What you feel when you arrive at the two passenger terminals located in San Fernando, capital of the border state of Apure, is sadness, frustration and heartbreak. You can hear the cries of Venezuelans who see their loved ones leave for foreign lands, to try their luck and look for a future that was taken away from them in their own country which is still mired in a complex humanitarian emergency.
In conversation with several migrants who were waiting to board a bus, they commented that the favorite destination for Venezuelans is the United States. They consider that it is a country that will allow them to build a new horizon, an opportunity to live, because in Venezuela one can barely survive the crisis. Despite much effort and no matter how hard they tried, unfortunately they feel that they lost the battle to hunger and economic, political and social instability that has separated families and broken hearts beyond borders.
The emigration situation is critical, according to José Montiel, who has mixed feelings as he has said goodbye to 10 of his best friends in the past week at the TransApure passenger terminal, a bus line that daily transports passengers (commuting migrants and those in transit), from San Fernando de Apure to Guasdualito, near El Amparo, a town that borders the Arauca Department in Colombia.
“I said goodbye to 10 of my best friends, determined to cross the Darien, risking their lives just for an opportunity. My friends are mechanics, bricklayers, brass workers, professionals in different academic areas, administrators and lawyers, who after several attempts to improve their economic situation by developing various trades, did not achieve the goal of supporting their families. They had no way to eat, no work, because people have no way to pay for anything. What you earn is spent on food. Nor does one have to buy shoes or to buy pants. My children also do not have an education or a decent plate of food, because what I earn is really not enough for me, it is so little,” confessed José Montiel.
María Suárez, a user of the Humberto Hernández passenger terminal, with her son in her arms, told lapatilla.com that her sister experienced the horror of the Darién gap and was forced to pay $1,800 from Valencia to get to the border with the United States, an amount that included transfers, feeding and paying the coyotes to be able to cross through the Panamanian jungle and come out alive.
“The coyotes help you pass, they even put bracelets on you to identify their clients. If you don’t have enough money to pay them, they kill you,” she said with terror.
Sacrifices for family
During the visit to the ‘TransApure’ and ‘Humberto Hernández’ bus terminals, it was confirmed that back and forth and one way migration on the Colombian-Venezuelan border on the Apure (Venezuela) – Arauca (Colombia) road and river axis has increased since the beginning of 2024 through this plains state which borders Colombia in three of its seven municipalities (Pedro Camejo, Rómulo Gallegos and José Antonio Páez).
The land and river border crossing of El Amparo (Venezuela) and Arauca (Colombia) is the busiest in Apure, as the first stop for back and forth migrants, who use it to reach other areas of Colombia.
Commuter migrants enter and leave Venezuela to be able to work, buy food, among other activities, in the neighboring country of Colombia. There are also migrants in transit, who are all those people who decide to leave Venezuela to settle permanently in another country in the world in the face of the economic crisis that deeply affects the country, caused by the terrible mismanagement of Nicolás Maduro’s regime, according to what the migrants consulted say.
Commercial transactions in the municipalities of Pedro Camejo, Rómulo Gallegos and José Antonio Páez are carried out mostly in Colombian pesos, quoted at about 3,900 pesos for every dollar. While in Bajo Apure, San Fernando, Biruaca and Achaguas, the currencies with the greatest circulation are dollars and then bolivars.
The Venezuelans consulted at the TransApure and Humberto Hernández bus terminals in San Fernando de Apure, assure that they have decided to take these risks with the hope of living better and offering well-being to their relatives who remain, even knowing the sacrifices they must face not only in Colombia and the United States, but also in Chile or Peru.
There are more and more migrants
From Monday to Saturday, the TransApure Terminal provides public transportation service from San Fernando de Apure to Guasdualito, José Antonio Páez municipality, 23 kilometers from El Amparo and has a cost of 10 dollars per passenger. It is a ‘Yutong’ bus (Yutong is a Chinese vehicle brand) that has capacity for 44 passengers.
At the Humberto Hernández Terminal, two buses load daily from Monday to Friday at night with a total of 32 passengers each, and they must have 15 dollars cash on hand to pay for the ticket.
“The Apureños converted (the route) Colombia-Venezuela, as if it were Maracay-Valencia. They travel to Colombia and return after a few days to San Fernando,” said a source consulted for this special work.
Ángel Molina, driver of a transportation line at the Humberto Hernández Passenger Terminal, considers that during the last two years the emigration wave has increased throughout the country, particularly after the pandemic and also fearing the firsthand experience of the harsh reality of the country. .
