anamer]: They recognize you right away: “You’re Venezuelan! Oh, you poor things!” They hug you. There’s even a lot of people who hug you, who make friendly gestures.
[Daniel]: It was the opposite of Panama. Lima with its open arms, with its warmth and friendliness. Despite having had to leave Venezuela, it was clear that they could still have peace and hope. They felt like there were opportunities to start again.
We’ll get back to Anamer’s story shortly, but I want to stop here so you can understand a little of what’s going on behind this welcome that Peru gave Anamer and Jorge.
We’re talking about a country where welcoming immigrants is something that’s more or less new. I mean, Peru has had immigration….
[Diego]: But those were Chinese or Japanese laborers who came in the early 20th century. But since then, there hasn’t been a massive flow of migrants.
[Daniel]: Rather, Peru has been a country of people who migrate. My family did it. Diego did it himself.
For Lizzy, the arrival of the Venezuelan immigrants…
[Lizzy]: It seemed special to me that a Peru that maybe wasn’t so used to taking in a large community of immigrants was discovering these neighbors who were coming at a difficult time for them.
[Diego]: And at first, Peruvians, well, we felt so proud of our hospitality, our generosity.
[Daniel]: He doesn’t only refer to Peruvians’ attitude toward the Venezuelans, but also clear policies designed to take in the immigrants.
This is Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the president at the time, at the start of 2017.
[Pedro Pablo Kuczynski]: Venezuelans, welcome to Peru. Come here and we’ll pay you the legal wage and everything else.
[Daniel]: And this is the former minister of the Interior, Carlos Basombrío.
[Carlos Basombrío]: We want to send a different message than what’s happening in other places in the world. We want to say that these people are our brothers. We don’t need to build walls to separate us, but bridges to bring us together.
[Daniel]: Early that year, Kuczynski created something called the Permiso Temporal de Permanencia, or PTP [Temporary Residence Permit].
Remember that: the PTP. It will be important for understanding the rest of the story.
[Lizzy]: The PTP is a permit that allows Venezuelans who have arrived during this crisis to integrate into life as a legal immigrant without having held a previous visa or having a job before arriving.
[Diego]: It allows them to stay in the country for a year while they try to change their migration status. It’s a temporary status, but in that time they can get a bank account and can pay taxes while they’re working.
[Daniel]: It also allowed children to enroll in school and receive public health services. In short, with the PTP Venezuelans who came to Peru could have a more or less normal life, while they decided to go to another country or apply for residency.
The PTP was a humanitarian policy. It was designed to allow Venezuelans to regularize their situation as easily and as quickly as possible.
There were very few requirements. First…
[Lizzy]: You have to have entered the country legally.
[Daniel]: In other words, you went through migration and presented your documents. Basically, entering Peru like a tourist.
[Lizzy]: And you can’t have any kind of criminal or judicial record.
[Daniel]: And well, at first there was another restriction: you had to have entered before December 1st, 2016.
When it started, there was one great advantage to the PTP: You didn’t need a current passport to begin the process. You could enter Peru with your ID card or an expired passport, and that wouldn’t exclude you from the program.
This was a big relief for a lot of Venezuelans. There’s no exact information on how much it costs to get a passport in Venezuela, today people say it’s a little more than $100. But there are reports of corruption against the government agency in Venezuela that issues passports. There are people who say they’ve paid up to a $1.000 for one.
In a country with hyperinflation, where people who want to leave don’t even have food to eat, it’s impossible to get that much money. And in addition to those obstacles, the waiting period can last up to two years.
The reason the government gives is that there isn’t enough material to print the documents and there is a large demand.
But, well, once you were in Peru, if you met the requirements, all you had to do to get PTP was…
[Lizzy]: Get a document from Interpol with your criminal and judicial record. Interpol certified that in your country and in other countries no one is looking for you.
