The porous border has loaded the inhabitants of the Colombian Amazon with the cases of its Venezuelan neighbors. Shortage and indifference has led patients to seek treatment even in Bogotá. Meanwhile in San Fernando de Atabapo, the transmitting mosquito has folded people back into their homes. But "God exists." So says a mural that receives visitors at the port.
Following the Guaviare River from San Fernando de Atabapo and at one hour's sailing is Puerto Inírida, capital of the Guainía department and its most populated city. A town founded 205 years after San Fernando de Atabapo, and that many say was developed with Venezuelan gold.
The only bleached in this place anchored in the middle of the jungle is a green Santa Claus painted on the concrete stairs that you must climb to enter the town. Everything looks clean and tidy. The first businesses have signs announcing the purchase of scrap, gold, silver, copper, bronze and aluminum, and of course, the purchase and sale of pesos and bolivars, transfers to different banks in Venezuela. Three wheeler cars circulate along the asphalted streets and you can see lots of stores, restaurants and even an acoustic shell in the avenues.
In Guainía the department, the highest number of malaria cases is concentrated in the municipal capital of Inírida, followed by cases from Venezuela, Vichada and Barracominas. Venezuela and Vichada import 15 and 6 percent of the cases, respectively, which implies an additional burden on this Colombian department in number of cases, efforts to control the vector, treatment of patients, economic burden, decrease in the quality of life, risk of mortality from malaria, and finally in the epidemiological indicators locally.
As a result, Guainía, in the Colombia department, has the most malaria cases from abroad, mostly from Venezuela. By week 48 (November 27-December 3), the epidemiological bulletin of the National Institute of Health - Directorate of Monitoring and Risk Analysis in Public Health reported that Guainía had an accumulated of 2,043 cases of uncomplicated malaria, 366 of which were from Venezuela. By week 52, the Department Secretariat of Guainía indicated that this department closed with 3,159 cases of malaria.
Tatiana Córdoba, coordinator of the Program for Vector-Borne Diseases (VBDs) of the Health Secretariat of Guainía, assures that 19 out of the 366 cases registered up to week 48 are from San Fernando de Atabapo and the rest come from the gold mines in Venezuela. The statistics turn dismal because they do not identify the communities, they only record the country and if the patients come from the mines. "In 2015, Venezuela was going through the most serious epidemic in its history and it ended up affecting us. The fact that you do not have medication makes people cross the river, and go where they can get a total solution."
Carlos Eric Azcarate, public health monitoring coordinator in the Health Secretariat of Guainía, says that there have been many cases of complicated malaria in children, pregnant women and the elderly, because they take the treatments without knowing if they have the disease. In the end, a problem that occurs in a rural area in Venezuela becomes urban in this department.
Another problem that hospital "Manuel Elkin Patarroyo" of Puerto Inírida is facing is the provision of health services to Venezuelan cases for other diseases. People even arrived for car accidents. Nelson Evelio Palomar, Departmental Health Secretary, indicates that patients from San Fernando de Atabapo and Puerto Ayacucho are referred by doctors from Venezuela. "We cannot take care of them because the health system here is different. The person must have a social security for Colombia or else pay, unless it is an emergency. The big problem is that many patients from Venezuela arrive in critical condition. It is necessary to send them to Bogotá or Villavicencio and we do not have resources. We have a child hospitalized for two months in Bogotá; we are giving shelter and food to the child’s companion. All the patients that we refer have identification problems. They are received due to the emergency, but it is a complication when they are discharged and we have had to give them one more month of shelter and food. It has reached to a point where the patients are brought virtually in secret and they pray that they are received there. Attempts have been made with the consul and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with no success."
An electrical antenna that emerges from the Guaviare River can be seen from San Fernando de Atabapo as a promise of the Electric Power Interchange Agreement between Corporación Eléctrica Nacional (Corpoelec), the national power company in Venezuela, and the Institute of Planning and Promotion of Energetic Solutions (IPSE) for non-interconnected areas in Colombia. The agreement was signed in 2011 by Presidents Hugo Chávez and Juan Manuel Santos, and consisted of a construction project of a 34.5 kV electric interconnection line between San Fernando de Atabapo (Venezuela) and Inírida, Guainía department (Colombia). The idea was to bring energy with an optimal and low cost service to the jungle and peripheral populations of both countries. Today, this antenna only provides electricity to the 15 houses in Amanaven.
"San Fernando de Atabapo has been the backyard of Puerto Inírida. People travel there to stock up. I have not seen people having a December with light," says Cristóbal Colón Suárez, vice consul of Colombia in San Fernando de Atabapo, who practically does not leave the official residence because "to see Macondo, I rather read about it."
Magda Magris, director of research and coordinator of Caicet's Malaria research unit, recalls that there used to be binational meetings between Colombia and Venezuela to carry out epidemiological surveillance at the border. In fact, they had binational agreements for borders and joint projects for vaccination, but not for malaria.
Conversely, Tatiana Parra insists that if in Puerto Inírida they knew about the actions taken in Venezuela, they could work together to solve the malaria problem: "You are the coordinator of malaria there and I am here. We say 'let's make a brigade' and leave at the same time to search for patients of the mosquito and provide some personal protection elements such as mosquito nets, repellents and educational campaigns. We do it at the same time, you take this side and I the other. It is useless for me to take actions if you wait until next year, because your people is coming and infecting my people. If you do not have medicine I'll lend you and then you'll give me back. We need mutual help between countries, but it does not exist."
