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

Nicolas Maduro has defamed the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing across the Andes as gullible” slaves and beggars” defrauded into scrubbing foreign bathrooms by opponents of the Bolivarian revolution.

The United Commonwealth 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 scorned, 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 ascertained a small lump near her center. On Tuesday, and after an arduous three-week pilgrimage across Colombia, her father-god arrived here the Ecuadorian border town of Tulcan determined to earn the money to support his ailing daughter as she undergoes chemotherapy back in their rapidly deciphering nation.

” Getting here was tough, but I have to battle for my family ,” 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 automobile crash.

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

Luquez is one of the more than 500,000 Venezuelans “whos had” bridged into northern Ecuador via Colombia this year as his country’s migration crisis escalates. 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 nearly 43,000 Venezuelans streaming into Tulcan over Rumichaca Bridge in the first 14 daytimes of August alone.

Jose de la Fuente, the regional head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the number could punch 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 took power after Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, has impres a rebelliou atmosphere after the recent attempt to assassinate him, detaining political foes and vowing to revive Venezuela’s nosediving economy.

” I miss the country to recover and I have the formula. Trust me ,” he said in a broadcasted address on Friday, announcing a major money reduction many economists say will make 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 financial or migratory disasters easing, Venezuela’s neighbours appear to be losing patience.

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

On Saturday, enraged Brazilians mounted fire to migrant cliquesin the frontier town of Pacaraima and pressured about 1, 200 Venezuelan immigrants back over common bordersafter a eatery proprietor was robbed and jabbed- allegedly by Venezuelans. The Venezuelan foreign ministry expressed concern over the two attacks and insisted Brazil to protect the immigrants and their property. Brazil said it would send additional troops 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 numerous shortage because of the chao back home.

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

Hundreds of them paraded through its streets on Thursday, demanding urgent action from President Lenin Moreno to rescue its economy and slow the influx of Venezuelans, some of whom can be seen sleeping rough and begging in parks and squares.

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

” You can help five, 10 or 20 Venezuelans but you can’t help … 10,000 ,” said Jairo Pozo, a business owner behind the rally, accusing” these Venezuelan gentlemen” of stealing Ecuadorian employment and wallets.

Marco Sanchez, a 32 -year-old demonstrator, said he was disturbed by the presence of” this type of being”, claiming:” Lots of parties basically come here come to steal .”

Obando said she was concerned about rising xenophobia and accused local media for sensationalising a handful of offences committed by Venezuelans. Depriving incomers committed himself some inessential crimes, she said, but added that official representations devoted 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 beings smugglers. Authorities already known to be 25 smuggling trails around the town, she said: “This is going to skyrocket.”

That Venezuela’s exodus will continue is obvious from the tales of despair that abound on Rumichaca Bridge, where thousands assemble each day en route to a brand-new life and a Jehovah’s Witness volunteer has erected a mansion posing the question on everyone’s mind:” When will the endure dissolve ?”

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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 deteriorating.” 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 immigrated .”

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

Others on the connection had more extreme suggestions.” There’s only one route to solve this: kill him- a bombard 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 searched on in disbelief having unwittingly stumbled into the humanitarian emergency.” I’ve never been part of something like this … I had no intuition 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 indulgences back home, Luquez withdrew starting his jaunt in July with less than a dollar in his pocket. He bridged 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 occupant who told him ” venecos”, a disparaging text 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 way south through Cali, over Ecuador’s borderline and finally to Tulcan where he sells sweeteneds on street corners from 7am to 7pm to help pay for his daughter’s treatment.

” It’s hard. You lead three or four daytimes without cleansing … and if you do take a bath it’s in a river … I never recalled I’d go through something like this. I never supposed I’d have to leave my country ,” he said. “Never.”

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

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

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