Cronkite Borderlands Project
LIMA, Peru – The decision to leave was almost inevitable. Nersis Arrieta and Edil Aguilar had lived through the shortages, the canceled university classes, the throttling of political dissent, the grim economic reality of Venezuela. They were married and hoped for children.
But as a doctor, Arrieta had seen the vaccine shortages, the lack of medicine and the absence of basic sanitary supplies firsthand. She and her husband wanted their child to be born safely. They wanted their child to be born “en la democracia,” as Aguilar said.
When the couple left their troubled country in January 2018, they packed their lives into three suitcases and sold the rest of their possessions to buy bus tickets for their six-day trip to Lima, where they joined hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans starting new lives.
They spent the first month with family members who had immigrated the year before. Arrieta started the long process of trying to get her medical credentials recognized in Peru. Aguilar found a job in a call center. Less than six months after arriving in Peru, Arrieta became pregnant.
The couple found a doctor who was willing to waive his delivery fees, cutting the cost of the birth significantly. Aguilar saved his wages from a call center job, gathering just enough money to pay for the Cesarean section that Arrieta would need. On the day of the surgery, there were three doctors in the room: Arrieta and the two performing the operation. All were Venezuelans.
Two days after the surgery, the new parents returned to their small studio apartment in the working-class port city of Callao.
“We’re worried that she will grow up with discrimination,” Arrieta said, referring the increasing pushback against Venezuelan immigrants in Peru, whose numbers ballooned from 500,000 to more than 700,000 in just a few months.
For now, the couple is trying to cope with the immediate future. They’d like to move into a slightly larger apartment in a safer neighborhood. Arrieta plans to continue trying to get her medical license recognized in Peru — not a simple process.
They say they want to return to Venezuela but have no idea when that might be possible. For now, they’re focused on their healthy daughter and hoping for the future.
Cronkite Borderlands Project is a multimedia reporting program in which students cover human rights, immigration and border issues in the U.S. and abroad in both English and Spanish.
Cover photo: Nersis Arrieta was able to get government-paid health care in Peru, which has a policy of giving health care to those with “extreme situations,” such as pregnancy. That coverage ends 43 days after delivery. But because her daughter was born in Peru, Elisangela is a Peruvian citizen and will have access to social services such as health care. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite Borderlands Project)