Photo: Dylan Baddour

LA LAGUNA, Colombia.- As darkness falls in the cold Colombian highlands, about two dozen Venezuelans settle into the nooks and corners of buildings that line the highway in this rural mountain town, seeking shelter from the nighttime wind.

They spent the last two days climbing these mountains, by walking or hitching a ride. In the morning they plan to cross the barren páramo that lies before them at more than 3,000 meters above sea level. After that, they mean to continue for 1,000 kilometers to Ecuador or Peru.

“We had to leave Venezuela, there wasn’t an option,” said Darwin Perez, 17, as he huddled wrapped in a bed sheet, shivering beside a group of his neighbors from Maracay. “We do this so that we can live and support our families.”

“We had to leave Venezuela, there wasn’t an option,” said Darwin Perez, 17.

Locals in La Laguna describe the same scene every night. These Venezuelans are part of a growing trickle of migrants who arrive in Colombia without a peso, determined to cross the continent on foot.

South American countries are already struggling to get a grip on the overwhelming tide of Venezuelan migration. The emergence of large groups of people traveling undocumented by foot will further challenge their attempts to impose order, and signals a deepening of the desperation for Venezuelans at home.  

The Red Cross of Colombia counts between 100 and 150 Venezuelans coming over the mountains each Saturday and Sunday when it sets up a checkpoint to hand out aid packages to the walkers, said Diana Sánchez, a director with the Red Cross in Bucaramanga. Volunteers started the project in July when they noticed the large numbers arriving without transportation.  

“Many people don’t know where they are going,” Sánchez said. “We’ve had cases where people come and ask how to get to Peru.”

Some are moving inland from the border zone, chased out of their meager jobs by the ever-growing mass of Venezuelans competing for work in that area. Roberto Acosta, a 50-year-old former security guard from Aragua, worked for three months selling water in the border city of Cucuta before he felt forced to move on.

He walked beside the road with a companion, Luis Ramírez, on their way to the Colombian coffee region for the harvest in November.

“Maybe there’s more opportunity to work there,” Acosta said.

Others on the road are mostly young adults or teenagers bound for cities in Ecuador, Peru and beyond. There, they hope to find a stable life and the means to support and eventually bring over their families back home.

One group of 13 had met in the sweltering tropical sun of Cucuta, then set out together up the mountains. Two nights later they were high enough that the Andean cold kept them from sleeping as they huddled wrapped in sheets and blankets. By 2:00 a.m. they gave up and decided to continue the march.

“Many people don’t know where they are going,” Sánchez said. “We’ve had cases where people come and ask how to get to Peru.”

Fourteen hours later they were passing through the barren Colombian páramo in the late afternoon, hoping to make the descent down the other side before night brought back the cold.

“We’ve suffered hunger like you can’t imagine,” said Luis Lugo, a former mechanic from Zulia who was headed for Peru. They’d eaten only some bread that was donated to them along their way.

At 4:00 p.m., a pickup truck pulled over to offer a ride. The whole group came dashing from far down the road and piled in. It was their first ride in three days, and they sped down the roads towards destinations that were still many days ahead.

Down the other side of the mountains, dozens of Venezuelans camp in a public plaza near a fountain in the Colombian city of Bucaramanga. The place has been inhabited by migrants for about six months, the Red Cross said. Today, most spend a few days there to rest before continuing their journey.

“We’ve suffered hunger like you can’t imagine,” said Luis Lugo, a former mechanic from Zulia who was headed for Peru.

“My feet feel broken,” said Jesus Rujano, 27, a former bus driver from Puerto Cabello as he walked into the camp after coming down the mountains. “Up there we tried to sleep seated like chickens bunched together, but we couldn’t.”

Like the border zone, Bucaramanga has become too saturated with Venezuelans for new arrivals to find their own economic opportunity. So the migrants continue down the highway, back up the Andes to the highland city of Tunja.

Venezuelans arrive battered by their journey of up to a week, said Anny Uribe, director of the Refugio Espíritu Santo, a shelter for Venezuelan migrants there. She said she’d once had to help cut off a child’s shoe because blood off his feet had dried on the inside, and showed photos of a man with a blister the width of a tennis ball on his foot, which he got after he walked through the bottom of his shoe.

Up to 180 people sleep in the shelter each night, sometimes fitting three to a bed and filling the hallways. Guests in good health can stay two nights before continuing their journey.

Up to 180 people sleep in the shelter each night, sometimes fitting three to a bed and filling the hallways.

Uribe, a Venezuelan, opened the shelter in July after she noticed the growing number of her countrymen passing through on foot.

“The need was urgent,” she said. “Entire families were sleeping in the street with children.”

