Venezuela

Food and medicine shortages weren’t bad enough. Now Venezuelans can’t even get passports.

In this photo taken Wednesday, June 25, 2014, a passenger holds his Venezuelan passport as he prepares to travel to Venezuela at Miami International Airport in Miami.
In this photo taken Wednesday, June 25, 2014, a passenger holds his Venezuelan passport as he prepares to travel to Venezuela at Miami International Airport in Miami. AP

After suffering months of merciless shortages of food and medicine, Venezuelans now face a new problem as a result of the economy’s collapse: They can’t even get the passports they need to leave the country.

Venezuela’s bankrupt government does not have the money to import the materials and spare parts needed for machines to make the passports, leaving thousands of citizens without the possibility of traveling abroad.

Venezuela has been wracked by an economic crisis with soaring inflation and shortages of commercial goods. Most economists blame the woes on price controls, falling prices for oil exports, heavy government spending and production-crippling policie

“Out of the 11 machines for making passports that were bought, only two are working. They cannibalized the others because there’s no money for maintenance,” said Anthony Daquín, a former security advisor to the government who helped to modernize the system for issuing passports.

The government also has not fulfilled its contract with the providers of the polycarbonate sheets used by the system, Daquín told el Nuevo Herald from Washington, D.C.

Officials in the agency that manages the passport system, the Administrative Service for Identification, Immigration and Foreigners (SAIME), do have a limited number of the polycarbonate sheets. But many of those passports are sold on the black market.

“They are asking for up to 500 U.S. dollars,” said Daquín — the equivalent of 45 times the official minimum monthly salary.

That money — paid by people who are either very rich or very desperate to unscrupulous government officials — has started to worry SAIME Director General Juan Carlos Dugarte.

“Send in the full names. Send your complaint, and we will process,” Dugarte said Tuesday, before announcing that 120 government officials and 24 others had been formally charged by prosecutors.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans are expected to cross the border to shop for food and medicine.

SAIME’s offices in Caracas have been flooded each day with thousands of Venezuelans who travel from their homes all over the country in hope of legally obtaining passports in the capital.

Some of their stories show the level of desperation. The El Nacional newspaper recently published the story of a woman, identified only as Judith, who was trying to obtain a passport for her 11-year-old daughter.

The girl needs to travel to the United States for exams because she has suffered from seizures for the past two years. “After three months, she has not been able to leave Venezuela, and the daughter’s seizures continues,” the story noted.

The passport shortage also is affecting thousands of Venezuelans living abroad, including the large community in South Florida, who cannot travel or use their passports for other legal requirements because they have expired.

Many have tried to obtain new passports in Venezuelan consulates abroad, but faced delays of several months.

“This is a very serious problem because we can’t travel,” said José Hernández, Miami representative of the Venezuelan opposition party Primera Justicia. “This situation must be affecting about 60,000 families in South Florida.”

He added that the lack of valid identification documents can significantly limit the economic opportunities for Venezuelans in the United States.

The economic collapse of the oil-producing country, provoked by more than 17 years of policies hostile to the private sector, generated significant shortages of food, medicines and other products. The country is also reeling under a high level of hyperinflation.

Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM

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