Guyana’s influx of Venezuelans – a political perspective

By Mark DaCosta- In recent times, Guyana has experienced a swift and significant influx of Venezuelan refugees, estimated between 29,000 and 60,000, into our population. This surge, though driven by the dire circumstances in Venezuela, has given rise to concerns about its potential impact on the upcoming general elections slated for November or December 2025.

The opposition, particularly the A Partnership of National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU +AFC) Coalition, has voiced apprehensions that the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) may exploit this situation to secure electoral support. Their concerns are not unfounded, given the size of the Venezuelan population in relation to our own, which stands at about 750,000 native Guyanese in all.

“It is evident that the PPP discriminates against Haitians. Very early in this [recent] period, the [PPP] government removed that and banned – virtually – Haitians from coming here, whilst allowing others to come, said Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton.

These concerns gain traction when we consider statements made by PPP’s General Secretary, Bharrat Jagdeo. While denying any ulterior political motive, Jagdeo suggests that Guyanese returning from Venezuela, and their Venezuelan-born offspring, should have the right to vote. This raises eyebrows, especially when contemplating the potential political implications of enfranchising this newly arrived demographic.

“If they chose to register and vote, they have rights just like other citizens.” – Bharrat Jagdeo, General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party said.

Despite PPP’s assurances that this move is within the bounds of our constitution, the opposition remains rightfully cautious. The opposition’s worry gains credibility when Jagdeo asserts that, “They’ve been living here. If they chose to register and vote, they have rights just like other citizens.” This acknowledgment inadvertently aligns with, and justified the opposition’s fears of the PPP utilising the refugee population for political gains.

Moreover, Jagdeo’s plea against mistreatment of Venezuelans, emphasising their Guyanese connections, subtly underscores a potential loyalty to the PPP, which is the party providing refuge. This psychological aspect cannot be ignored, as individuals – Including Venezuelans – usually feel gratitude, and a sense of servitude, towards those who offer assistance in times of need. It’s human nature, and the PPP is most certainly aware of that fact.

Jagdeo said, “The PPP did not tell Maduro to have a bad economic policy in Venezuela, where people would eventually not have food to eat, so that they can flee to Guyana to come and vote for the PPP.” However, one wonders if – Jagdeo and others in his orbit – must not be at the heights of ecstasy at the situation in Venezuela and the resulting influx of Venezuelans.

Intriguingly, questions arise about the PPP’s selective approach towards refugees. While extending a welcoming hand to Venezuelans – who are for the most part, not African – the party seems less accommodating to Haitians and Nigerians, predominantly of African origin. Norton’s accusations of discrimination against these groups, coupled with visa requirements, create a stark contrast that merits scrutiny.

“And so, the issue here, again – and they don’t like when you say it – is racism!” – Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton.

In the face of these disparities, one cannot help but ponder whether the PPP’s actions are politically calculated. The opposition’s call for a transparent verification system for Venezuelans granted citizenship is evidently appropriate.

It is certainly interesting that while the PPP denies any political motives behind granting voting rights to Venezuelan refugees, the opposition’s concerns hold water. The potential influence of this sizable demographic on the electoral landscape, combined with the selective treatment of refugees, raises valid questions about the ruling party’s political strategies. As our nation approaches the crucial 2025 elections, it becomes imperative for us, the people of Guyana, to critically examine the intersection of humanitarian concerns and political maneuvering in this delicate scenario. It is equally imperative that the political opposition back up their stated concerns with the actions necessary to ensure desired outcomes.