Charities including the Red Cross and Catholic groups have donated appliances, food and bunk beds.

Almost 3,000 people have passed through since she opened the shelter, Uribe said, flipping through a logbook of her guests, most saying they were headed to Ecuador or Peru.

Saddled with backpacks, suitcases and duffel bags they marched about a half hour out of town to a highway, and talked about the dreams they left behind.

One afternoon at the shelter, a group of 11 young men, half of them under 21, packed up to leave. They’d been traveling five days together, had walked over the mountains, tried to sleep in the cold and ate what food they found donated along the way.

Saddled with backpacks, suitcases and duffel bags they marched about a half hour out of town to a highway, and talked about the dreams they left behind: to be an army officer or to work their family’s rural estate.

“I was going to be a pilot,” said 17-year-old Sandul Suárez. “But there’s no point in studying. The teachers don’t even show up to class.”

Never in their lives, the young men said, had they imagined they would leave their families to cross the continent on foot with nothing but a sack of clothes.

They stopped by the highway to thumb a ride, and in 15 minutes caught a big rig truck with a flatbed trailer. Almost panicked by the precious opportunity, they scurried onboard as fast as they could then headed down the road towards the new lives they sought.

Never in their lives, the young men said, had they imagined they would leave their families to cross the continent on foot with nothing but a sack of clothes.

Follow Dylan Baddour on Twitter at

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34 COMMENTS

  1. Good article on the struggle these people go through every day for a better life. Unfortunately most of the comments here will be insults directed at CC for being soft and weak and trying to humanize cowardly ex Chavista serfs who should not have fled the regime but fought for their country.

    • Sorry, but they are not struggling for their country. They want to be coddled. They would be perfectly happy to be subjugated, providing that Chavez/Maduro was still forthcoming with more freebies. (I speak as a person who has helped an entire extended family who has fled Chavismo)

      These people voted for Chavez. They LOVED IT when times were good. (when there was wealth to be confiscated and spread around). Now, the titty has run dry and they want out. They don’t want an end to Chavismo. They want a return to the “good old days”. You can bet your ass they would be turning around and heading back if they were told the CLAP boxes had returned and the only thing they needed to do was forgo any free elections henceforth.

      • Venezuela could still be rich if all the cadivi profiteers could be forced to cough up the petrodollars they stole via forex scam. They did not “earn” this $ any more than a poor kid with blisyers on her feet stumbling towards Peru. The hatred in some of these coments on CC stinks to heaven. Is this what you wish on these dispossessed people?

        https://youtu.be/WQ8lsp8t6S0

        • Well, you can wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which gets filled first.

          The fact is, they are fleeing instead of fighting. And they wouldn’t be fleeing at all if Maduro was forthcoming with CLAP boxes.

          Hit any Venezuelan news source (Reporte Confidencial, El Cooperante, El Nacional, etc) and they are filled with stories of nurses, doctors, engineers, teachers and various government flunkies protesting… FOR A BETTER TASTING SHIT SANDWICH. Not ONE of these groups give the least shit about their personal liberties, democracy or even decency. They want “Better Chavismo”.

          F*ck them. A couple tens of thousands of Chavistas need to die horrific deaths at the hands of the Castroists I suppose before the light bulb comes on. When the red shirts start pissing on Chavez’ grave, THEN we will know the end is near.

  2. From the young ages of the people portrayed here, most probably never voted for anything. They were given a crappy country by the votes of their parents and grandparents.

    • This is what I’ve said several times.

      This nightmare began 20 years ago, so even people up to 40 years old were still basically kids back then.

    • But they are just as clueless and badly educated as their parents, or worse. Heck, even worse, because the little education they might have received was Cuban brainwash. Given another Chavez with pueblo-charisma, money to give, freebies to share they’d be as Chavistas as their clueless/corrupt parents were.

      These kids are not going to end up well in any country that accepts them, unless the are 1/ Educated (real education) 2/ Harnessed, controlled and punished by laws if necessary. 3/ Put to work, and forced to work hard. 4/ Unable to have 9 indian kids with 5 different ‘gevitas’ to perpetuate their condition.

  3. Does anyone know how to help these people directly? Donations to the Colombian Red Cross don’t necessarily reach them, is there any organization that does?

    Thanks!

  4. What’s absolutely amazing/unconscionable is that the Ven. military, those that could make a difference, turn a blind eye to this incredible diaspora/human tragic exodus from what should be by far the richest country in South America. I don’t blame the impoverished/under-educated Venezuelans for their plight, as I would not blame the Ukrainian rural serfs massacred by the Bolsheviks; there is a limit to the ability to revolt by a starving/unarmed population against an entrenched well-armed evil Regime, especially a population that was willing to vote 2/3 for an Oppo Congress just a few years ago, only to see themselves sold down the river by the likes of HRA/et.al. fake Opposition leaders.

