They Survived Colonization and War. But Venezuela’s Collapse Was Too Much.

The Wayuu have long lived between Venezuela and Colombia. But as Venezuela collapses, many are seeking refuge with their Colombian kin, straining resources — and relationships.

Comments: 60

  1. In a world that more and more loudly condemns nationalism, we should all remember that before there were borders our species was engaged in a "war of all against all," spreading across the globe in ceaseless conflict as population growth continuously outstripped local resources. What is happening on the Venezuelan/Colombian border is a re-enactment of the first 195,000 years of human experience.

  2. Yet these Wayuu are *not* fighting one another, as the article makes clear. The situation on the border between Colombia and Venezuela is due to the collapse of a modern nation state.

  3. Thank you for this story and information.

  4. This could be the US if Bernie, AOC and the Democrats get their way.

  5. The issue of drought, complicated by water takes for use in mining according to another comment, has been a big part of the problem described in the article. This is not so simple.

  6. I have traveled to Venezuela for 30 years and it is totally incorrect the 2 referenced cultures.

  7. wrong this is what CRIMINAL TRUMP is doing,destroying our resources & selling them to the highest bidder,. how much is criminal Trump pocketing ???

  8. Thank you for the great story. For a closer look at this amazing culture and the tragedy they have suffered over the last 60 years watch movie "The Birds of Passage" by Christina Gallego and Ciro Guerra. It is a beautiful look at the clash of tradition and modernity. Side note, it is important to note that not all of their problems are natural or external. The nearby Cerrejon Coal Mine, has drained their water resources and exacerbated the drought there.

  9. Here is an Opportunity to help a struggling nation get on its feet after years of abuse by corruption. The United States of America Government should put a MARSHALL plan in Place to ASSIT Venezuela in a peaceful way and help feed its people. provide them access to American goods at a cheap rate. Obviously the nation what have requirements from America through strict concessions, earmarks if it becomes insolvent on payment it would be safe for Venezuela and America to build a Military base in Venezuela especially for America.

  10. Why should we implement a Marshall Plan?? Why??

  11. @George And you think Madura would be amenable to this? The Venezuelan government is turning away foreign aid at its borders. Regime change would be a necessary antecedent to your plan — how do you achieve that?

  12. This article highlights implicitly the deep importance of understanding anthropology in the design of immigration policies.

  13. Not the only cause, but overpopulation plays a powerful force. If there was a shortage of people and a surplus of natural resources host populations would be more welcoming. Even here in the "rich" U.S. we are drawing down aquifers and exhausting river water. A good start would be zero population growth, 25 year moratorium on immigration, strong protection of water resources and fertile land. A long range goal may be to reduce world population back to 1969 levels, at least.

  14. @Henry It should be more like in 1950. That still didn't stop men from killing each other. It is the rotten nature of men.

  15. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of rugby and computers.

  16. @Henry That is a sensible proposal and therefore will never be tried.

  17. Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Central and South America were centers of ancient civilizations on par with the greatest in world history. These aboriginal people didn't call themselves Americans nor Indians nor Hispanics nor Latinos nor Spanish nor Portuguese nor English nor French nor Catholics nor Protestants. That these people still live is a miracle

  18. @Blackmamba Those civilizations were so bloodthirsty that when the colonizers arrived they were seen as salvation, and indeed even the current disasters involve less human sacrifices.

  19. @Blackmamba In Venezuela they love their original peoples, but on the whole, they are a mixed people forever, there is no way back, I have read prior comments of "Blackmamba".

  20. @Blackmamba I would not call them great civilizations, if they were they would have been alive and well today. The real problem is human beings. They are flawed and cruel.

  21. While the headline emphasizes the short-term catalyst of the Venezuelan crisis, the Colombian state is also at fault for its long-term neglect of this region.

  22. @Nancy Who knew Columbia, a nation at war for decades with itself, had an obligation to ensure Venezuela didn’t commit suicide.

