While the foreign minister addresses the U.N. nearby, Venezuelan individuals seeking asylum are putting pressure on New York City.
NEW YORK — Ysamar López stood beneath the old hotel’s canopy, exploring New York City’s unfamiliar streets on Google Maps and making a plan to set out into the rain.
The woman from Venezuela arrived last night after traveling by bus from Texas for two days, concluding weeks of traveling overland. Unbeknownst to her, her country’s foreign minister was scheduled to speak at the United Nations nearby. After settling herself and her two young children in a room, ensuring they were fed and received medical attention, her current priority was to find warm clothes.
“I am grateful that nothing negative has occurred, but I am currently awaiting a resolution to determine whether I will remain here or be relocated,” expressed López, aged 33, while her 3-year-old son, who had striking green eyes and a sniffly nose, held onto her. “Nevertheless, we are managing fine, everything is alright.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yván Gil’s speech Saturday comes only days after a U.N.-backed panel investigating human rights violations in Venezuela reported that the South American country’s government has intensified efforts to limit democratic freedoms with threats, surveillance and harassment. In his speech, Gil didn’t deny the existence of widespread hardship in his country but attributed it to U.S.-imposed sanctions.
The Roosevelt Hotel, a once stately hotel occupying an entire midtown block a stone’s throw from Grand Central Station, is now a center for asylum-seekers and a symbol of the city’s struggle to absorb a crush of migrants – most of whom hail from Venezuela. More than 60,000 Venezuelans have arrived over the past year.
City officials have been working quickly to establish additional emergency shelters in response to the influx of people. They have utilized various locations such as tent facilities, school gyms, and parks to meet the state’s requirement of providing housing for the homeless. Mayor Eric Adams has expressed growing concern, stating that the migrant crisis could have devastating consequences for New York City.
PHOTOS: As foreign minister speaks at UN blocks away, Venezuelan asylum-seekers strain New York City
A complex crisis that began during the last decade has pushed millions of Venezuelans into poverty and at least 7.3 million to migrate. These days, the minimum wage paid in bolivars is the equivalent of $3.80 per month, down from $30 in April 2022, when it was last raised.
Many teachers, professors, and public employees receive the minimum wage along with additional bonuses. They often resort to side jobs or financial support from relatives living abroad to cover their expenses. Older retirees, on the other hand, rely solely on their pensions, which are equivalent to the minimum wage, along with occasional bonuses.
In his speech, Gil stated that the media frequently distorts the ongoing challenges faced by his country, with the intention of provoking a “humanitarian intervention” that blatantly disregards their sovereignty.
He stated that we are encountering a fresh wave of one-sided coercive measures that are even more brutal and devastating. These measures are impacting the availability of vaccines, food, and other vital goods and services. Consequently, these acts can be considered as genuine crimes against humanity.
The recent report from the three-member international fact-finding mission, authorized by the U.N. Human Rights Council, highlights that the government is progressively suppressing certain individuals in civil society. This includes politicians, labor leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, and others who are seen as opponents, whether rightly or wrongly. These individuals have faced various forms of mistreatment such as detention, surveillance, threats, smear campaigns, and unjust legal actions.
The most infamous institution for political prisoners is the Helicoide, in the capital Caracas. It resembles an urban version of a terraced rice paddy, with its various paved levels ascending to an Epcot-esque dome.
On Tuesday, activists in New York’s Times Square gave passers-by the opportunity to venture behind the fearsome walls of the Helicoide – more specifically a re-creation based on former detainees’ experiences. Users donned virtual reality headsets for a five-minute immersive experience of the Helicoide’s conditions; protesters wore black shirts reading “CLOSE THE TORTURE CENTERS.”
International human rights organizations have also criticized the United Nations, Nicolás Maduro’s government and the opposition for delays in establishing a much-hyped, roughly $3 billion fund to finance health, food and education programs for Venezuela’s poor. Venezuelan assets frozen because of the economic sanctions were to be funneled to the fund, which the U.N. will manage, but it is yet to materialize.
Human Rights Watch last month blamed the lack of progress on Maduro government for not identifying the country’s frozen assets abroad; foreign governments and banks for not quickly releasing identifying assets; and the U.N. for not opening the fund itself. The human rights organization said the U.S. government took six months to agree it would shield the humanitarian fund from creditors looking for Venezuelan money to cover debts.
Last month, Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, emphasized the urgency for the Maduro government, the opposition, the United Nations, and the Biden administration to promptly and openly take action in order to provide assistance to the people of Venezuela. She stated that the millions of Venezuelans facing severe humanitarian crises cannot afford any delays.
Their struggles at home drive them to seek refuge elsewhere. An early challenge in their exodus is the perilous Darien Gap, which connects South America to Central America. Earlier this year, two U.N. groups said the number of migrants crossing through the jungle area between Colombia and Panama could soar to as many as 400,000 this year.
Many of those who make it through later find themselves at an altogether different locale: The Roosevelt. On Wednesday, Adams told local television channel NY1 that there was still time for President Joe Biden, in town for the U.N. General Assembly, to visit The Roosevelt, as a delegation of congressional representatives had done days earlier.
The president did not visit The Roosevelt and instead returned to Washington. However, on Thursday, Alejandro Mayork, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, declared a temporary legal status for approximately 472,000 Venezuelans who had entered the country by July 31. This decision aims to simplify the process of obtaining work authorization in the U.S. It addresses a significant request from Democratic mayors and governors who are facing challenges in providing for the growing number of migrants under their care.
On Thursday, at The Roosevelt, a Venezuelan couple with a baby was leaving and were told to go to a shelter in lower Manhattan. They wore multiple layers of clothing, carried heavy bags, and the father covered the baby in the stroller with his leather jacket. The wind blew the rain sideways, even getting under the umbrellas on the street, but the couple didn’t have one for protection.
Lopez, the recently arrived mother, was searching on her phone for a store that had been suggested by asylum workers. This store was known to have affordable coats for her children. However, before heading there, she wanted to check if any church had donated clothing. She decided to give St. Patrick’s Cathedral a try as it was conveniently located just a few blocks away.
“It has been nearly two months since I have been experiencing all of this,” she stated. “It was challenging, but we managed to accomplish it.”
Across the street from the St. Patrick’s Cathedral is Venezuela’s one-time consulate, now closed – the upshot of a power struggle between U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s leader in 2019 following Maduro’s widely considered sham reelection the previous year.
The flag of the consulate is still flying outside, but it has become entangled with its pole due to being left unattended. One of the glass panels on the front of the building is missing and has been replaced with plywood. The remaining panels display signs drawing attention to the dire situation in Venezuela, highlighting the fact that millions of people have been compelled to flee.
“They read a message stating that the situation in Venezuela has worsened significantly. They advised to closely monitor the developments in Venezuela.”
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