CARACAS – Millions of Venezuelans fled the country’s political and economic crisis last year and thousands have made arduous return journeys due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One of those who made this trip was Vanessa, who spent 28 days in isolation centers with her husband Rafael and their seven-year-old son Israel.
The 37-year-old woman, who did not give her second name, returned to their home in the Catia neighborhood in Caracas.
She tells EFE that they decided to go back because they had had no income for more than a month due to business closures in Norte de Santander, Colombia, where they had lived.
On April 13, they broke the quarantine and left for Venezuela with 10 suitcases between them, knowing that the border was closed, transportation was scarce and there were many dangers.
“We had to go through the trails (illegal routes) and pay,” she says.
The fee was not always answered with money, with some of the armed groups that patrol the border asking for mobile phones or food as payment.
“That was one of the hardest parts. You go in there, you don’t know what awaits you, what is there ahead (…) at that moment you are at their mercy,” Rafael, 55, adds.
They crossed unknown rivers and trails before being transferred by the Venezuelan military to a checkpoint, where they went through a disinfection tunnel, were tested for COVID-19 and put into isolation with around 1,000 other returnees.
Rafael describes the conditions at the center: sleeping on mats on an asphalt floor, waiting for hours to use the bathroom, water unsuitable for human consumption and food shortages.
He adds that there were seven “horrible” days when it rained and not everyone had a roof over their heads.
On the eighth day, the family was taken to a classroom in a military institution that had been converted into a shelter, where they spent another week undergoing medical evaluations.
They then embarked on the 26-hour trip overland to get to Caracas.
Some people helped them during this journey by giving them fruit, but others who shouted “sick” at them.
Before they reached the capital, they did not know that a third quarantine awaited them, this one 14 days long, before the regime allowed them to return to their homes.
The family of three was confined to a hotel room with pensioner Marisol Carrero, 61, who had accompanied them during the journey and who also lives in Catia.
“The first thing we did was drop the bags and cry. Cry a lot, a lot, a lot,” she says.
Gone is the illusion of seeking a better life in another country, now they are enjoying the tranquility of being at home.
“It took us 28 days to get to our house, I marked it out,” says Rafael.
The couple both left their jobs in Venezuela last year because they did not earn enough money to eat.
Now they are worried because they are unemployed and have no way to cope with the rocketing cost of living in Venezuela, which increased by 80% in April, according to regime estimates.
Marisol says she is also concerned about how she will survive on her pension of $4 a month, which she says will not cover even 1% of her food bill.
Five million Venezuelans have left the country over the past six years and nearly 30,000 have decided to return in the midst of the pandemic, according to official figures.
Venezuela has reported 423 COVID-19 cases, 55 of which came from Colombia, and 10 deaths.
The population of 29 million has been in lockdown since March, when the first infection was detected.