Photos: Arnaldo Espinoza 

Five young men knocked on the door of Mitad del Mundo shelter, in San Antonio de Pichincha, 20 minutes from Quito, Ecuador. They’re from Yaritagua, Yaracuy State, Venezuela. They left on December 6, along a sixth companion who left them on the way. He was their guide, but he decided to take a ride near Cali on his own. They didn’t see him again.

The journey became 15 days of march, sleeping in gas stations and eating thanks to the help of Colombians. In Rumichaca, a black-haired woman told them of a shelter where they could spend Christmas. There were no beds, but there were mattresses. Four more people arrived after them: They couldn’t leave them in the street during the Christmas celebrations.

The smell of stew is familiar. The noise, the children trying to get into the kitchen, the sound of furruco and drums through the speakers are etched in memory. Also the flour, ready to become ham bread or hallacas. Everything is familiar until you look outside. The GPS marks 0° 0’ 16”. The arid mountain and the dry Andean cold burst the bubble. It looks like it, but it’s not Venezuela.

“Today, there’s no other accent in the middle of the world: all the posts are occupied by Venezuelans, from management to the kitchens, the library and infrastructure maintenance.”

Luis received those five people and led them to the common room. There’s no space in the bedrooms. There are 45 beds for 68 people. Luis himself knocked on these doors only five months ago. Now he helps manage the place with military discipline. He was born in Barinas and joined the National Guard at 19. The protests of 2017 in Caracas, where he was part of the repression against citizens for four months, left a mark on him. Now he focuses on the shelter, on keeping the bedrooms clean and the kitchen working, on handling donations and making as much space as possible livable. There’s also a warehouse where they hope to install machines to give refugees some work.

Today, there’s no other accent in the middle of the world: all the posts are occupied by Venezuelans, from management to the kitchens, the library and infrastructure maintenance. Only two people, the head of the shelter and the doctor, are Ecuadorian.

“They know they’re just passing by the shelter, because they need to heal their wounds, and the company is good during the holidays.”

Miguel, Francisco, Ángel, Pablo and Juan look at the camera. The girl in the group, Pablo’s sister, decides not to appear in the picture. They try to pose, but don’t hear the click, they remain still. All of them have relatives in Peru. That’s their destination. They know they’re just passing by the shelter, because they need to heal their wounds, and the company is good during the holidays.

Ángel’s feet are scarred from walking. He’s thankful that he didn’t have to walk “even for a kilometer” in Ecuador, because in Colombia “the socks stuck to my feet and I couldn’t walk because of the pain.” The wounds have healed, but his shoes bear the marks. He bought them the day before departing. Now unusable, he dumped them at the entrance in front of the kitchen.

“Ángel’s feet are scarred from walking. In Colombia “the socks stuck to my feet and I couldn’t walk because of the pain.” The wounds have healed, but his shoes bear the marks.”

Oswaldo cuts the pepper for the hallacas. He arrived in Ecuador two years ago and went through several jobs until he got to the Middle of the World. He was a waiter, he worked as a mover and as a cab driver, until one day, in August, he gave a ride to a passenger who was the assistant of Isabel Rodríguez, from Fundación Nuestros Jóvenes. She needed a clinical psychologist for a shelter for Venezuelans outside of Quito. “I’m the man,” he said in his Barquisimeto accent. His general diagnostic for the people who arrive in the shelter is laconic. “I see them very disoriented, because they come with expectations and Ecuador quickly destroys their illusions.”

“People who arrive at the shelter seem very disoriented, because they come with expectations and Ecuador quickly destroys their illusions.”

Nobody gives away anything here, everyone works. And the programming of Venezuelan socialism isn’t erased by 15 days on the road or eight days on a bus. A week ago, they received a donation of toys for children in Christmas. The mothers wanted to get the presents immediately, instead of waiting for the date. The culture of scarcity installed by chavismo brings out the most primitive instincts in people.

