Venezuelan “Walkers” Flee Crisis One Step at a Time

More than one million Venezuelans are currently sheltering in Colombia after fleeing the political and economic crisis in their home country. Many have spent their entire life savings getting there, and are now traversing the country on foot to reach distant towns or other neighboring countries. Meet three Venezuelans embarking on a journey walking across Colombia.

Feb 4, 2019 · 4 min read
Carlos, Anthony, and Danny are “caminantes” — three of the hundreds of Venezuelan walkers who are walking across Colombia after fleeing the economic and political crisis in their home country. Photo credit: Alison Harding, USAID/OFDA

Carlos, Anthony, and Danny* — who have been walking for six days straight — are not even halfway through their 400 mile journey to Medellín, Colombia, where they’re hoping a family friend can get them work.

Caminantes walk along two main routes across Colombia. Map courtesy: Matthew Earls, USAID/OFDA

In central Venezuela, they were neighbors. Carlos worked as a mechanic; Anthony a banker; and 17 year-old Danny aspired to be a barber.

But their lives were put on hold as they watched their city fall apart, a casualty of Venezuela’s deteriorating economic crisis.

Anthony used to be a banker in Venezuela but left his life behind to find work in neighboring Colombia. Photo credit: Alison Harding, USAID/OFDA

“Everything is a mess. Now, instead of buses, they have old trucks that barely run to take you to work. At the markets, people get in fights over the last two kilos of flour,” Anthony said. “That’s why we’re here in Colombia. Everyone is leaving because of the cruel reality in Venezuela.”

The final straw, Carlos said, was the night they watched a family eat what has become the neighborhood’s new plato típico: wet paper napkins. During this crisis, eating paper products has become the option of last resort for too many families looking to dull the hunger pangs that have become too agonizing to bear.

That night, they made the decision to leave Venezuela for good and booked the next bus to the border. There, the men said goodbye to their country and their few remaining valuables, which they handed over to guards demanding a “toll” to cross the international bridge.

Once in Colombia, Carlos, Anthony, and Danny laced up their sneakers and headed for the mountains, joining the hundreds of Venezuelan caminantes — or walkers —already fleeing their country’s crisis on foot. For 20 hours a day, the trio trudged across Colombia, hoping that each step would take them closer to a better life.

With the few possessions they can carry, Venezuelans “caminantes” walk along a road in Colombia. Photo credit: Schneyder Mendoza, AFP

As they pressed on through the treacherous Andean terrain, they watched with sadness as their fellow “walkers” turned back, defeated by the harsh elements. They mourned the mother and child who froze to death trying to cross a frigid mountain pass. They found compassion in the truck driver giving rides to the next town.

They didn’t stop until they reached Bucaramanga, La Ciudad de Los Parques, about a hundred miles from the border with Venezuela. The city is famous for its beautiful parks, but has more recently become known as a popular stop where caminantes can take a rest. By the time the men arrived, they were so thirsty that they didn’t think twice before guzzling water from a gardener’s hose, despite his warning that the water was treated with fertilizer.

To reach Bucaramanga from the Venezuelan border, “caminantes” must pass over dangerous Andean mountain peaks that engulf the city. Photo credit: Alison Harding, USAID/OFDA

They have no money, and no place to stay, so the gardener’s water would have to do.

Today, the city’s famed parks will provide a short rest for their tired feet. Tomorrow, Carlos, Anthony, and Danny will set off towards the mountains once again, all too aware of the dangerous road that lies ahead.

“Maybe we will die when we are doing this,” Anthony said. “But we are looking for a future for our kids, for our women, for our families. We just hope that people have the conscience to give us some help, to support us when they see us in the street.”

*Names changed for their safety.

The United States is providing humanitarian assistance throughout the region to support Venezuelans and the communities that are hosting them. In Colombia, a USAID partner is helping Venezuelan caminantes by distributing emergency relief supplies — including non-perishable food, blankets, warm clothes, first aid kits, and personal hygiene items.

Read more about USAID’s humanitarian efforts.

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USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance saves lives on behalf of the American people.

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