  23. @EGD this article is about a Wayuú community in Colombian territory. I referred to the Colombian state's responsibility for the well being of its own citizens in an impoverished region that produces wealth for the country. If the Guajira region hadn't suffered entrenched poverty, violence, and a five-year drought then the arrival of Venezuelans would not have pushed local communities to the breaking point. The article not about who is at fault for the Venezuelan economic collapse. Of course I don't blame Colombia for Venezuela's crisis.

  24. @EGD I believe that Nancy is referring not to Venezuela but to La Guajira, the Colombian state where this article takes place that’s long been exploited and ignored by the central government in Bogota. Also, it’s Colombia (not Columbia).

  25. "For those living in Venezuela, the breaking point was the economic devastation under President Nicolas Maduro" Here, let me translate this from Neoliberal to Plain English: "For those living in Venezuela, the breaking point was the economic devastation caused by illegal sanctions imposed by the United States because the Venezuelan people had the audacity to democratically elect a leader who was not willing to be a lapdog to American interests.”

  26. @Charlie Poor translation. The USA isn't even named and is under no obligation to trade with Venezuela.

  27. @Charlie Then again, Charlie, it could be two decades of slavery to Marxist-Leninist economics, cronyism and corruption favoring party loyalists, allowing Cuban state security to run your federal police and military in exchange for oil that’s run Venezuela ragged.

  28. @Charlie The Venezuelan government is corrupt, incompetent and very much not democratically elected.

  29. As always, you tell about the economic disaster in Venezuela without mentioning the cause. It is a Socialist economy, which has bankrupted and destroyed the country, just like Socialist economies bankrupted and destroyed the USSR, East Germany, Maoist China, and others. Reading this truth might help the thinking of those who are currently worshiping Congresswoman Occasionally Correct, and her Socialist posse.

  30. @Diogenes I don't think "socialism" per se has anything to do with it. Otherwise, socialist countries like Sweden and others would be in the same condition. Actually, the poverty rate fell, as well as the illiteracy rate, after socialist government of Chavez was voted in. (Emphasis on VOTED) Maybe it has to do with the fact that we fight to keep countries in our hemisphere from choosing a socialist system for their government. Maybe our economic sanctions and attacks on their power grid may have something to do with their present condition. Whether it's supporting death squads with the Contras or staging coups in Chile to install brutal military dictatorships, we are the real reason Venezuela is experiencing these problems. And please, save the indignant, moralizing mention of "corruption". Do you not see who is occupying our White House right at this moment?

  31. @Diogenes It’s not socialism that brought down Venezuela. Corruption and incompetence brought about by an undemocratic, totalitarian regime are what brought down the economy. Socialist policies are alive and well in some of the strongest economies out there — look at how the Nordic nations are faring. Likewise, I could name various right-wing, capitalist nations that were brought down by the same plague of corruption and incompetence. Given Venezuela’s wealth of resources, a well run socialist economy could have worked out just fine. It’s the “well run” part of that that failed due to the regimes totalitarian tendencies. There are lessons to be learned here.

  32. @Diogenes Totally agree, every time Socialism fails people claim that it is corruption and or mismanagement that led to its demise. The point is mismanagement and corruption are more likely and rampant when a country is socialist. When you have people in the government deciding how to run a oil company or deciding which companies are important or who needs to be paid how much across the economy bad things are likely to happen. The real reason why Capitalism succeeds is because natural forces drive it, not what people feel is moral or think need to be. I can't think of one prosperous socialist nation.

  33. As I read this article, I sip my coffee, attained by human hands in a poverty stricken country. The TV news plays in the background, powered by parts attained in another poverty-stricken country. Soon I'll head to work in a climate controlled environment, never having to contend with the extreme heat and humidity outside. An office staff person will run copious amounts of water down the sink in the process of making coffee in the kitchenette. At lunch I'll see people casually toss the remains of their take-out in the trash. Each day, I try to be more mindful of my own wasteful practices. I attempt to consistently practice gratitude; there's a long list of what to be thankful for. But it's increasingly hard to quell my thoughts of these families and children whose ranks continue to swell; people living without roots, possessions or even water. What do I do?