Nerio, who chops bacon in little pieces for the Christmas dinner, is an oil industry veteran who, after 45 years living in Santa Bárbara, Zulia, convinced his wife to leave Venezuela. She’s the shelter’s “granny” and, by tradition, she’s in charge of the stew. Her eyes oversee the most complex operation: the exact amount of spices, oil and meat; the right temperature for the burner, the appropriate reduction of the broth. She gestures with her hands for the plantain leaves to be unpacked while she cuts olives. The ones they bought have seeds and “that’s dangerous for the teeth.” Both feel relieved of having left Venezuela, but their eyes don’t lie. Their melancholy of the first year outside their country is palpable.

“I can’t help you”

José is sitting in the entrance to the common room, in one of the wooden chairs near the door. He arrived in Ecuador in November, after three months of digital conversations with a suitor. “That guy promised me a house, economic stability, helping my family. I decided to come. He told me he’d wait for me at the Iquitumbe terminal, in Southern Quito. I arrived at four in the morning, waited for two hours. He saw me and I saw him and immediately he said:

“That guy promised me a house, economic stability, helping my family. I decided to come. He told me he’d wait for me at the Iquitumbe terminal, in Southern Quito. I arrived at four in the morning, waited for two hours. He saw me and I saw him.”

-Hola

-I have something to tell you.

-What, you’re not going to receive me?

-Something like that.

“I felt in a limbo, I’d wasted my time. He took me aside and explained that, coincidentally, his mom and sister were in the city. ‘I can’t help you,’ he told me and gave me $1.50. ‘I can’t help you,’ he repeated. I never saw him again.”

He slept for two weeks in Iquitumbe, without coats or protection against the rain. He saw drugs, alcohol and prostitution among his countrymen until, at the end of the month, a foundation visited the terminal to deliver cereals for Venezuelans. He asked to be moved to a shelter, any shelter and, in a couple of days, he arrived in San Antonio de Pichincha.

“I’ve felt discrimination, for being Venezuelan and homosexual.” He emphasizes both terms. Early that month, he went to look for a job as an assistant in a dog grooming salon and ended up in a room with a man who asked him for a massage but who actually wanted something more. He refused. “I’m like an avatar: I fought against the rain, the sun, xenophobia and rejection, and I learned to value things. Perhaps that’s how I had to learn.”

Early Christmas

Lorenzo’s wife helps decorate the dining room for the dinner. They’ve made paper stars and wrote “Merry Christmas” on the blackboard. Their 3-year-old daughter runs all over the place. She doesn’t talk much, she’s focused on her task. She’s also helping fill the piñata with donated candy. It’s a poorly concealed surprise, because the first attempt was weak and a couple candies hit the floor with a sound that any child could identify.

“There’s no space in the bedrooms. There are 45 beds for 68 people.”

Meanwhile, Lorenzo waits outside. He’s a welder from Chivacoa, Yaracuy. He left the country with his two friends, Lenti and Ángel, on August 18, days before Nicolás Maduro slashed another five zeroes off the Venezuelan currency amidst the worst hyperinflation in the continent’s history. In his backpack he carries two large, black garbage bags he got from his mom before he left, to protect him from the cold. He says that saved his life in the mountainous trail between Cúcuta and Bucaramanga. The Páramo de Berlín is the greatest challenge for travellers. “Now they’re kind of an amulet, that’s why I still have them in my pack,” he says. He walked for 13 days before stopping in Medellin. On September 26, he arrived in the shelter and looked for a job immediately. His friend Ángel didn’t make it. “He went back to Venezuela, defeated,” says Lorenzo, regretfully.

He worked in a roller factory until the raw materials were depleted. They already called him to get back to work in January. With his savings, he managed to bring his wife and daughter, so they didn’t have to go through his experience. The first week of December, he got his early Christmas present. Now they live in one of the shelter’s seven family rooms and they hope that, with a bit of job stability, they might leave as soon as possible. “I came here to work hard, to build a better future for my family.” The girl approaches, smiles and hides behind a door. “She’s a different person. She laughs and plays,” he explains. In Venezuela, she had no strength to do that. With luck, she ate once a day.

