Leave it all It is still the option of hundreds of Venezuelans who, overwhelmed by extreme poverty in Venezuela, walk up to more than a thousand kilometers with the hope of leaving the country, even if this implies days of walking and a host of risks on the road.
Those who decide to emigrate, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, feel that they have nothing to lose in Venezuela and perhaps something to gain in another land. Surely that food that is increasingly difficult to bring to their tables. That is why today they walk in the sun and rain, day and night, with as much faith as they are tired.
These “walkers”, as the press calls them, stopped being news years ago but they have not stopped appearing in the border states of Venezuela, loaded with what little they can carry and, now, with worn out masks to try to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Ronald, the lawyer
Ronald Vásquez is 26 years old and has two young children in Lara state (center). There he left them, in the care of other relatives, when he began to walk towards the border that the country shares with Colombia through the state of Táchira, more than 500 kilometers away from the starting point.
This student of the last year of Law left his job in the Venezuelan Prosecutor’s Office due to the “economic issue”, specifically because of the monthly salary he received of 400,000 bolivars (less than 1 dollar), the minimum legal amount in force in the country.
“To have a good quality of life, unfortunately you have to leave the country, you have to run out (…) one cannot be at home without food, “says the young man who is still walking towards the border area, closed since March due to health controls imposed by the Government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Asked about this circumstance at the border, he responds: “Well (we will pass) by trail, we know that it is illegal but it is the only part (through) that we can enter the neighboring country,” he adds, accompanied by seven other emigrants.
Carlos, the policeman
Carlos Herrera has been walking for eight days. He left Yaracuy with two friends and the three plan to arrive in Bogotá. Google’s distance calculator estimates that it would take them about 250 hours to complete that goal, only if they never stop walking.
But they have sought rest, especially since one of the three is disabled and he goes in a wheelchair to the border.
Carlos is grateful to God and to the people who have encouraged them on the journey, while still blaming the Executive of Nicolás Maduro for his situation, for sleeping on the street and for being forced to separate from his three children.
“The Government is the least that supports us (…) I am a national policeman, seven years of service, and look how I walk,” says the young man in the rain. They have taken a break to continue pushing the wheelchair.
None of the members of this trident have relatives or people waiting for them in Colombia, they simply go “adrift” towards that country that has welcomed almost two million Venezuelans in recent years.
Flee from hunger
Andy Rodríguez, María Núñez and José Colón do not know each other but they have several things in common: the three are Venezuelans, under thirty years old, have children, and these days they are walking towards the border, coming from different areas of the oil country.
Andy travels, on foot, in a group of 11 people that includes four children. Him and his group they have slept on the street the last five days. “We are emigrating from there because there is hunger,” he says before being interrupted by several of his companions, each with a different anecdote, with claims and regrets.
Several of the walkers denounce that they have been “stolen” by policemen, who took their belongings to allow them to pass on public roads, today restricted due to quarantine.
The “walkers” also leave tired of the lack of electricity, domestic gas, of public transport, of gasoline, of money to buy food; of a cluster of deficiencies that only in September caused 1,193 street protests despite the prohibition of public meetings.
Those who leave leave the country that, according to the government, has the best handling of the pandemic in all of South America, with only 678 deaths. But they don’t fear the coronavirus as much as they fear starving.
Return, the counter flow
While some are leaving, others return to Venezuela. Two sides of a migratory coin that are equally true and that speak of natural human mobility, even if the Government insists on showing only the second part of the story.
Maduro speaks frequently about the 117,000 Venezuelans who, according to his Executive, have returned to the country in the middle of the pandemic “in search of health.”
About those who leave, more than five million in recent years, not a single word.
But that official silence does not cancel the walk of Ronald, Carlos, Andy, María, José and the many others who they sold a bike or a dishwasher to start walking with some money and no certainty.
Pregnant women, children who barely walk, the disabled, almost all of them young, continue to wear worn-out shoes in their efforts to achieve a better life.
By Héctor Pereira. EFE