Venezuela's Government Cracks Down On Shipments From U.S. Amid Crisis
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Months of economic and political turmoil have created a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. There are shortages of food and medicine, and for many Venezuelans shipments from friends and family abroad have been a lifeline. But a recent crackdown by the government has restricted what can be sent to the country. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: There's no place in Miami where Venezuelan-Americans have a bigger presence than Doral. The bustling suburb not far from Miami's airport is home to hundreds of freight forwarding companies that specialize in shipping to Venezuela. The last several months have been tough for these companies. At Ven-Mex Cargo in Doral, owner Ernesto Ackerman takes me to his now largely empty warehouse.
ERNESTO ACKERMAN: As a matter of fact, I had the warehouse next door. We don't need this space anymore when we're moving nothing, so I rented the other warehouse and now we have only this one.
ALLEN: Ackerman has laid off all but five of his 24 employees. Over the last several months, runaway inflation in Venezuela has caused a currency crisis that has killed imports. The only shipments now are packages Venezuelan-Americans are sending to family and friends back home, most containing food. Ackerman worries most of all about his 94-year-old mother.
ACKERMAN: She doesn't understand the situation, so she's complaining she cannot eat arepa. Arepa is our bread. And to do the bread you need the special flour, corn flour. The corn flour made in Venezuela, it doesn't exist no more.
ALLEN: Like many Venezuelan-Americans, Ackerman has been sending regular shipments of corn flour, vegetable oil and other necessities to make sure his mother and others in her household have enough to eat. But even those shipments to family are now being restricted. Shipping food is still allowed, but the Venezuelan government recently banned shipments of a long list of items, including first aid supplies and medicine. The Venezuelan Embassy didn't respond to our request for a comment on the new policy. In Tamarac, another South Florida suburb, a corner of Milagros Ramirez's small home is piled high with boxes filled with medical products desperately needed by hospitals, doctors and clinics in Venezuela.
MILAGROS RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
CELESTE VELAZCO: This is for diabetic people. This is the pen...
ALLEN: Oh, it's an insulin syringe.
RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
ALLEN: Ramirez runs Sanando, a nonprofit that sends medicine and medical supplies to Venezuela. But it's been more than two weeks now since she's been able to ship anything. In the U.S. and other countries, activists have been raising money to support protesters who for months have clashed with police in the streets of Caracas. More than 60 people have died. Gas masks, helmets, protective gear and many other items have now been banned by the Venezuelan government. Through her daughter, Celeste Velazco, Ramirez says because of that medical shipments have ground to a halt, and it's not clear what supplies are allowed.
RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
VELAZCO: She has, like, infant formula. She has diapers. She has stuff, like, are for babies. And she doesn't know if she can send them because she doesn't know, like, if they're going to, like, search the shipment and, like, take it away and, like, it's not going to get to the hospitals.
HILDA MARINA ALCALA: Now you cannot send not even eye drops.
ALLEN: Hilda Marina Alcala, who works with another Venezuelan aid group, Move for People, says eye drops are needed because they help protesters hit by tear gas.
ALCALA: I mean, they're having a hard time there. I mean, there is a fight. Everybody in the world knows about it. They are shooting them. They're doing everything against these young people that wants liberty for Venezuela.
ALLEN: Alcala hopes the government policy will change and she'll be able to resume sending medicine to Venezuela in a few weeks. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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