Nicholas Casey has lived in Caracas for three years, but the stories are still jarring. The Andes bureau chief for the New York Times, Casey has had a front-row seat for the unraveling of Venezuela – but even he probably wasn’t prepared for the desperation he’s seen these past several months. Men and women of what was once Latin America’s richest country eating rotten food to survive. Mothers so poor and malnourished that they’re giving birth to stillborn babies – or miscarrying them altogether. Millions of people leaving what’s left of their homes to set out on foot over the mountains for a chance to survive.
“The walking,” Casey writes, “will begin before dawn — before the clouds broke against the mountaintops, before the trucks took over the highway, even before anyone in the town woke up to check the vacant lot where scores of Venezuelan refugees had been huddling through the night… Rolling suitcases behind them, some trudge along highways their salaries so obliterated by Venezuela’s hyperinflation that bus tickets are out of reach. Others try to hitchhike for thousands of miles until they reach Ecuador or Peru.”
Driven by fear, hunger, violence, the Venezuelans are fleeing by the tens of thousands every day in one of the worst refugee crises of the modern century. The 125-mile journey over the two-mile-high Andes Mountain pass is treacherous and cold – but to many, their only chance. Columbia, if they can make it, is where they can start over – far away from the political unrest so many years in the making.
Once the home of oil reserves as large as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela has become a nightmare of corruption and mismanagement coming to an ugly head under President Nicolás Maduro. Inflation, now at a jaw-dropping 833,997 percent, sent the country spiraling. “Customers are standing in hours-long lines at banks to take out a daily limit, set so low that it barely covers the price of a cup of coffee.” The wave of poverty is sweeping Venezuelan children under, killing them at a shocking rate as store shelves sit empty, and food scarcely exists. Even as early as 2017, the country’s people were losing weight at a frightening rate, an average of 24 pounds when things were much better than they are today.
Now, the people who remain are spilling into the streets of Caracas, demanding that Maduro let the shipping containers of U.S. and foreign aid into the country – a decision he refuses to make. In a sick show of force, Maduro refuses to ease his people’s suffering, ordering the military to turn away thousands of pounds of food, medicine, hygiene kits, and humanitarian aid at the border. Trucks, filled with life-saving supplies, are being blocked on bridges, while boxes — piled sky-high – sit unopened on the Columbian side. With his country on the brink, opposition leader Juan Guaido continues to plead with world leaders for help. President Trump has helped lead that charge, building the international pressure for Maduro to step down.
“I ask every member of the Maduro regime: End this nightmare of poverty, hunger and death. LET YOUR PEOPLE GO. Set your country free! Now is the time for all Venezuelan Patriots to act together, as one united people. Nothing could be better for the future of Venezuela!” the president tweeted. “We are here to proclaim that a new day is coming in Latin America. In Venezuela and across the Western Hemisphere, Socialism is DYING – and liberty, prosperity, and democracy are being REBORN…”
Across the border in Columbia, impromptu refugee camps are popping up everywhere, as locals rally to do what they can. “I put myself in their situation, and as a mother of two children, I have to do something,” one woman said in a parking lot where Columbians offer the travelers showers, oatmeal, and jackets. “People came arriving with their shoes totally broken and destroyed,” Martha Duque told Casey. “But the hardest wasn’t seeing their shoes, it was seeing their feet: the lacerations, the blisters that were filled with blood.” She, too, has heard the heartbreaking stories. Mothers leaving their children behind. Wives offering their bodies to other men so their families can eat. “He would give her 20,000 pesos,” one explained — the equivalent of $6.
This is the legacy of a broken Venezuela, where there is no freedom, no hope, and no future for the people without help. President Trump is doing everything he can, while others call the church to urgent prayer. Pray, Vice President Mike Pence has asked Americans, for a spiritual and physical breakthrough. Pray for the military to let the supplies through to the starving. Pray for the suffering of the Venezuelan people to end. In a country of boundless opportunity and blessing like ours, very few of us have an inkling of the pain and hurt outside these borders. May it drive us to our knees in gratitude — and compassion for those who go without.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.
EDITORS NOTE: This FRC column with images is republished with permission.