Venezuelans escape misery but return to crisis

By Héctor Pereira

Caracas, May 15 (efe-epa).- Millions of Venezuelans fled the country’s political and economic crisis last year and thousands have made arduous return journeys due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One family who made this trip was Vanessa Machado, her husband Rafael Peña and their seven-year-old son Israel.

They spent a total of 28 days in quarantine before returning to their home in ??the Catia neighbourhood in Caracas.

Vanessa, 37, tells Efe that they decided to go back because they had had no income for more than a month due to business closures in Norte de Santander, Colombia, where they had lived.

On 13 April they broke the quarantine and left for Venezuela with 10 suitcases between them, knowing that the border was closed, transportation was scarce and there were many dangers.

“We had to go through the trails (illegal routes) and pay,” she says.

The fee was not always answered with money, with some of the armed groups that patrol the border asking for mobile phones or food as payment.

“That was one of the hardest parts. You go in there, you don’t know what awaits you, what is there ahead (…) at that moment you are at their mercy,” Rafael, 55, adds.

They crossed unknown rivers and trails before being transferred by the Venezuelan military to a checkpoint, where they went through a disinfection tunnel, were tested for Covid-19 and put into isolation with around 1,000 other returnees.

Rafael describes the conditions at the centre: sleeping on mats on an asphalt floor, waiting for hours to use the bathroom, water unsuitable for human consumption and food shortages.

He adds that there were seven “horrible” days when it rained and not everyone had a roof over their heads.

On the eighth day, the family was taken to a classroom in a military institution that had been converted into a shelter, where they spent another week undergoing medical evaluations.

They then embarked on the 26-hour trip overland to get to Caracas.

Some people helped them during this journey by giving them fruit but others who shouted “sick” at them.

Before they reached the capital they did not know that a third quarantine awaited them, this one 14 days long, before the government allowed them to return to their homes.

The family of three was confined to a hotel room with pensioner Marisol Carrero, 61, who had accompanied them during the journey and who also lives in Catia.

“The first thing we did was drop the bags and cry. Cry a lot, a lot, a lot,” she says.

Gone is the illusion of seeking a better life in another country, now they are enjoying the tranquillity of being at home.

“It took us 28 days to get to our house, I marked it out,” says Rafael.

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