    • Good points. But who are the “Ven. military” you mention?

      PUEBLO PEOPLE. Those are chavistoide uneducated clueless kids who joined various “official” forces to STEAL and gain some power. To have privileges. To bribe, demand bribes, even extort or kill. To deal drugs and even worse, deal food. Hundreds of tens of thousands. Average people. Corrupt people.

      THAT is what the putrid ‘military’ is made of. These aren’t aliens from some other dimension. No. Born, raised and badly-bred Kleptozuelans. Same as all the “gualdia nasional’, all the ‘police” The 2000 “generals” and thousands upon thousands below them. Corrupt. Complicit. PUEBLO with guns.

      That’s why Kleptozuela sank that low for so long. Because the average People suck. Because millions are enchufados, guilty. Many of these escaping people would have joined the corrupt “military” if they could have, and become just as vicious and corrupt.

      It’s not really their fault. It’s our fault, the generations in charge before Chavismo, who failed to educate all of these clueless, lost Indians on the road now. First they revolted with Chavez, now they escape, hungry, to be fed and clothed. And they don’t even know where, as far as they know, Peru is right next to Mexico and Hawaii. Spain has a border with Chile and New Zealand, and they sell empanadas argentinas in Paraguay, which is next to Trinidad Tobago.

    • We shouldn’t blame the serfs, but the Quico Toros of Venezuela, the educated elites, the ones who should know better. Venezuela is the only country in South America in which EVERYONE is leftist, just look at the people writing here, every single ones would be able to write at Aporrea, they are not “leftists” as Euroleftists, moderates, but as fucking communists, to the left of Hillary Clinton!

      That’s unforgivable!

      The elites should guide the pueblo, not be as stupid as them!

      Hey, CC, wake the fuck up! Socialism is as dead as your country and opposition. Not even in Bolivia everyone is socialist!

        • I’ve not been following closely the psychiatric treatment of Hillary Clinton, thus I can’t comment on the current state of her mental health.

          The Hillary of my comment is that one running for president circa 2016, and that one was batshit crazy, so when I say that the CC’s writers are even more bleeding-heart than that Hillary is certainly not to put them in the centrist spectrum of the political chart.

  5. “Sorry, but they are not struggling for their country. They want to be coddled. They would be perfectly happy to be subjugated, providing that Chavez/Maduro was still forthcoming with more freebies. (I speak as a person who has helped an entire extended family who has fled Chavismo)

    These people voted for Chavez. They LOVED IT when times were good. (when there was wealth to be confiscated and spread around). Now, the titty has run dry and they want out. They don’t want an end to Chavismo. They want a return to the “good old days”. You can bet your ass they would be turning around and heading back if they were told the CLAP boxes had returned and the only thing they needed to do was forgo any free elections henceforth.”

    Well said. Most of these people fleeing on foot are usually the poorest, least educated, often corrupt die-hard Chavistas. The same ones that voted even for Maduro after the Chabestia expired. The same ones that despise you and me, the “gringos”, the “burguesitos”, the “sifrinos”, the “escualidos”. Us, who provided them jobs for decades, if they ever wanted to work.

    Now the get out because the freebies ran dry. And they hope other “Gobielnos”, have pitty on them and give them more freebies, or at least some crooked job where they don’y have to work much, and possibly find some corrupt way to load up. Not all of these people, some are inocent, but I find it hard to pity them in such long journeys, because the moral fabric they carry with them is highly suspicious.

  6. Leyendo este artículo me dan ganas de dejarlo todo e irme a trabajar en alguno de estos centros en la frontera de Colombia que ayudan a migrantes.

    Leyendo los comentarios creo que deberían banear los comentarios 🙂

    Los amo.

    • As someone who spends several weeks per year giving their time and talent to those most vulnerable, I can tell you it takes more than just “compassion”.

      If you show up on the frontier with your “best wishes and love”, you are going to only create more chaos. Unless you show up with food, medicine, transportation and shelter, you aren’t going to do shit for these people. These things cost money, and it costs even more money to implement it.

      Which is why you won’t see any “socialist” organizations doing anything meaningful for these refugees. Because in the real world, wealth (for food, shelter, etc) has to be created. And what creates wealth is Capitalism. In the history of mankind, not a single worthless Bolivar has ever been created by “good intentions”.

      So, if you want to help, I suggest you get several thousand dollars per “helper” together to purchase needed supplies, then organize the logistics to get the aid to where the people are. It costs a lot, I can assure you.

