Venezuela is collapsing after years of catastrophic mismanagement, leaving millions hungry and sick. The repressive and incompetent government of President Nicolás Maduro urgently needs to be replaced — but ordinary Venezuelans tell the story much better than I can. Meet some of the Venezuelans I met along the Colombia-Venezuela border; their accounts are lightly edited for space.
Manuel González, 42
I’m sleeping in this park [in Riohacha, Colombia] with my son, Edi. He’s 3. He has a cleft palate, and there was just no way to get surgery for it in Venezuela. I’m hoping to get surgery for him here. I can’t work because I have to look after him, but I beg for food. At least I can get food here. I may be sleeping on the ground, but it’s better than over there in Venezuela.
I used to support [former Venezuelan strongman Hugo] Chávez. But then under Maduro, everything became all screwed up.
Liliana Boscan Marin, 37
My baby was born five months ago in Maracaibo [a major city in Venezuela]. There was nothing in the hospital, not even a needle. It didn’t have electricity when I was there. My husband had to come to Colombia to buy everything for the birth — gloves, face mask, needles, sutures, anesthetic, diapers — and bring it to the hospital ahead of time.
Then the baby caught pneumonia, and it just couldn’t be treated in Venezuela, so we came here to Colombia. Everybody in Maracaibo wants to leave. There are 14 of us living in this home. In one room, there are four on one bed, and five on the other. In the other room, four people sleep on the mattress, and one is in a hammock.
The solution is to get the donkey out of there. Maduro, I mean. If he were to leave, I would run back to Venezuela right away. I don’t want to live here.
Yuliana Rocha, 16
My baby, Diogel, is 2 months old. He’s here because there was no birth control available. We tried. Even condoms were too expensive. Diogel was born in Maracaibo and then we came here [to Riohacha]. There’s nothing there. No food, no water, no electricity. If I had stayed in Venezuela, we would have starved. We sleep here in the park.
[Working in a brothel] isn’t something that I thought that I would do. But here I have a roof over my head and they give me food. This is the best way for a girl from Venezuela to earn money to send to her family. I wire money back, and it’s the difference between my family eating or not eating. My mom knows what I do, and she helps hide it from the rest of the family. She doesn’t like it, and she’s afraid for my health and safety. Desperation is driving us to accept any job that we can find.
Maduro is the biggest sinner of all. He has a lot more to confess to a priest than I do.
Génesis Gutiérrez Padilla, 27
We would go five or six days at a time without electricity, and that’s why we had to leave Venezuela. We buy food with debit cards [because inflation has rendered cash almost worthless], and when there’s no electricity the cards don’t work in the machines and you can’t buy anything. There were entire days I went without food. My 7-year-old, too. But thank God, my baby didn’t go hungry because I was still nursing.
You know why I have this baby? For six years, I took birth control pills, and then they almost disappeared. So I could eat or I could buy my pills, but I couldn’t do both. And a condom costs as much as a kilo of rice.
My dream is to get to the U.S. We’re dying to go to the U.S.
Héctor Crespo Valero, 40
I worked at the hospital morgue in Valencia, so I saw it all. There are more deaths now, especially of old people and of young kids. The refrigerated rooms weren’t working even before the blackouts, because of lack of maintenance. After a week, we couldn’t take the smell any more. We would have to get rid of them. Unclaimed bodies were buried in common graves.
The hospital doesn’t have supplies, so it only does extremely urgent surgeries. Sometimes that doesn’t even include an appendectomy. The hospital does do emergency C-sections, but only if the patient provides a kit with all supplies — gloves, sutures, gowns and syringes. If the patient doesn’t supply the kit, she dies. Every day you see people dying unnecessarily.
I left the hospital because I wasn’t getting paid enough to buy food. So I’m here. I sell medicines with my son, and between us we can send back about $60 per week for my family.
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