Photos by the author.
“I’ve never seen anything like when Venezuela closed the border in 2013,” said Henry, 45, beer in hand after the concert. “They came with armored vehicles and tore down the houses of Colombians near the border. Chávez was still alive, and they treated our brothers like shit.”
“I saw Colombians grab anything they could and cross the river, it was the saddest moment of my life. When they opened the border again, many Venezuelans started crossing to the other side. Colombians waited for us and cheered when we arrived. Policemen, civilians, they all made a human tunnel and waited with fresh coffee. They didn’t have much to give, but they have always been kind to us.”
As the Venezuelan Aid Live concert approached, Cucuta could only talk about its importance. Some didn’t mind, some were scared, some were hopeful, but they were all aware of the political and social implications behind the event. It wasn’t a simple music festival, it was a celebration of freedom, democracy, but most importantly, brotherhood. Most Colombians, but specially Cucuteños, have a strong relationship with Venezuela. After all, most border cities don’t precisely live according to frontier lines.
The taxi driver that took us to the concert, for example, lived in Valencia for 14 years. “It was a different time. I could work hard for two years and buy an apartment, a car. I could buy another car the next year. Now it’s all messed up, people are in pain. I have so many friends there, so much family. My daughter married a Venezuelan. Now I don’t even want to visit. It’s hard for them, but it’s also hard for me.”
Jorge, the driver, is back in his hometown now. He’s happy, but he feels he lost something along the way. Recent events, he says, have filled him with hope. “Can you imagine? Me visiting my daughter again? My daughter visiting me?”
I remembered a conversation I once had with Rober Calzadilla, director of the Venezuelan film El Amparo, about one of the most infamous massacres in our modern history, the Amparo Massacre, right in the Venezuela-Colombia border. “When I talk to people living near the border,” Rober told me then, “it’s hard to keep up on which side of the border their daily life takes place. They may live on one side and work or go to school on the other. They definitely have friends and lovers from both sides. When we read about border conflict on the media, it seems like it’s all perfectly structured, like it’s all about a visible, impermeable line between countries. It’s not. Real life is a mess, and borders, thank god, aren’t walls.”
Yesterday’s concert was right on the border, a massive festival aimed at humanitarian help for a country with a broken economy and a rising dictatorship. And even though Richard Branson claims “he’s not really into politics”, he did talk about health crisis, political persecution and a regime that cares about no one but itself. In the end, of course it is about politics.
As I walked through the massive crowds, I heard story after story of people who were there for free music, yes, but also for the political dimension of the event. I wondered how things were going on the other side of the bridge. Was anyone there to offer real political support? Or was the arrival of the 20,000 promised CLAP boxes the biggest highlight of the day?
Clara, not her real name, was born in Venezuela, from a Colombian mother and a Spanish father: “I came to Colombia when I was 5 years old, and I grew up believing we were still in the same country. Yes, some things were different, but others weren’t. I didn’t know we had changed cities until I was 10. Still, we were still in touch with everyone there. I remember my godfather, he left Venezuela a long time ago. I don’t think I’ll ever see him again. Distance is real.”
Esperanza is a journalist born and raised in Cúcuta. I saw her with tears in her eyes as we smoked cigarettes and heard the music in the back. “Venezuela is important to all of us. My first boyfriend was Venezuelan, I think of him today. I’m glad I live in a country that’s willing to help other countries, especially a brother country.” I tell her I didn’t realize it before, but my first kiss was also with a Colombian, a charming guy who, of course, eventually broke my teenage heart, but was kind enough to fix it himself with childish poetry and candy. “It’s about love, you see. Love without borders.”
Blu arrived in Colombia a month ago. She’s been living in a Jesuit refugee center for the past 3 weeks, her first week lived right in the street. “I’ve gotten help from Colombians and Venezuelans alike. We need so much to survive, food, water, clothes, uplifting words, just to keep your body going. Rejection exists, hate is expected, but it’s not normal. Cucuta is a hard city. It’s violent, unpredictable, but I feel safer than I did at home.”
We danced to Danny Ocean and sang passionately his heartache songs. “You see, everyone here has gotten their heart broken because of distance, Colombians and Venezuelans all dance the same beat.”