Sixty percent of Venezuela’s COVID-19 cases are in its border states of Apure, Bolívar, Táchira, and Zulia. Roughly 70,000 Venezuelans who had moved to nearby countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru (largely in response to crippling U.S. sanctions) have returned in the last two months via these Venezuelan border states since the COVID-19 crisis exploded in their new countries. Abandoned by their new homes during the pandemic, and many of them infected there, they are now returning in large numbers to Venezuela.
As part of the U.S. government-Lima Group offensive to overthrow the Venezuelan government led by President Nicolás Maduro, the countries that neighbor Venezuela began to welcome migrants in order to prove that the government in Caracas had failed. But as thousands of Venezuelans crossed the border at these four points—Apure, Bolívar, Táchira, and Zulia—they found themselves treated in these countries as second-class citizens. Before the pandemic, many of them were struggling with informal work and homelessness; when COVID-19 struck South America, and as the governments of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru utterly failed to tackle the spread of the disease, the migrants found themselves without social protection and without access to public health. Many were infected as community transmission lifted the curve of infections. Unable to get treatment in their new homes, these Venezuelans began to drift home.
But they were helped along by Colombian paramilitaries and mafia groups (trochas). Freddy Bernal, who is a government representative in Táchira, said that the Venezuelan state has been trying to prevent the illegal smuggling of Venezuelans into Venezuela. The Venezuelan government welcomes its citizens, but only through a proper epidemiological screening. The smugglers, who are experienced in drug-trafficking and paramilitary operations, have used cable cars and trucks to avoid the official border checkpoints, thereby bringing Venezuelans who are infected with the COVID-19 virus into the country without allowing them to be properly screened.
The numbers of those infected with coronavirus in the countries that surround Venezuela are very high: Brazil (1.28 million), Peru (272,000), Colombia (84,442), and Ecuador (53,856), with a total of more than 1.69 million people infected. Venezuela, meanwhile, has only 4,563 infected people. The reason why Venezuela’s overall numbers are low is that the government has followed the World Health Organization recommendations and employed proven methods to break the chain of infection that government officials have learned from health care workers and medical experts in China, Cuba, Iran, and Russia. Of the 4,563 cases in Venezuela, almost two-thirds are in the border states; it is likely that the reason for this pattern stems from people who have crossed into the country from the neighboring countries unchecked. Outside the border states, COVID-19 has nearly been contained, with community transmission low and with the health care system working hard to heal the infected.