CUCUTA, Colombia – In downtown Cucuta, the busiest border crossing between Colombia and Venezuela, a street currency exchange is swamped every day by hundreds of Venezuelans who come to pick up money sent them from abroad, and which will help them scrape through their country’s economic crisis.
The interminable line of people waiting to receive money winds across Santander Park.
In front of the park dedicated to the hero of Colombian Independence, Gen. Francisco de Paula Santander, is the currency exchange where many Venezuelans go to claim the remittances sent to them from third countries so they can buy food, medicines and, in some cases, bus tickets to emigrate to Ecuador, Peru or Chile.
They should be able to receive those remittances in Venezuela, but due to the monetary restrictions imposed by the Nicolas Maduro government, which reduced the amount of cash in circulation, thousands of citizens must go to Cucuta every day to pick up the small packs of money that are their lifeline.
In the park on a sweltering morning in Cucuta, people of all ages spend hours in line, praying that by the time they get to the window, the cashier’s money supply will not have run out.
Magali Prado, a 47-year-old Venezuelan who has been in line for over four hours, suffers from diabetes and had to come from the neighboring Venezuelan state of Tachira to get the money her children sent her.
“Most of our youngsters are working abroad so they can send us money to cover our medications, and our food,” Prado told EFE.
The woman has a son working in Peru and a daughter in Chile, and they both send money to pay for medicines that are impossible to get in Venezuela, so she takes advantage of her trip to Cucuta to include a trip to a Colombian pharmacy, which will have anything she needs.
“I’m sorry to say that in Venezuela there aren’t any medicines... and it’s no secret to anyone how we Venezuelans are doing,” she said.
“My daughter is a petrochemical engineer who had to go work in a restaurant to pay for my medicines, and that’s really sad,” she said with a quavering voice.
Every month, Prado makes the trip that takes over an hour and a half on the highway to Cucuta, but she must then cross the border on foot because driving across it is prohibited by order of the Venezuelan government.