Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Venezuelan­s are struggling in the U.S.

- By Gisela Salomon

MIAMI — People crowd outside a church near Miami’s 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 for their families.

At a storage space not far away, about 60 other Venezuelan­s line up for free sheets, towels, cookware and other goods donated to help them get on their feet in their new country.

Volunteers at South 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 26year-old Venezuelan lawyer Alejandra Mujica, who was among about 80 people waiting outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church recently.

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

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

The situation in Venezuela has deteriorat­ed so much that a silent march Saturday to honor those killed in a wave of violent protests against Mr. Maduro was noteworthy for being the first protest in weeks not to be broken up by police armed with tear gas.

Many of the Venezuelan­s now seeking food and other assistance in South Florida were once middle class profession­als who decide they could no longer tolerate increasing misery, crime, food shortages and lack of medical care in their homeland.

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. Many of them are expected to be denied.

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