“We dreamed of both returning, but my husband could not bear it and he died”, A 57-year-old Venezuelan confesses that on November 3 she lost her husband hoping to return home. In this condition there are 150 Venezuelans who have purchased return flights from Buenos Aires, and many migrants who were left without work due to the pandemic and are fighting for the Nicolás Maduro regime to authorize a humanitarian flight to repatriate them. “We want to exercise our rights: we are stranded, we buy our tickets and we have our houses,” says another member of the group.
Nobody wants to give a first and last name. “We are afraid that the Foreign Ministry will retaliate against us for speaking to the press,” says one of the referents of the group Venezuelans Varados in Argentina. Many are in CABA, some in the suburbs and the rest, throughout the rest of the country, communicate through a WhatsApp group. Most came to see relatives and then took advantage of the stay to go sightseeing until the quarantine arrived. Some, due to the Argentine economic crisis, decided to return because the companies where they were working closed.Venezuela since mid-March closed its air borders.“We have our bags packed for eight months, we cannot live like this,” they say. The usurpation of their houses is a latent fear.
The situation is critical. The group is supported emotionally by messages and by the charity of “paisas” and relatives, some – the privileged ones – have been able to get work in delivery companies to be able to eat. In all cases, they are trained or retired persons. In these months, family groups have had to go through tragic moments. Two older adults – this age range is the majority – died. None for Covid. “My husband was hypertensive, and he became very depressed in recent days,” his wife confesses. They arrived on March 4, and had a return ticket for April 20. They could never return.
“My daughter paid for the tickets with a lot of sacrifice,” she says. “I want to return to Venezuela with the ashes of my husband, his last wish was to return to his homeland,” he says. A neighboring church agreed to receive the urn, in sacred custody. “Nobody listens to us, they have forgotten us,” he claims.
The group at the beginning of the quarantine was made up of 300 people. “We realized that we were all mixed up,” they say. Most had bought their roundtrip tickets with Estelar Latinoamericana airline (there are 70), the rest with other airlines. When Venezuela decided to close its air borders, it stopped flying. Although everything in the Caribbean country is questioned. Since March, three flights classified as “humanitarian” have landed in Ezeiza, although they had nothing of that category. Estelar made them and they were in June, October and November.
Promoted by the Maduro regime as flights that came to repatriate stranded citizens, to access a Star seat he asked for an “extra payment” of between US $ 750 to US $ 300 (the cost of a ticket, depending on the category), plus exit fee of US $ 70. “They had nothing for humanitarians,” they say in the group. “We have our return tickets, why pay for them again?” They question. LA NACION consulted the Venezuelan embassy, but got no response.
Venezuela’s “humanitarian aid” does not end there. Anyone who could pay these amounts was required to have a PCR analysis that had to be done 48 hours before boarding the plane. Values range from $ 4,000 to $ 7,000. Once on Venezuelan soil, they had to get another one, and then go to a hotel for fifteen days. “There are no state hotels on the list given by the government, only private ones,” they confirm.
The cost of the night in them varies according to availability of the moment from US $ 30 to US $ 100. “We must pay for all that. How, after being stranded, without working, can we have that money?” Asks another. of the referents of the group of 47 years. “We implore that a truly humanitarian flight arrives, or that Estelar return us to our homes: we have already paid for the return tickets,” he says.
Estelar is uncompromising in his response and proposal. He affirms that he will only be able to return to the country in February and March 2021. “It is inhumane that they have us one year, what are we going to live on?”, Asks another member of the group. Many are not lucky enough to have space in a family room or home. We have paisas that are on the street or in churches, “says the administrator of the WhatsApp group.
Quarantine for the stranded was difficult. They were not taken into account by anyone. The Venezuelan embassy in Buenos Aires does not attend them in person. Only by email. “Many of the flights that arrived were to take staff and relatives of the embassy,” says one of the stranded. The airline sticks to Maduro’s speech. “However, they made three flights and Caracas receives planes from friendly countries,” he says. Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Turkey and Iran have permission to land. Argentina was excluded.
“I share a room with my daughter, who lives in an apartment with students,” says a woman who had a return ticket for March 25. “The economy here is very difficult,” he says. He brought a budget for two months. “My father was thrown out and the company where I worked closed,” explains one of the stranded that lives in Neuquén. They decided to go back, bought a ticket for March. They were also unable to take the “humanitarian” flights. “I had to start cleaning houses,” he says. “I know that Venezuela is very bad, but Argentina has become a very expensive country,” he adds.
They say that the economic reality of our country has similarities with respect to the Venezuelan. “There all food is dollarized, very few can buy it,” acknowledges a member of the group, although she finds differences. “You can still speak, there no media can echo our situation,” he adds. The Maduro regime has full control of the media. “Whoever speaks ill of the government, they persecute or imprison him,” he warns. “Our best journalists have had to go to Colombia or Miami,” he adds.
“When the person who brought me to my house found out that I was going to talk to you, he asked me not to give details,” says a 67-year-old retiree who managed to return home to a city on the eastern coast. “We are very afraid, there is torture in prisons, a lot of repression in the streets,” he says from Venezuela itself. He had a return ticket with Estelar, but he managed to raise money and pay for a new plane. He flew to Boa Vista, Brazil, and from there he continued by land. “Brazil is a lack of control: nobody has a chinstrap nor does they take care of themselves,” he describes.
Venezuela has its borders by land open, with many military checkpoints. He reached a place known as La Línea, on the Brazilian side is Pacaraima, and on the Venezuelan side, there is the town of Santa Elena. “They don’t even circulate sovereign bolivars, they only accept reais,” he says.
With his negative PCR analysis (he did it in Buenos Aires), another one had to be done (by the Army). “Until the result is not there, they take us to a field, outdoors. People come to sleep in the open,” he adds. If the result is positive, those who enter must stay fifteen days in tents in a camp. If it is negative, an army truck takes people to a city or place near their home. “A relative came looking for me,” he acknowledges.
The data of Venezuela, impact. “Everything is dollarized, except wages,” he acknowledges. One dollar coryza to 700,000 sovereign bolivars. The minimum wage is 1,200,000 bolivars. A kilo of chicken has a value of 2,000,000 bolivars. A kilo of meat, 3,260,000. The kilo of rice, 1,000,000 and sugar, 520,000. “There is no gasoline at the stations, only on the black market,” he says. A liter has an unattainable cost: 5,000,000. “All this is today’s price, tomorrow it rises,” he warns. “I know we are wrong, I am against the regime, but it is my country,” he concludes.
Something worries Venezuelans here and there. “There is talk that they want to control social networks,” anticipates the retiree who crossed South America to return home. “How can we not be afraid?” He wonders.
“If we do not have answers in the next few days, in December we will go to sleep at the airport,” say the referents of the stranded. They wield their last play. On November 11, they sent a letter to the UN, through the Secretary of Human Rights of the Nation, Horacio Pietragalla Corti. “We hope to count on your valuable collaboration and support to reach our homes in Venezuela,” the letter reads. They still have no answer.