By Gina Baldivieso and Yolanda Salazar
Pisiga and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Apr 8 (EFE).- Strict immigration controls barring the entry of Venezuelans into Chile, Peru and other countries have led some of those migrants to see Bolivia as not just a transit country but rather as a more permanent destination.
That is the case for Luz Perez, who left Venezuela with her Haitian husband when their earnings from four different jobs were not enough to pay the bills.
They had set out for Chile but found out during the journey that tight border restrictions had been put in place at the Pisiga-Colcane crossing, specifically to reduce the influx of Venezuelan and Haitian migrants.
“We decided to stay here in Bolivia with the hope that at some point the doors to Chile would open,” Perez said.
They ended up settling in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz four years ago, regularized their immigration status and no longer see Chile as their desired destination.
Lilibeth Soto left her hometown of Ciudad Ojeda, Venezuela, after a work opportunity arose for her husband. They and their three children eventually took up residence in Santa Cruz, home to a large population of Venezuelan migrants, and Soto started a small business selling typical Venezuelan dishes.
“The Bolivian people taught me how to scrape out a living, to get by, to sell whatever, to work in whatever to put food on the table,” she told Efe.
Bolivia has received an estimated 18,940 Venezuelan migrants and refugees, according to figures from the Regional Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants of Venezuela.
Bolivia’s interim national ombudswoman, Nadia Cruz, told Efe that after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the Andean nation began to be regarded as a viable destination by Venezuelan migrants.
They were drawn in particular by a measure that allows them to regularize their status and that of their children and another that exempts them from the payment of any fines for unlawful presence in the country, she said.
Even so, many migrants still see Chile as their long-term objective.
One of the routes most often used to reach northern Chile from Bolivia leads to Pisiga, a border town more than 460 kilometers (285 miles) from La Paz with a semi-desert landscape and wildly fluctuating temperatures.
Hector Arango, 32, arrived there on foot, having set out two months ago from the northwestern Venezuelan city of Maracaibo with a group of friends and a boy no older than 10.
He told Efe that he walked or traveled by mule through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, where one of the women traveling with them gave birth to a baby girl.
“You have to give it all you’ve got. That’s all there is to it, because if you stay in Venezuela it’s worse. You die and there’s no medicine, there’s no food, there’s no work, there’s no money for anything,” he said.
Getting to Chile is a challenge for these migrants, since only Chilean nationals and foreigners with residency permits are allowed through that border crossing.
A large number of Venezuelans crowd the streets in Pisiga, some of them speaking to locals who promise to smuggle them to Chile for a price.
People are determined to make it to the other side and are undeterred by the life-threatening dangers in that region, where over the past year more than a score of migrants have died due to severe weather along the route.