The minimum wage in Venezuela stands at 40,638 bolivars per month (just $10, according to the unofficial exchange rate on dolartoday.com). In 2016, Venezuela’s inflation hit 800%. This situation—combined with a shortage of basic products—has forced many people to go to the nearest country to fill their basic market basket.
One of the most important places for this exchange is Arauca, Colombia. Here, people spend between 3 and 20 hours crossing the border in order to buy their basic products before returning home. In most cases, the investment goes beyond a single minimum wage, yet these individuals have no other choice.
To further complicate matters, in order to get to Arauca, people have to cross a single international bridge. By order of the Venezuelan government, vehicles are not allowed, so people have to cross by walking. This bridge is the only legal connection between Columbia and Venezuela in this area; many people (primarily those without papers) use a boat to cross over illegally. The border is only open from 5am-8pm, and the Venezuelan government has set a limit on the amount of products that can enter the country; two bags per person, though sometimes the Venezuelan police can be bribed to allow for more. That is where these portraits were made.
The idea behind this project was to show the lengths that Venezuelan people have to go in order to get basic products that many of us take for granted—as they can’t find them in their home country. I also wanted to highlight how much they have to spend on these items. Oftentimes they have to spend more than their monthly salary to buy just a few basic products.
I felt that making a photo project would be the best way to express my feelings and point of view about this situation. I wanted to make a clear statement about how these people are forced to live.
If you’re interested in seeing other stories on this topic, we’d recommend these previously published features: Venezuela Future Star, a series that follows a young athlete hoping to break into Major League Baseball in the US; Confronting Big Food, Henk Wildschut’s unwavering look at the international food industry; and China’s Fast Food Dreams, a series on how homeless Chinese citizens are using fast-food restaurants as shelter.