Ecuadorian border town struggling to cope with exodus driven by economic breakdown and political turmoil

Nicolas Maduro has defamed the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing across the Andes as gullible” slaves and tramps” deceived into scour foreign toilets by foes of the Bolivarian revolution.

The United People said 2.3 million people, more than 7% of Venezuela’spopulation, have left the country since 2015, with most heading to Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Half a million have arrived this year in Ecuador alone.

But when Daniel Luquez, an unemployed carpenter, start out from his home in the city of Guanare in July he was not, as Venezuela’s president recently scoffed, chasing” the sugars” of “peoples lives” abroad. He was fighting for his daughter’s life.

Two-year-old Jolismar was diagnosed with thoracic cancer last year after physicians spotted a small lump near her nature. On Tuesday, and after an arduous three-week pilgrimage across Colombia, her papa arrived in the Ecuadorian border town of Tulcan determined to earn the money to support his ailing daughter as she experiences chemotherapy back in their rapidly undoing nation.

” Getting here was tough, but I have to battle for their own families ,” said Luquez, 27, who hitchhiked and hobbled nearly 1,200 miles to Ecuador. Six years ago his left leg was amputated as a result of a vehicle crash.

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Daniel Luquez, 27, toured 1,200 miles and is one of more than 500 000 people who have traversed into northern Ecuador this year. Photograph: Tom Phillips for the Guardian

Luquez is one of the more than 500,000 Venezuelans “whos had” swept into northern Ecuador via Colombia this year as his country’s migration crisis intensifies. Regional authorities struggle to cope with the humanitarian and political fallout from one of the largest mass movements in Latin American history.

The exodus appears to have accelerated in recent weeks with virtually 43,000 Venezuelans streaming into Tulcan over Rumichaca Bridge in the first 14 daylights of August alone.

Jose de la Fuente, the regional head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the number could smack 100,000 by the end of this month.” I don’t think anybody imagined a crisis of this sizing ,” he said.

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Andrea Obando, who is leading the humanitarian response for Tulcan’s town hall, said even 50 years of conflict involving Colombian paramilitaries and guerrillas had not pushed so many parties across the border.

Maduro, who came to power after Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, has struck a insolent manner after the recent attempt to assassinate him, detaining political foes and vowing to revive Venezuela’s nosediving economy.

” I want the country to recover and I have the formula. Trust me ,” he said in a broadcasted address on Friday, announcing a major money reduction numerous economists say will stir the situation even worse.

Crowds
Crowds of Venezuelan migrants wait to cross into Ecuador on the Rumichaca bridge. Photograph: Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

But with no indication of the economic or migratory junctures easing, Venezuela’s neighbours appear to be losing patience.

Brazil, which has taken in tens of thousands of Venezuelans, briefly sealed its northern border in early August, with regional experts claiming they could no longer cope.” If we carry on like this, by the end of its first year we will have lost ensure of the town ,” warned the mayor of Boa Vista, which is near the border.

On Saturday, angry Brazilians determined fire to migrant campsin the frontier city of Pacaraima and obliged about 1, 200 Venezuelan immigrants back over common bordersafter a restaurant owned was robbed and jabbed- supposedly by Venezuelans. The Venezuelan foreign ministry expressed concern over the attacks and insisted Brazil to protect the immigrants and their dimension. Brazil said it would mail extra units to the Roraima border to counter the unrest.

Earlier this year, Chile and Colombia introduced measures designed to deter Venezuelans from coming, and this week Ecuador and Peru followed suit, announcing they would only admit those with passports, something many shortage because of the commotion back home.

Ecuador’s decision was condemned by activists as unconstitutional and inhuman. But it will satisfy some in Tulcan, a picturesque but economically depressed settlement of about 60,000 inhabitants.

Hundreds of them paraded through its streets on Thursday, requiring urgent measures from President Lenin Moreno to rescue its economy and slow the influx of Venezuelans, some of whom can be seen sleeping bumpy and asking in commons and squares.

Hundreds
Hundreds of locals take to the streets of Tulcan, Ecuador to protest against the arrival of thousands of Venezuelan migrants. Photograph: Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

” You are contributing to five, 10 or 20 Venezuelans but you can’t help … 10,000 ,” said Jairo Pozo, a business owner behind the complain, alleging” these Venezuelan gentlemen” of stealing Ecuadorian jobs and wallets.

Marco Sanchez, a 32 -year-old demonstrator, said he was disturbed by the presence of” this type of person”, claiming:” Fortunes of beings mostly come here come to steal .”

Obando said she was concerned about rising xenophobia and blamed local media for sensationalising a handful of offences committed by Venezuelans. Depriving incomers committed himself some petty crimes, she said, but added that official digits established lie to claims Tulcan was in the clutch of a crime wave.

She said Ecuador’s ” arbitrary ” decision to bar passport-less Venezuelans would strand numerous in Tulcan or push them into the mitts of parties smugglers. Permissions already knew of 25 smuggling ways around the town, she said: “This is going to skyrocket.”

That Venezuela’s exodus will continue is obvious from the tales of despair that bristle on Rumichaca Bridge, where thousands assemble each day en route to a new life and a Jehovah’s Witness volunteer has erected a signaling constituting the question on everyone’s mind:” When will the torment end ?”

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Yemila Urribarri, a 42 -year-old psychologist from Maracaibo who is fleeing to Peru with her 14 -year-old son, Jhoel. Photograph: Tom Phillips, Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

Yemila Urribarri, a 42 -year-old psychologist from Maracaibo who is fleeing to Peru with her 14 -year-old son, said her country was disintegrating.” There are children dying of hunger ,” she said, her attentions glazing over with tears.

AndresChacin, a 21 -year-old politics graduate who was Argentina-bound, said his generation had also lost hope:” Eighty per cent of my friends have already emigrated .”

With Maduro clinging on and Venezuela’s opposition subdivided, Chacin said he witness international pres as the only chance of change.” Vladimir Putin will be determined[ what happens ]. Xi Jinping will be determined. Latin American governments will decide. Nobody else ,” he said.

Others on the connection had most extreme suggestions.” There’s only one route to solve this: kill him- a missile on Miraflores ,” said Alex Ribero, a gold-miner from Ciudad Bolivar, referring to the presidential palace.

A group of backpackers from Germany and New Zealand ogled on in incredulity having unwittingly stumbled into the humanitarian emergency.” I’ve never been part of something like this … I had no meaning what we were going to be coming into ,” said Ashleigh Mcquarters, a 32 -year-old accountant who was among the crowd queuing to enter Ecuador.

Over coffee and cake , now unbelievable luxuries back home, Luquez withdrew starting his expedition in July with less than a dollar in his pocket. He crossed into Colombia at the town ofArauquita and initially planned to stay in Bogota . But he abandoned Colombia’s capital after being accosted by a neighbourhood inhabitant who told him ” venecos”, a derogatory statement for Venezuelans, were not welcome.

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Daniel Luquez in Tulcan. Photograph: Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent for the Guardian

On his crutches, Luquez hitched and hiked his path south through Cali, over Ecuador’s border and finally to Tulcan where he sells sweets on street corners from 7am to 7pm to help pay for his daughter’s treatment.

” It’s hard. You croak three or four periods without washing … and if you do take a bath it’s in a flow … I never believed I’d go through something like this. I never speculated I’d have to leave my own country ,” he said. “Never.”

That night Luquez retired to the shabby $50 -a-month hostel where he has leased a chamber with help from an international charity. He logged on to its wi-fi network and typed a message into his phone.

” My clas is the most important thing to me ,” it spoke.” You don’t know how much I bid they were here with me .”

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