Jessica sits in the corner of a closed store on the capital's busy Sixth Avenue, near Guatemala City's Central Park. Look for some relaxation in the shade on this hot January day. His children Carolina, 17, Daniel, seven, and Laura, five, rest by his side as they watch people come and go at lunchtime. Jessica is 36 years old and already the grandmother of Valery, a six-month-old girl who carries Carolina half asleep in a blanket, more to protect her from the sun than to keep her warm. Jessica's husband Jorge constantly runs from one traffic light to the next, torn between the desire to ask for financial help from people crossing the street and the need to protect himself from the sun.
Since late December, Jessica's family has spent their days on Sixth holding signs that read, “Give me a coin that comes from your heart. God bless you” and drawing the Venezuelan flag. They take turns walking down the street and showing the sign without adding too many words. There are people who give them something, but most of them just look at them and avoid them.
“We left Machiques in Venezuela in 2017. I worked in a shoe store and my husband was a bricklayer, but with both salaries we couldn't even cover 50% of the monthly expenses,” says Jessica with a sad grimace. “Then we went to Cúcuta, Colombia, and then to Bogotá. We were there for six years, but it is no longer possible to get a decent salary. Since October 28th we have been traveling to the United States and have stopped here in Guatemala because we no longer have money to continue. That’s why we ask people to cooperate with us,” he added.
The corners of Sixth have become tiny temporary homes for Venezuelans. A few meters away from Jessica, 39-year-old Leidy sits on a cardboard box with her son and husband Enrique. Six months ago they left Peru, where they lived for a year. “Inhale and exhale” is written on her T-shirt, but Leidy knows she can never relax. “I want to return to Barquisimeto, Venezuela. “The American dream no longer exists for me,” he laments. “When we left Honduras, the Guatemalan police stole the $1,100 we had to continue our journey. We’ve been on the streets for two months now,” he remembers.
Fabiola is not far away. She was also a shoemaker in Venezuela. Was. All of these migrants talk about their former lives and professions. The life they built their future on no longer exists. “I would like to stay here in Guatemala if possible because they told me that they can kidnap us in Mexico and we have already suffered enough,” he admits.
A Venezuelan family in the dining room of the Casa del Migrante. More than 7.7 million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years due to economic and political instability.Simona CarninoVenezuelan migrants ask for help on Sixth Avenue in Guatemala City, January 9, 2024. Simona CarninoFlor de los Ángeles López, a nurse at the Casa del Migrante in Guatemala City, cares for Venezuelan migrants on January 10, 2024. Simona CarninoSome migrants traveling through Guatemala request accommodation for one night at the shelter run by Scalabrinian missionaries. They are looking for a bed where they can lie down and forget about the day. In the picture, some guests are washing the dishes after dinner. Simona CarninoVenezuelan migrants in the room during an information meeting at the Casa del Migrante. Every day, the Guatemalan National Police arrests dozens of them and deports them after a short stay at the Immigration Care Center for Foreigners. Simona CarninoVenezuelan migrants go to the second floor of the Casa del Migrante, where the bedrooms are located. “Last year, 32,000 people came through here, more than 90% of them were Venezuelans,” explains Gabriela Girón, educator at the Casa del Migrante. “10% of the migration flows are children who arrive with high hopes but also with sadness. Despite their age, they are aware of the reality and are very afraid that drug traffickers could kidnap or kill them in Mexico,” he adds. Simona CarninoHundreds of Venezuelans arrive in Guatemala City at night in small groups. Some ask for accommodation for one night at the Casa del Migrante, where they can rest and eat something hot. Simona CarninoThousands of migrants are stuck in Guatemala on their way to the USA because they are running out of money. Many of them ask for help on the streets so that they can continue their journey or return to their country. Simona Carnino
Blocked without money
Fabiola, Jessica and Leidy share the same fate. Venezuelan women are stranded in Guatemala with their entire family and do not have enough money to continue the journey to the United States or return south and return to Venezuela or other Latin American countries.