[Daniel]: This document cost about $25 US dollars. Then, you went to migration with a copy of your passport or ID, you paid about $13 dollars for processing and in a matter of days they sent you the PTP card. And that’s it. Which, to be honest, sounds like science fiction, because let’s just say we’re not talking about a country that’s known for its bureaucratic efficiency.
[Diego]: For these reasons, a lot of Venezuelan immigrants who originally hadn’t considered going to Peru, started coming to the country.
[Daniel]: The PTP went into effect in 2017 and they estimated that about 4.500 Venezuelans would apply for the permit in the first 6 months.
But they figured wrong. It was about 12.000.
And the demand didn’t go down.
[Lizzy]: I think that none of us imagined the number of Venezuelans who were going to come.
[Daniel]: So, they decided to remove the restriction that had been in place: that PTP was only for people who arrived before December 2016.
This is Kuczynski in July, 2017.
[Pedro Pablo Kuczynski]: We’re broadening the Temporary Residence Permit for our Venezuelan brothers.
[Daniel]: With that expansion, Venezuelans who arrived before August 2017 also had a right to the PTP. It would be the first of many expansions.
Anamer arrived in Peru in November of 2017, when demand for the PTP was growing rapidly.
But that’s not why they went to Peru. They didn’t even know it existed. Like we said, their only reason for choosing Peru was that it didn’t come up in the news a lot.
[Diego]: And a few weeks after arriving in Lima, in December, someone told them about the PTP. And Anamer told her boyfriend…
[Anamer]: As expensive as they may and as much as we’ll have to skimp and save in December, let’s get our criminal records. Because I feel like we have a better chance of getting jobs if we show the person we don’t have criminal records in Venezuela. I felt like I needed to show Peru that I wasn’t… that I was fine.
[Lizzy]: The process went rather quickly. In January they had their appointment, they applied for PTP. In a few days they received their cards, with the card they could legally find work. And well, that’s what they set out to do.
[Anamer]: We would go into places that had a sign outside and there were a lot of places that had signs saying: Hostess wanted, service experience needed.
[Daniel]: Though, of course, there’s a big difference between someone greeting you in the street, and someone giving you a job.
[Lizzy]: So yes, there was some rejection at first.
[Anamer]: They tell you it’s because you’re Venezuelan, right? I mean, they don’t ask you if you have a work permit, if you have PTP, if you have papers, they just say no outright. You’re Venezuelan, well…
[Diego]: And well, that didn’t… that didn’t sit well with her. It made her defensive.
[Anamer]: It’s when depression, pressure and desperation all work against you and you feel really dispirited.
[Anamer]: Between high spirits and low spirits, I managed to forge ahead and keep looking. And don’t give up, you don’t give up, you go to interviews, send your resume.
[Lizzy]: And finally —a month later— she got a job as a legal assistant. The job was documents, claims, arguments.
[Anamer]: Anything that had to do with legal work and all of those documents and, on top of that, I had to take them to public institutions, the Attorney General’s office, criminal lawyers, civil lawyers, family lawyers.
[Daniel]: And, well, because of her experience looking for work…
[Anamer]: At first obviously, I was afraid to go to these public institutions. They would ask me: “Could I see you national ID so I can give you the document?” And that was the first part, and I would hand them my passport or PTP card and they would look at me: “Oh, you’re Venezuelan! How nice. Whattaya know! And are you working with a lawyer?” And then they would look at me like they want to talk to me and they would help me. They would give me my normal ticket and say: “Look, you go up to the window, you cross…” I mean, they took care to explain everything really well to me.
[Daniel]: Her boyfriend also got a job as a graphic designer.
[Lizzy]: And now, with that stability, in Lima they started to enjoy a life like the one they had had in Venezuela.
[Anamer]: I saw the supermarkets that were totally full of food and we hadn’t seen that in years. Seeing all the street food, everywhere in Lima smells great. Lima is the place to get fat. I mean, even the lettuce gets you fat. I’ve been dieting with lettuce and I haven’t lost any weight.