      The good news is, that you don’t have to pay yourself. You can do all this out of love for your fellow man.

    • On your last point Pedro, it occurred to me that maybe the ability to comment could be tied to payment of a minimum subscription fee (i.e. with exceptions for Venezuelans, who may not have the means and whether they do or not, should be encouraged to comment). Many news sites do that. That way, if people want to fling dug or spew nonsense, at least there will be a benefit to this site (and contributors like Mr. Baddour who provide excellent work), for the privilege of doing so.

      Alternatively, maybe the site should get some sponsors and profit from this new daily traffic: adult diapers, reverse mortgages, hair loss remedies, erectile dysfunction pills, rehab services, et cetera….

      • “…adult diapers, reverse mortgages, hair loss remedies, erectile dysfunction pills, rehab services…”

        Not enough traffic on CC from Canadians filled with white guilt to make it financially feasible. Not enough “clicks”.

        • What do you think Guapo: subscription fee for the privilege of commenting?

          What would you pay to show up here every day and say some version of: start killing people or eat shit, Venezuela.

          • Are you suggesting that my comments wouldn’t show up if I didn’t pay?

            ???

            “start killing people or eat shit”

            More like, “Fight for your country or quit bitching”

            Not that my northern neighbors would ever fight for their own beliefs. But they are quite adept at doing what they are told. So they have a lot in common with Venezuela, I suppose.

            “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances”

          • Good for you for paying Guapo.

            My question to you was: what do you think of CC charging a subscription fee for the privilege of commenting?

            Like? Don’t like?

          • It’s their blog. Their rules.

            If tomorrow they decide to ban all non subscribers from commenting, I’m OK with that. If they want any old online troll to roll in and muck things up, that’s their business too.

            So my answer is, “I don’t care one way or the other.”I’m apathetic.

            I don’t blog… mostly because I can’t afford to irritate potential customers by foisting my political views on the world in a non anonymous way. But then again, I don’t even have a web presence for my own business. I don’t advertise except for what is on the sides of the trailers and trucks, and construction site signs. I get all of the business I can handle from word of mouth. I imagine when my son buys into the business, he will change things.

            I imagine the paid/free commenting on CC is a business decision just like everything else.

          • The only way YOUR comments can ever be seen in more seriousness manner is for you to PAY for that. They’re pretty fucking retarded on a consistent basis otherwise.

            More important, what kind of a fucking idiot would suggest that payment should be required on a site like this? As if a paid subscription leads to more valid posts.

            My God:

            The internet reaches the entire world, and so far, you’re the biggest dope I’ve found on it, after 30 years.

            Congratulations!

    • @Pedro: Some more insight.

      I have a buddy who spends a lot of time working for a non-profit in Honduras. Up until about a year ago, there was a lot of hub-bub with the recently deposed Socialist skank Zelaya and his ilk (Nasralla) making another run at the presidency. Nasralla lost, and of course the bed-wetting leftists all appeared out of the woodwork “in Solidarity” with the aggrieved Marxists. The usual suspects (Cuban infiltrators and Ivy League college co-eds) made their presence know… but did nothing but bitch. Then the wheels came off the wagon in Nicaragua, and GUESS WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE CUBAN INFILTRATORS IN HONDURAS? The left for Nicaragua, leaving only the unwashed, hairy legged Vassar, Reed and Smith College agitators to create a ruckus. And what did they do for the Hondurans? NOTHING except impose on them… in solidarity of course.

      About a week after the Cubans left for Nicaragua, the militant feminists from the US were all kicked out as they were a drag upon their hosts. They had nothing to offer except “I’M OUTRAGED!”… no money. No skills. No nothing except OUTRAGE!

  7. Pedro, if that’s what you feel you need to do then by all means go and best of luck to you but your suggestion that comments be banned is not one that I agree with. There are many comments posted here that I may not personally agree with but everyone has an opinion…even if they are wrong. And besides, the back and forth that goes on between commenters is sometimes more interesting than the articles themselves.

  8. “What’s absolutely amazing/unconscionable is that the Ven. military, those that could make a difference, turn a blind eye to this incredible diaspora/human tragic exodus from what should be by far the richest country in South America.”

    Net, at this point I suspect the top brass of the Venny military are happy to see fewer citizens in the country as it means more of the treasure pie for them to steal before finally making their escape.

    Those next few ranks below them, the ones who actually have to plan and carry out controlling protestors (as well as their own troops), are also happy to see fewer younger Venezuelans sticking around…..the ones who manned the barricades, threw shit bombs at them, and even fired live ammo from time to time.

    The rank are file troops are doing what everyone else is doing, trying to secure their next meal.

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