The shelter of the Middle of The World helps Venezuelan get back on their feet. 

ut he’s the exception, not the rule. José Gregorio Balza is the shelter’s janitor. He left Venezuela in 2017, lured by dollars. “I really wanted to go to the United States, but it’s very difficult. And when I heard that Ecuador’s currency is the dollar, I decided to come here and save to reach my destination.” A disease changed his plans: bacterial meningitis. He’s still recovering from the aftermath. After a month in hospitals, he had nowhere to go. On June 28, he arrived at Mitad del Mundo and he’s seen hundreds come and go through the shelter’s doors. What does he see? “Exhaustion, despair. It’s sad to see those kids coming in with their backpacks. But it’s even sadder to see people with no spirit to work for their future. They only wait for the bell to ring three times a day to eat, take a shower and go to bed. Sometimes they don’t even help with the shelter’s tasks. That’s not the way.”

Ecuadorians only seeking to take advantage of immigrants isn’t helpful either, he says. “Many have been left with several unpaid workdays. Their employers tell them that they’ll pay them an amount and then they get less. That’s all over this place.” Still, he remembers that progress is possible. “There was a kid, Michael, who worked as a mechanic. He started as an assistant in a workshop and now he earns enough money per week to pay for a house and start bringing his family. It’s all about organizing.”

Merry Christmas, from a place that looks like Venezuela, but is certainly not. 

The sun falls and the smells from the kitchen fill the entire shelter. The hallacas are ready to serve. There’s also ham bread. Some 15 people, who had left to sell juice, water and other things on the road, return for dinner. The boys had been trying to put together a music player with old parts, but they end up using an RCA cable to play music on a TV in the common room.

The Maracaibo gaita plays, along with salsa and reggaeton. The thermometer drops. 15°, 14°, 13°, 12°C. Inside, they’re in Venezuela. Outside, just for tonight, the location doesn’t matter.

 

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49 COMMENTS

  1. Well written, and entertaining but not unknown, or game changing or new information which would make it “news”. There are other more relavent and hopeful things happening that are big news in Venezuela right now. Lots of interesting things happening as we sit here reading this. The wheels are (fingers crossed) coming off the bus and it’s literally now or never. Please, no more “puff”, let’s address and confront and discuss things that may lead to the change we so desperately need.

    • “Everything is familiar until you look outside. The GPS marks 0° 0’ 16”. The arid mountain and the dry Andean cold burst the bubble. It looks like it, but it’s not Venezuela.”

      ———

      Well, DUH!!!

      Does the author and the migrants expect their host countries to change their climates for them?

      • Ira…I have read your comments here over the last year or so, and I have to ask you…Is there ANYTHING in this world that you do not get upset over and criticize?
        I firmly support your right to free speech and I even agree with some of your viewpoints…BUT…I worry that you have become so jaded and cynical that your every comment starts to feel like venom dripping from a virtual pen.
        I hope that you as a person can find comfort and meaning behind the literal words that are posted here on CC, and I truly wish for you to be able to have your heart opened to positivity and joy without the constant anger and hatred that I hear in many of your posts. Peace be with you brother

        • Hi Mike from God’s Country in Beautiful British Columbia, thanks for pitching in with the comments, we can use the new blood! Please pitch in more often and please don’t judge Ira too harshly, he’s our resident “angry person” but we love him.
          Ira, we love you man, stay cool brother, remember your blood pressure!

          • Marc from Beautiful British Columbia? You have given up on Venezuela and moved back to BC?

            If this is true, you owe us an account of the transition!

          • I thought the same at first Lorenzo, but then realized he was welcoming Mike, who is obviously writing from Canmore, BC, Canada. And yes, it is God’s country.