  34. @T. Leigh You are aware, good. Did u see The Great Hack on Netflix? It's about conflicts around the world, bought by politicians, private data, manipulations. Social media, big money, Facebook, Google etc....

  35. @T. Leigh I could have written that myself. It seriously weighs heavy on me. But you'd go insane if you think of all the injustices in the world. What do we do?

  36. Find an NGO working in northern Colombia and give them some money.

  37. The US should take in 250,000 of these people and give them 10 years residency.

  38. It’s easy to blame greedy, inept politicians and their ideology but they merely represent the electorate and that’s us. We’ll try anything to make our lives easier but for some reason it just gets harder. The poor folk on the cutting edge of humanity are you in twenty years, one day your granddaughter may die in your arms as you wipe grit from where a tear should have been. Best to give up now as nobody I ever met actually is willing to challenge this system of growth and conquest. These are the good old days.

  39. I would highly recommend that anybody reading this article briefly do some of their own background research on Maduro and the recent geopolitics of Venezuela, then read it again. The NYT definitely speaks in code sometimes and I think the reality is somewhat more nuanced than is presented here.

  40. This is a complex situation, if you are in the United states or in other place of the world, you can conclude that is one more poverty situation due to Venezuelan Socialism. However, in this Place (La Guajira, edge between Colombia and Venezuela) babies and children have been dying since 60 years ago, in the Colombian- side of the border. In Colombia we have had terrible right-wing presidents, as much as Maduro, killing students, with corruption high levels and incompetence. At this very moment the people of both Countries, Colombia and Venezuela, are trapped between extreme right-wing government and extreme left. We are as Poland in 1940, with Socialism beating us up in a cheek and Fascism in the other. So please, do not use this tragedies to get votes, do not be another Donald Trump fool. The right government of Colombia, which Donald Trump loves, is killing us.

  41. Unfortunately, what never gets reported, because it doesn't fit with the official narrative, is that we are responsible for what is described in this article and many of the problems in Venezuela. Our sanctions, a form of siege warfare, is the real reason Venezuela is experiencing these hardships. We have sabotaged their power grid and have tried to institute a political coup. We've embargoed their oil, the main source of income. We have asked Britain, and they, as the dutiful lap dogs that they are, to confiscate over a billion dollars of their gold deposits, further exacerbating Venezuela's economic hardship. We are, and have been, a menace to this hemisphere for over a hundred years, resulting in the deaths of millions of civilians. Shameful.

  42. FXQ, The leadership of Venezuela is fully responsible. No one else.

  43. @FXQ Those sanctions were put in place only recently, long after Chavez and Maduro had destroyed their country. If you support allowing them those oil revenues to perpetuate their dictatorship then you are the menace to the hemisphere, not the people trying to do something about it.

  44. Foreign owned Cerrejon mine, the largest coal mine in S. America, is located in the area and its railroad cuts right through the Guajira Peninsula carrying supplies to the miners and millions of tons of coal to the coast. Maybe they could share a few train loads of food and water with the parched, kind people who live in that place. I spent some days there in a hotel made of sticks and was surprised to learn that the Wayuu are matrilineal and the women control the wealth that exists. It's a pity to see the suffering when so much wealth exists in Colombia and Venezuela.

  45. The Cerrejon mine was a 1970s joint venture between Exxon (Esso, in those days),and the Colombian govt. Now owned by the govt., as well as an adjacent large mine.

