If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that Venezuela is having an economic and social crisis of epic proportions.  Why is this important for my Ecuadorian Blog?  Because every day I see these immigrants, who have left their families, their homes, and their lives back in Venezuela.  They have walked through Columbia and have arrived in Ecuador with only a bag of posessions.  They are traveling the PanAmerican Highway through my city of Ibarra, on their way to Peru, which has opened its doors to them.  I decided that I would be terribly amiss if I didn’t include some information about them in my experience here in Ecuador.  However, I’m not sure I even understand all that is happening and changing on a daily basis for these desperate people, so I thought I’d give you a little summary straight from a variety of sources on the Internet:

Fri 10 Aug 2018, by Tom Phillips
More than Half a Million Venezuelans Fled to Ecuador this Year, UN says

Quito declared a state of emergency after 30,000 migrants escaping violence and a collapsing economy came the first week of August.
More than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador this year as part of one of the largest mass migrations in Latin American history, the United Nations said on Friday.
About 547,000 citizens of the crisis-stricken South American country have entered Ecuador since January (2018) – mostly through its northern border with Colombia – to escape rampant crime and political violence, a collapsing economy and severe shortages of food and medicines.

In reaction to this, the Ecuador government required Venezuelan immigrants to have passports to enter this country, but that didn’t last long.

25 November, 2018 
Ecuador seeks $550 Million to Help Venezuelan Migrants Fleeing Crisis

Ecuador needs some $550 million to provide aid to Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic crisis and hopes to raise the funds through donations from multilateral agencies and nearby countries, an Ecuadorean official has said.
Delegations from a dozen Latin American countries met in Quito on Thursday and Friday to co-ordinate plans to deal with the Venezuelan migration crisis, which is overwhelming social services agencies throughout South America.
“We have quantified Ecuador’s medium- and long-term needs at around $550 million,” Santiago Chavez, deputy minister of human mobility, told reporters. “This has to do with health, education, housing and employment needs.”

Each day, more and more were coming.  And then this happened.

Mon 21 Jan 2019 by Joe Parkin Daniels
Ecuador targets Venezuelan migrants after woman’s death.Crackdown announced amid outrage over killing as Venezuelan man is held

Ecuador has launched a crackdown on Venezuelan migrants after a pregnant Ecuadorian woman was killed on Saturday evening.  The police and Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, have said that that Diana Carolina Ramírez’s killer was her boyfriend, a Venezuelan immigrant. His name was given as Yordy Rafael LG, who was said to be in custody.
Ramírez was 22 and four months pregnant when she was stabbed to death after being held hostage for an hour and led through the streets of Ibarra, a northern city.
Video of the killing was captured by witnesses and circulated on social media, triggering national outrage. It led Moreno to tighten immigration controls for Venezuelans and dispatch special forces to the streets.
“I have ordered the immediate setting up of units to control Venezuelan immigrants’ legal status in the streets, in the workplace, and at the border,” Moreno tweeted on Sunday afternoon. “We have opened our doors, but we will not sacrifice the security of anyone.”
Ecuador, along with other South American countries, has received hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing an economic crisis back home, where hyperinflation is rampant and food and medicine shortages are widespread.
According to UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, 3 million Venezuelans have now fled while Ecuadorian authorities say that 1.3 million Venezuelans entered the country last year, with most continuing south to Peru. 
(Ecuadorian President ) Moreno also announced that the government might create a special permit for Venezuelans to enter the country, though he offered no details. Last year his administration said it was implementing regulations that would require Venezuelans to show passports on entering the country, though it was blocked in the courts.
In the aftermath of the murder, spates of attacks against Venezuelan people broke out, particularly in Ibarra. Videos circulating on social media show mobs of Ecuadorians harassing Venezuelans, breaking into their homes and burning their possessions. Videos from airports and bus terminals, where Venezuelans often congregate, show similar harassment.
This happened in my tranquil city.  Ibarra.  I was happily in my home and knew nothing about this very public killing, but many people were in the streets to witness it.  The local police had the area cordoned off, but due to some restrictive policing laws, they felt like they couldn’t take action.  The people of Ibarra were both furious with the police for not doing enough, and with the Venezuelan immigrants for taking over their city.  It’s a tension that I feel has been building for awhile.  I see the immigrants standing on the corners begging, selling things on busses, entertaining for a dime at traffic lights and sleeping in the park.  The blaming of the Venezuelans didn’t surprise me, but the violence against them did.  In fact, it surprised most everyone.

Immediately, many immigrants turned around and found their way back to the Columbia border and safety.  Others, asked for help to get home, or to get on with their journey… anything to get out of Ecuador.  To help them, the government of Venezuela paid for private airplanes to return willing immigrants to Venezuela while a non-profit organization paid for busses to transport the immigrants from the Columbia border, through Ecuador and into Peru.  Since that week, I’ve seen very few Venezuelan immigrants around town.  They’re too scared to come back.