          • Nope not yet, we have 1 full year to wait and tough it out while the Canadian government processes my wife’s permanent resident application with me as her sponsor of course, it’s a shoo in but we still have to wait the processing time. It’s Mike that lives in Canmore B.C. Thanks for asking Lorenzo, I’ll be sharing some interesting stuff once we are safely out, that’s a promise!

          • Shit, right, Kananaskis country, on the Alberta side of the rockeys, still very beautiful, but now I feel like an idiot. Love the ice caves, awesome country anyway.

          • Marc, the only reason I looked is because years ago I spent time in Banff and seemed to recall Canmore being close by. Of course, Banff itself is damned near in BC as well.

            Never ate so much sushi in my life.

          • Geez, I should have figured this out as my mother was born in Harmatten, Alberta! (I don’t think the little town exists anymore.)

            Anyway, thanks for the clarifications and Marc and MRubio, thanks a million to you both for your fascinating posts.

          • @ marc and all…thank you…FYI, I’ve been on this site daily since 2005…just kept quiet…happy new year to all

        • I don’t recall reading a single post from you. Who are you?

          Or are you so dishonest as to create a new screen name just to post this?

          You’re part of the problem.

          Your love and positive karma say and accomplish nothing, because they have nothing to do with the truth.

          Which is despicable.

          • Relax Ira and give the guy a chance. Some folks read here for years but never post. I was one of them.

            This site is desperately in need of new blood, especially new Canadian blood. LOL

          • @ Ira…I have been reading CC since 2005, when i first moved to Venezuela, and continued after my move back to Canada with my Venezuelan wife and our dual-citizen children. The fact that i have not posted has nothing to do with disonesty, but rather that i never felt i had anything useful or new to contribute. For whatever reason, i felt moved to respond to your comment this morning…not out of anger towards you (I get enough anger built up every time i read about what is happening in venezuela) but out of genuine concern…such platitudes like: “dont sweat the small stuff” and “pick your battles” may seem trite and useless, but i have found in my years on this planet that positive attracts positive, and anger only more anger. Your comment about positive karma and love may be true for you, but i have found quite the opposite…we can discuss it at length over a nice cold beer someday if you like, but i hesitate to air all my laundry online. Just know that i am NOT attacking you or your thoughts/beliefs…i only wish all the anger that i read in this and other forums can be channeled into positive, meaningful change.
            peace bro

          • Mike, you are certainly welcomed by all here, as is Ira (“rage” in Spanish–lol), and I DO appreciate Ira’s comments, mostly.

          • “The fact that i have not posted has nothing to do with disonesty, but rather that i never felt i had anything useful or new to contribute.”

            Like that ever kept any of the rest of us from posting. LOL

          • “The fact that i have not posted has nothing to do with disonesty, but rather that i never felt i had anything useful or new to contribute.”

            “Like that ever kept any of the rest of us from posting. LOL”

            Exactly. I never let that hold me back. (Nor does Cnuckles).

  2. I like it when a dry factual news media account tells us about the number of venezuelan emigrating to other countris fleeing from a collapsed venezuela and I can visualize in concrete and living terms what that means at the empirical level. Thats why this kind of account by bringing on a vivid reallife picture of whats it like for these inmigrats is to me so insteresting . I dont get a big head from finding things to criticize so I can feel the all mighty supreme judge of every thing that other people write………, I feed my conceits with more substantial fare.

  3. “His general diagnostic for the people who arrive in the shelter is laconic. “I see them very disoriented, because they come with expectations and Ecuador quickly destroys their illusions.”

    Nobody gives away anything here, everyone works.”

    Ecuador must seem like hell on earth.

    • I especially liked the one about the mothers wanting the free Christmas presents early, god bless the patient people of the middle of the world for not being appalled/disgusted and rejecting these poor unfortunate souls. I’m sure its quite the shock to their system when they learn that it’s only in Venezuela that they practice the free lunch policy.

      • I was going to make a snarky comment about the women wanting the christmas presents early, but didn’t want the weight of cannuckles having a coronary on my conscience.

