Photo: Bolívar Cúcuta
Imagine being a Colombian officer, or a Red Cross volunteer at the Simón Bolívar bridge at the Venezuela-Colombia border. You’ve grown used to the daily 400 thousand people influx and the noise and the chaos. One day you show up for work but, for some reason, there’s not that many people crossing the bridge. Doesn’t it seem absurd that Venezuelans are trapped on their side because Venezuela’s customs can’t stamp their passports during a power cut?
It’s exactly what you just read.
For the past two weeks the Andean region, alongside Zulia, Falcón, Miranda, Barinas, Bolívar and Portuguesa states, have fallen victims —once again— to the regime’s absolute incompetence. 18-hour long blackouts are, according to Electrical Power Minister Motta Dominguez, due to critical “low levels of water” in several reservoirs. He also said this was a “product of Mother Nature.” Sigh.
If hospitals in these states are suffering power cuts causing people to die, why shouldn’t Saime offices be affected, too?
In this piece for El Pitazo, my fellow tachirense Lorena Bornacelly gathers testimonies on the growing struggle that is getting your passport stamped at the border ever since the blackouts began. The process could take up to four hours, but since Saime offices can’t work without power, the process is at least 12 hours long now.
They got there at 5 a.m. and waited with the other 200 people in queue. Although the process was supposed to start at 6 a.m., at 9:30 a.m. the offices were still dead with no power.
A Red Cross volunteer on the Colombian side says they’re worried about the elderly and children on the lines: “they must be tired and thirsty because over there (the Venezuelan side), people don’t even get water and temperature is really high.”
Despite the 500 people lining up on the Venezuelan side, it was hard to get any interviews, as the Venezuelan National Guard doesn’t allow anyone to take pictures or record videos.
Still, Bornacelly managed to collect some testimonies: Luisa and her 12-year-old spent the night at the border town of San Antonio, to be really early at Saime. They got there at 5 a.m. and waited with the other 200 people in queue. Although the process was supposed to start at 6 a.m., at 9:30 a.m. the offices were still dead with no power. Luisa was headed to Lima so she could get to Chile from there.
The Saime offices began working at 11:50 a.m., and the line moved slowly. It was at 5:50 p.m., when Luisa and her son finally got the stamp on their passports.
Johana, another Venezuelan in queue, denounced unscrupulous people charging 10$ to help you cut the lines. “All of this in front of the guards.”
So blackouts don’t just make living in Venezuela a dreadful experience; they make leaving excruciatingly painful, too.