[Daniel]: And she wasn’t just excited about the food, in Lima you could get thing that had become luxuries in Venezuela.
[Anamer]: There’s laundry detergent here. There’s toilet paper and those are things that… There’s toothpaste. There are razors. There are all these things that we didn’t have in Venezuela. Even deodorant, none of those personal items could you get in Venezuela. That’s why for us it’s like going to Orlando, Florida.
[Daniel]: She finally felt good. You could even say happy. She had a routine, stability and the basic things that seemed impossible months earlier.
But while Amamer’s life was finding its rhythm, that demand for the PTP persisted. And it was going up and up.
[Journalist]: Hundreds of Venezuelans brought items from home in order to spend the night waiting in line outside Interpol headquarters in Surco.
[Lizzy]: The heads of the migration office kept expanding its hours and the lines outside of Interpol kept getting longer.
[Journalist]: Nearly 700 Venezuelans a day come to this San Isidro office…
[Daniel]: By September 2018, about 100.000 Venezuelans held PTP and another 100.000 were in the middle of the process, despite the migration office and Interpol working overtime. This is not counting the more than 200.000 people who hadn’t even been able to —or hadn’t want to— get an appointment.
And the mass arrival of Venezuelans would start to transform Peru.
Anamer noticed this change for the first time on Saturday, March 3rd, 2017.
[Anamer]: It was around 1:30 in the afternoon and I was going to my dentist’s appointment like every Saturday.
[Diego]: She was on a bus driving down Avenida Arequipa, which is one of Lima’s main streets.
[Anamer]: At a stop —right in front of a restaurant called Miami Chicken Criollo— the bus stops and lets people off so more people can get on. And I was listening to music and all of a sudden, I don’t know why, I turned to my right and I saw the stop and I saw a sign that caught my attention because I saw the word “Venezuelans.”
[Diego]: It was a simple black sign, but it looked professional. And the letters were red and white like the Peruvian flag…
[Anamer]: And it had a hashtag that said: “Perú sin venezolanos“, “Peru without Venezuelans”. And below it said: “Basta ya” (Enough is enough).
[Daniel]: Enough is enough.
We’ll be right back.
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[Anamer]: I broke into a cold sweat. My head felt like it was going to explode. My stomach felt like it was being hung on a wire, I started feeling so many things.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante, I’m Daniel Alarcón. We left Anamer’s story one Saturday, when she was taking a bus down Avenida Arequipa —one of the busiest thoroughfares in the capital of Peru— in front of a bus stop, looking at a sign that said “Peru without Venezuelans. Enough is enough.”
She was in shock. Paralyzed.
[Anamer]: Because someone had paid for this. I mean, someone had bothered to invest money, to find a designer, to find a printer.
[Lizzy]: And well the first thing that came to her head was to take off her headphones.
[Anamer]: And get on Twitter and think of something to write so I could let people know what I had just seen
[Diego]: It seemed to Anamer like she had come across a campaign. So she searched the hashtag from the sign: “Perú sin venezolanos.”
[Lizzy]: To see if people were already sharing it, if someone had pointed out that it was xenophobic.
[Anamer]: And I found absolutely nothing. It seemed really strange to me so I used it and denounced the sign.
[Lizzy]: She took a picture of the sign with her phone and before the bus pulled away, she was already writing her tweet.
[Anamer]: “Wow, I just saw this gem, a sign with the #PerúSinVenezolanos. Enough xenophobia.”
[Diego]: Anamer’s tweet got a ton of comments and soon more pictures started to appear —also on Twitter— of other signs that other users had seen.
[Journalist]: Several posters with the phrase “Perú sin venezolanos” were posted at various locations throughout the city. At the Acho Bridge and at bus stops along Avenida Arequipa, this form of propaganda appeared….
[Diego]: So the press quickly started repeating the news.
[Journalist]: The posters have not been attributed to any movement or group and bear no signature.
