Women fleeing Venezuela are being targeted for abuse amid pandemic border closures

If Gabriela Ochoa had known what would happen to her down by the Táchira River that divides Venezuela and Colombia, she never would have crossed.



a person flying a kite: Muddy paths across the Táchira river can be the only way into Colombia -- but they're far from safe.


© CNN Illustration/Getty Images
Muddy paths across the Táchira river can be the only way into Colombia — but they’re far from safe.

But her family was desperate.

The 21-year-old single mother had been struggling as Venezuela’s economy collapsed under the regime of embattled President Nicolás Maduro. In 2019, she lost her job at a fruit shop and could no longer feed her three young children, all under the age of five.

With government subsidized food growing scarcer and more expensive, Ochoa didn’t even bother seeking government aid. Instead, after a short stint living with her mother, with whom she had a troubled relationship, she set her sights on moving to Colombia, where people advised she might find work and a friend had offered to host her.



a person driving a bus: Colombian Military Police officers patrol the surroundings of the Simon Bolivar International Bridge in Cucuta, near the "trochas" -illegal trails on the border between Colombia and Venezuela- on October 17, 2020. (Photo by Schneyder MENDOZA / AFP) (Photo by SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP via Getty Images)


© Schneyder Mendoza/AFP/Getty Images
Colombian Military Police officers patrol the surroundings of the Simon Bolivar International Bridge in Cucuta, near the “trochas” -illegal trails on the border between Colombia and Venezuela- on October 17, 2020. (Photo by Schneyder MENDOZA / AFP) (Photo by SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP via Getty Images)

As the first Covid-19 cases started popping up at home, she traveled towards the Colombia-Venezuela border. Many Venezuelan migrants have been living in the city of Cúcuta, the closest major city on the Colombian side of the border, often in the precarious conditions of slums and temporary shelters.

Ochoa and her children made it to the border bridge in early April, after hours of hitchhiking and walking from her hometown, the coastal city of Puerto Cabello — more than 450 miles (730 km) from the border. But the Colombian government had already closed all checkpoints to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus in mid-March.

The only option left for Ochoa to make it across to Cúcuta was to cross through one of the nearly 80 muddy, crime-ridden trochas in the Cúcuta area — informal routes across the Táchira river — controlled by criminal gangs, guerrillas and paramilitary groups, she said.



a group of people swimming in a body of water: Venezuelans attempt to cross the Tachira river in Cucuta, Colombia.


© SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP via Getty Images
Venezuelans attempt to cross the Tachira river in Cucuta, Colombia.

On the first day, Ochoa said she begged people on their way to the trocha to help her cross, with no luck. That night, she slept on the street with her children, their stomachs roaring with hunger. By the end of the second day, as the sky darkened, a young man finally offered to help her, she said.

As they inched closer to the water, a group of men emerged from the bushes, their heads covered by hoodies.

“They had guns, knives, all kinds of things,” Ochoa recalled. The men grabbed her children and threatened to take them away if she didn’t pay them to cross.

“I thought they were going to kill me and the children,” she said. In tears, Ochoa told them she didn’t have any money and begged them

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Macy’s may face more temporary store closures as Covid cases climb and threaten crucial holiday shopping season, CEO says

  • “Covid is surging again across the country,” CEO Jeff Gennette said. “And that continues to impede our recovery.”
  • The United States has regularly been logging more than 100,000 daily Covid infections in the past two weeks.
  • Macy’s said it has plans in place if it must close additional stores, but is hopeful that won’t be the case. It currently has a location closed in El Paso, Texas, due to rising cases there.



a person wearing a hat: People sit as Macys shopping bags are placed on a table at Herald Square as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 20, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production.


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People sit as Macys shopping bags are placed on a table at Herald Square as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 20, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production.

Macy’s could face more temporary store closures as coronavirus cases rise rapidly across the U.S., impeding its recovery and the all-important holiday shopping season, executives said Thursday.

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“Covid is surging again across the country,” CEO Jeff Gennette said Thursday during a post-earnings call with analysts. “And that continues to impede our recovery, in international tourism and urban areas. And the supply chains have opened up, yet problems remain.”

The retailer’s online business, which grew 27% during the latest quarter, is expected to grow “at a very aggressive rate” and could expand even faster depending on whether states and cities shutter retailers again, Gennette added.

Macy’s said its flagship stores like its Herald Square location in New York City have been hit the hardest during the pandemic. The lack of tourists and office workers shopping over lunch breaks and after work has hurt traffic, he said.

One of the company’s locations at a mall in El Paso, Texas, is closed due to a surge in cases there. Mall owner Simon Property Group said earlier this month it had been asked to shut down its Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso. The United States has regularly been logging more than 100,000 daily Covid infections in the past two weeks.

Gennette said Macy’s is monitoring other communities closely, and has a strategy to work through additional store closures. “We are getting expert at this,” he said. “We’re ready to go, no matter what comes our way.”

Meantime, Gennette said he is optimistic consumers will be eager to get dressed up again, post-pandemic. The retailer’s sales have declined with fewer people visiting its stores for work clothes, prom dresses and wedding gowns in 2020.

“A vaccination is obviously on everybody’s mind … and I think there is going to be a surge of demand when that happens,” he said.

There will be people who “have been wearing the same clothes, lounging in active and in casual sportswear. … And they’re going to want to dress up,” Gennette said.

Macy’s shares were falling more than 6% Thursday morning.

The company reported a third-quarter, same-store sales decline of more than 20%. And Macy’s said it expects its same-store sales of owned and licensed stores

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