John Otis

Jesús Parra spent four years as a police officer in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. He patrolled the streets, provided security at events and even guarded political prisoners. Now, he parks cars at a funeral home for spare change in the Colombian city of Cúcuta.

This is not what Parra, 27, had in mind when he deserted the police force and sneaked across the Colombian border in March.

At a primary school in a middle-class neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, the students' parents play an outsize role.

Gasoline shortages have collapsed public transportation, making it hard for teachers to get to work. Others skip class to scrounge for food and medicine, both of which are in short supply in Venezuela. Due to low salaries, some teachers have quit.

That's why Karen Benini, the mother of a sixth-grader, often steps in to substitute even though she lacks a teacher's certificate.

Auri Chirinos keeps close watch over her 2-year-old twin daughters as she walks with them through La Vela de Coro, a fishing town on Venezuela's Caribbean coast. She's extremely protective of the toddlers — and for good reason.

She recently lost her eldest daughter, who drowned while trying to reach the island of Curaçao.

At a soup kitchen in the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, hungry and bedraggled men, women and children line up for free lunch. But it's meager fare: They each get a bottle of milk and a few scoops of rice mixed with eggs and vegetables.

Just a few years ago, the lunch program, which is run by the Catholic Church, provided full meals with meat and chicken, as well as fruit juice and even dessert. But amid a deep economic depression and an outbreak of looting in the city, dozens of Maracaibo businesses that used to donate food have closed down.

Juan Guaidó's war room is a kind of no man's land.

The opposition leader, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela's rightful head of state, works out of a mostly vacant office in a Caracas high-rise with a couple of sofas, broken swivel chairs and carpet that could use a cleaning.

Guaidó has spent the past five months moving among safe houses and borrowed office space to keep government security agents, who have arrested dozens of opposition leaders, off balance. No one bothers to fix things up because his team may be moving on soon.

In the northeast corner of Colombia, a few miles from the Venezuelan border, rows of khaki-colored tents rise from the desert sand. Filled with Venezuelans escaping economic disaster back home, the tents make up Colombia's first refugee camp near the border.

The tunnel leading to Colombia's most famous church feels more like a byway into the bowels of the earth. It's dark and dank, with a faint smell of sulfur in the air. But after a few hundred yards, the shaft gradually widens to reveal Roman Catholic icons, like the Stations of the Cross and Archangel Gabriel.

And they're all carved out of salt.

After eight years in Venezuela's National Guard, Lt. Juan Carlos Mora fled to Colombia last month, denounced President Nicolás Maduro and declared his support for Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader now recognized by the U.S. and about 50 other countries as the legitimate head of state.

Guaidó "is president and military commander," Mora said in an interview in Cúcuta, a Colombian city near the border with Venezuela. "He is now my boss."