domingo, diciembre 8

An illegal crossing that is correctly organized

chapter v

The illegal transit of people across the Venezuelan border is a network that has a structure and defined rules, for both the ones who work in it and those who decide to use their service. As part of the investigation, we witnessed how this mechanism works and who is involved in it.
It was 5:00 am and the Todos Ahora team was on the Colombian side of the border with the intention of crossing to the Venezuelan side. However, it was not a typical day in the area, as the situation was quite tense and there was a partial closure on both sides of the border, so the number of people waiting to cross was huge.
We had to pass, it was the only option, so we all started to search for someone who could offer a solution to our problem. Among the people waiting, there was a lady who had a huge bundle of Venezuelan bills, she was selling them, so we immediately identified her with Venezuela. We approached her and asked if she knew any trochero that could help us cross the border, and, without hesitation, she put us in touch with a young man.
Network that operates on the border roads

The new trochero was a young and dark man, he came from Maracay and as soon as he approached us he began to tell us his story, even without explaining to us what the dynamics would be like. He told us that he had been working on the roads for barely 3 months, but he said that he earned much more money here than anywhere else. However, in the middle of his story we were really worried about our safety and we expressed our concerns to him; he guaranteed that nothing could happen to us, because no matter what, he was sure that if something would happen to us, something much worse would happen to him. It was as if he was putting his own life as a guarantee for our safety and that managed to diminish our anguish at times.

Until then, we knew that in this network there were two entities involved: the informal vendors that are the point of liaison and the trocheros. Carlos, our trochero, began to explain what the dynamics would be once we were approaching what would be the beginning of the trocha (trail). The first thing he asked us was if we brought with us some type of food or electronic device such as laptops, to which we answered no; he nodded and explained that when people want to cross, and they have one of the aforementioned elements, the price is much higher.
We were already at the entrance of the trocha and we found that it was guarded by the Colombian police, and they were in charge of deciding which trocheros passed and which did not. Carlos took the opportunity to tell us that a trochero was recently vetoed by the policemen for charging people a higher price for crossing and lying to the officials about the real cost. The police found out and prohibited him from providing the service, because, undoubtedly, the police also benefit from this activity and receives part of the payment.
We walked around seven minutes, through a route that was frequently used, but it was full of mud due to water crossings. In our walk, we were always guarded and by the time we got to the side of San Antonio del Táchira our shoes were wet and full of mud. That wasn’t really a problem for us; but what did overwhelm us was the fact that, suddenly and almost out of nowhere, a handful of men with long weapons and radios appeared, who apparently held a higher rank than everyone we had met up to that moment, within the network. There, we had to pay them the fee of 30,000 Colombian pesos, and once they disappeared, they disappeared with the same agility with which they had arrived.
Carlos took advantage of the opportunity and explained to us that they were paracos (Colombian paramilitaries) and that they obviously could not cross with the Colombian police because that could create conflict, which was the reason why they worked almost incognito and submerged in the vegetation. Our path had ended, and we were already in Venezuelan territory, and to our surprise, on this side there was no Venezuelan army officer guarding the exit; Carlos answered to our doubts and said that later in the day, they would meet with the paracos and distribute the profits.
So far, we had counted seven key groups that participated in the illegal transit network between borders: the informal sellers; the trocheros; the Colombian police; the Colombian guard that sometimes participated; the Colombian paramilitaries and the Venezuelan army. However, we needed one more group, because the route we took was close to the Simón Bolívar bridge, and from our location you could see the bridge perfectly, and it seemed like we were also seen from the point of the Colombian migration, but there they were silent observers that ignored what they saw, and we suppose that their silence also has a cost. Finally, there were us and all the people who use these roads to travel between both countries.

It was 5:20 am and we were back in Venezuela, Carlos said goodbye and engaged again in what is now his new job, while we went into our next step to reach our next destination. There was a number stuck in our minds throughout our journey: nine. There are nine groups of people interlinked in this illegal transit network.

Passers-by on the Simón Bolívar Bridge

chapter VI