[Daniel]: By the next day, most of the signs were gone. They just vanished. No one knew who put them up or who took them down.
But this campaign was a clear sign that something was changing in Peruvian society. It wasn’t all friendliness and hospitality anymore.
Diego and Lizzy had already noticed it. They saw it in the news, stories started to appear in the papers and online with biased headlines.
[Journalist 1]: Security cameras have caught footage of a group of Venezuelans committing assault in Los Olivos in broad daylight.
[Journalist 2]: They arrived from Venezuela two months ago and rather than earn an honest living they’ve taken up robbery and mugging.
[Diego]: Where they weren’t talking about the heroic immigrant who had traveled across the continent in search of a better future, but rather: “Gang of Venezuelan criminals rape, assault and kill.”
[Journalist 3]: The capture of five Venezuelan citizens at the Plaza Norte mall has revealed a tremendously dangerous threat: the presence of fearsome Venezuelan gangs in our country for whom brutal murders are nothing more than a simple anecdote.
[Daniel]: But it wasn’t just violent news, it seemed like any Venezuelan who made a bad impression for any reason could also wind up on the Peruvian news. It didn’t matter how absurd or minuscule the supposed offense might be.
[Diego]: And it reaches the height of absurdity of “Viral video where Venezuelans say they don’t like chicha morada outrages Peruvians.”
[Daniel]: Or the case of the Venezuelan woman who filmed herself saying that Peruvians were ugly mutants. A horrible form of racism, a kind of racism that sadly is common among Peruvians. The news was that this racist person was Venezuelan.
[Periodista]: One Venezuelan woman could find no better way to characterize Peruvians other than as lab rats. On top of that, she said we are indigenous and have Asian haircuts. Where did she get the part about Asian haircuts? This woman’s outlandish and offensive remarks went viral on social media in the face of the controversy over the massive arrival of Venezuelans into our country.
[Lizzy]: They starting taking advantage of these people’s nationality in headlines that maybe wouldn’t be news otherwise.
[Diego]: Of course, the only reason the editors or writers considered this news is because it had the word “Venezuelans” in it and that word ranks very high on Google Search in Peru right now.
[Daniel]: In other words, conflict and controversy sells more than good deeds and positive stories.
And one of the biggest problems is that while the media was pumping out these sensationalist stories every day, they forgot to inform people of what the PTP really was.
[Diego]: They weren’t clear when the time came to explain what benefits or rights immigrants got from it.
[Daniel]: For a lot of Peruvians, it was as if the needs of foreigners were more important than their own.
[Man]: The Venezuelans are welcome here. But the Peruvian government has decided to give jobs to them, not us, taking food from our mouths.
[Woman]: Wherever I go, whatever store I go to, there’s a Venezuelan doing a job that a Peruvian should be doing.
[Daniel]: In September of 2018 El Comercio—one of the largest newspapers in the country— published a survey on the perception people in Lima had towards Venezuelan immigration.
From what we’ve heard about how Anamer was welcomed in Lima, the results were surprising: 55% think that this kind of immigration has a negative effect on Peru. And nearly 25% think that Venezuelans “take jobs away from Peruvians.”
And, well, we’re getting into a sensitive topic. Peru is a country where the people don’t trust the government. Where the perception is not just that the authorities aren’t helping, but that they are making things worse. But, for some reason, that same government was now worried all of a sudden about one category of immigrants.
The PTP became a refrain that Peruvians heard again and again in the media, without any explanation of what it was or what it did. And it became synonymous with the privilege of the recent immigrants.
That is in addition to the legitimate concern that millions of Peruvians who have precarious living situations, now have to compete with thousands more workers.
[Anamer]: I feel like they’re very suspicious of us because of the PTP. Because they feel like it’s going to give you permission to destroy Peru if you want, and it’s not like that.