They sell pacifiers, food and drinks, but most of them beg for quetzal on the corners. “We get around 100 quetzales (around 11 euros) per day and that is not enough for food, accommodation and travel. A room in a hotel already costs 100 quetzales,” explains Jessica. “We are about $1,500 short of getting to the United States and so far we have spent $2,700. That’s why we almost always sleep in Central Park, but we’re afraid of being attacked.”
We hiked through the mud and climbed slippery slopes for three days and three nights. Along the route we counted 14 bodies, almost all children, who had drowned in the rivers
Jessica, Venezuelan migrant
More than 7.7 million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years due to economic and political instability. The majority have sought refuge in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador or Chile. However, the pandemic and economic crisis that have hit these countries have led to a new exodus of Venezuelans to the United States. They all face the heartbreaking Darién jungle between Colombia and Panama, where almost half a million migrants passed through between January and November last year, 65% of whom were Venezuelans.
Jessica believes that since she survived the Darien Gap, the hardest part is over anyway. “We walked in mud and climbed slippery slopes for three days and three nights. On the way we counted 14 bodies, almost all of them children, who had drowned in the rivers,” the woman remembers. “From there we went to Honduras, where we begged for alms on the streets for a month. I hope to raise enough money to get from here and there to Chicago,” he sighs.
With her enthusiasm, Jessica seems to forget that Guatemala, like Mexico, plays the role of a wall for migrants entering the United States without a visa. From January 1 to October 31, 2023, Guatemala rejected 20,932 people, including 71% Venezuelans, 7% Haitians and 7% Ecuadorians. Every day, the Guatemalan National Police arrests dozens of migrants, mostly Venezuelans, and deports them after a brief stay at the Migration Care Center for Foreigners.
Complete the journey
While Jessica and her family take refuge in a corner of Central Park for the night, July knocks on the door of the Guatemala City Migrant House at the other end of the historic center. He carries a backpack and a bag in each hand. Behind her come 12 people with plastic bags and all their belongings. The average age of the group is no more than 25 years and the youngest of them is a baby of just four months. They raised enough money to continue their journey to Mexico and plan to leave Guatemala at first light.
“I am the leader of the group. We left Venezuela months ago and live and work on the streets. The only thing that gives me hope is that once we get to Mexico we can apply for a visa to the USA and hopefully this trip will be over in a few weeks,” admits the woman.
From January 1 to October 31, 2023, Guatemala rejected 20,932 people, including 71% Venezuelans, 7% Haitians and 7% Ecuadorians.
Since January 2023, migrants in Mexico have been required to download the free CBP One application on their mobile phones to make an appointment at one of the ports of entry on the southern border of the United States and request refuge. On the one hand, if the application aims to speed up appointment scheduling, people who do not have access to mobile devices or the Internet will be excluded from the possibility of applying for international protection. The logic of how the application works has provoked numerous reactions in the world of activism, to the point where Amnesty International has stated that “the mandatory use of the CBP One mobile application as the only means of entry into the United States to apply for international protection exists.” a clear violation of international law.”
As in July, hundreds of Venezuelans arrive in Guatemala City in small groups at night. Some request accommodation for one night at the Casa del Migrante, run by Scalabrinian missionaries. They are looking for a bed where they can lie down and forget about the day. They often arrive with foot wounds, infections, dehydration and in need of care. When dawn comes, they disappear as if in a dream and continue their journey, with the children who can walk at their side and the little ones wrapped in a jacket tied to their backs.
“Last year, 32,000 people came through here, more than 90% of them were Venezuelans,” explains Gabriela Girón, educator at the Casa del Migrante. “10% of the migration flows are children who arrive with high hopes but also with sadness. Despite their age, they are aware of the reality and are very afraid that drug traffickers could kidnap or kill them in Mexico,” he adds.
A few minutes before he retires to the room, Manuel, one of July's nephews, asks for a photo with his brothers. Two days later, the boy sends a message: “We are in Mexico, in Tapachula. We don't have any money anymore. Only God knows when we will reach the United States.”
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