I. Lifeline for two countries
The Arauca river, about 100 meters wide, is the border line and a lifeline between Colombia and Venezuela. It is a permeable border, through which people pass and people also pass contraband. A photo story from the turbulent waters that separate the inseparable.
The only official border crossing is the José Antonio Páez bridge. Venezuelans and Colombians cross it every day to work and do business. Quite a few also reside in the neighboring country.
Although it is formally illegal, many residents prefer to cross the border in a boat as have done their ancestors for centuries. As long as the boats carry humans, the navies of both countries turn a blind eye. Very often though, the canoeros transport contraband and have to cross the river as fast as they can – if they get caught, their freight and boats are confiscated.
IV. “The Venezuelans give themselves away”
The work of the canoeros can be risky. The Colombian and the Venezuelan navies confiscate their merchandise if they suspect it is contraband. The guerillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) oblige them to pay a “revolutionary tax” for each transport. At the end of the day, of all the riches the canoeros transport, almost nothing stays in their pocket.
In Brisas del Puente, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Arauca City, right behind the border bridge, live many of the Colombian canoeros. The crisis in Venezuela has hit hard people here. More and more Venezuelans compete with the Colombians in working as canoeros and offer their service for a fraction of the price. “They sell themselves for some pesos”, said canoero Jesus Jiménez.
V. The Black Market
The black market of Arauca is located in a street right behind the river. Motor bike drivers fill their
bikes with gas from Venezuela. Venezuelan gas has another octane level than the in-house produced gas and could possibly damage the motor but it is so cheap that many clients can´t resist. Venezuelan fishermen who want to sell catfish negotiate with the stand owners. Street vendors offer smelly meat out of
From time to time, the police raids the street but the day after business is done as usual. Arauca, an isolated border state, has never produced a lot, or had very many employment opportunities. The economic crisis in Venezuela has made things worse. Contraband is not a crime here, it is one of the few options to survive.