[Daniel]: It’s not true that the PTP gives Venezuelans any kind of special benefits that Peruvians don’t have…
[Anamer]: We’re not going to go to the bank with our PTP to ask for a loan to build a building, or start a restaurant ,or open a supermarket. They’re not going to say: “Sure, go ahead, because you’re Venezuelan.” No way.
[Daniel]: It just regularizes their immigration status and makes their living conditions a little more equal: it gives them the opportunity to work or send their children to school. The minimum to start a new life in another country.
After seeing the sign with the hashtag “Perú Sin Venezolanos,” Anamer started to fixate on what the media was saying about immigrants. She saw the same things as Lizzy and Diego. The same xenophobia based on sensationalized and isolated events.
[Anamer]: Since I started seeing that, I started being more guarded. I didn’t talk to my boyfriend on the bus anymore because I was afraid someone would hear my voice, because I had seen that there had been an altercation on a bus. So, I was avoiding being the victim of an altercation on the bus.
Uh, it has happened that people see me on the bus and hear me while I’m sending a voice message, and I’m trying to do it very quietly, and people turn to look at me.
[Daniel]: On top of that…
[Anamer]: I’ve seen people stare at me when I’m sitting. Like it bothers them that I’m sitting and that they’re standing, because they realize that we’re Venezuelan. They can tell also tell because of our facial features.
[Daniel]: Lizzy and Diego have spoken with Anamer constantly over the past 6 months, months in which reporting with xenophobic undertones has only increased. And for them, the change in Anamer has been evident, at first she seemed very optimistic but…
[Lizzy]: The last time we saw each other, you could see she was very tired. She looked like a girl that had maybe lost that enthusiasm and excitement at starting a new life and settling into a new opportunity.
[Daniel]: And that’s something that Lizzy can understand. Even though she’s not Venezuelan, she is an immigrant and also feels like there is an environment of paranoia and distrust.
[Lizzy]: Attitudes have changed. No one has mistreated me or anything but I no longer get that: “Oh, you’re Mexican, how nice.” “Hey, what brings you here?,” you know? Before it was even surprising that someone would come to live and work in Peru. And now it’s like: “Oh.” There’s a little suspicion among the hospitality and all the niceties and well, the welcome that Peru gives immigrants. There’s at least a moment when people stop and think, you know? It’s like: “Oh, more people are coming.”
[Daniel]: Lizzy and Diego see part of that distrust as cultural and historical.
As we said before, for decades people were leaving Peru, not coming. So the initial enthusiasm to help the Venezuelans came from a place of solidarity, but also inexperience: from not knowing what it means to be a country of immigrants.
[Diego]: I think that the country or society that is taking people in tents to think that the people who are coming are coming to behave and be of service, you know?
[Daniel]: Because, of course, being an immigrant is a matter of nationality, yes. But also of class. If you are an immigrant with money, you’re welcome, and if you want, you can be invisible. But the immigrant who comes with nothing can’t hide. That’s the person who is called out or attacked when there are problems.
In Peru, the majority of Venezuelans —whether they were poor or middle class before the crisis— are coming in the same desperate situation, looking for a way to survive. And some people in Peru are pointing to them as the root of a lot of problems. And the Peruvian government…
[Lizzy]: Doesn’t know what to do with the people they’re taking in. In other words, they still don’t understand what it means to accept an immigrant and what that implies in terms of rights and obligations.
[Daniel]: And in an attempt to ease the crisis, the country decided to change their humanitarian policies toward Venezuelans.
[Journalist]: The Minister of the Interior announced that the Venezuelan ID card will no longer be considered a valid document for purposes of entering the territory of Peru and in its place a passport will be required.
[Daniel]: Starting on August 25th, 2018, only Venezuelans with valid passports were able to enter the country.
[Lizzy]: The authorities started to say that it was a matter of security, that we have to be conscious of the fact we have to maintain secure borders. That we couldn’t allow criminals into the country.
[Daniel]: So a race to enter Peru from Ecuador began.
