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Go across three countries and take thirteen buses, the price to run away from Venezuela.

December 28, 2018

Aimé’s departure from Maracay, Aragua state, was not as sharp as he had planned the day before. She intended to leave at 6:00 o’clock her house, her neighborhood, her furniture -some still useful-, her mother and a small “langaruto” farmer, as she says.

“I had enlisted everything. I had my giant suitcase, the blankets and the pillows in a handbag. And eat, then, because I do not know how much time we’ll spend without eating. Oh, and the documents. Those I had to keep them well because I know they can steal. But the little girl got a tantrum and we’re not going to arrive at the time I told my husband. The hours are against us always, “he says with resignation and regret even though 48 hours have passed since the episode.

With everything ready and that rush that seemed constant in his speech and mixed with anxiety and fear, he had to stop. They were already “late” in their extreme punctual schedule, but it won her mother’s heart to console her youngest daughter. So much so, that despite insistently telling him the day before that he could not bring a teddy bear, he had no choice but to let him pack it.

“If I had to convince her to leave everything she knew, I could not ask her to take her bear. It is a filthy pink and you will have your hands busy, but perhaps you feel that this is accompanied, as with a bit of it, “says Aimé, who the burden of the trip shows on his face and in his eyes.

Leaving the house at 6:00 a.m. was not a whim. Four days of a long journey awaited him that included, at least, taking 13 buses. In 96 hours it would pass through three countries, it would stop in nine cities, at least in two municipalities and one township, and it would have to do, at least, two 30-minute walks.

After that journey that began in Maracay, her husband would wait for her at three in the afternoon in the Trujillo terminal in Peru. His trouble was not just to see him. He has not taken his hand or slept by his side more than a year ago. But her career against the clock is not only because she misses it, it is because her husband has only two hours of leave in his work to be able to go pick her up. Otherwise, they will have to wait until 9 o’clock at night when their day ends.

Aimé does not guess that he still has more than 18 hours to reach his destination. “Where am I?” Was his first question when he got off the bus with a couple of blankets on top in the middle of more than 38 degrees of heat.

Look around to try to locate, give several looks to the sky, to the dusty street where the bus leaves. He has spent so much time in that red bed car that the sun dazzles his eyes. Although he does not find anything that gives him a reference of where he is, he says with a firm voice: “After so many hours, I must be in Ecuador”.

It is not like this. It is in Santa Ana, Putumayo, a corregimiento of just a couple of streets whose relevance arises because it is the point from connecting Puerto Asís with Orito, La Hormiga and San Miguel, and also because it is one of the exits to Ecuador.

To get there, which is about half of your trip. He had to take a bus in the transport terminal of Maracay and after 12 hours reach the San Antonio de Táchira. There, she walked for 26 minutes to the Simón Bolívar bridge and then took an informal transport that took her to the Cúcuta terminal. From that place she took a fleet that moved her to Bogotá in a journey of almost 16 hours.

The capital of Colombia arrived at night, but did not have the courage to sleep in the improvised settlements that are in the streets of Salitre. Not because he thought something might happen to him. I just kept thinking that the ticking of his broken glass clock told him he could not stop. While her daughters were sleeping on the suitcases, she made a huge line to get the next bus to take her to La Hormiga.

“The people in that terminal go from one place to another and did not understand anything. I trusted my little god and left my little girls in a corner while I was in line. I watched them all the time. When I got the ticket, I felt a little relief. We had just enough time to go to the bathroom, stretch our legs and eat a couple of loaves of bread that I had brought, “says Aimé very quickly because his mind immediately returns to Santa Ana.

In an energetic tone he asks the bus helper why they are setting up their suitcases in a van similar to the Willys.

It is normal for that to happen. In Santa Ana there is no terminal, but a corner of the restaurant ‘La Casa de Danny’ has become the place where every so often buses of the Cootransmayo company are stationed to leave between 40 and 50 people, almost all Venezuelan.

They get off the buses, sometimes with lies, telling them that they arrived at La Hormiga, and they board them in vans with roofs that act as porters. The force can fit 10 people, so, at least, there are seven vans in line.

“They were never told lies. The bus goes to La Hormiga, but it’s getting late for usto fulfill the other itinerary and arrive in Bogota. So we ask them to get off, we provide them the rest of the way in the vans and we will charge them more, “says one of the assistants who refuses to give his name and hurries the passengers to” embark ” as fast as possible.

Aimé, and her two daughters; Elisa, her husband and her brother; Carmina, with her two daughters, a niece, a granddaughter, her brother and two Chihuahua dogs, are just some of the 300 Venezuelan migrants who cross Colombia every day to reach Ecuador or Peru.

Some buses do not make the full route to La Hormiga, Putumayo, and they drop people off in Santa Ana. There they board them in vans that end the trip.

