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Venezuelan girl drowns in Rio Grande amid migration to US

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The mayor of Mayerlin left his native Maracaibo with his 7-year-old daughter, Victoria, this month

The 36-year-old teacher living with her parents could no longer make ends meet in the face of three-digit inflation. They traveled by bus from the oil fields of western Venezuela to Medellin in the Colombian mountains, where they caught a flight to Mexico.

On Tuesday, the mother and daughter attempted to ford the Rio Grande to Del Rio, Texas, with other migrants and smugglers. Victoria Lugo Mayor was swept away by the current, her body later recovered by Mexican authorities. His mother crossed over and was detained by the US Border Patrol.

“It’s very painful… It’s a blow for the family,” Guillermo Castillo, Victoria’s uncle, said by phone from Venezuela.

Mexico announced this month that it would impose visa requirements on Venezuela starting Friday, based on a tenfold increase in the number of Venezuelan citizens arriving in Mexico in recent years seeking to travel “in a way to a third country”, a clear reference to the United States.

Last year, US President Joe Biden’s administration offered temporary legal residency to several hundred thousand Venezuelans who fled their country’s economic and political crisis, but relied on Mexico to help slow the flow of migrants towards the common border.

On December 11, Mexico suspended a 17-year-old program that allowed Brazilian citizens to enter without a visa. The move came after Mexico detected an increase in the number of Brazilian migrants heading to Mexico with the intention of reaching the United States.

“This case of the young girl lays bare the drama that Venezuelans are going through who are forced to leave our country,” said Carlos Vecchio, diplomatic representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó in Washington. “What is painful is that the tragedy would be so great that they are able to risk their lives.” He noted that some 80,000 Venezuelans entered the United States illegally last year, more than six times as many as the previous year.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 6 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, more than 10% of the population. The Venezuelan economy has collapsed under the administration of President Nicolás Maduro.

But Vecchio doubted that Mexico’s visa requirement would prevent Venezuelans from using Mexico as a bridge to the United States. Until the root of the problem – the country’s economic, political and social crises – is addressed, “there will be no way to stop the exodus”.

The mayor was released by Border Patrol with a notice to appear in court. She was assisted by a local humanitarian group in Del Rio. Vecchio’s office was working with American and Mexican authorities to bring Victoria’s body to the United States.

Castillo, Victoria’s uncle, said the mayor could no longer raise his daughter in Maracaibo, where the collapse of the oil industry has led to chronic gasoline shortages and breakdowns in the water supply system.

“You have to try to leave and give the children a chance because here, unfortunately, there is no future,” said Castillo, who works as a kitchen helper on an oil barge.

The mayor’s sister, Mayibeth Mayor, told local news site El Pitazo that her sister and niece left on January 13, a week after Mexico announced that visa requirements would begin on January 21.

Castillo said he didn’t know how much the mayor spent on the trip, but knew it was so much that no one else in the family could go with him. “There’s no money right now because what you can get is to eat a little,” he said.

In the Mexican border town of Ciudad Acuña this week, before crossing the Rio Grande, the mayor sent a picture of himself and Victoria, wearing a red jacket and jeans, to her family.

“She was the joy of the house,” Castillo said.


Torrens reported from New York.

Venezuelan girl drowns in Rio Grande amid migration to US

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