On a crowded Colombian street packed with holiday shoppers and bathed in the sounds of Christmas music, Larry Centeno sat on the sidewalk and wept.
The 44-year-old, his wife and grown daughter all fled Venezuela earlier this month, and each headed to a different Colombian city in hopes that one of them would land a stable job.
“It’s hard here being alone,” the former electrician said as he wiped away tears and tried to sell small cups of black coffee to passersby. “But in Venezuela there was nothing for us anymore. They stole our hope.”
The number of Venezuelans who have fled to other parts of South America has increased more than seven-fold in the last three years, as hunger, chaos and helplessness are sparking a mass exodus.
According to a new report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were more than 629,000 Venezuelans living in nine major South American countries in 2017 — up from just 85,000 in 2015.