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As Venezuelans flee hunger, Maduro tries to lure them home with free flights

As Venezuelans flee hunger, Maduro tries to lure them home with free flights

07/09/18 - 18:10 - Facing financial ruin, hyperinflation, hunger and power-outages, the Venezuelan government has a plan to lure its fleeing countrymen back home: free flights.

As part of its ongoing “Operation Return to the Fatherland,” the government said it will be sending charter planes to pick up migrants in Perú on Saturday and Argentina on Monday.

The “rescue” missions come as South America is banding together to deal with the more than 1.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country and flooded the region in recent years. And regional leaders are demanding that President Nicolás Maduro modify his disastrous economic policies.

Maduro’s government claims the migratory crisis is “fake news,” an exaggeration designed to denigrate the socialist nation. And it’s hitting back, painting Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Perú, Ecuador and elsewhere as suffering and desperate to come home.

When Maduro announced the flights last week, he said they were a mission of mercy to help Venezuelans “escape the economic slavery, persecution and contempt” they were facing throughout South America.

“Quit washing toilets abroad and come to live in the fatherland, love Venezuela and value Venezuela,” he said.

Since the operation began, the government says more than 1,000 migrants have accepted free rides home, including 1,239 from Brazil, 89 from Peru and 92 from Ecuador. The Brazil numbers, however, likely include migrants who returned overland — not on flights — after anti-Venezuelan protests erupted along the border.

Calls to Venezuela’s Ministry of Information seeking clarification were not returned.

While there are certainly migrants in Perú struggling to make ends meet, the charter flights are more about propaganda than goodwill, said Óscar Pérez Torrez, the head of The Union of Venezuelans in Perú, an association that represents the estimated 400,000 Venezuelans in that country.

“This is just a show, trying to generate a smokescreen to hide the magnitude of the crisis” in Venezuela, he said. “They’re trying to create this fiction that things in Venezuela are changing and everyone knows that’s not true.”

The program also seems designed to create friction between Peruvians and Venezuelans by accusing the host country of being xenophobic, despite opening its doors to the migrants, Pérez said.

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