[Journalist]: Hundreds of Venezuelans are struggling to enter Peru with luggage in hand and babies in their arms at the Binational Border Service Center in Tumbes.
[Daniel]: The measure affected many Venezuelans who were planning on going to Peru, because —as we said earlier— getting a passport is too expensive.
[Woman 1]: They aren’t thinking about all of the Venezuelans who want to get out but don’t have documents. And it’s not because we don’t want to have them, we try and try and there’s no way to get documents.
[Woman 2]: Well, unfortunately they’re going to have us living here at the border.
[Journalist]: You’re not going to move?
[Woman 2]: I’m not moving from here because I can’t go back. I don’t have any more money to go back, and my husband is over there.
[Daniel]: On top of that, the expansions that had been made to the PTP were reduced.
Now, only Venezuelans who arrived before November 1st, 2018, can apply.
The change to the policy goes hand in hand with a change in government.
[Pedro Pablo Kuczynski]: In the face of this difficult situation, I think it is best for the country that I resign as president of the Republic.
[Daniel]: Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned as president of Peru in March, 2018, in the wake of various corruption scandals.
The vice-president, Martín Vizcarra, took office and has tried to distance himself from Kuczynski and his policies as much as possible.
Which, of course, include his Venezuelan immigration policy. Especially because a large portion of society’s dissatisfaction became very apparent just before Vizcarra took office.
In September of this year, 2018, the governments of thirteen Latin American countries affected by Venezuelan immigration came together. They asked the government of Venezuela to make it easier to get a passport and each country took different measures to deal with the arrival of immigrants.
As a result of the meeting, Peru walked back one of the changes to its policy and decided to go back to accepting expired passports for entry into the country.
But with everything that has happened in Peru, it’s not the same country it was in 2017, which was so welcoming to Venezuelans.
Let’s go back to Anamer one last time, because it’s not just Peruvian society that’s learning how to deal with immigration, but also Venezuelans themselves. A people that, until very recently, never had to leave their country. They’re also new to all of this.
[Anamer]: Immigrating —aside from being away from your family— it’s like you never end up leaving Venezuela, every time something happens in Venezuela it has a direct effect on you here.
Right now we are here and we aren’t. We’re here but we can go to another country. We can go from one country to another because our life fits in a suitcase. Our life is a suitcase. That’s what it’s turned into and I feel like we can leave just like we came and we have to leave. We have to leave.
[Daniel]: For many Venezuelans, this is all transitory. The final destination of this migration is the return home.
Many people who listen to Radio Ambulante know what it means to be a migrant: they’ve left their city, their culture, their language, their country, their family, to live in another place.
We want to know and share your experience as a migrant. Use the hashtag #ÁlbumDeMigrantes on Twitter, or on Instagram, to publish a photo and a brief account of those first few months when you arrived in a new place that wasn’t familiar. Tell us a short story: What was most difficult or exciting? How did you make your first friends? What did you do to feel close to your country?
Remember: publish your story and a picture using the hashtag #ÁlbumDeMigrantes, and mention @radioambulante on Twitter or Instagram Stories. We will share your stories with the rest of the listeners.
Diego Salazar is a journalist and author of the book No hemos entendido nada [We’ve Understood Nothing], which was published this year, 2018, in which, among many other things, he analyzes the media coverage of Venezuelan immigration.
Lizzy Cantú is an editor at the New York Times en Español.
They’re married and they’re good friends of the Radio Ambulante family.
This episode was produced by our assistant editor, Luis Fernando Vargas and Victoria Estrada, one of our editorial interns. Camila Segura and I did the editing.
The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano. Our editorial intern Andrea López Cruzado, did the fact-checking.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Jorge Caraballo, Miranda Mazariegos, Diana Morales, Patrick Moseley, Ana Prieto, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Silvia Viñas. Lisette Arévalo is an editorial intern. Carolina Guerrero is our CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.