  4. I concur with Marc’s initial post. We have a sitting Supreme Court Justice who has defected and is willing to cooperate with us S prosecutors, we have the Lima Group asking Maduro to step down and I just read that Venezuela is now attempting to work with an unknown American company to attempt to revive oil production. The story was beautifully crafted by Mr. Espinoza but enough of these types of stories. We know the emigration process is unjust and painful but it does not advance the ball down the field.

  5. Or put them in too as a side dish or for a little light reading. We haven’t seen CC churning out much of anything these days, forgive me for being critical, I imagine writing and editing and what not for this site doesn’t pay worth a shit. I imagine you all just do it for the love of your country, the same reason I lodge my complaint.

  6. It is amazing that CC is able to publish content digitally six days a week on what I imagine are very limited resources not to mention the dangers inherent for any reporters living in Venezuela. I also know that since for me this is free service I have no basis to complain. I do wish that CC would focus part of it’s reportorial work on a discussion of what Venezuelans can do to end this regime and what a post Maduro Venezuela should look like.

    • So no one here has a problem with this author boo-hooing…and dissing Ecuador…because Venezuela is “better” because it’s not as cold?

      My niece and nephew’s family are freezing their asses off in Calgary, and kissing the fucking ground for the opportunities they got there.

      • I saw it as merely expressing a preference for what one was used to. I would definitely prefer Quito weather to weather in most of Venezuela. Similarly, I can understand why a Venezuelan would prefer Venezuelan weather to Quito weather.

        I used to work in Maracaibo, which everyone knows is HOT. (Not that much different from a Texas summer- but with no relief in sight as it is for 12 months a year instead of just 3 months.) Having been born and raised in New England, I found the climate of Maracaibo not to my liking- though I was able to bear it with minimal use of air conditioning- there was a good breeze reaching the fourth floor apartment where I lived. As a result, I spent as much time off as possible in the Andes, such as La Puerta or Merida.

        Yes, I realized that working in HOT Maracaibo was paying my salary. That didn’t prevent me from preferring to spend time in the mountains.

        Similarly, I grin and bear the Texas summers, which for me are fine as long as the temperature doesn’t get much above 95-96 degrees- and without using air conditioning. But that doesn’t stop me from preferring Texas winters- or New England summers. But New England winters are why I don’t complain about Texas summers, but grin and bear it. But no way will I ever find 100+ degrees comfortable.

        • BT, you’d absolutely fall in love with those wonderful S. Louisiana late August afternoons, especially after a light shower.

          A buddy of mine visited once from Colorado and I heard him tell his wife over the phone that when he stepped out of the car, it felt like he’d stepped into a sauna. LOL

          • Having experienced the big drought in Texas several years ago, with a summer of highs of 100 or above, I will take rain and in the 90s over “dry” 105 degrees- any day. For those who say, “It’s not the heat that makes it uncomfortable, it’s the humidity,” my reply is: after you experience 105 degrees, get back to me.

    • Indeed. And Quico is the ultimate capitalist, keeping all the good stuff for only those who pay. 🙂

      They truth is, CC doesn’t have any idea of what Venezuelans can do to end this regime. Remember, not too long ago they were encouraging everyone to vote and also proclaiming the election results valid because, “we have the actas”.

      As for a post-Maduro Venezuela, the answer is simple. Continue with 21st century socialism, just do it right this time.

      • “As for a post-Maduro Venezuela, the answer is simple. Continue with 21st century socialism, just do it right this time.”

        You’re a funny guy MRubio. I pretty sure that’s exactly what will happen, the donkey will kick that stone twice and suffer the consequences twice!!!

  7. I just downloaded CC’s complimentary copy of the exclusive “Political Risk Report”. To condense the 4 pages, it ends with: “It would take considerable upfront concessions from the government.. and we don’t expect the government to do so unless social conflict increases to the point of threatening the safety of top regime officials”. So even CC admits El Pueblo needs to come together in social conflict or unrest to resist, AND THREATEN THE REGIME OR NOTHING WILL CHANGE!

