The number of Venezuelans crossing the border for food went up this week. Last Sunday President Maduro opened the border with Colombia for 12-hours and about 35,000 Venezuelans made the crossing. This Sunday the border opened again and the Associated Press is reporting 100,000 people crossed.
The AP focuses on one married couple, Tebie Gonzalez and Ramiro Ramirez. Despite having good jobs, Tebie and Ramiro are unable to find enough food for their family in their own country. They decide to drain their emergency savings and spend the money on food across the border in Colombia. Ramirez tells the AP, “It’s scary to spend it, but we’re finding less food each day and we need to prepare for what’s coming.”
After withdrawing huge rolls of cash, the couple drove to the border carrying several suitcases they planned to fill with food. When they reach the border, the couple spends 2 hours packed together with thousands of other Venezuelans. From the AP:
Gonzalez cried behind her oversized aviator glasses.
“I thought the crossing would be easier. It made me feel so humiliated, like I was an animal; a refugee,” she said.
“But look how different things are on this side. It’s like Disneyland,” responded Ramirez. Not only was the town filled with prized groceries, but everything was much cheaper than on Venezuelan black market, now the only alternative for people who don’t have time to spend in the hours-long lines for scarce goods that have become the most salient feature of the oil country’s economic crisis.
A week ago I wrote that Venezuelans crossing the border acted as if it was the opening of Disneyland. And here you have someone quoted by the AP saying entering Colombia where food is plentiful is “like Disneyland.” This is how desperate even middle-class working people in Venezuela have become. Just the sight of shelves stocked with food brings them joy.
The AP included this photo of the couple exchanging their worthless wad of currency.
Tebie and Ramiro have jobs, a nice apartment and children to worry about. But how long will the food they picked up on this emergency shopping trip last? What will they do in another month or so when they have no more food and no emergency cash? By then the cash they do have will be worth significantly less thanks to triple-digit inflation.
At one point in this story the couple sees the the crowd of people on the bridge they just crossed being broadcast on television. What if President Maduro decides to close the border again because stories like this are making his country look like the starving wreck it really is? Maduro won’t starve for his misplaced pride, but others might. Even if the border remains open, what if so many desperate people show up next week or the week after that that this couple can’t get across? What if they get robbed carrying a suitcase full of cash?
It’s hard to imagine the unenviable choices left to people in Venezuela. This couple has bought their family a little more time, maybe a month at most. But the situation in Venezuela only seems to be getting worse with every passing day. The next set of choices for people like Tebie and Ramiro seems likely to be even more desperate.