Things That Matter

As Venezuelan Migrants Flee To Nearby Colombia, A Tech Startup With Japanese Investment Has Become Their Lifeline

More than 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled their country in the past few years amid a collapsing economy and political turmoil. Many have migrated to nearby Colombia where more than 1.2 million Venezuelans are now living and those numbers could balloon to 2 million by this year’s end. This has created new challenges as well as growth, particularly when it comes to Rappi, the country’s tech-driven delivery service.

The delivery service, Rappi, has seen rapid growth in the last year, mainly propelled by Venezuelan migrants looking to get by.

The app, which was founded in Colombia in 2015, has a simple purpose to that of American delivery services like Postmates, deliver goods to people from wherever they want. An injection of $1 billion from Japan’s SoftBank helped establish the South American tech startup as a viable business.

Rappi is now operating in seven countries, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay and more than 40 major cities in Latin America. It also has more than 100,000 people that deliver for the service and has become one of Columbia’s fastest growing startups.

The company can credit the rising number of Venezuelan migrants that have begun delivering for the service as a way to make ends meet. Many of them have been shut out of the traditional job market and can make about $23 dollars a day, roughly three times Colombia’s minimum wage.

Amid a failing economy and political turmoil, Venezuelans have the delivery service as a lifeline.

While Venezuela faces hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages, many are left with little to no choice but to leave their country. As these large number of migrants have relocated to Columbia, the first thing they do is seek jobs.

Migrants receive a temporary work permit, known as the PEP (Politically Exposed Persons). But that permit has come with a label. Wilander Jiménez, a 28-year-old from the city of Lara in Venezuela, has struggled to find work even with this permit. He arrived in Colombia almost a year ago and Rappi has become a primary source of income for him.

“People won’t hire you here if you’re Venezuelan, even if you have the PEP,” Jiménez told the Miami Herald. “So Rappi has become a solution for many of us.”

The company has acknowledged what their service has meant to many Venezuelans looking for opportunities.

Credit: rappicolombia / Instagram

Sebastián Mejía, Simon Borrero and Felipe Villamarin are all co-founders of Rappi. They’ve noticed the rise in Venezuelans that have taken up their delivery service as a safety net for cash and to get by during hard times.

“From day zero at Rappi we’ve always had a social mission,” Mejía told the Miami Herald. “So we are very excited that Rappi has not only become a source of income for vulnerable communities — like Venezuelan migrants, who are the face of a dramatic humanitarian crisis — but has also given them the ability to send money home.”

The company says it doesn’t know exactly how many Venezuelans work for Rappi because of its rapid growth. In 2018, the service had 20,000 deliverymen, according to media reports, that number has grown to four times as many.

While Rappi has created a stop-gap for some Venezuelans, many realize it’s filling a temporary need during their hard times.

Credit: rappicolombia / Instagram

Beyond just Columbia, many Venezuelans have relocated to other places in Latin America like Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

As hard times continue to hit Venezuela the number of people searching for new opportunities elsewhere is likely to continue. This includes Jiménez, who was a former policeman back in Venezuela. He acknowledges he’ll never get rich delivering for Rappi but it helps him get by for now.

“All of us want to go home some day when things improve there,” Jiménez said. “But this is one of the few opportunities we have now to survive…Rappi is growing because of us Venezuelans.”

READ: The Crisis In Venezuela Is Worsening. Here’s What You Should Know Right Now

The U.S. Offers To Lift Crippling Sanctions Against Venezuela In New Plan, But There’s A Major Catch

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The U.S. Offers To Lift Crippling Sanctions Against Venezuela In New Plan, But There’s A Major Catch

Anadolu Agency / Getty

The coronavirus isn’t stopping the United States from continuing its maximum pressure campaign on Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela. 

For well over a year, Venezuela has suffered from a massive political crisis. President Nicolas Maduro clings to power as a growing number of foreign countries (including the U.S.) recognize his main competitor, Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself interim-President.

But as the country struggles to confront a growing Coronavirus pandemic, the international community is imploring the Trump administration to ease sanctions of the struggling nation. Many are concerned over its spread amid a collapsing health care system and a deep economic crisis, aggravated by U.S. sanctions and low oil prices.

The Trump administration is prepared to lift crippling sanctions on Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government.

Credit: Kenneth Rapoza / Getty

However, getting both Maduro and Guaidó to buy into the plan – let alone millions of Venezuelans – will be an immense challenge. Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó would both have to step aside in favor of a five-person governing council, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plan.

Under the “democratic transition framework”, all political prisoners would be released, and all foreign – mostly Cuban – forces would leave. A five-member council would be selected, with two members chosen by the opposition, two by Maduro’s Socialist party, and the fifth member picked by the other four.

“The hope is that this set-up promotes the selection of people who are very broadly respected and known as people who can work with the other side,” the US special representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, told the Associated Press.

The U.S. has long pushed for regime change in Venezuela and this could be a major step towards achieving this policy.

“The United States has long been committed to finding a solution to the manmade crisis in Venezuela,” the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said.

“The urgency for this has become all the more serious in light of the Maduro regime’s failure to adequately prepare for and address the global Covid-19 pandemic. This framework demonstrates our commitment to helping Venezuela fully recover and ensures that the voice of the Venezuelan people is respected and included.”