Here is another excerpt off the internet from last week:

The Venezuelan crisis has begun to reveal itself in much deeper layers.
Considered the largest exodus of the last 50 years, organizations such as the United Nations have estimated that around 2.3 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, often heading to neighboring countries.
Driven by the economic and social decline of their homeland, thousands of Venezuelans have collected their few belongings and embarked on a long trip to seek a better future, becoming one of the largest migrant groups in the world.
(A non-profit spokesperson) said that the government couldn’t hold all Venezuelans responsible by the action of a single offender (in Ibarra).
Similarly, he asked (Ecuadorian President) Moreno to punish any Venezuelan who violates the law, but also to provide protection to Venezuelans so that they are not victims of “xenophobia.”
(Xenophobia= a dislike or prejudice against people from other countries.)

However, the murder of this young woman highlights the real crisis that Latin America is experiencing, nowadays, considered the region with the highest rates of gender violence with an average of nine women murdered per day.
According to the UN, Latin America is the “most lethal” place for women outside a war zone, with figures that reached 2,500 victims during 2017.
In Ecuador, “60.6 percent of women have experienced some type of violence,” according to figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Census, and Venezuela is one of the 15 countries with more femicides in the world, showing that the real crisis in Latin America is a completely different epidemic.

This is also true.  In the last few days, another woman was sexually assaulted by her male “friends” in Quito and it turned into a high-profile plea to stop the madness.  Women and families all over Ecuador took to the streets to protest and delivered a backlash to the xenophobic response of blaming the Venezuelans.  The real problem isn’t the immigrants, it’s the machismo culture.

As all of this transpired in our community, it was decided at our school (by either parents, students or administrators) that the voice of Teodoro Gomez de la Torre must be heard.  They decided to take a day for a peaceful march in mourning to honor the woman killed in Ibarra, as well as the fight for peace, respect, and safety of all women.

Leading the Peace March was this banner:
“Ibarra and Teodoro are Good People
For the Security
Through Solidarity
Against Machismo
Against Violence”
Each class carried their own banner and all the students wore a black ribbon
to remember the death of these women.
“Senior E Class, For Peace”
“No More Violence Against Women, Ibarra City of Peace”
“If you abuse a woman, you stop being a man”
“Ibarra in Mourning, No to Xenophobia”
Students, teachers, and parents marched through the streets chanting:

Por tu hija, por mi hermana, lucharemos día!
Nos matan y nos violan y nadie hace nada!
Que viva la lucha de las mujeres!

For your daughter, for my sister, we will fight this day! 
We are killed and violated and no one does anything! 
Live the fight of women!

Aplaudan, aplaudan no dejen de aplaudir,
machismo y xenofobia, no tienen que existir.
Clap, Clap, Applaud, 

Machismo and xenophobia, do not have to exist.

“I firmly believe that respecting diversity is a fundamental pillar in the eradication of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. – Rigoberta Menchú – Sophomore Class A”
My International Baccalaureate Class carried their banner proudly:
“Ibarra and the Teodoro Family United for Peace”
“Violence is the Ultimate Refuge for Incompetence”
“Against Machismo”
This is our principal who led the march and spoke passionately to the media about
the need for equality and respect for everyone, no matter their race, their country of origin, or their gender.  I really love that the Ecuadorian school system teaches and models how students should be involved and vocal citizens to create a better community for all.  
“We want to live free, without fear, without blows that hurt or words that injure.”
“Let’s fight for life, not one less”

I was really proud of the staff and students of my school.  I hope they are internalizing these messages and will continue the work to make the world a better and safer place for everyone in the future.  

Unfortunately, the Venezuelans are not safe, and their situation continues to get worse.  Because of this recent homicide, the Ecuadorian government is demanding that Venezuelan Immigrants present their criminal records in order to enter Ecuador, which is causing a whole new set of problems for these poor and desperate people.  

Furthermore, as things currently stand, Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, has refused to concede that his re-election was a sham.  Many other countries however, have already recognized Juan Guaidó as a new interim president of Venezuela, and are asking Maduro to step down.  But Maduro won’t step down, leaving Guaidó powerless to do much. International organizations are trying to help get aid to the people in Venezuela.  But now Maduro is closing the borders and is not allowing food, water and medicine to enter his country.  Venezuela is in complete turmoil, the borders have turned violent, and nobody knows what will happen next.  In the meantime, the street corners around Ibarra still seem empty. 

My friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Alex Ogle (TX) interviewed some immigrants he met in the streets and painted their images and representations of their experiences.  Last night, he held an exhibition of his paintings at a local cafe in Ibarra and opening night was packed with many locals.  I’m really proud of his efforts to create more awareness on the plight and flight of these people. 

Over the months of living here, I’ve befriended an owner of a small restaurant.  His name is Francisco, and he’s from Venezuela.  When all of this happened, he closed his restaurant doors, and I haven’t seen him since.  I hope Francisco is safe.  I hope he has a place to sleep.  I hope he isn’t hungry… wherever he is.