Child of Two Nations


LIMA, Peru — The decision to leave was almost inevitable. Nersis Arrieta and Edil Aguilar had lived through the shortages, the cancelled 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 decided to leave the troubled South American country in January 2018, they packed up their lives into three suitcases and and sold the rest of their possessions to buy bus tickets for their six-day trip to Lima, Peru. There, they joined hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans looking to start new lives. They spent the first month staying with family members who had immigrated the year before. Arrieta started the long process of trying to get her medial 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 for the family, cutting the cost of the childbirth significantly. Aguilar saved his wages from the call center, gathering just enough money to pay for the cesarean section that Arrieta would need to give birth safely. On the day of the surgery, there were three doctors in the room: Arrieta, and the two performing the operation. All were Venezuelans, all had fled their home country.


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Keyla Rodríguez caresses her cousin's face as is sedated for a C-section in Lima, Peru. Nersis Arrieta, 32, was a doctor back home in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, but with the collapse of social services, even doctors had a hard time making money, buying food and accessing health care. Arrieta and her husband came to Peru in January 2018 after a six-day bus ride.

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Dr. José Luis Goncalves, center, waived his doctor’s fees for Arrieta's C-section as a favor to the family; his wife had taught some of Arrieta’s classes while she was in medical school at the Universidad Centroccidental Lisandro Alvarado in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Arrieta graduated with a degree in medicine in December 2017, about 10 years after she began. The degree was supposed to be completed in six years, but the university was forced to halt classes periodically because of a lack of resources.

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Elisangela Aguilar, who weighed 7 pounds and 4 ounces at birth, is cradled in the hands of the two doctors who performed her C-section. Dr. Heydi Coronel, right, wipes blood from the child’s hair while Dr. José Luis Goncalves prepares to cut her umbilical cord.
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Elisangela Aguilar weighed 3.3 kilograms, or 7 pounds and 4 ounces, when she was born on March 2, 2019.

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Arrieta's cousin Keyla Rodríguez, left, snaps a photo of Arrieta as she is shown her newborn for the first time. Arrieta and her husband, Edil Aguilar, scheduled Arrieta's C-section at the private clinic Porvenir because they she wouldn’t have been able to give birth naturally. Due to having a narrow pelvis and short cervix, there was a risk that her cervix would not dilate enough to give birth safely, Aguilar said.
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Keyla Rodríguez' children, 5-year-old Keidly Sofía and 8-year-old Samuel David Jiménez Rodríguez, wait outside the delivery room at the Clínica Porvenir in Lima, Peru. The children and their parents arrived in Peru from Venezuela in August 2017. When Nersis Arrieta and Edil Aguilar arrived in January 2018, the couple stayed with the Jimenez Rodríguez family for a month before finding their own place.

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Nersis Arrieta, 32, nurses her newborn daughter, Elisangela Aguilar, in her room at the Clínica Porvenir in the Jesús María district of Lima on March 4, 2019, two days after Arrieta gave birth. Elisangela received tuberculosis and hepatitis B vaccines shortly after she was born, which Arrieta says would not have been available if the girl had been born in Venezuela.
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Edil Aguilar and Nersis Arrieta work together to change their newborn daughter's diaper. They have wanted a child for a long time, but Arrieta couldn’t give birth safely in Venezuela. In addition, Aguilar said the couple “did not want to have a baby in Venezuela due to all the medical shortages, such as vaccines and baby formula.”
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Arrieta and Aguilar entered Peru legally and have Permiso Temporal de Permanencia, or PTP. PTP is a visa that was available to Venezuelan citizens who arrived in Peru by October 31, 2018. The visa is no longer available.

Coming home


Two days after the surgery, the new parents returned home 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, referencing the increasing pushback against Venezuelan immigrants living in Peru. The number of Venezuelans in Peru has ballooned from 500,000 to 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. They currently live in an area with high crime rates. Arrieta plans to continue trying to get her medical license recognized in Peru — not a simple process. The credentialing process that allows qualified foreign doctors to practice medicine has been mired in confusion and constantly changing since the beginning of the so called “refugee crisis.”


Arrieta and Aguilar, like many young professionals who have left Venezuela, say they want to return to their home country. But of course, they have no idea when that might be possible. For now, they focus on what they do have in their adopted home: a healthy daughter and hope for the future.

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Edil Aguilar and Nersis Arrieta walk out of the Clínica Porvenir waving to the staff at the front desk on March 4, 2019. The surgery cost 1,650 Peruvian soles and the pediatric anesthesiologist cost 1,100. Aguilar said that he worked at a call center five months in order to save about 3,000 Peruvian soles, or about $900, for the childbirth. "And that was a good price because Dr. Goncalves did not charge us for his personal fees," Aguilar said.

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Arrieta, who worked as a general practitioner at a hospital and several private clinics in Venezuela, said that her hospital was no longer able to perform any kind of surgery due to a lack of medication and basic sanitary supplies. “When (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro came, everything began to disappear,” Arrieta said. “There were so many children suffering from malnutrition… A one-year-old child came (to the doctor’s office) but he looked like he was only about 6 months old.”
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Both Aguilar and Arrieta are both professionals with degrees in marketing and medicine respectively. But there are barriers to working in their chosen fields in Peru due to difficulties transferring professional licenses and academic credits from Venezuela to Peru. The couple hopes that Arrieta can return to work as a general practitioner in Peru, where she will be able to earn a higher wage. Before giving birth, she had been working at a corner pharmacy.
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Currently the family is renting an apartment in Callao that costs 400 Peruvian soles per month, or about $121. “We’re worried that (our daughter) will grow up with discrimination,” Arrieta said, referencing the increasing pushback against Venezuelan immigrants living in Peru. They say they want to return to Venezuela but have no idea when that might be possible. For now, they focus on what they do have in their adopted home: a healthy daughter and hope for the future.


A version of this story titled A child of two nations: Hope for 'democracia' in Peru spurs new parents was published in 2019 in Cronkite News as part of Seeking Stability: Venezuelans in Peru, a 14-part project produced by 17 journalism students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. 

Venezuelan refugees arrive daily in Peru, having crossed more than 2,000 miles of Colombia and Ecuador. They come by car, bus and on foot. They’re part of the largest mass migration ever in the Western Hemisphere – at least 3 million displaced people over the past four years. Peru alone has taken in 700,000 people, welcoming them with relatively open arms. But the influx is straining the nation’s housing, labor and health care systems – and may permanently change Peru’s population and culture. Read more...

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