CUCUTA, Colombia – Thousands of Venezuelans have for years crossed the Simon Bolivar bridge connecting their nation with Colombia in search of cheaper and better quality products to bring back across the border but, nowadays, those daily migrants are increasingly focused on finding simple necessities like food and medicine, basic human needs that are considered a luxury in their crisis-rocked homeland.
Around 35,000 people cross the bridge, which links San Antonio del Tachira on the Venezuelan side to Cucuta in northeastern Colombia, on a daily basis, according to Colombian authorities. Some make the journey to secure vital products while others look to leave Venezuela permanently.
As evening falls over the Simon Bolivar border crossing, it is plain to see that the crowds of people heading back to Venezuela from Cacuta far outnumber those heading in the opposite direction. Although the queues are large, the flow of people moves quickly and efficiently as thousands of Venezuelans head home armed with medicine, foods and clothes, while others are simply returning after a day’s work.
A cross-section of Venezuelan society crosses the bridge, from those in wheelchairs being pushed by families, to children carried by parents, to street vendors selling everything from medicine to refreshments to ward off the tropical heat that bears down in this corner of the world.
Victor Guzman is one such person. Born in Maracay, in the northern Venezuelan state of Aragua, he earns a living in San Antonio selling bus tickets and medicine, some of which he keeps aside for his parents.
San Antonio used to be a commercial center of the region and attracted people from all over Colombia in search of clothes, electronics and games at a much lower price but when the crisis hit Venezuela, the tables soon turned.
“Around two weeks, I came here (Cacuta) for the first time and it is great, the way you are treated, it’s the total opposite of what happens in Venezuela,” he said of the capital of Colombia’s North Santander department.
He has done well in Colombia and was able to pay for his father to undergo medical treatment for prostate cancer.
However, the Venezuelan bolivars he earns at home turn to dust when exchanged for Colombian pesos, so he dines, like thousands of others, at a community lunch center run by NGOs and the local Catholic Church.
Casa de Paso de la Divina Providencia is tucked away in a Cacuta suburb and serves food to the needy.
“They have great food, I can’t complain,” he said. “In fact, they gave me a shirt and some trousers the other day,” he added.
However, not all the Venezuelans return home at night.
Juan Carlos Olivares, who owned a barbershop in Venezuela, has lived in Colombia for three months after he was robbed at his business.
“I am a professional barber, I’m working at a barbershop and I worked at a barbershop in Venezuela, where I was robbed, for that reason I’m here now,” he said.
He said he felt scared whenever he had to cross back into San Antonio.
As the lines form on the border bridge, protests against Venezuela’s embattled incumbent Nicolas Maduro occasionally break out.
For the Venezuelans making the daily trip into Colombia, the president, who has ignored international pressure to call early elections, represents the crisis that has hit the nation.
The country was currently gripped in a political crisis resulting from years of hyperinflation and declining living standards
Juan Guaido, the current leader of the Venezuelan parliament, swore in on Jan. 23 as the legitimate caretaker president of the county in a direct challenge to Maduro.
The United States and the European Union’s most powerful nations have recognized his claim, although Maduro’s main creditor Russia and historic backer China have vowed their support to the embattled leader.