Rich in Venezuela, Beggars in Colombia

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Antonio Maria Delgado and Mario J. Pentón, Bogota, 6 February 2018  — “Venezuela … I would not wish it on even my worst enemy,” says Luis Alfredo Rivas in a bus terminal in Bogotá, with tears in his eyes.

The young man, 32, is one of the thousands of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia who left their jobs, homes and all their possessions behind and now beg throughout the day just to collect enough coins to pay for a roof to sleep under. Despite this, many claim to be better off than before crossing the border.

As Venezuela’s economy continues to crumble, thousands of its citizens migrate to Colombia every day, sometimes walking hundreds of miles on foot through the Andes to escape the chronic shortage of food and medicine, the frequent looting and the rampant crime in their own country.

In its last report published in January, Migración Colombia estimates that more than 550,000 Venezuelans are now living in the country. In addition, according to the market research firm Consultores 21, some four million citizens have left Venezuela. The migration crisis has reached such a level that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will travel to the border city of Cúcuta on Thursday to announce measures to address the situation.

The flight of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans from their homes reflects the impact the collapse of the national economy during Nicolás Maduro’s presidency has had on the lives of its citizens.

The once thriving oil nation, which used to provide billions in aid to its neighbors, is trapped in a spiral of hyperinflation that stood at 2,616% at the end of 2017.

“I have my house there, I have all my things there. But my and my husband’s salaries were not enough for my daughters to have breakfast, we couldn’t even give them bread,” Esperanza Tello, accompanied by her 6-year-old daughter, Edilianys Rojas, tells 14ymedio. “We live badly here, but it’s better than in Venezuela.”

Many Venezuelans who live in the streets of Bogotá have the same challenge every day: to try to collect 12,000 to 15,000 pesos (between 4 and 5 dollars) to pay for a room for the night. That is the most important thing for Tello and his family. His youngest son is 2 years old and it is cold at night in Colombia’s capital, which is 8,600 feet above sea level.

Sitting nearby in the same square, Shelby Jesús Monsalve Pérez, 29, and Alexis Romero, 22, say there have been days when they have not been able to collect the 12,000 pesos and have slept on the grass in a nearby park.

Brian Steven Tole, Edilianys Rojas and Ediangelis Alexandra Rojas, play outside one of the bus terminals in the city of Bogotá while their parents sell sweets and coffee to pay for a place to spend the night. (14ymedio)

The two former students have tried to find work, but it is very complicated, so they spend many days praying that the coins they put together are enough to eat. Despite his difficult situation, Perez claims to be more concerned about his little sister, who he left with his other brother in Caracas.

“We had a good life, but then what happened happened. I’ve talked to my brothers and they tell me that the situation is much worse now, much harder and more difficult,” Pérez said. “I feel very bad for my sister because she is there alone with my brother, I have been helping them, sending them 20,000 or 30,000 pesos (between 7 and 10 dollars) so they can eat, because there [in Venezuela] salaries are not enough.”

Rivas, the young man at the bus station, explains that the disconnect between wages and the price of food, which is mostly found on the black market, is disproportionate. “For starters, Venezuela’s minimum wage is only 190,000 bolivars per week, when a two pounds of rice costs 210,000 bolivars, so what can I do?” he says.

John Rodríguez, 29, recently arrived in Bogotá, says he knows many people who have decided to leave Venezuela because they believe there is no chance for them there. In his case, he decided to enter through Cúcuta from Valencia in November inspired by the experience of his friends.

Rodríguez walked, along with a friend, David Ortega, the 340 miles between Cúcuta and Bogotá along the roadsides.

“The Colombians have helped us along the way. We did not go hungry because they gave us food,” said Rodriguez. “I just arrived and I’m trying to find a hotel so I don’t have to sleep on the street, I don’t want to do it, but if it can’t be avoided, I’ll do it.”


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