‘It’s humiliating’: Inside the trek thousands of Venezuelans are making just to get food

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A man carries a child as people line up to cross over the Simon Bolivar international bridge to Colombia to take advantage of the temporary border opening in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

For the second time in as many weeks, Venezuelans flooded across their country’s western border into Colombia, searching for vital goods like food and medicine that are all but nonexistent in their country.

After a 12-hour opening of the border last Sunday, during which 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the frontier, Venezuelan authorities opened the border (which has been closed since August 2015) on Saturday, a day earlier than planned, to avoid the build-up of people at the crossings, according to the BBC.

The opening lasted into Sunday, and reports indicate that some 123,000 people crossed the border over the weekend.

The opening last weekend was prompted by a protest crossing a few days prior, which saw hundreds of women clad in white march across a bridge connecting Venezuela’s western Tachira state (one of Venezuela’s most restive regions) with Cúcuta, a Colombian city of about 600,000.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, according to Tachira state Gov. Jose Vielma Mora, authorized the opening “because we want to have a peaceful border, with reciprocity from the Colombian side, where contraband and the entry of Venezuelan food to the Colombian side is not permitted,” referring to smuggling that is rampant along the border.

Colombian officials seemed to welcome the influx of Venezuelans, with authorities on the ground calling it a “humanitarian corridor.”


Venezuelans have lined up by the thousands the past two weekends, as the country’s socialist government has opened the border after a nearly yearlong closure.

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People line up to cross over the Simon Bolivar international bridge to Colombia to take advantage of the temporary border opening in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

This weekend, 35,000 people reportedly crossed on Saturday, followed by another 88,000 on Sunday.

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A child takes cover from the rain as she cross the Colombian-Venezuelan border over the Simon Bolivar international bridge after shopping, in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Source: Associated Press


Some Colombians have reportedly ventured to Venezuela to buy cheap goods like gasoline, the price of which is kept artificially low by government subsidies.

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People line up, right, to cross over the Simon Bolivar international bridge to Colombia to take advantage of the temporary border opening as others come back after shopping in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Demand among Venezuelans for staples like flour or sugar was so great that resupplies had to be sent from nearby Colombian cities.

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Colombia civil-defense members help an old woman to cross the Colombian-Venezuelan border over the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Saturday’s border opening, which lasted about eight hours, came as a surprise since the opening was schedule for Sunday, and even though Colombian authorities said “we have made a great effort to have sufficient supplies,” demand appeared to exceed what was available.

Source: Associated Press


Toilet paper in particular was in high demand.


As it was one of the first times the border has been opened since last August, and since there are significant populations of Colombians and Venezuelans in both countries, the trips across were also used to settle matters beyond grocery resupply.

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Colombia civil-defense members carry a coffin as they to cross the Colombian-Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

“It’s kind of crazy day,” Alejandro Chacon, who owns a hardware store in the nearby town of San Cristobal and was crossing the border for the first time since the closure, told the AP. “It’s strange to see this, but we know we’re going to find what we want in Colombia, so it’s a nice difference.”

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A young woman carries toilet paper as she crosses the Colombian-Venezuelan border over the Simon Bolivar international bridge after shopping while a Colombian police officer looks on in Cucuta, Colombia, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Source: Associated Press


“Roadside kiosks set up by entrepreneurs took payment in Venezuela’s currency for goods at a steep discount from what they cost on the black market back home,” the AP reported.

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Colombian street vendor, left, sells his products at the Colombian-Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Source: Associated Press


The global slump in oil prices, from which Venezuela gets almost all of its foreign income, has hindered the country’s ability to buy imports. The resultant shortages, coupled with strict price controls on some goods, has created rampant scarcity.

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Women buy food staples at a local shop at the Colombian-Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Scarcity has also contributed Venezuela’s sky-rocketing inflation, which has driven the prices of what does remain on shelves to exorbitant levels. In Colombia, however, sought-after goods were in much greater supply.

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People buy daily necessities at the local shop by the Colombian-Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia, July 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

In contrast to what they encountered in Colombia, at home Venezuelans often find store shelves like these, in Caracas.

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People buy food and other staple goods inside a supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela.
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Reuters/Mariana Bazo

“Cúcuta opens its doors to you. Welcome to our home,” says this sign, which lists prices for goods converted at a rate of 2.50 Colombian pesos to one Venezuelan bolivar.

source
La Nacion

Colombian officials reportedly welcomed those arriving individually, and police handed out cake and blared festive vallenato tunes, traditional music beloved on both sides of the border.

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A Colombian police officer gives direction to people lining up to cross over the Simon Bolivar international bridge to Colombia to take advantage of the temporary border opening in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Source: Associated Press


“Toilet paper, rice, flour, grain, toothpaste, cooking oil,” Pedro Galaschow, 36, told The Wall Street Journal about what he was taking back to Venezuela. “It’s humiliating what we are doing at home.

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People line up to cross over the Simon Bolivar international bridge to Colombia to take advantage of the temporary border opening in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

The total lack of essential foodstuffs and other goods has dramatically reduced the quality of Venezuelan diets. Some families get by on just one or two skimpy meals a day. In other more severe instances, hospital patients and the infirm go without vital medicines.

“There is not starvation in Venezuela right now,” Tulane professor David Smilde, who lives in Caracas, wrote on July 5. “But there is significant hunger and malnourishment that could turn into starvation this year if something does not change.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal


At “Carnivals in San Antonio, yearly, thousands of people meet, but an avalanche like this has never been seen,” a Venezuelan reporter present at the crossings said on Twitter.

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People cross over the Simon Bolivar international bridge to Colombia to take advantage of the temporary border opening in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Source: Twitter


The crossings were relatively orderly, without much of the confrontation and protest that has characterized daily life in Venezuela in recent months. But the current conditions were never far from mind for many.

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A man push a trolley with goods next to other carrying a speaker as they walk toward the Colombian-Venezuelan border after shopping in Cucuta, Colombia, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

“I am looking for food for my children and my grandchildren,” Nersa Delgado, 62, told The Journal while carrying toilet-paper rolls in one hand and a bag of food in the other. “It’s horrible, at 62 years old to have to live like this.”

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A man carrying a bag gives a gesture to a Colombian soldier as he cross the Colombian-Venezuelan border over the Simon Bolivar international bridge after shopping in Cucuta, Colombia, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Some Venezuelans chanted slogans as they crossed the border. Others sang the national anthem, in a kind of sarcastic tribute to their government, just a few weeks after the country celebrated the anniversary of its independence from Spain.

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People are carrying bags as they walk toward the Colombian-Venezuelan border after shopping in Cucuta, Colombia, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

“It’s sad to be doing this, but we also know over there we’ll find something,” Rosa Cardenas, a 70-year-old retired school teacher accompanied by a 5-month-old granddaughter, told the Associated Press.

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A man carries a child as people line up to cross over the Simon Bolivar international bridge to Colombia to take advantage of the temporary border opening in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, July 17, 2016.
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REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Source: Associated Press