By Lorena Bornacelly, Sheyla Urdaneta, María Eugenia Diaz, Keren Torres, Melquiades Avila, Carlos Suniaga and Carlos Camacho.
The humanitarian, economic, social, and political crisis in Venezuela has forced its nationals to make the difficult decision to leave their fatherland in search of new opportunities in other countries.
Some 5.5 million Venezuelans have taken that step since 2013, making it the second-largest exodus going on in the world right now, second only to Syria’s. According to the UN, the movement of migrants will accelerate in 2021, with more than 8.1 million Venezuelans moving abroad.
However, not everyone can buy a plane or bus ticket to start their journey. The vast majority of Venezuelans now make less than $1 a month, and the plane ticket out in a government-organized humanitarian flight can set the migrant back $1,000.
Many Venezuelan migrants take illegal steps to cross the borders. To do so, they get forced to walk long distances across dangerous, guerrilla-infested borders or board small clandestine boats traversing the raging waters of the Caribbean, risking their lives almost any way they choose to leave.
Generally, Venezuelans who subject themselves to these dangers are those who do not have sufficient economic resources to migrate by plane or bus; and in their desperation to get an opportunity, they decide to look for alternative ways to leave Venezuela.
Sucre: risk of a shipwreck for $500 a seat
Some 500 to 700 Venezuelans are said to set sail, every day, to Trinidad. The sea lane is super-dangerous: in a single shipwreck, 33 Venezuelans, including three children, died. People smugglers control the business, boats are rickety, and the island authorities violate almost every existing humanitarian accord (non-refoulment, separation of families, the law of the sea) to send Venezuelans back without even an asylum hearing. And yet, 40,000 Venezuelans are living there illegally, according to the Organization of American States.
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The routes taken by migrants from Sucre state to Trinidad and Tobago are the riskiest due to the number of shipwrecks registered along the coast of Guiria, including the deadliest to date.
According to Tal Cual, the boats leave for the area of Boca de Dragon, a strait that separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Paria.
Some of the beaches from which these boats depart, usually carrying 30 people, are Playa Salinas, Playa Pescadores, and port number eight in Guiria.
From Falcon to Aruba
From the Peninsula of Paraguaná, in the Falcon area, small boats leave clandestinely for the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba due to its proximity. Supreme Court judge Eladio Aponte Aponte reportedly took this route when he turned his back on the Nicolas Maduro regime. However, several dozen would-be migrants who took this route are now reported missing.
According to the citizens who have gone to Aruba under this modality, they do not offer life vests. Also, they do not know who their traveling companions will be until the moment of the exit.
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Some say that the swell is strong and the oft overloaded gives the impression that it is sinking. Other reports say that the feeling and sinks are real.
When arriving at Aruba, Venezuelans must swim to the shore because the boats cannot pass through the coral. They run the risk of being caught by the coast guard.
Canoe across the Arauca
Almost two million Venezuelans have taken this route (or similar) into Colombia, the country with the most Venezuelan exodus presence.
One of the busiest land or river routes in El Amparo, municipality of Paez, Apure state: the canoe passage on the Arauca River dividing Venezuela from Colombia costs two dollars per person. Guerrilla presence is a given, and attacks against the Venezuelan military are common. The crosswalk on the Jose Antonio Paez bridge that connects Venezuela with Colombia gets restricted by Maduro regime police.
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Another exit from Venezuela to Colombia gets located in the town of Puerto Paez. In that route, migrants must cross from one country to the other on a canoe. A situation that not everyone can stomach, according to reports, since rivers are choppy and river-banks dangerous.
If the migrant comes from the states of Lara, Portuguesa, and Barinas, they must cross the Bruzual bridge in Apure state until they can travel to Arauca, Colombia.
The irregular trails in Zulia
The municipality of Guajira is the main route used by migrants since there are at least 100 irregular trails or passages. Those trails, however, often have the presence of armed gangs.
The most used are La Ochenta, La Cortica, and Santa Elena, which connect Maicao with Colombia. Through the municipality of Mara, Venezuelans cross the trails of Monte Lara and La Majayura.
Those in the municipalities to the south of the Maracaibo Lake move to the so-called El Guayabo road to La Fria in Tachira; from there, they follow the route to the town of Orope, Boca de Grita to arrive at Puerto Santander.
In Perija, Venezuelans use the Tibu road, and some cross the Perija mountain pass on foot.
The crowded border in Táchira
The most used routes on the border are in San Antonio del Tachira, the municipality of Bolivar. Neighbors usually help the outgoing migrant with food, water, and a porch to sleep under for a few hours, but these passages are also risky due to the presence of people smugglers and other bad actors.
In San Antonio, the most used trails are Las Pampas, La Platanera, one in Llano de Jorge, El Palotal, and the Hacienda La Ponderosa through which vehicles can travel.
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La Platanera gets used by pedestrians and motor vehicles (bikes, mostly) traveling to and from the border. The price to be paid by those passing by is different and varies according to their luggage.
Those who cross and then move to another country other than Colombia must reach San Antonio del Tachira through one of the trails and go to the terminal.
Guarumito, in the municipality of Garcia de Hevia, is another regular pass to reach Colombia through which pedestrians and vehicles go.
Boca de Grita, called the Santander Port, is the road used by those who live in the northern zone of Tachira. However, when they cross the border, they arrive at the Port, located approximately 45 minutes from the center of Cucuta.
From Bolívar to Brazil
Migrants must go to San Felix, where they take buses to the border in hopes of crossing into Brazil, which go as far as Santa Elena de Uairen, in the municipality of Gran Sabana.
From there, they take the irregular crossing known as El Porton, located in Guaramasen. Then, they pass to a sector called San Antonio and arrive at the Brazilian town of Pacaraima.
Once on the Brazilian side, the Bolsonaro government has set up Operation Welcome, helping Venezuelan migrants set up. Together with Colombia, Brazil is perhaps the most welcoming country to the migrants.
In Tucupita, there are three departure points to Trinidad and Tobago, among which are Volcano Port, Pueblo Blanco, and the Virgen del Valle parish.
The boats are responsible for transporting travelers to the coasts of Trinidad and Tobago. Generally, the owners do not require any documentation, and however, the payment can be in part or in full.