By Dennis E. Adonis
GEORGETOWN, Guyana – The graphic survival stories that usually come out daily from the mouths of children, parents and families who are enduring Venezuela’s seemingly never-ending food crisis are often too distressing to listen to, much more to relay.
Someone always has a painful story to tell you from within each state, each city, and each village from almost anywhere in Venezuela.
And the far flung jungle village of San Martin de Turumban is certainly no different. After all, Turumban (as it is sometimes called) is a somewhat complex story all by itself.
Now, prior to the evolution of the Venezuelan food crisis, this village was practically an unpopular territory.
But today, it is one of the most important lifelines for the people of Bolivar State, as they now rely on this critical gateway to bring in much needed food and medicine from neighbouring Guyana.
Often mistaken for an indigenously buried mini-town, San Martin de Turumban is actually a geographically flawed Venezuelan village that sits close to the northern jungle and northern mountain range of the country’s border with Guyana.
Before now, it was sparsely populated with no more than about 20 resident miners (at any given time) who had basically used the aboriginal village as a business hub for the various gold mining operations that had scattered throughout its environs.
Though much favourable things cannot be said for the rugged and rarely charted outskirts of Turumban, the inner sanctums of the village itself is not bad for a jungle outpost; as it is fitted with a reasonably maintained small road network, and a few basic infrastructures that can be considered more than adequate for a jungle village.
But while it is seemingly easier to be boated into from the Guyana side of the border, transportation into San Martin de Turumban from the rest of Venezuela was initially available once weekly via a 4×4 that would usually pull its way through a treacherous jungle trail from the small town of Tumeremo.
However, since the escalation of the Venezuelan crisis, the treacherous 4×4 trip has now become a daily routine with sometimes two or three vehicles arriving with evidently wary and sometimes hungry Venezuelans.
And while a percentage of them may be miners who are being shuttled into the jungle, most of those arriving are food seekers who are obviously reeling from the effects of a chronic food and medicine shortage that have gripped their country.
Hence, it may be quite logical to say that they did not make that journey because they were on a happy-go-lucky jungle safari or because they had wanted to leave the supposed comfort of their homes for the uncertain perils of the jungle.
They are obviously shuttling into San Martin de Turumban because it is one of the better transit points on their way to neighbouring Guyana, where they can purchase unlimited amounts of food and medicine to shuttle back home to their families in Venezuela.
So when 17-year-old Jose Santana arrived at the rain-soaked village aboard one of those 4×4 trips around noon last Saturday, his face immediately demonstrated some signs of hope, as he scaled off from the back of the vehicle and inadvertently sank his toes into the soggy jungle soil that has enveloped the side of the roadway in Turumban.
He had made the trip with his two uncles and 12 other passengers, whose families are desperate for food and medicine back in Santa Elena.
Constrained by time, he huddled together with his uncles who advised him that they should now trek for about half a kilometer to the “transit house” so that they can make an early booking for the next part of their journey to Guyana.
But within a few minutes of arriving outside the “transit house” he subsequently became more confused and discouraged as there were more than three dozen seemingly disenchanted persons there that were debating loudly above the piercing sound of an electricity generator; as to whether they should make the trip or not.
Against the backdrop of that conjoined noise, Jose observed his uncles’ gestures to remain outside, and therefore, took up seat on a worn out tree stump that was adjacent to the “transit house”, while his uncles went forward to investigate what the vociferous commotion was about.
The “transit house” was really a shabbily built sprawling makeshift tent that serves more as a black-market hub where the jungle travelers would imbibe, have a warm meal or treat themselves to a hammock sleep before joining a boat that would give them a three-day journey to Bartica or a ten-minute shuttle from the landing at San Martin de Turumban to Isla Anacoco via the Cuyuni River.
Once they get to the Isla Anacoco airstrip, Venezuelans are usually able to avoid Guyana’s immigration entry challenges by simply taking a domestic flight among miners from that location to another airstrip in Bartica or any other landing point that would help them to avert contact with Guyanese immigration authorities.
It is this same risky journey to Guyana that Jose is hoping to make, simply to purchase food and medicine to take back home; nothing else.
But as he pondered and hope for the best, his uncles came back and interrupted his optimism by informing him that the trips are suspended because Guyanese authorities have arrested and deported 14 of their countrymen that went into Guyana to buy food via the same route.
As such, they may have to wait a few days on the border before risking their money to make the treacherous trip into Georgetown.
Thus, Jose was able to understand that it was this very development that had provoked the ongoing raucous within the “transit house”
So a few hours later, when the daylight began to melt away, and the previously arguing voices became subdued, an atmosphere of fear, hurt and disappointment could have been easily felt around the encampment.
Any observer could have tell that the prevailing development had certainly enveloped the enthusiasm of the transiting Venezuelans, who had initially thought that it was safe to look towards their northern neighbour for food and medicine without being arrested.
To Jose and the rest of his countrymen, their circumstances and desperation have made it difficult for them to swallow the bitterness of such news.
After all, they see no reason why their neighbour on the other side of the river would have had the wits to arrest and detain their kinsmen when all that they had wanted was a little food to feed themselves.
Now facing a greater chance of having to confront potential starvation, malaria infections, snake bites and other unforgiving elements of the jungle, the 17-year-old child and his Venezuelan compatriots that are stuck at San Martin de Turumban are pleading with Guyana’s president, Brigadier David Granger, to temporarily let them in, as they seek nothing more than food and medicine for their loved ones back in Santa Elena.
But the question is; – will the President actually listen?
Editorial Note: Names were altered in this article to protect the interviewed persons’ identities.