The plan would mean the end of the Maduro regime and the likely withdrawal of his largest competitor.

Credit: Elizabeth Melimopoulos / Getty

Since early 2019, Venezuela has been in the throes of a political crisis with two clashing sides vowing to take back control of the country. Millions of people have poured into the streets in support of one side or the other – often resulting in violent flare ups that have left thousands dead.

But could the promise of zero sanctions against a struggling economy be enough to make the plan work?

Credit: @carmses_in / Twitter

The US and EU would then lift sanctions on the current leadership. Broader sanctions on the country’s oil business would be lifted after all foreign forces had left the country. All sanctions would be lifted after free elections, to be held within six to 12 months.

“The basic outline is simple: We call for a transitional government that would govern for nine to 12 months and hold free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters Tuesday. “The United States will recognize the result of a free and fair election no matter which party wins.”

The proposal comes five days after the U.S. indicted Maduro and top members of his government and army for drug trafficking and money laundering.

The Department of Justice indicted Maduro and many of his right-hand men on a range of charges, all but guaranteeing they will not be part of any potential democratic transition in Venezuela down the line.

The indictment for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to corruption to narcoterrorism puts the spotlight on the horrendous acts Maduro and his associates have allegedly perpetrated.

In addition to giving the U.S. additional leverage over Maduro, the indictment also acts as an incentive for the 14 individuals charged along with him — and others close to him — to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

The plan has his critics on both sides of the aisle.

Skeptics of the plan said it provided few incentives for the incumbent officials to give up power, days after they were charged with serious offences and multimillion-dollar rewards put on their heads.

The ultimate focus must be on alleviating the suffering of the Venezuelan people, and though it will not be eased by these recent actions alone, the only way forward is to address the root causes of the crisis, starting with Maduro.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Calls For ICE To Release Some Migrants To Help Fight COVID-19

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Congressional Hispanic Caucus Calls For ICE To Release Some Migrants To Help Fight COVID-19

icegov / Instagram

COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the globe and governments are desperately trying to get a handle on the virus. More than a third of the world’s population are living under lockdown conditions in more than 20 countries on all continents. Thirty-two states are currently under lockdown orders as of April 1 and Florida’s lockdown will take effect the night of April 2. That translates to about three out of every four Americans living under some form of lockdown orders.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is demanding ICE release migrants in detention centers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Credit: @NBCLatino / Twitter

Now, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to step up and release migrants in detention. There are thousands of migrants currently in detention centers in the U.S. and documented overcrowding of the facilities is cause for alarm during a health pandemic.

According to a report from ICE, four detainees and five agents have tested positive for COVID-19. Immigration advocates have been calling for ICE to release detainees to protect migrants from contracting COVID-19.

“ICE’s failure to reduce detention numbers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has a real possibility of creating a severe health crisis for detention centers and overwhelming local health care facilities,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas said in a statement.

As the novel coronavirus COVID-19 spreads across the globe, there is one population the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) is trying to protect: migrants. The virus, which is highly contagious, has infected more than 127,000 people across 6 continents. More than 68,000 people have recovered from the virus. To date, more than 4,700 people have died from the disease and the ACLU wants to make sure detained migrants don’t die because of the virus.

The ACLUF-SDIC is calling on the U.S. federal government to create a plan to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in migrant detention centers.

Credit: @ACLU_NorCal / Twitter

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is spreading across the globe triggering strong reactions from governments seeking to limit the spread. Italy has locked down the country to tell everyone in the country to quarantine.

So far, more than 1,300 people in the U.S have tested positive for COVID-19 and 38 have died. Most of the fatalities were in Washington state where 21 deaths happened in Seattle-area long-care facilities.

The ACLUF-SDIC is calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to develop a detailed plan to prevent the spreading of COVID-19 in detention centers.

The ACLUF-SDIC wants a written plan to prove that immigration officials have the migrants’ health in mind.

“ICE detention facilities in San Diego and Imperial counties must act quickly to put in place a comprehensive emergency plan that protects people in their custody from COVID-19,” Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLUF-SDIC, is quoted in a release. “The spread of the virus into a detention center would have devastating consequences for the people locked up inside.”

The ACLUF-SIDC is concerned about the inadequate medical care and overcrowding could lead to a serious outbreak of COVID-19 within the detained migrant population.

Other ACLU chapters are calling on ICE to work with migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The ACLU of Louisiana has asked ICE to offer expedited hearings for the elderly detained migrants to preserve their health.

“Given the CDC’s warnings about avoiding confined spaces and the threat COVID-19 poses to the frail and elderly, immediate steps must be taken to safeguard the health and well-being of incarcerated people across the state,” Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director is quoted in a statement. “We know that confining people in close quarters increases the risk of infection, but right now thousands of Louisianans are incarcerated based on the mere accusation of a crime and an inability to pay bail. In the interests of public health, we’re calling for expedited parole hearings for the elderly in state prisons and for the immediate release of people who are being jailed pretrial based solely on their inability to pay bail. We look forward to working with state, federal, and local officials to ensure the health and well-being of all people under correctional control in our state.”

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READ: What To Know About The Coronavirus And How To Prevent It