This is the border, porous, and while expecting actions that break some parts of this cycle of infection to stop malaria, the runway at the San Fernando de Atabapo airport struggles to not to be swallowed by the weed; homes resist the humidity of the Amazonian climate; puddles and grass grow disproportionately; the locals from Atabapo wait for the light poles to work; and the Colombian, Brazilian, and Venezuelan miners walk in this no man's land.
Afternoon falls and darkness takes over saved for the 1st Company of Border Detachment No. 94 and a naval post, which do have electricity, and the Atabapo river illuminated by the lights of Amanaven. The curfew imposed by the mosquito that transmits the parasite that produces malaria forces people into their homes. But, in San Fernando de Atabapo, "God exists." So says a mural that receives visitors at the port.
Former combatants of what was the largest guerrilla in Latin America - who separated from the peace agreement signed in 2016 - are in a process of transition and rearrangement of criminal structures, where illicit drug trafficking and illegal mining continue to be the main focal points, now in Venezuelan territory. They have met with indigenous peoples and communities in Amazonas to formalize their presence in the territory, affirming that they have the support of the Venezuelan Government. But they also move to lands of the Orinoco Mining Arc, where they even control coltan mines.
In business, the entrepreneurs who have amassed fortunes to the rhythm of the schizophrenic chavista economy stand out. A Peruvian-Spanish citizen has developed a real emporium in the last 13 years. Once pointed out as the potential financial channel between the Venezuelan government and the Spanish political party Podemos, it could only be confirmed that he works shoulder to shoulder with the military and every day incorporates new businesses to his emporium. Atahualpa Fernández continues to gain ground among the entrepreneurs protected by the ruling party.
The fine line that separates Norte de Santander and Venezuela hides burial grounds of disappeared people from both sides, victims of violence by illegal armed groups that move at ease between both countries. Their relatives travel through trails, sidewalks and even cemeteries on the Venezuelan side, in search of their missing ones, without the help of any government.
The narrow victory of the No in the plebiscite called by the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to endorse the peace agreement reached by FARC in Havana, Cuba, represents a stop along the way, perhaps the last stop, before the internal conflict ceases. With the imminent conversations that ELN will also initiate in Quito, the relatives of the persons disappeared in the state of Barinas wonder if their relatives, alive or dead, remain in the hands of FARC.
When Vice President Delcy Rodríguez turned to a group of Mexican friends and partners to lessen the new electricity emergency in Venezuela, she laid the foundation stone of a shortcut through which Chavismo and its commercial allies have dodged the sanctions imposed by Washington on PDVSA’s exports of crude oil. Since then, with Alex Saab, Joaquín Leal and Alessandro Bazzoni as key figures, the circuit has spread to some thirty countries to trade other Venezuelan commodities. This is part of the revelations of this joint investigative series between the newspaper El País and Armando.info, developed from a leak of thousands of documents.
Leaked documents on Libre Abordo and the rest of the shady network that Joaquín Leal managed from Mexico, with tentacles reaching 30 countries, ―aimed to trade PDVSA crude oil and other raw materials that the Caracas regime needed to place in international markets in spite of the sanctions― show that the businessman claimed to have the approval of the Mexican government and supplies from Segalmex, an official entity. Beyond this smoking gun, there is evidence that Leal had privileged access to the vice foreign minister for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maximiliano Reyes.
The business structure that Alex Saab had registered in Turkey—revealed in 2018 in an article by Armando.info—was merely a false start for his plans to export Venezuelan coal. Almost simultaneously, the Colombian merchant made contact with his Mexican counterpart, Joaquín Leal, to plot a network that would not only market crude oil from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, as part of a maneuver to bypass the sanctions imposed by Washington, but would also take charge of a scheme to export coal from the mines of Zulia, in western Venezuela. The dirty play allowed that thousands of tons, valued in millions of dollars, ended up in ports in Mexico and Central America.
As part of their business network based in Mexico, with one foot in Dubai, the two traders devised a way to replace the operation of the large international credit card franchises if they were to abandon the Venezuelan market because of Washington’s sanctions. The developed electronic payment system, “Paquete Alcance,” aimed to get hundreds of millions of dollars in remittances sent by expatriates and use them to finance purchases at CLAP stores.
Scions of different lineages of tycoons in Venezuela, Francisco D’Agostino and Eduardo Cisneros are non-blood relatives. They were also partners for a short time in Elemento Oil & Gas Ltd, a Malta-based company, over which the young Cisneros eventually took full ownership. Elemento was a protagonist in the secret network of Venezuelan crude oil marketing that Joaquín Leal activated from Mexico. However, when it came to imposing sanctions, Washington penalized D’Agostino only… Why?
Through a company registered in Mexico – Consorcio Panamericano de Exportación – with no known trajectory or experience, Joaquín Leal made a daring proposal to the Venezuelan Guyana Corporation to “reactivate” the aluminum industry, paralyzed after March 2019 blackout. The business proposed to pay the power supply of state-owned companies in exchange for payment-in-kind with the metal.