  46. "They had lived off the land for hundreds of years, before Venezuela or Colombia had even been founded." Everything was fine for centuries, and before that, millennia, but then came the rapacious and terrorizing colonial invaders like aliens from outer space to destroy everything in their effort to extract natural resources and force the indigineous peoples into servitude, or go on the run or into a new way of life that required living under the regime of colonialists. "The Wayuu, an indigenous group of shepherds in South America, had survived war, upheaval, revolution and even being separated from one another by the creation of national borders between the two countries." This exemplifies the evil wrought by manifest destiny greed. The socialism of Chavez and Maduro was a failed effort at trying to find a way to provide help to the disaffected and poor masses with living expenses and public assistance, perhaps in part to repair this colonial damage. Sadly, the politics did not work, and so far, neither has any other economic system: capitalism evolves into extreme inequality. Nothing good can be said about living beyond the means of the moment and the local one is in. Extracting resources and wasting the earth for the past 500 years will come due in a bill we cannot fathom in its scope of expense because we have never calculated the vast amounts of externalized costs we deferred. This article is about the cost of our rapacity and selfishness coming due.

  47. Well said. We need to keep reminding ourselves of this.

  48. I was in La Guajira around Christmastime - beautiful and heartbreaking place. Children set up sham road blockades - ropes held by children on either side of the road, which are of course dropped if the car doesn’t slow down - to charge tolls of: 250 mL of water. Seeing small children get so excited for something as basic as water is really heartbreaking. Many tourists who visit the coast for its natural beauty enjoy this ritual as some sick tourist attraction of helping the less fortunate. It just made me sick, angry, and heartbroken. It’s not sustainable. The Wayuu don’t need token gifts from tourists, they need infrastructure development, international emergency aid, and protection of their few natural water sources from industrial contamination, which has already made many of their traditional water sources non potable, sometimes even dangerous to touch. I also saw the desperate Venezuelan refugees, there and elsewhere in Colombia. Some of them sold us “the cheapest gas in the world,” smuggled across the border from Venezuela. Others did small jobs in the streets for tips, and many, especially children and families, were just begging for food. I heard xenophobic rumors that they were taking Colombian jobs, because they would work for food alone. It’s horrible, and it doesn’t have to be. The Colombian people cannot hold this burden alone, international action is needed to ensure the safety and survival of Colombians, Venezuelans, Brazilians, the Wayuu.

  49. @Anonymous I agree with what you wrote but, in case you or others don't know, these sham roadblocks are common in many areas. I've seen them in Mexico and Peru for example.

  50. Is China or Russia going to step up and help their socialists in arms? Venezuela chose this ruinous path. You can’t betray economics. Absolute power always absolutely corrupt. America may be looking at a similar future if they keep electing incompetent autocrats like Trump or economically ignorant progressives. Sad world.

  51. The historical subjugation and exploitation of the politics, economies, and peoples of Latin America by US corporations and government is the ultimate root of this type of human suffering and conflict

  52. There is the Wayuu Taya Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping these people if anyone wants to donate. I just did, these people need help.

  53. @Logan Thanks for the info.

  54. Wait a second, is it "off the land" of "of the land"? To my my knowledge, they have lived ON the land, so it could not be "off". " on" is the opposite of "off".

  55. Guess who drives the empty streets of Venezuela in armored limos and builds massive mansions in Europe while stoking away hundreds of billions in cash,much from American taxpayers.

  56. This is propaganda, designed to help create sympathy in the U.S. for an invasion of Venezuela. The NY Times has been shown again and again to do the work of the CIA. The biggest spreader of false news in this country has often been this paper. Yes, the collapse of the Venezuelan economy is hurting many people. Yes, it owes to mistakes by successive recent governments (see some of the collapses BEFORE Chavez took over!) But it also own--mainly--to attempts by international capital and the United States, including crippling sanctions, to bring the country to its knees. The irony here is that previous puppet governments of the United States persecuted indigenous people in Venezuela as everywhere throughout the world. The Bolivarian Revoluation has made it a point of pride to elevate the status and welfare of such people. This story is designed to help create sympathy in this country for an invasion of Venezuela.

  57. @mattski Here is some great reporting on one situation. It's hardly a rallying cry for invasion of anything.

  58. Anyone hear if Sean Penn is donating his vast fortune to help these poor people?

  59. Could the author expand on the effects of the drought? How much water and food did the tribe have in reserve before they were joined by their brethren?