I arrived at Plazoleta Cruz Del Vado on a late afternoon last week in time to watch a flock of clouds winging west towards the sea; the evening sun pulling the blanket of sleep over the mountains.
A few lights, some winking behind swaying trees, snuggled on the hillside leading to Tarqui. It was a gentle balm that soothed the grating rasp wearing down our resilience.
The streets are populated with pasty faces wearing a shroud barring pollen, sunlight, and smiles. While the more rambunctious are reveling like beasts set free from their cages, others are more timid, unsure where danger lurks and if an evil cloud will breathe on them.
All are squinting towards the sun just as flowers do.
And all are anxious for a return to the comforts of the past, and the assurance of a fruitful future.
These are the fortunate ones. For many, the history of endurance is all that the future holds.
We are witnessing an exodus of outcast refugees, some with trades important to a developing economy, who sought freedom and were denied. They are leaving Cuenca, returning to their worse nightmare; a homeland ravaged by politicians bloated with greed and crazed by cocaine, carousing in the acrid aroma of corruption, gunpowder, and blood.
Yet even this catastrophe is a titanic struggle. For most, the trail home is a many hundred-miles-long walk over many days, each fraught with hardship and imminent danger. Hardened criminals — like locust — often descend on the weary outcasts stripping clean all that they have left: the entirety of their lives carried in backpacks supported by broken-down shoes and shattered dreams of hope, salvation, and, survival.
Venezuela has one of the highest numbers of violent deaths in the world. Last year closed with an estimated 16,506 murders and a rate of 60.3 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, well above any other country in South America. Nearly one-third of the male population will never reach the age of 60.
26 of every 1,000 will not see their fifth birthday. The general population is not expected to live beyond the ripe old age of 69.
According to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela (Federación Farmacéutica de Venezuela), there is an 87% shortage of essential medicine.
This is the land they are destined to return to having learned one hardened and savage truth: “Paradise is a promise no god bothers to keep.”