    As much as reading CC and comments is a part of my daily life, I have stated many times, and agree with other commenters here today, that CC could do more to use their broad digital reach to motivate the social unrest to bring change. Or we’ll be reading the same stuff in another 10 years.

    Thanks for the well written article Arnaldo.

    • “and we don’t expect the government to do so unless social conflict increases to the point of threatening the safety of top regime officials”. So even CC admits El Pueblo needs to come together in social conflict or unrest to resist, AND THREATEN THE REGIME OR NOTHING WILL CHANGE!”

      Yup. As I recently said, the only time this town gets pissed and shuts down the national highway for a day is when the clap boxes are late. The mayor springs into action, the clap boxes arrive, and all is well again.

      Said it before and will say it again. Until several hundred thousand angry chavistas come pouring out of the shanty towns above Caracas and surround Mira Flores demanding that Nico Go, he will never leave.

      • Just like Pablov’s Dog! Uum sort of….or rat in cage ringing bell begets a food pellet…”er pueblo” knows that all they need to do to get fed is burn some tires on the highway. Brilliant! They’ve got those dumb Chavista’s well trained now don’t they?

        • Marc, they’ve had to switch to burning garbage and tree trunks because there are no tires to be burned. Even the old, worn out ones have been pressed back into service once again. Seriously.

      • Said it before and will say it again. Until several hundred thousand angry chavistas come pouring out of the shanty towns above Caracas and surround Mira Flores demanding that Nico Go, he will never leave.

        I have heard that for years and years, so you aren’t the first one I heard it from. Rings true for me.

  8. Well Ira, CC has been here for about 16 years (?), and in the past, especially during Chavez’s reign (of terror), they (Quico y Katy) had plenty to say about resisting and social unrest. Now it’s a sad chronicle of a failed 4th world country content to export the discontented. Bueh..

  9. Oh.. we all blew past Luis’ story, the former GN who participated in the 2017 protest repression, which “left a mark” on him, surely he didn’t leave a “mark” on any protesters. So he left Venezuela. I’m sure there are many others like him still in Venezuela. They just need a leader.

  10. …Until several hundred thousand angry chavistas come pouring out of the shanty towns above Caracas and surround Mira Flores demanding that Nico Go, he will never leave.

    MRubio…that thought rings true to my ear as well as your phrase about continuing 21st century socialism in the next version of Venezuela….

    • If we could get B T to do one of his amazing advanced searches on my comments, you will see that I also said it a couple of years ago. If I remember correctly someone put “like!” after I commented it, it’s obviously one of those universal truths that you come across, that as soon as you hear it, you know it to be true.

      • As it has been said in a number of ways, searching for it would be problematic. It’s been said many times, many ways, for many years, by many people. I have no idea who said it first.

        CC doesn’t have comments available before circa December 2011: they got hosed in a software update- or so I found out during one search. Was that a “frostbitten hosehead” whose software update hosed the CC software? 🙂

        Going only by memory, I am fairly certain that I first heard it more than 10 years ago. I probably have stated it myself- but in quoting someone. I certainly didn’t originate it.

        • BT, I take zero credit for the original comment as I think it’s intuitively obvious that thousands of angry chavistas marching on Mira Flores with torches and pitchforks would mean the end of Nico. I simply cannot imagine the GNB firing on those people, and rest assured that, unlike those wearing Dockers and Columbia sports shirts during the protests, that crowd of chavistas be well-armed and ready to fire back if they did.

          If you’ll recall, that same type of crowd, perhaps even much smaller, pulled Chavez’s fat out of the fire when he was overthrown. From that day forward, every effort possible was made to nueter the opposition while keeping the slums as pacified as possible.

          It’s still working to this day.

    • They denied that they were trying to escape. Back peddled. There is another rumor going around that Maduro has revoked all of their passports now. And there will be lots more revoked passports in the next few days. Scared shitless.

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