Putumayo, the city of displaced people that welcomes them

Puerto Asís has become a point of permanence and transit of the Venezuelan population. So much so that the same authorities of the most populated municipality of Putumayo do not hide that they are governed by the data collected by Funvencol, a Venezuelan foundation in that city led by Julio Sifontes and that also carries statistics from Valle del Guamuez and Puerto Caicedo, and not by official figures.

The Mayor’s Office, the Ministry of Health, the Red Cross and even agencies such as Mercy Corps, use the Funvencol statistics to make service prospects, track Venezuelans, characterize the population and alert specific cases, such as leprosy. which was presented in the municipality in mid-October.

“We have raised petitions to the authorities at a national level, but it is one thing to ask for it and another to obtain help (…) The figures with which we have approached the authorities at the departmental level have been those made by Funvencol. Its leader has been apersoned, has had that sense of belonging to his countrymen and has provided us with more real information about Venezuelans in the municipality, “explains Ómar Guevara, mayor of Puerto Asís.

But it’s not just a count of people. Without the real figures of the Venezuelan population, the municipality does not know how much it needs for health care of all foreigners and how the figure would change if the number of nationals is added.

Nor how many people have been treated in local hospitals, much less what are the needs of those who practice prostitution, and less how can face the wave of Venezuelans who, like Aimé and his daughters, move to reach other countries. Or other Venezuelans who stayed in Puerto Asís because they ran out of money.

“Even the Registry does not know the processes with the children of Venezuelan parents who are born here. Some entities have been steeped in procedures, but there are other entities that are unaware of the processes that must be done with Venezuelans, “says Diego Cadena, of the Municipal Council of Disaster Risk Management of Puerto Asís.

Sandro Bravo, from the Ministry of Health of that municipality, says that the accounts show that 35 to 45 Venezuelan people have been treated in the last semester.

The data consolidates the attention of four health centers and the ESE Local Hospital of Puerto Asís, the only public hospital in the municipality.

“But it’s a laughable fact, we know there are many more. Maybe when they paid attention they could not register because they did not know how to handle the issue of Venezuelans. The communication, it seems to me, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Interior, had flaws. Neither the Ministry of Health itself had contingency plans to care for this population and less in these areas that are isolated, “says Bravo.

Not everyone who lives here is from here. Many of us are also displaced by violence, we know what it is to take our corotos and leave without more, without direction. We know the pain they have

Certainly, Putumayo has had the worst possible scenario in Colombia: abandonment of the State, corridors in dispute for the guerrillas and the paramilitaries, massacres everywhere like those perpetrated in El Placer, Orito, La Dorada and the bloodiest in El Tigre in 1999, where about 28 people died and 14 more were missing. This added to the seizure of the Las Delicias military base in 1996, where 27 soldiers died and 60 were kidnapped, and the almost symbiotic relationship between coca and oil.

For years, the municipalities of Bajo Putumayo, among which is Puerto Asis, concentrated up to 88% of illicit crops throughout the department. Fumigation with glyphosate and manual eradication have been done, but still without effective results due to the presence of criminal gangs, emerging groups and common crime.

In addition, it has coverage in basic services of less than 50% and the needs of the population are unsatisfied by 36%. After the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC, the risk factors have been reduced, as well as the presence of the guerrillas of that guerrilla, as indicated by the Cartographic Analysis of the post-conflict made by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Government of Putumayo.

However, the document sustains that it is important to strengthen the reintegration process, the restitution of land and the substitution of illicit crops.

With that past on its back, the municipalities of Putumayo have welcomed the Venezuelans. In Puerto Asis, for example, its residents say they feel identified with migrants.

“Not everyone who lives here is from here. Many of us are also displaced by violence, we know what it is to take our corotos and leave without more, without direction. We know how much pain they have, “says Silvia Arroyave, a librarian at the village school and a volunteer at the Red Cross.

Some Venezuelans have found informal jobs, especially in construction, crops or general services. Another one is easy prey for the emerging groups that propose to them to join the drug business and there are also women who are dedicated to prostitution.

The most vulnerable population, without a doubt, are children and pregnant women, which represent a challenge for the municipality. Without resources or a regulatory framework, the authorities have done what they can to address them. Less than half of the children go to school, and some only do so as assistants -which does not give them the possibility of certifying that they are studying-.

Aimé stayed a couple of minutes more waiting for the next truck that does take her to La Hormiga. He continues to be anxious, although it is only 9:30 in the morning. But it is logical. You need 7 buses to take and just over 28 hours on the way to Peru.

By that time, two days have passed since he left Venezuela. She still has two more to meet her husband and start that “new life” in which she finds stores to buy food for her daughters “with no restrictions other than money”, as she says.

“There we have to work and we will do it like donkeys, but swim may be missing. Nothing else can be missing, “says Aimé.

As he could, he put the girls in the front of the truck. At this point he did not care if they were wearing seat belts or not. He made sure that his suitcases were securely tied to the roof of the vehicle and with an involuntary gesture he said goodbye.

“Thanks for everything,” he seemed to say from the window.