Venezuelans Dream of Home on Bogotá Streets
Originally published in The City Paper.
Hovered under umbrellas, a group of about 50 Venezuelans gathered in Bogotá, on the day before their country’s vote to choose members of the constituent assembly. With Venezuelan music playing and food vendors selling arepas, it could almost be mistaken for a Venezuelan cookout if it were not for the homemade signs condemning Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
The demonstration happens in the shadows of Bogotá’s Heroes Monument with a statue of Simón Bolivar reigning above the crowd. With a tinge of irony that most Venezuelan refugees oppose the Bolivarian Revolution in their own country, it also reflects Colombia’s and Venezuela’s shared history.
“In every corner of the world, there is a group of Venezuelans that want to see change in Venezuela” Erikson Quintero, 26, said while waiting for his friends to arrive to the protest. “We want to return to our country. I don’t want to stay in Colombia forever.”
Quintero and his wife just arrived in Bogotá a week ago from their hometown of Caracas. Just before fleeing, Quintero and his wife were victims to an attempted kidnapping in their own home. Quintero, who used to participate in the protests in Caracas’ streets, said the human rights violations became too much for him. Violent, ongoing protests for the past four months, have left 121 dead, nearly 2,000 injured and over 1,000 protestors remain detained, reported El Tambor, an independent media outlet in Venezuela. Quintero and his wife left behind everything – family, pets, their house and auto shop businesses – in search for stability and safety.
For decades, Colombians fled to Venezuela to escape the armed conflict, but now the roles have reversed. “In Venezuela, many Colombians found refuge and were received by their neighbors, who helped them build a new life,” said Regina de la Portilla, Associate Public Information Officer with the United Nations Refugee Agency in Colombia. “Today it is Colombia that’s receiving Venezuelans, and we hope that Colombians open their arms to their neighbors, who are going through difficult moments, and accept them into their communities.”