Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

More Venezuelans Struggle in US as Their Country Implodes

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

More Venezuelans Struggle in US as Their Country Implodes

Article excerpt

MIAMI * People from Venezuela crowd outside a church near Miami's international airport, chatting about family and friends left behind in Caracas, Valencia and Maracaibo as they wait more than an hour to receive rice, beans, yogurt and other food.

At a nearby storage space, about 60 other Venezuelans line up for free sheets, cookware and goods donated to help them get on their feet in their new country.

Volunteers at southern Florida social service organizations say they have seen an increasing number of Venezuelans seeking help. It's a reflection of the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, where the opposition has held massive protests against President Nicolas Maduro for his handling of the economy and a Supreme Court decision that briefly stripped the opposition-led congress of most of its power.

"I never thought I would need to receive food, but the time has come and I don't have a choice," said Venezuelan lawyer Alejandra Mujica, 26, who was among about 80 people waiting outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church one recent afternoon.

Venezuela was once among Latin America's most prosperous countries, with the world's largest proven oil reserves. In good times, Venezuelans who came to the United States largely did so as tourists or to shop.

But the Venezuelan economy is now in freefall because of a plunge in oil prices and poor economic planning under the socialist government set up by the late President Hugo Chavez, who took office in 1999, and continued under his successor, Maduro. The situation has grown worse because of capital flight and a crime rate that is among the highest in the world.

Venezuela's economy shrank 18 percent in 2016 and is expected to contract another 8 percent this year. Its people scrounge for basic necessities.

About 18,000 Venezuelans applied for political asylum in the U.S in 2016, the largest group by nationality and more than double the 7,300 applications Venezuelans filed in 2015. …

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