Coming across the border to Colombia, some Venezuelans have fled their country as they search for any means of survival. They’re escaping from the highest inflation rate in the world, ongoing unrest and violent street protests.
Women and children are flocking to the Colombian border town of Cúcuta in desperate need of medical care, food and shelter. Mothers sometimes leave children behind to be looked after by fathers and other family members. Pregnant women make treacherous, daylong journeys for medical care. Others have left behind their normal lives to ensure their children will have a meal the next day.
The Venezuelan government intimidates and restricts the media in Venezuela, taking CNN en Español off the air. The government tightly controls visas for foreign journalists including CNN, arresting those who report from inside the country without proper permits.
But CNN was able to learn the stories of these three women seeking help at the border:
Suarez, 27, left her hometown of Valencia in March during the second trimester of her pregnancy. When she told friends and family she was pregnant, they suggested an abortion because of “the situation in Venezuela,” she told CNN. Instead she made the bus journey to Colombia. She also was forced to leave her 7-year-old son behind. If she were to have her baby in Venezuela, she said, she would have needed to bring a kit of medical supplies to the hospital, including gloves and gowns for the medical staff to care for her. She can’t afford to buy the kit, she said.
The day Guttierez left Merida, it was the first trip she had made out of Venezuela. Initially, the mother of six was filled with hope as she crossed the border into Colombia with three of her children. Taken in by a local Catholic church, the family lives in a refugee shelter with little more than what they were able to bring with them. Unable to work because of her undocumented status and with children to care for, Guttierez spends her days in the shelter with other women in similar situations. One day soon, she will take the children back to Venezuela and then return to Colombia alone to make ends meet for her family.
It took Martinez a day and a half to make the bus journey to Cúcuta — with her three children in tow — from her Caribbean hometown of Puerto Cabello. A week into their new lives in Colombia, they pay $30 a month to rent a room for the family of four. They keep a roof over their heads by selling lollipops on the streets of Cúcuta’s city center. On a good day, the family makes up to $10. A proud woman, Martinez said she does not want her children on the streets begging, but it is better than starving. A group of teenagers walk past and buy the two older girls Popsicles. “I eat every day in Colombia,” Martinez’s oldest daughter, Gabriella, said with a smile.