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

Nicolas Maduro has defamed the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing across the Andes as gullible” slaves and panhandlers” hoaxed into scouring foreign bathrooms by antagonists of the Bolivarian revolution.

The United Society 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 jobless 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 a life abroad. He was fighting for his daughter’s life.

Two-year-old Jolismar was diagnosed with thoracic cancer last year after doctors observed a small lump near her mettle. 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 unravelling nation.

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

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

Luquez is one of the more than 500,000 Venezuelans who have swept into northern Ecuador via Colombia this year as his country’s migration crisis escalates. Regional governments 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 almost 43,000 Venezuelans streaming into Tulcan over Rumichaca Bridge in the first 14 epoches of August alone.

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

Map 2

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

Maduro, who took power after Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, has affect a defiant ambiance after the recent attempt to assassinate him, detaining political foes and vowing to revive Venezuela’s nosediving economy.

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

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 hint 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 shut 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 authority of the town ,” warned the mayor of Boa Vista, which is near the border.

On Saturday, furious Brazilians placed fire to migrant cliquesin the frontier municipality of Pacaraima and thrust about 1, 200 Venezuelan immigrants back over common bordersafter a eatery owner was robbed and jabbed- allegedly by Venezuelans. The Venezuelan foreign ministry expressed concern over the two attacks and exhorted Brazil to protect the immigrants and their owned. Brazil said it would transmit additional 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 numerous absence because of the ferment back home.

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

Hundreds of them rallied 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 rough and sidestepping in ballparks and squares.

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

Marco Sanchez, a 32 -year-old demonstrator, said he was disturbed by the presence of” those kinds of person”, claiming:” Fortunes of people basically 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 inessential crimes, she said, but added that official digits leaved lie to claims Tulcan was in the control 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 sides of parties smugglers. Powers already known to be 25 smuggling roads around the town, she said: “This is going to skyrocket.”

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

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 eyes 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 divided, Chacin said he recognizes international push as the only chance of change.” Vladimir Putin will decide[ what happens ]. Xi Jinping will be determined. Latin American governments will decide. Nobody else ,” he said.

Others on the bridge had more extreme suggestions.” There’s only one acces 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 examined on in incredulity having unwittingly stumbled into the humanitarian emergency.” I’ve never been part of something like this … I has no such notion 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 unthinkable indulgences back home, Luquez recalled starting his jaunt in July with less than a dollar in his pocket. He traversed 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 pejorative word for Venezuelans, were not welcome.

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

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

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

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

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


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here