CUCUTA, Colombia – Although the sun has barely risen, this border city with Venezuela is already bursting with chaos. Thousands upon thousands of Venezuelans pour into Colombia over the crowded cross-country bridge, their faces gaunt, carrying little more than a backpack. Rail-thin women cradle their tiny babies, and beg along the trash-strewn gutters. Teens hawk everything from cigarettes to sweets and water for small change. The young, the old and the disabled cluster around the lone Western Union office – recently established to deal with the Venezuelan influx – in the hopes of receiving or sending a few dollars to send home. Without passports or work permits, the Venezuelans – many with university degrees or decent jobs in what was once the wealthiest nation in Latin America – are now resorting to whatever it takes to survive. “Hair, looking for hair,” an older man choruses through the crowd, turning to a group of women clutching their small children. Another man nearby holds a sign, “we buy hair.” More and more girls and women are turning to the cut the make ends meet, and feed their families for a few days. Women sell their locks to local wigmakers in Colombia for around $10-30, depending on length and quality. Other women sell their bodies. Girls as young as 14 line the Cucuta streets available “for hire,” earning around seven dollars “per service.” “Due to the brutal economic situation in Venezuela, they come to Colombia looking for a job, or at least for shelter and basic care. But they usually end up selling candles or coffee at traffic lights,” said Amy Roth Sandrolini, Chief of Staff at The Exodus Road, a U.S.-based organization devoted to fighting human trafficking globally. “Where they also become vulnerable to being recruited, to become victims of human trafficking.” Both men and women are exposed to sex trafficking along the route from Venezuela to Colombia. According to several walkers, some women “chose” prostitution as a means to make money and earn rides along the way. And some heterosexual men “sell themselves on the gay market” for a little money. Other women are manipulated or forced into giving “pimp types” their documents and identification cards, and are subsequently drawn into prostitution rings. That’s particularly the case in border areas, where many rebel and drug-trafficking groups operate. They come from a country they say now resembles a war zone. Their lives have been ripped apart by displacement, starvation, disease, desperation and torment. But now they’re in Colombia, where conditions are far from perfect, but are at least safer, and more stable. Inside Venezuela, health care has all but dissolved. Children are dying of malaria and hepatitis. They’re breaking bones and burning their bodies, having been left unattended while their parents comb the streets for work and food. Suicide rates too have skyrocketed, even among children. Specific numbers are impossible to come by as the government refuses to track or release accurate data, yet Venezuelan children’s rights group CECODAP estimates there has been at least an 18 percent rise in teens taking their own lives over the past year. There are next to no mental health services.
THIS is a classic study of a failed socialist state. It’s also just another reason why we need to secure our southern border. For more, click on the text above. Awful..