Molina revealed that the majority of the passengers on the San Fernando-Guasdualito route are new migrants who are fleeing the economic disaster in Venezuela. “Nothing is enough for us. Many people came back to spend Christmas and went back (abroad) because of the situation in the country,” Molina noted.
Samuel Fuenmayor, a driver at the terminal for 7 years, added that the largest movement of passengers towards that border area has been reported during January 2024. “In December it was a little slow while January has been busy, because people waited for the Christmas celebration (with the family) to end and then emigrate. In December, the buses left San Fernando almost empty, with only 8 to 10 passengers, while today we are already selling tomorrow’s tickets,” said Fuenmayor.
The days with the greatest influx of passengers are Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when between three and four transport units leave from the Humberto Hernández Terminal. On Saturdays and Sundays, passenger movement decreases, and only two buses run. “Now the ‘bachaqueros'(small time merchants) do not travel, because it is not profitable to buy in Colombia because of the ‘matraca’ (rattle, extortion by police/military) at the checkpoints,” highlighted the driver.
According to the drivers consulted, at least 96 people travel to the border from Monday to Friday through the Humberto Hernández terminal alone, while on Saturdays and Sundays, the influx is low, because fewer buses travel, that is, about 64 people leave through just this terminal. This means that, at least, 160 Venezuelans leave the country every week through this bus terminal in Apure, not counting TransApure passengers, a statistic to which we did not have access.
Deisy Benítez, from the José Wilfredo Rodríguez neighborhood in Apure, is 23 years old and is the mother of two children. She visits her hometown, San Fernando, seasonally, with the intention of spending some time with her family. Currently, she works in San Martín de los Llanos, in the Meta Municipality in Colombia. The young woman abandoned her military studies at the Army School to leave the country in search of a better life in Colombia.
“My mother takes care of one of my children in San Fernando, that’s why I come and go to Venezuela. I like living in my country better, but in Colombia I have more economic stability, it is easier to get food, employment while the situation in Venezuela is ‘a little’ more complicated. When I come to Venezuela, I bring food and clothes,” she commented.
Deisy, based in Colombia, earns 1,500,000 Colombian pesos monthly, equivalent to $384.61, which allows her to pay rent, services and food, in addition to helping her family in Apure. “I hope to return to my country in the face of a possible political change. It is difficult to be away from family, where you were born, where you grew up and from the people you know,” she admitted.
She recalled with pain the first time she left the country: she did it “muleando”, that is, asking for a ride. That word is used to describe the pain experienced from Apure to Colombia.
“I had to leave my oldest son in Apure, who was months old at that time. I arrived in San Martín de Meta, walking and waiting in line for seven days, I faced everything, heat, cold, my shoes tore up, I had to bathe in any river. On that journey I saw mothers carrying children and suitcases, and I helped several of them on a journey that is always in my mind,” she recalled.
Migrants want to return
Irianny Arismendi now lives in the ‘Jaime Lusinchi’ neighborhood, located in San Fernando. She returned to Venezuela on December 29th to celebrate the arrival of the New Year with her family after 7 years of absence. When she was preparing to travel to Casanare (Colombia), she decided to stay in her homeland, because in Colombia she lives alone with her son, while her parents are alone in San Fernando.
Irianny worked in a fruit shop in Casanare, and although she earned 1,200,000 pesos, equivalent to 307.69 dollars, of which she pays 400,000 pesos (102.5 dollars) in rent. Although she has enough money to support herself over there, she wants to be close to her loved ones.
José Blanco, a native of Guayabal, Guárico State, is heading to Yopal, Colombia, because in Venezuela he lacks work to support his family. He is the father of two children who motivate him to look for work outside the country. “The first time I was in Ecuador then I returned to Venezuela, but the situation became difficult for me and that is why I decided to leave the country again to look for work.”
In Venezuela, José dedicated himself to livestock, agriculture and other types of work. But the money is not enough to support his family. “The money in Colombia is enough to support myself, send money to the family and save a little money. I was out of work from December until now in Venezuela, that’s why I have to return to Colombia. “I can’t start stealing, I have to work,” José argued.
The man blames Nicolás Maduro’s regime for the mismanagement of the country’s resources. “The way we are going in Venezuela, there is no future,” lamented this Venezuelan forced to emigrate in the face of the economic chaos. “Nicolás Maduro should look for ways to get out of the presidency to give the position to someone else, because it (the job) was too big for him,” he concluded.