Brazil suggests limiting Venezuelan entries, then backs off

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazilian President Michel Temer said Wednesday that authorities were considering significantly reducing the number of Venezuelans entering Brazil each day but backtracked hours later — a sign of how fraught the issue has become as thousands flee political and economic turmoil in the neighboring country.

Between 700 to 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil each day, and Temer said in a radio interview that authorities were discussing issuing chits to arriving Venezuelans to limit the number of entries and help better respond to the needs of those who do enter.

Officials “are thinking about providing, who knows, chits in order that 100, 150, I don’t know 200 enter each day,” he told Radio Jornal. “Each day, a set number will enter to organize better these entries.”

But in a statement later in the day, Temer’s office said handing out the chits would only be to improve the government’s ability to help the migrants and was not meant as a way of “closing off the entry of Venezuelans to Brazil.” The statement did not reference the lower daily figures that Temer gave during the interview, but his office said the government’s position is that entries would not be limited.

The back-and-forth came as Temer toughened his criticism of Venezuela, calling the humanitarian crisis there “unacceptable.” The situation in Roraima state, where most Venezuelans enter Brazil, has also become increasingly difficult, and Temer decided Tuesday to deploy military troops there. Roraima’s homicide rate has spiked this year and is now the highest in Brazil.

“We offered humanitarian aid — food and medicine (to Venezuela). The government refused,” Temer said. “The government refuses there, and Venezuelans come here.”

Temer suggested that if President Nicolas Maduro’s government would accept aid, fewer Venezuelans would flee. Maduro has resisted such offers, contending there is no crisis and that what’s really needed is for the U.S. to lift economic sanctions.

More than 50,000 Venezuelans, many of whom are hungry or sick and have little or no money and belongings, have applied for refugee or resident status in Brazil in recent years. Authorities in Roraima state say the federal government needs to do more to help them deal with the influx.

Since 2014, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled their country’s growing humanitarian crisis, including shortages of food and medicine, according to the United Nations. Some countries, like Peru and Colombia, see thousands enter each day, and the influx has strained the resources of countries around the region and led to xenophobia and sometimes violence.

In Brazil, angry residents of a border town hurled rocks at Venezuelans earlier this month and set fire to their belongings after migrants were blamed for an attack on a local storeowner.

In response to the influx, several countries have tightened entry requirements recently but Brazil has so far resisted such measures.

Roraima’s government has tried a few times to shut the border to stem the flow, but the federal government and courts have so far pushed to keep it open.