(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Thousands of impoverished Venezuelans are crossing the border to
Colombia every day to sell cheap basics, from oranges to candles, in a
desperate attempt to earn hard currency amid their country's worsening
economic collapse.The porous roughly 2,220km frontier for years has been
rife with smuggling due to the massive differences in prices on either
side due to controls imposed by Venezuela's socialist government.
But in the past three months there has been a spike in Venezuelans
migrating to the border area and spending their days going door-to-door
trying to sell low-cost goods in Colombia.
Hundreds of vendors are sleeping in the streets of the Venezuelan border
town of San Antonio, while the surge in hawkers on the Colombian side
is stoking anger among local shopkeepers.
Albert Rodriguez, 22, spends his nights on a plastic sheet in the
streets of San Antonio since moving from Venezuela's inland agricultural
state of Lara a month ago.
He sells coffee in Colombia, but still has not been able to send money home to help his newborn daughter.
'It's tough because there are so many Venezuelans. I feel like crying
because I am so impotent, said Rodriguez, who said he hopes to
eventually migrate to central Colombia where he thinks job prospects
will be better.
The flood of vendors is evidence of how a fourth year of recession —
which has fomented malnutrition, disease and violent crime — is tearing
Venezuela's social fabric apart.
It also highlights that Colombia, already home to the most Venezuelan
migrants in South America, remains particularly vulnerable to the
crisis. The Colombian government did not respond to a request for
Come daybreak, Venezuelan hawkers jostle for hours to get a spot on a bus travelling to the Colombian border.
They then cross the teeming frontier on foot, many silently praying that
the National Guard will not demand payment to let them through with
Once safely in Cucuta, the vendors disperse on different buses that take them across the Colombian border city.
In the low-income hillside neighbourhood of La Libertad, around a
hundred Venezuelans rang doorbells offering mayonnaise, insecticide,
cereal boxes and more. Sales are often brisk.
Prices are roughly half those in Colombian stores due to Venezuela's depreciated bolivar currency.
Some worried Colombian shopkeepers are demanding the border be closed to
protect their businesses. Colombians also at times fret that the influx
of Venezuelan vendors could lead to crime.
Marlon Carrillo, a 21-year-old Venezuelan who abandoned university
studies to start selling fruit in Colombia three months ago, said some
locals slammed doors in his face out of fear.
'It's hard to pay for the sins of others, said Carrillo, who
crisscrosses Cucuta for eight hours a day selling the lemons,
strawberries, bananas and pineapples he crams into his backpack. 'I want
to progress and study but I have to work. I'm not going to let my
family die of hunger, said Carrillo, who is supporting his three
nephews after his sister died of bone marrow failure.